Read CHAPTER XXVIII of The Land of Thor , free online book, by J. Ross Browne, on ReadCentral.com.

FROM CHRISTIANIA TO LILLEHAMMER.

The population of Christiania is something over 40,000, and of late years it has become quite a place of resort for tourists on the way to the interior of Norway. The houses built since the fire of 1858, which destroyed a considerable portion of the town, are large and substantial, built of stone and covered with cement. The streets for the most part are broad and roughly paved. Very little of characteristic style is observable in the costume of the citizens. Plainness of dress, simple and primitive manners, and good nature, are the leading traits of the Norwegians. Christiania is the modern capital of Norway, and was founded by Christian IV. of Denmark, near the site of the ancient capital of Osloe, which was founded in 1058 by King Harold Hardraade. Some of the old buildings still remain in a state of good preservation; but the chief interest of the city consists in its castle, university, library, and museum of Northern antiquities. A traveler from the busy cities of America is struck with the quiet aspect of the streets, and the almost death-like silence that reigns in them after dark. In many places the sidewalks are overgrown with grass, and the houses are green with moss. Stagnation broods in the very atmosphere. Christiania is in all respects the antipodes of San Francisco. A Californian could scarcely endure an existence in such a place for six weeks. He would go stark mad from sheer inanity. Beautiful as the scenery is, and pleasantly as the time passed during my brief sojourn, it was not without a feeling of relief that I took my departure in the cars for Eidsvold.

The railway from Christiania to Eidsvold is the only one yet in operation in Norway. It was a pretty heavy undertaking, considering the rough country and the limited resources of the people; but it was finally completed, and is now considered a great feature in Norwegian civilization. Some idea may be formed of the backwardness of facilities for internal communication throughout this country when I mention the fact that beyond the distance of forty miles to Eidsvold and the Lake of Miosen, the traveler is dependent upon such vehicles as he takes with him, unless he chooses to incur the risk of procuring a conveyance at Hamar or Lillehammer. The whole country is a series of rugged mountains, narrow valleys, desolate fjelds, rivers, and fjords. There are no regular communications between one point and another on any of the public highways, and the interior districts are supplied with such commodities as they require from the sea-board solely by means of heavy wagons, sledges, boats, and such other primitive modes of transportation as the nature of the country and the season may render most available.

Like every thing else in Norway, the cars on the Eidsvold railway have rather more of a rustic than a metropolitan appearance. They are extremely simple in construction and rural in decoration; and as for the road, it may be very good compared with a trail over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but it is absolutely frightful to travel over it by steam. Three hours is the allowance of time for forty miles. If I remember correctly, we stretched it out to four, on account of a necessary stoppage on the way, caused by the tumbling down of some rocks from an overhanging cliff. The jolting is enough to dislocate one’s vertebrae; and I had a vague feeling all the time during the trip that the locomotive would jump off the track, and dash her brains out against some of the terrible boulders of granite that stood frowning at us on either side as we worried our way along from station to station.

It was nearly dark when we came to a saw-mill by the roadside. The scenery is pretty all the way from Christiania, but not very striking till the train passes the narrow gorge in which the saw-mill is situated, where there is a tunnel of a few hundred feet that penetrates a bluff on the left. Emerging from this, we are close upon the charming little village of Eidsvold, one of the loveliest spots in this land of beauty. A few minutes more brought us to the station-house, where the railway ends. Here we found ourselves at a good hotel, picturesquely situated on the bank of the Wormen, a river flowing from the Miosen Lake.

