When my friend Marie invited me to stay with her in Oslo two weeks ago, she mentioned that we could also spend a weekend at her cottage in the mountains. ‘Yeah sure’, I said, not giving it much thought, ‘Why not. A weekend away sounds nice’. Immediately, she started getting excited, sending me pictures of said cottage and describing it down to the last detail…
‘Okay’, I thought, ‘she sounds very enthusiastic about this place!’ (A place which, it appeared upon further enquiry, was located in the Synnfjell mountain locality of Nord-Torpa – a Google Maps dot in an ocean of white nothingness – ‘near’ [read: a couple hours away from] Lillehammer).
Of course, I had no idea back then that cottage-going in Norway was a very serious business, full of – rather charming – rules and rituals, to which I was about to be initiated…
Actually, it should have been a clue that the Norwegians have a word for what we would probably casually refer to as ‘going-away-to-our-holiday-home-for-the-weekend’: hyttelivet, or cottage life/living. And yup, it is kind of a big deal. As it turns out, many families own a cottage on the coast or in the mountains, which has often been handed down from generation to generation, and is therefore associated with a lot of growing-up memories.
Another clue might have been the amount of traffic as Marie, her friend Ingvil, and I set off on our 3-hour road-trip at 3:30pm the next Friday afternoon. It seemed like all the inhabitants of Oslo were fleeing the city and, like my friend, had been allowed out of work early to ensure that they could make the most of their weekend getaway.
‘So’, I asked enthusiastically in the car, ‘what are we going to do there? I googled Nord-Torpa before coming but there was only one result in English. It didn’t seem like a big hub for activities.’
‘Errrrr’, Marie, answered, ‘what kind of activities were you thinking of?’
‘I don’t know. Horse-riding. Canoeing. Something like that.’
‘Hahaha’, she laughed. ‘Yeah, that’s definitely not gonna happen! I don’t think you realize, it’s kinda lost! There’s, like, nothing around.’
‘Oh okay. But er, so what is the plan? Are there gonna be any hot guys?‘, I jokingly asked (because erm yeah, that’s kind of my favourite joke).
Marie and Ingvil exchanged another amused look. ‘Camille, I don’t think you understand the concept of Norwegian cottage-going. The whole point is not to see anybody’, Marie answered mock-seriously. ‘If I wanted to see people, I would stay in Oslo’, she added.
And thus, I was introduced to the first commandment of hyttelivet.
It wouldn’t be long before I found out about the others…
YOU WILL ENJOY THE MIDNIGHT SUN
It didn’t really matter that we got slowed down by traffic jams (and, *cough*, maybe also that we got lost a couple of times) because, as Marie pointed out, ‘it’s not like we have to worry about getting there before dark’. Indeed, it was still fully bright when we finally caught our first glimpse of the cottage in the evening, and there was more than enough time left to take advantage of the daylight with a walk down to the river after dinner.
In fact, night never truly fell, the sky remaining navy blue rather than black even at its darkest. I have to admit that summer weekends in the country would probably also take on another dimension if we could enjoy 24-hour daylight..!
YOU WILL SLOW DOWN AND GO BACK TO THE SIMPLE LIFE OF TIMES PAST
As we planned for our stay, Marie warned Ingvil and I with a hint of disappointment that the cottage had recently been equipped with (normal) toilets, water, and even a television, recounting fond memories of the days when her family had to use dry toilets and wash themselves with heated water drawn from the nearest well. Surprisingly, Ingvil and I were not too disappointed by these news…
However, despite these modern changes, there were still plenty of opportunities to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures: the flatscreen TV was never unveiled, and we spent the weekend reading, playing cards, and chatting (read: sharing
tragic hilarious stories of relationship failures) while listening to vinyl recordings of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Jacques Brel.
And although I slightly freaked out when the USB stick I was supposed to use to finish my editing assignment turned out not to work, I was also secretly glad I had an excuse to just relax and do nothing!
YOU WILL EAT AND DRINK A LOT
(Preferably, comfort and typical food that reminds you of your childhood.)
You need to come prepared for the weekend with all sorts of solid and liquid supplies, so we stopped at a supermarket on the way to stock up on salmon, cream, fresh veggies, brunost (brown cheese), appetizer snacks, waffle mix, chocolate, etc. And wine. Oh yeah, and a bottle of champagne (although that’s optional!).
YOU WILL CONQUER THE MOUNTAIN (A.K.A., GO ON A SHORT HIKE)
You didn’t think you were gonna get away with staying in and stuffing yourself, did you?! Nope, put on your hiking gear, we’re going out…it’s time to enjoy that summer sun!
Okay, you might have to tread through swamps and bushes to find them (this is why I told you to put on your hiking clothes!), but they’re here somewhere… After a bit of a false start, we were on our way to the top of the nearest mountain, passing by other cottages with grass roofs, mountain streams, and very muddy wetlands.
(In winter, you will have to conquer the mountain on skis. But not downhill (too easy, sorry!). No, you’re gonna have to go cross-country.
YOU WILL MAKE FIRE
(And you will be assessed on your fire-making skills.)
There is no better way to warm your frozen feet (because, let’s admit it, you totally forgot your hiking boots!) than with a chimney fire, and no relaxing session at the hytte would be complete without it.
If you are foreign, rely on your Norwegian friends – who have honed their technique over the years – to take care of the whole fire thing, and just pose for a photo next to the fireplace at the end to pretend that you were totally the firemaster.
YOU WILL SWEAT
If you’re lucky, the cottage will be fitted with a SAUNA – whoop whoop! After owning the mountain, reward yourself with a sweating session and test your resistance to extreme heat. It’s actually pretty damn nice, even if you can only stay in for a few minutes and come out looking like a grilled locust!
YOU WILL WRAP UP YOUR WEEKEND BY THE BOOK
All hytte stays must end with a cleaning session, followed by some writing in the ‘cottage diary’, a book chronicling the hyttelivet of every person who ever stayed there over the years.
Your entry should include dates, the names of the people who stayed, and a few words on the weather and what you did. For instance, if your friend Marie tried to strand you in the mountains, this really needs to be recorded for posterity. People should know.
What do you think of Norwegian hyttelivet? Does it look like something you’d enjoy? Let me know in the comments below!
If you would like to follow the rest of my adventures, consider subscribing to the blog to receive all updates by email, and connecting with Camille in Wonderlands on Facebook, where I regularly post snapshots and musings that haven’t made it onto the site.