We had loved the eccentric and iconic Netflix series “Lilyhammer“ in which a New York Mafia boss turned informant, was relocated in Lillehammer – a place he had fallen in love with after watching the 1994 Winter Olympics.
The writers intentionally made Norway and Lillehammer in particular, characters in this clever show. Every quirk, oddity, nuance and eccentricity about the Norwegian way of life and daily existence in a small ski resort town (population approximately 30,000) were placed in clever juxtaposition with the lead character’s New York “mean street” mentality.
So we were really interested to see the place for ourselves and there was great anticipation as we travelled from Holmestrand on the coast up into the mountains.
The drive there was really lovely. Stunning countryside interspersed with views of sparkling water – at first glimpses of the Oslofjord and then masses of beautiful lakes and rivers. We also went through thirteen road tunnels in the space of just a few hours – some of them kilometres long!
We climbed higher and higher into the mountains and stopped for a break in a large car park. There were some luscious looking strawberries on sale but at eight Euros a punnet (approximately Aus$12.50!) we decided to give them a miss.
As we drove we marvelled at the truly fabulous scenery, enjoyed spotting the typical red or ochre painted farmhouses, cabins and other homes and met sheep and cattle grazing on the road verges.
We also caught sight of several people on the road who were “skiing“. The lack of snow wasn’t going to stop them – no, they were gliding along on sort of elongated in-line skates that viewed from the top were just like regular cross country skis. It looked very strange to us but I guess in a region which is covered in snow for a large part of the year, it’s a perfectly natural thing to do!
As we arrived in Lillehammer the surroundings immediately felt familiar – the picturesque town sits on the shores of the northern part of Lake Mjøsa and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The Lysgårdsbakkene ski jump dominates the landscape perched as it is on the mountainside above the town.
We were able to camp in the car park at the foot of the ski jump where we were able to soak in the enthralling view while sipping on a crisp white wine.
The next morning we were eating breakfast when we became aware of a curious noise. It sounded like a gentle but elongated roll of thunder, with an expectant pause of several seconds, followed by a gentle “thump” and a swooshing sound. Rest, repeat.
Intrigued, we hopped down from the camper van and walked towards the sounds. Of course – you’ve guessed – we were in Lillehammer after all! As we approached the source of the noises we noticed a stream of virile young people launching themselves from the top of the perilously high ski jump (despite the lack of snow!) at break neck speed, then hurling themselves into the air, flying at high velocity for a few seconds and landing with small thump, hundreds of metres down the slope . Once they reached the end of the artificial snow surface and onto grass, the jumpers squatted down on their skis until they reached a small slope where they came to a graceful halt.
Although we really enjoyed exploring Lillehammer and spying buildings we had seen in the TV series, there was one thing we really disliked – the road rule that gives priority to traffic coming from the right. We almost got wiped out by a large truck that turned out in front of us from a smaller side road. Despite much arm waving and shouting rude things on our part we realised that he did have right of way so for the rest of the time we drove round the town in a state of hyper vigilance, terrified that a vehicle would turn out in front of us again and we wouldn’t see it in time.
I’m sure the residents of Lillehammer were very happy to be rid of the erratically driving Australians (cleverly disguised as erratically driving French people because of our number plates). We on the other hand, were sorry to leave this star of a town but already looking forward to our next adventure as we travelled on towards the Arctic Circle.