At eleven o’clock on a fine Sunday forenoon I took my departure from Eidsvold on board one of the little lake steamers. These vessels are well managed, and not inconveniently arranged, but they are so very small that on particular occasions, when there is an unusual pressure of travelers, it is difficult to find room for a seat. Owing to the facilities afforded by the railway from Christiania, an excursion to Lillehammer is the most popular way of passing a Sunday during the summer months, and this being the height of the season, the crowd was unusually great. It also happened that two hundred soldiers, who had served out their time, were returning to their homes in the interior, so that there was no lack of company on board. If the soldiers were somewhat lively and frolicsome, it was nothing more than natural under the circumstances. A good many were intoxicated at the idea, perhaps, of getting home once more, and their songs and merry shouts of laughter kept every body in a good humor. I am unable to account for a curious fact, which I may as well mention in this connection. Whenever the authorities of any country through which I chance to travel have occasion to send their troops from one point to another, they invariably send them upon the same boat or in the same railway train upon which I have the fortune to take passage. There must be something military in my appearance, or some natural propensity for bloodshed in my nature, that causes this affinity to exist between us, for it has happened altogether too often to be accidental. The King of Sicily, some years ago, sent a party of troops to keep me company to Palermo. Subsequently the King of Greece favored me with a large military convoy to one of the Greek islands. After that I had an independent supervision of various bodies of Turkish soldiers on board of different vessels within the Turkish dominions. Recently Napoleon III. sent down by the same train of cars, from Paris to Marseilles, about four hundred of his troops for Algiers. Being detained at Marseilles by some unforeseen circumstance, I had the pleasure of seeing these men shipped off on the first steamer. I took passage in the next. By some extraordinary fatality, for which there is no accounting, there were upward of five hundred additional troops shipped on this vessel. It was a consolation to know that a storm was brewing, and that they would soon be all sea-sick. Before we got out of the Gulf of Lyons I could have slain every man of them with a pocket-knife. It was therefore with a spirit of resignation that I saw the Norwegian soldiers come on board at Eidsvold. Fate had ordained that we should travel together, and it was no use to complain. Besides, I liked their looks. As stalwart, blue-eyed, jovial, and hearty-looking a set of fellows they were as ever I saw in any country men of far higher intelligence and physical capacity than the average of soldiers in Continental Europe. That these were the right sort of men to fight for their country there could be no doubt. I have rarely seen finer troops any where than those of Norway.

The Miosen Lake is sixty-three miles in length, extending from Minde to Lillehammer, and varies in width from five to ten miles. The broadest part is opposite to Hamar, nearly at the centre, and not far from the island of Helgeo. The shores embrace some of the finest farming lands in Norway; and after passing Minde, the sloping hill-sides are dotted with pretty little farm-houses, and beautifully variegated with fields and orchards. In many places, so numerous are the cottages of the thrifty farmers hung in this favored region, that they resemble a continuous village, extending for many miles along the hill-sides. There is not much in the natural aspect of the country to attract the lover of bold mountain scenery. The beauties of the shores of Miosen are of a gentle and pastoral character, and become monotonous after a few hours. Near Hamar, on the right, there are the ruins of an old cathedral, burned and plundered by the Swedes in 1567.

Apart from the ordinary interest of the Miosen Lake, arising from the quiet, pastoral character of its shores, it possessed a peculiar charm to me, owing to the fact that, in 1755, when the great earthquake occurred at Lisbon, its waters rose twenty feet, and suddenly retreated. Only a few months previously I had visited the city of Lisbon, and stood upon the very spot, where, in six minutes, over sixty thousand souls had been buried beneath the ruins. I was now, so to speak, following up an earthquake.

It was late at night when we arrived at the pretty little town of Lillehammer, at the head of the lake. Leaving the steamer here, I found myself, for the first time, beyond the limits of the English language. A Norwegian with whom I had become acquainted on board the boat was kind enough to walk up town with me and show me the way to the post station, where I had some difficulty in procuring accommodations, owing to the number of recent arrivals.

The town of Lillehammer contains twelve or fifteen hundred inhabitants, whose principal industry consists in the lumber business. Immense rafts are towed down the lake every day by the returning steamers, and carried by rail from Eidsvold to Christiania. The logs are drifted down the Logen River from the interior, and cut up at Lillehammer and Eidsvold. Such as are designed for spars are dressed and stripped at the latter place. There are many other points on the lake from which supplies of timber are also transferred to Christiania, so that, between farming, fishing, and lumbering, the inhabitants of this region make out a very comfortable subsistence, and generally own the lands upon which they reside. Many of them are wealthy for this part of the world.

