Aboard a train in southernmost Norway, as a for-instance, I sat in the dining car watching the Arctic countryside lurch by. Mottled clouds made the sky a well-aged carpet. Little perfect houses peppered the mountains like a giant had tripped and scattered its toys. There wasn't much snow, because it was the Norwegian summer. It was raining and the lakes were as grey as the sky.

From my seat I could see, in the window, the reflection of the scenery passing the opposite side of the car. So I found myself switching focus between the view outside my window and the reflection of the one behind me rather than simply turning my head. Every once in a while I would take a quick snap when a composition took my fancy; train photos are never much good with those finger-marked windows in the way, but you never know.

It was in this reflected scenery I glimpsed one such composition. A peculiar house perched alone within the woods of a mountain, smoke billowing from its quaint chimney, the whole thing seemingly jutting out of a steep incline so that there were actually trees directly beneath it. I turned, camera in hand, already half out of my seat to get a better spot against the opposite window, when darkness swallowed everything. We'd entered a tunnel. I returned to my seat.

Sometimes moments elude us.


—Unpublished memoirs of a travel photographer, 1978, p.p. 177-178.

No house belongs here
among the tired mountains
where glaciers walked.

—Author unknown.

The grade steepened. Tough going today. Heard a flock of storm petrels, no LOS, shit luck. Fog came in after noon. Felt rain coming on so up went the vestibule. Today's lunch menu:

Minestrone instant soup - 2/5
'Norrbar' protein bar, sticky date pudding flavour - 4/5
EspressoMessiah broke so 0/5 fuck off

Smelt smoke, checked burner, nope. No chance of a forest fire, but I slipped out of the vestibule to pack up. There was a slouched shape in the fog. Maybe an especial large boulder toppled down from higher up, I remember thinking. At the peak of the silhouette, atop what looked startlingly like shoulders, I saw what I thought was a head.

Behind me the vestibule whipped like the blades of a chopper. I step closer so the sight comes together. What I thought was a head is a chimney. The shoulders, angled roof shingles. Someone built a cottage up here. Well, I was tempted to knock on the door but maybe folks so far out here alone don't like being bothered.

—Excerpt from the journal of a Norwegian bird watcher, 2002

While the lodgings were more than adequate, we had not been advised of the draft in the children's bedroom, and the living area did not match the description or the photos supplied. And although we hesitate to complain about this, as it's part of the mystique of the package—it's one thing that the place was a challenge to find, but we simply had no idea whether or not it was our spot until our keys fit the lock. The discrepancies above only compounded our puzzlement.

The fireplace was an excellent bonus, however the cottage was so warm it was hardly necessary. The silence, we found, was a little too much, as at night we could hear each other's every shift and mutter no matter where we were in the house.

The children were very much entertained by the garbage chute in the kitchen, but it is clearly a hazard. I once caught my son balancing himself on the inside edge of it, and if he had lost his grip there is no telling how we would have got him out. On that note, if you find a phone charger down there, please get in touch.

Thank you for a delightful stay.

Feedback left for Valley Travel's Norwegian Countryside Getaway: Viking Retreat (17/11/04)


Graffiti on an underpass wall in a Norwegian mining town

"What I hate: the ones who come in, they aren't the professionals—"

"You get walk ins?"

"And the contractors just know! They just have it all in their heads already. I want this, I want this. Three by two, these many. But the customers are the worst ones. They come up to me and say, 'Hello, can you help me?'

"I say, 'Yes?'

"'I am building a table,' they say. 'Do you think this will be right? Well, what do you think?'

"I don't know! How do I know what sort of table you are building? I say, 'Yes, yes. This one should do.' Hah! 'Good choice. Thank you.'"

"That's a bit dangerous, isn't it? What if it's . . ."

"Well, I don't say it like that, it's not just like that. But you know. These are people who ring up and say, 'Yes, I will order, uh, so and so. Do you have this stone?' I say yes. 'I need, ah, so much of that. You must deliver it here.' And the address, and so on, 'We must have it yesterday,' you know. It's loaded and one of the guys takes the truck out. It's not a small drive, it's out in the country, I didn't hear from this guy for two days.

"He rings up late one evening, 'I cannot find this place,' he says. He doesn't speak English, he's Russian. 'I cannot find this place.'

"I say, 'What do you mean, you can't find it? Is it the wrong address?' No answer. 'You have reception, what does Google Maps say?' Still no answer. 'Have you called the client for directions?'

"'I cannot find this place,' he says again, and hangs up. I didn't get the full story until he got back. We had to fire him because he lost the haul and could not explain it, and also took much too long. But this is what I mean. The customer gives a wrong address, or a strange address, but does not think about how we will get there. The address is not registered on Google or our maps, which is not unusual for new houses, but he does not think about this. A man lives on the moon and says, 'Bring me granite blocks,' and I say, 'None of our trucks go to space.' You know?"

From the phone records of a construction materials company, 2010