Despite all the good things I’d heard about Norway and how close it is to the UK, the cost of visiting always made me pick more affordable European destinations. A family wedding, therefore, was the perfect excuse to visit and experience the country in a unique and intimate way.
My cousin lives in Telemark, almost four hours from Oslo, with his now-wife and son. They had a very beautiful, low-key wedding at the local church and the reception at their property. It was like something out of a fairy tale, a million miles from my hectic life in London. I felt really privileged to visit this place I’d otherwise never have seen.
My cousin is actually Australian, he met his Norwegian wife in a hostel while she was travelling the east coast. My Australian family are all very outdoorsy and athletic, so Norway is a perfect fit. I’ve never seen landscapes like it. All around were lush green, rolling hills, with quintessential Norwegian farm houses perched on their slopes.
My cousin’s partner grew up in the village, where everyone knows one another. She works for the local school, which lent her the chairs for the wedding, and the church has been attended by her family for generations. The reception was held in a barn outside of their family home. It was decorated with fairy lights, and Norwegian and Australian flags. Outside was a bonfire surrounded by logs where we sat with blankets and listened to music. It was still quite early in the year and the sky never really got dark, even at 3am.
As the music played, cows with bells around their necks drew closer to hear it. The clanging of their large, brass bells completed the idyllic scene. I’d just gotten back from travelling and was pathetically cold, but we huddled under big coats and blankets and toasted marshmallows around the bonfire.
The buildings were so uniquely Norwegian; these top heavy, wooden structures. Antlers often hung outside the second floor, and old farming machinery was reminiscent of a traditional way of life that still holds a strong influence. Some Norwegian men spoke of the importance of being able to start a fire in their culture. They explained how, before electricity, being unable to start and keep a roaring fire could mean the death of your family, so it was and still is considered a very important and necessary skill.
We were particularly lucky because our family had a lodge we could all stay in. It was a gorgeous old building, all wooden and full of curious objects that spoke of Norwegian farm life. The beds were cute little wooden bunks, which I loved, and there was room for all my family to stay in one spacious, yet very cosy lodge. People would pay vast amounts, I thought, to stay somewhere so special. It felt like I’d stepped into the world of Hans Christian Anderson.
We stayed two days, and then drove back towards Oslo. We stopped at the Heddal Stave Church, which was an incredible destination – we were so lucky it was en-route. It’s Norway’s largest stave church, a style of church built in Norway between the 11th and 13th century and has a distinct, step-like design.
There was also a historic village to walk around – an open air museum – which made it a full day out, great photo-taking opportunity and the perfect end to our trip. I’d been able to experience some of Norway’s charm without breaking the bank.
My Australian family, having come from much further afield, decided to stay and travel around in a hired camper van. Norway has a rule where you have the right to camp anywhere as long as you’re not right up against someone’s house, which is not a problem since there is so much space. They went to some amazing places, and I’d definitely like to go back myself and do something similar.
All in all it felt like a really special trip. Of course there were personal reasons for this, and the fact that I was surrounded by family I don’t see often, but also it was an absolutely incredible location. How lucky, I thought, was my cousin’s wife to grow up here and so be able to hold what was essentially an affordable wedding, but yet much more beautiful than the majority of weddings held near me at three times the expense. I don’t know if anyone could grow up in rural Norway and be happy living anywhere else, it really is other-worldly.