Lillehammer is prettily situated on an eminence, and consists of log and frame houses, presenting much the appearance of a Western lake village in the United States. The view of the Miosen and its verdant shores is very fine from the top of the hill. It was ten o’clock at night when I arrived, although the sky was still lighted up with a purple glow from the departed sun. Something of the wonderful scenic beauties of the country were still visible. A party of French tourists, who had come to Norway to make a three days’ visit, set off at this late hour to see the torrent which breaks from the side of the mountain, about half a mile beyond the town. I was solicited to join them; but my passion for sight-seeing was rather obscured by the passion of hunger and thirst. At such times I am practical enough to prefer a good supper to the best waterfall in the world. Waterfalls can be postponed. Hunger must be promptly satisfied. Thirst makes one dry. A distant view of falling water is a poor substitute for a glass of good ale. There is no fear that any ordinary cataract will run itself out before morning.

This was my first experience of a post station, and very pleasant I found it. The inns of Norway are plain, cheap, and comfortable; not very elegant in appearance, but as good in all respects as a plain traveler could desire. I had a capital supper at Lillehammer, consisting of beefsteak, eggs, bread, butter, and coffee enough to satisfy any reasonable man. The rooms are clean, the beds and bedding neat and comfortable, and the charge for supper, lodging, and breakfast not exceeding an average of about fifty cents. At some of the interior stations I was charged only about twenty-five cents, and in no instance was I imposed upon. The inn-keepers are so generally obliging and good-natured that there is very little difficulty in getting along with them. A few words always sufficed to make my wants understood, and the greatest kindness and alacrity were invariably shown in supplying them. But I anticipate my journey.

After a pleasant night’s rest I arose bright and early; and here, being for the first time thrown completely upon my own resources in the way of language, was obliged to have recourse to my vocabulary to get at the means of asking for breakfast and a horse and cariole. Fancy a lean and hungry man standing before a substantial landlord, trying to spell out a breakfast from his book in some such way as this:

“Jeg vil Spise [I will eat]!”

“Ya, min Herr!” the landlord politely answers.

“Jeg vil Frokost [I will breakfast]!”

“Ya, min Herr;” and the landlord runs off into a perfect labyrinth of birds, fish, eggs, beefsteak, hot cakes, and other luxuries, which the inexperienced traveler is vainly attempting to follow up in his book. In despair, he at length calls out,

“Ja! Ja! that’s all right! any thing you say, my fine old gentleman!”

At which the landlord scratches his head, for he doesn’t understand precisely what you have selected. Now you take your book, and explain slowly and systematically:

Kaffee!”

“Ja.”

“Oegg!”

“Ja.”

“Fisk!”

“Ja.”

“Smor og Brod!”

Here the landlord is staggered, and scratches his head again. Smor he gets a glimmering of, but the bread stuns him. You try it in a dozen different ways broad, breyd, breed, brode, braid. At length a light flashes upon his mind. You want bread! Simple as the word is, and though he pronounces it precisely according to one of your own methods, as you suppose, it is difficult to get the peculiar intonation that renders it intelligible.

“Ja!” And thus you lay the foundation of your breakfast; after which, having progressed so far in the language, there is no great difficulty in asking for a “Heste og Cariole” [a horse and cariole].

A little practice in this way soon enables the traveler to acquire a sufficient knowledge of the language for the ordinary purposes of communication along the road. With a smattering of the German it comes very readily to one who speaks English, being something of a mixture between these two languages. I was really astonished to find how well I could understand it, and make myself understood, in the course of a few days, though candor obliges me to say that if there is any one thing in the world for which nature never intended me it is a linguist.

I was in hopes of finding at Lillehammer a party of tourists bound over the Dovre Fjeld to Trondhjem, of whom I had heard in Christiania. In this I was disappointed. They had started a few days previously. An omnibus was advertised to run as far as Elstad, some thirty-five miles up the valley of Gudbransdalen, which would be so much gained on my route. It seemed, however, that it only ran whenever a sufficient number of passengers offered so I was obliged to give up that prospect.