Date: 13th February 2014
If the town of Lillehammer sounds familiar it is because it was host to the Winter Oympics in 1994. Back when luminous pink and turquoise were all the rage and Britpop was still in its infancy. Anne Marie and I took the train from Oslo to spend the weekend in a beautiful, cosy home we rented through airbnb.com. Our Norwegian host was more than accommodating and took the time to tell us about the local sights, ski fields, eateries and events. By chance, our visit was perfectly timed to coincide with the 20th Anniversary of the 1994 Winter Olympics, so the town was in full swing.
We settled in, changed into our snow gear and headed out to explore our surroundings. The last week had seen a huge amount of snowfall so it was like stepping into a Christmas card, with wooden houses coated in extra thick layers of winter icing and oversized icicles hanging from above.
After a quick scout around town it was time to get down to some serious business – our shopping for the weekend. Now you may not have heard, but Norway is a pretty expensive destination. To use one ‘universally recognised measure of currency’ the average price of a pint of beer in Norway is a whopping €10, which would sober anyone up!
With this in mind, I would highly recommend buying (or bringing) a few supplies. We must have double then tripple checked the price of every potential buy in the local supermarket, but it was well worth it. We emerged, triumphant, spending just over €30 for everything we needed for three days. I admit, we were pretty ruthless, but inevitably we’d treat ourselves to more food and drink during our stay, so at least this was a good start.
Back in the warmth of our Scandanavian home we cooked up a delicious feed of baked Haddock, corn on the cob and buttery new potatoes. washed down with a glass of Baileys (brought all the way from Ireland of course!).
The next day Lillehammer was in full celebration mode, with a street parade, music and stalls, marking the twentieth anniversary of the 1994 Winter Olympics. A flaming torch was marched through town, followed by percussion, the local ice hockey team and pretty much most of the town’s population.
Some of the traditional dress was eye-catching to say the least, such as the ‘teleytubby-esque’ outfits above. The locals showed that they certainly know how to keep warm, with extra-thick layers, padded jackets and real fur coats on show.
Horse drawn sleds also paraded up the main street (Storgata) past stalls selling sweet roasted almonds, waffles, locally produced cheeses, chocolates and gifts. The end of the parade was marked with speeches, music, singing and performances – all in Norwegian of course, but still very entertaining.
No offense to the performers, but there was only so much Norse we could take, so we left the locals to their party and headed for the Lillehammer Olympic Park. It was almost eerily quiet once we left the crowds behind, with just the crunching of our boots in the snow and the odd local gliding past on skis.
The park was pretty desolate, obviously with everyone in town not much was going on up the hill. It seemed quite fitting actually… despite the parade, flags and revelry, there is an underlying sense that Lillehammer is struggling to hold on to it’s glorious past. The scene above shows the remnants from the games, looking lost and empty. Hopefully Lillehammer can reinvent itself and maintain its status as a top snowsports destination, which will be put to the test at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics.
Speaking of snowsports, on the third day of our trip we rose bright and early to catch the bus to Hafjell Ski Resort. There, we found ourselves in the minority, not due to nationality, but because we were snowboarders. The vast majority at Hafjell were on skis, which took me by surprise after two winters in New Zealand, where snowboarding is more popular. There was at least one plus however – no one came near us on the chairlift! I’ve been known to wipe out whole groups coming off the chair so was thankful of the extra space. And space there was a plenty. With over 40km of slopes to play on we were in our element.
Due to plenty of fresh powder the conditions were perfect. The snow continued throughout the day, but cleared briefly for views of the Gudbrandsdalen valley and the olympic ‘torch man’ cut from the trees opposite.
After a full on day, with legs burning and weather beaten faces we retired to Woody’s Bar for some hard earned grub, the cheapest pints we could find (roughly €8.50!) and were just in time to watch Ireland vs Scotland in the six nations. With an Englishman, Welshman, two Scots and one Irish (no it’s not a joke), there was a bit of atmosphere for the game. But, despite being outnumbered in support, the Irish claimed a respectable victory. A few drinks later and there was only one thing for it – we got the bus back to Lillehammer for the most expensive Kebab I’ve ever eaten. Not bad either I have to say.
With rain falling in town it was clear the temperature was rising. Slowly, but surely the snow turned to slush and Lillehammer’s sugary coating started to dissolve. We trudged home with the sound of avalanches rumbling through the valley. A fitting end to an Olympic weekend.