Friday, August 14, 2015

Oslo-Rjukan-Heddal-Notodden-Oslo
















We recently returned from a one-week vacation in Norway. Like last summer, we decided to explore the country we live in, and decided upon a stay in the town of Rjukan, followed by a visit to the Blues Festival in Notodden, where Robert Plant and his band The Sensational Space Shifters were playing. On the way to Notodden, we stopped in Heddal to see the beautiful stave church (stavkirke) that has become a major tourist attraction.
   
Rjukan is a small town located in the Tinn municipality in Telemark county. It is mainly famous for its Vemork hydroelectric power plant, built by Norsk Hydro under the leadership of Sam Eyde who was the founder and first CEO of Norsk Hydro from 1905 until 1917. Vemork opened in 1911. Sam Eyde decided to build Vemork in Rjukan because the Rjukan waterfall (Rjukanfossen), a 104-metre waterfall, facilitated the generation of large quantities of electricity (info from Wikipedia). Vemork was mainly involved in fertilizer produciton, but also produced heavy water (deuterium oxide, D2O). During WWII, this interested the Germans who were occupying Norway at the time (the Nazis invaded Norway in April 1940), since Germany was on a mission to produce an atomic bomb, and heavy water is useful as a coolant and moderator in a nuclear power reactor. Vemork was the target of heavy water sabotage operations by the Norwegian resistance during WWII; this exciting piece of history was recently the subject of a very well-made Norwegian TV series, Kampen om Tungtvannet (The Saboteurs in English) that was shown on Norwegian television this past January. It has since been sold to many other countries, and I recommend it highly if you get a chance to see it. You can read more about it here on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3280150/?ref_=nv_sr_1
The Vemork power plant is now the site of the Norwegian Industrial Workers’ Museum and a museum documenting the history of Vemork and Rjukan during WWII and the well-documented sabotage operations (see Wikipedia for more information about Rjukan, Vemork and WWII history).

Besides Vemork, Rjukan is famous for having placed large reflecting mirrors on the surrounding mountainside in order to illuminate the town square with reflected sunlight (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/rjukan-sun-norway-town-mirrors). This was actually an old idea (from the early 1900s) resurrected and realized in 2013; the reason for it was that between September and March, Rjukan does not get sunlight since the surrounding mountains block it, and this was a way of providing light for Rjukan’s inhabitants. The Krossobanen (an aerial tramway) was built in 1928 with the same idea in mind, to be able to give Rjukan’s inhabitants a view of the sun during the long winter months.

In July 2015, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee approved the inscription of the Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site on its World Heritage List, something the town of Rjukan is understandably quite proud of. You can read more about the background for the decision here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1316/

Sam Eyde’s strong influence on Rjukan is apparent to this day. You cannot help but notice that it is an extremely well-planned and -designed town, with lovely homes (all with different architectural styles), parks, and official buildings. A statue of Eyde stands prominently in the town square, which was undergoing extensive renovations when we were there in late July. We did a lot of walking around the town and got to know it quite well; it is very charming and lovely during the summer months. I can imagine though that it is less charming during the winter months.

We also climbed the Gaustatoppen mountain (1883 metres/6178 feet high) that overlooks the town of Rjukan; the summit offers incredible views of about one-sixth of Norway on days with excellent visibility. Unfortunately, the day we decided to climb it was a foggy and overcast day; it started out as a gray day and evolved into a foggy one after a few hours. When we reached the summit, you could really only see a few feet in front of you. But the climb itself was worth it; it is advertised as family-friendly, but in reality is for adults in reasonably good shape. Most young children (I’d say under 10-years old), no matter how sporty, will not enjoy this climb very much, as it is quite strenuous. We met a family with young children on our way up; they ended up turning back. You can read more about it here: http://www.visitrjukan.com/en/best-travel-tips/opplevelser-paa-rjukan-til-inforboks/gaustatoppen-summer  We did not walk down the mountain, but rather opted to take the Gaustabanen back down; this is a cable railway built inside the Gaustatoppen mountain that was built by NATO during the Cold War era. For more information, check out this link: http://en.hardangervidda.com/Top-5/The-Top-5-Attractions2/Gaustatoppen-and-Gaustabanen-cable-car

We also took an afternoon boat ride on the railroad ferry MS Storegut, which operates as a tourist attraction these days between Tinnoset and Mæl on Lake Tinnsjø. It was in operation as a railway ferry from 1956 until 1991; while we were onboard, the last captain of the ferry gave us a short talk about his experiences as captain of the MS Storegut and about how he was sorry to see it taken out of service. It was a beautiful boat trip, as you will see from the photos in my next post. We were lucky to have good weather that day in order to really appreciate the surrounding landscapes.

Once we left Rjukan, we drove on the mountain road Fv651 and passed through Tuddal, where we stopped to have coffee, and then on to Heddal where we ate elk burgers for lunch and visited the stave church there. Eventually we merged onto route E134 that took us to Notodden and the Blues Festival (http://bluesfest.no/). We rounded out a great week with a terrific concert by Robert Plant and his band; there were also some other really good bands that we enjoyed listening to. We ended up camping at the festival site for one night; the weather was sunny and warm during the day, and only a bit chilly during the evening. The following day we headed for home, after a great week away. I would like to return to Gaustatoppen at some point to climb it on a day with better visibility, as well as to hike/bike over the Hardangervidda plateau.   

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