Whenever I speak to audiences about the Southern Cone countries, which I do with some regularity, I always point out that the continent’s geography can be misleading – at nearly 56° S latitude, its southernmost point of Cape Horn (pictured above) is comparable to Edinburgh in the Northern Hemisphere. Once, while researching the Falkland Islands (51° 42’ S) in London’s Public Records Office, I came up a 1952 article from the Daily Telegraph that referred to the Islands as a “British colony near the South Pole.” Fair enough, if you’re willing to describe London (51° 30’ N) as “an English city near the North Pole.”
Thus, on my first major trip to Scandinavia, I've gotten to thinking about the extremes of my South American and European travels, on my first visit to Europe since 1987. Last Sunday, as we rented a car in Oslo and drove north, we headed to Lillehammer (pictured above), site of the 1994 Winter Olympics and, more recently, the comical Netflix gangster series set in that tranquil ski resort about three hours from the Norwegian capital.
At 61° 8' 0" N, Lillehammer became the most northerly point I have ever visited, and we greatly enjoyed Maihaugen (pictured above), which must be one of the world’s finest open-air museums. Its assortment of classic Norwegian folk constructions, many of them dismantled elsewhere and re-erected here to form a mock village, provides a vivid glimpse into early sub-Arctic architecture and the people who created it; role-playing actors occupy some of them, and a former Oslo postmaster is a true scholar who explains the post office’s role in uniting the country through the railroad system. I might add that all of them speak fluent English.
Lillehammer’s reign was brief, though – the following day we drove east and then north to Trysil (pictured above, at 61°19' N), my father’s mother’s birthplace. Like Lillehammer, Trysil is now a ski resort, but in my grandmother’s day – she left for the United States in 1904 at the age of 21 – it was a verdant valley of mid-sized farms along its namesake river, which flooded from snowmelt just a week or so before our arrival. With help from local historian Olav Tangen and others, we located Akre Gård, the farm on which she was a pige (household servant) before moving to Minnesota and marrying into my grandfather’s family. She was the only one of my grandparents whom I knew well, since she moved with my aunt and uncle to a location near my own family in Washington State in the mid-1960s.
But how to compare my northern wanderings with my travels in the south? Obviously, Lillehammer and Trysil are significantly closer to the North Pole than Cape Horn is to the South, but I have traveled beyond the continent. In 2004, I flew from the Chilean city of Punta Arenas to King George Island (pictured above, 62° 2′ 0″ S), where several countries maintain Antarctic bases, for a week-long cruise with Antarctica XXI, still the only company that offers a fly-cruise combination to the white continent.
On the same trip, I reached Deception Island (62° 38’ 37” S, pictured above) and Brabant Island (64° 15’ S, pictured below)), which will set the standard for any further boreal adventures. I’m not likely to return to Antarctica but, with numerous Swedish relatives on my mother’s side, it’s probable I’ll return to Scandinavia (though I apparently have no living kin in Norway) and visit more northerly areas.
Meanwhile, we have had spectacular weather, with sunny skies and temperatures reaching up to 25° C (77° F), though snow covers the ground for several months every year. I never experienced those temperatures in Antarctica but, then, there are no penguins in Scandinavia.