Trondelag: Norway’s quiet achiever

Our small ship has negotiated the glittering chain that is Norway’s Trondelag archipelago in the Norwegian Sea, threading through myriad islands, islets and skerries to sail into the elongated Trondheimsfjorden.

Visions of Norway generally conjure lacy fiord landscapes or Arctic Tundra, but Trondelag, and its capital Trondheim, wedged into the heart of the country, is Norway’s quietly achieving region.

This is the birthplace of modern Scandinavian democracy – Norway is the world’s oldest continuously functioning democracy whose heritage dates back more than 1000 years.

Trondheim is the burial place of Norway’s patron saint and the first Viking Christian king, St Olav. And it is at St Olav’s burial site at Nidaros Cathedral where the St Olav Ways, the Nordic countries’ most significant pilgrimage site, concludes.

Would-be pilgrims will be delighted to learn that Trondelag is also Norway’s primary foodie region. The mild, humid coastal areas rising to the dry, cold plateaux and mountains yield a cornucopia of organic produce.

The region is alive with Norway lobsters, Hitra crabs, Froya scallops, salmon and blue mussels to mushroom-munching free-range pork, wild sheep, organic beef and milk, “grotteost” (cave cheese) and spectacular berries, game, local craft beer and aquavit made from local caraway and other herbs.

We’ve come here as part of APT’s Majestic Norwegian fiords journey from Tromso to Copenhagen aboard the MS Island Sky. Our six-kilometre guided walk from the dock into the handsome town of Trondheim introduces us to “the city in the middle’s” 1000-year-old history, depositing us at Nidaros Cathedral where we are able to contemplate at leisure St Olav’s achievements.

We are also able to escape the rain in the world’s northernmost Gothic cathedral’s visitor centre cafe with a decadent Norwegian sjokoladekake (choccie cake) and flat white.

The story of Olav II Haraldsson, born 995, son of a Viking king and great grandson of Harald Fairhair, is woven through many a contemporary Viking television series.

Olav the Holy (aka Olav the Stout – possibly also fond of sjokoladekake) went on his first Viking expedition at 12, pillaging and plundering for some years. This included, according to the Norse Sagas, attacking the Saxon incarnation of London Bridge by pulling it down with ropes tied to his longboats. The nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down might have originated from this event.

He was baptised in 1014, elected the Norwegian king in 1015, after which he united Norway under a new Christian legislation.

Olav died in 1030 at the Battle of Stiklestad, about 90 minutes from Trondheim, fighting the Danish Vikings – Norwegians mark this battle as the end of the Viking period and the beginning of the medieval period. He was buried in secret but his body was moved to Trondheim a year later.

When exhumed, miraculously it had not decomposed. People who touched it were cured of illness. As a result Olav was canonised in 1031 and the Nidaros Cathedral was built over his burial site.

St Olav’s shrine in Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral subsequently became the most important destination for medieval Nordic pilgrims. Nidaros was the former name of Trondheim and was the Norwegian capital for much of the Viking era.

Though not as well known as the Camino de Santiago, St Olav Ways is a network of ancient routes over mountains and rivers to Nidaros Cathedral.

Signposting of the paths started in 1994 and more than 5000 kilometres have now been marked with the St Olav’s cross logo – look out for the cathedral’s 0-kilometre stone marker. St Olav’s Ways is a European Cultural Route.

In summer, there’s an evening pilgrim service and pilgrims who’ve completed the last 100 kilometres can claim the St Olav’s letter. Trondheim has an annual St Olav’s Festival.

The Gothic cathedral’s western front is spectacularly carved, though only five of the medieval statues survive. The western facade’s stained-glass rose window is early 20th century.

It’s dark inside but there’s some nice Gothic and Romanesque architecture, the shrine, two altars, medieval chapter house and crypt containing marble gravestones. In summer, you can climb the 172-step tower.

A combined ticket includes the adjacent 12th-century Archbishop’s Palace – one of Europe’s best-preserved buildings of its type.

Trondelag is a happy region peopled by a type of Norwegian known as “the friendly Tronder”. They describe themselves as complex, inventive, courageous, adventurous, peaceful, rounded, hospitable and selfless.

Visit immediately.

TRIP NOTES

FLY

Qatar Airways flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Stockholm or Oslo via Doha, then Tromso with Scandinavian Airlines. See qatarairways.com

CRUISE

APT’s 15-day Majestic Norwegian Fiords small ships expedition cruise from Tromso to Copenhagen starts from $16,895 a person, twin share including $900 a couple air credit. Based on an August 22, 2019 departure. Phone 1300 196 420, see aptouring.com.au

MORE

traveller.com.au/norway

visitnorway.com

Alison Stewart was a guest of APT.

Source link