By Eileen Ogintz
ON THE ROAD TO GEIRANGER, Norway (Day 4 of 9) — I’m riding in a bus watching Disney’s latest hit Frozen about the young Norwegian queen and princess who learn that true love can mean the love between sisters. It’s a good way to pass the time on a long trip but a lot better when we’re in Norway on a new Adventures by Disney itinerary, passing a lot of the sites that inspired the filmmakers —the fjords, the glaciers, the small villages and of course Norway’s famous Stave Churches, dating back to medieval times that inspired the design of the castle in the fictitious Arendelle, home to Queen Elsa and Princess Anna.
We pass cows grazing, rushing rivers, clear streams and craggy mountains with too many waterfalls to count.
We stop at the Borgund Stave Church, one of the most famous and dating back to 1180. In case you are wondering, Stave churches are so named because of the major uprights or “staves” that support the structure. This church we learn was also the inspiration for the room in which Elsa’s coronation takes place.
Even six- year-old Sara Sofia Guthmann is engaged—by the tiny carvings of mysterious symbols in the external gallery that protected the inner small chapel.
Why no windows, Sara asks our guide, Bjornar Hegg Lunde, who was raised here in this small community. He tells us some of his relatives are buried here in the church yard.
There were no windows, he explains, because windows weren’t invented then—just small circles near the ceiling for light that at the time was covered with pig’s intestines that served as protection from the cold and snow. He points out where windows were added later, and then boarded over.
Kids love the carved dragon heads protecting the church spires—reminiscent of the decorations on Viking ships built to protect the Vikings from evil spirits under the sea.
There is something astonishing about standing in a small wooden structure that has been here for some 830 years. Ninety percent of the indoor structure is the original wood. This is the most authentic of Norway’s 28 remaining Stave Churches. Many were abandoned in the 14th century during the Black Plague. The stories the walls could tell!
The distinctive dark black color outside is from the natural tar resin that was used to protect the structure from the rain and snow—just as the Vikings used on their ships. There is a separate bell tower dating from 1200.
A larger church nearby was built on the nineteenth century and is still used, mostly for holidays and weddings.
These churches, we learn, are like a giant jigsaw puzzle. This one was constructed from more than 2000 pieces! The ceiling, our guide notes, looks like an upside down Viking ship.
Sara Sofia Guthmann likes the hole in the outer wall—designed for worshippers to take confession when Norway was Catholic, before the Reformation.
Now I’m looking at the castle in Frozen differently.
We stop for lunch at the family run Braevasshytta that has been owned by Gerd Boyum for the past 30 years and overlooks the Boya glacier. Her son Jo Marius tells us the specialty is sosevojott –kind of a Norwegian pot roast served with boiled potatoes and peas. Literally a ton of this meat is served every summer season, he said. There is traditional apple cake for dessert.
I can’t resist a little more souvenir shopping—warm winter hats today.
But despite the sites—and the drive through the Laerdal tunnel, the second longest car tunnel in the world, I feel like the ride is too long. We’re in the bus more than 8 hours before we arrive at Geiranger and the historic Hotel Union overlooking the Geirangerfjord on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The adults enjoy the hotel’s expansive buffet—stone crab, shrimp, crawfish, salmon, salads, meats, cheeses, potatoes… 65 items in all, including all variety of deserts.
But honestly, there was more fun to be had at the Junior Adventurer night downstairs. After a swim (the indoor and outdoor pools overlook the fjord), Sara Sofia Guthmann, 6, joined our guides Kira Butler and Torgeir Skjerdal, who grew up on a farm in Norway, for an evening of kid-friendly food (Burgers! Pizza! Make your own sundaes!) and the chance to make your own troll and her own Olaf (for the uninitiated, Olaf is the loveable, wise snowman from Frozen.)
This was all followed by Karaoke.
Who knows all the words to Let it Go?