Story and photography by Bo Zaunders
Festivals & Food
A Trondheim Adventure
He was Olav Haraldsson - a Viking from age twelve, a king, turned Christian, turned saint. Now, a millennium later, his presence can still be felt.
We arrived in Trondheim on July 30th just in time for the annual St. Olav Festival. We first watched a jousting tournament with knights in shining armor and rousing action, then, that evening, attended a stirring performance of “The Protecting Veil” in Nidaros Cathedral – the largest church in northern Europe.
Once the capital of Norway, and throughout the Middle Ages a prominent place for pilgrimages, Trondheim boasts a rich historical past. Situated next to the Trondheim fjord some 260 miles north of Bergen, it is now a lively university city, capital of technology, and the third largest city in Norway.
Its most striking feature, apart from the magnificent cathedral, must be the colorful wooden warehouses flanking both sides of the Nidelva River, the waterway that flows right through the old town center into the fjord. From our room at Rica Baklandet Hotel we overlooked some of these buildings, many of which became a constant focus point for my camera.
That day we lunched at Baklandet Skydsstation, a super friendly café in a homelike setting. There, with Frank Sinatra singing quietly in the background, we enjoyed Jons fiskesuppe, a house specialty which, according to Lonely Planet, is “the best fish soup in all of Norway.” High praise indeed, in a country which like no other excels in seafood. Suffice it to say, it was delicious.
Leaving the café, we caught a glimpse of Sykkelheisen Trampe, the world’s only bicycle lift, running up the curbside of a steep hill named Brubakken. While on your bike, apparently, you just put your right foot on the footrest and glide up the hill. Later I learned that during its fifteen years of operation the lift has accommodated over 200,000 cyclists.
Activities that day also included a concert by Mavis Staple, the American rhythm and blues and gospel singer. The Church of Our Lady, where it was held and which is close to the cathedral, was packed and seemed to sway and vibrate with each new number. After the performance there was still some time left before the Nidaros concert, most of which we spent at nearby Café Ni Muser, a relaxed little restaurant that borrowed its name from Greek goddesses. A commendable small repast of Baguette with Skagen Salad, and we were all set for some Gregorian chant.
Awe-inspiring is a word that readily comes to mind when you enter the almost 1000-year old cathedral. Completed around 1300, it has over the centuries been ravaged by several fires, and restored. I especially took note of the beautiful Rose Window. And, hearing about the cathedral’s Steinmeyer organ, which was recently renovated, I was amazed to learn that it has 9,600 pipes, ranging in size from just a few inches to fifty-six feet. As mentioned, the concert was quite moving – a calming, yet uplifting end to an eventful day.
It seems that hotel breakfasts, as a rule, get more generous the farther north you travel. In southern Europe you can expect strong coffee, a croissant or a roll, no more. In Great Britain it gets a bit more elaborate. The coffee may not be as strong, but bacon or sausages and eggs have been added, as well as tea and maybe fried mushrooms and tomatoes. Then, as you move to Scandinavia, every self-respecting hotel will treat you to a copious breakfast buffet.
Certainly, the Rica Baklandet Hotel was no exception – serving table after serving table loaded with delectable food. But our breakfast delights didn’t stop there. One morning we were taken to the nearby Rica Nidelven Hotel, which, in competition with 400 other hotels in Norway, has been voted Norway’s best breakfast for eight years in a row. What a spread! Smoked halibut, salmon galore, mackerel, great charcuterie and fabulous cheeses cut to order, an omelet as well as a pancake station, and even a special chef-attended machine for making freshly-squeezed orange juice. In short, a foodie’s dream come true, and enough nourishment for the entire day.
While on the subject of breakfasts I should mention that, at one of them, we met with Petter Myhr, the director of the St. Olav Festival. Easygoing, friendly, and, in my opinion looking a little like a younger Max Von Sydow, he talked warmly of this year’s program: a combination of talks, concerts, markets and other events. The theme, he told us, was people, emphasizing the international and cultural aspects of the event.
Coinciding with the St. Olav Festival was the Trøndelag Food Festival, a celebration of local food from across central Norway.
Long rows of tents, with nearly a hundred exhibitors, had been set up in the center of town. As a prelude to the proceedings, a small fleet of rowboats loaded with vegetables arrived at the nearby harbor, following an old Trondheim tradition of farmers delivering their produce. There were also some cooking courses, one in which I briefly took part, called “Sashimi and raw marinating.”
Speaking of marinades, the best gravlax we ever had was at the restaurant Havfruen right here in Trondheim. More than a decade later we still rave about it. I remember asking the chef for the recipe. Simple. Superior salmon and, to the usual marinade of salt, sugar, and dill, just add two tablespoons of cognac.
Apart from its cognac-infused gravlax, Havfruen has much to recommend itself. It’s one of the city’s leading fish restaurants, beautifully located in one of the old warehouses along the river Nidelva. Naturally, we had to come back.
This time around, next to the massive wooden pillars lending a special character to the place, we indulged in a seared and baked catfish, with a delectable mussel/thyme sauce.
Before saying goodbye to Trondheim – our itinerary included trips to neighboring areas – I must mention two other restaurants we visited. One was Ågot Lian, a new seafood eatery with a menu based on old family recipes; the other was Astrum Grill and Raw Bar, with an outstanding view of the Trondheimfjord, and food to match.
At Ågot Lian, after feasting on plates of prawns, eggs with caviar, scallops with mayonnaise, and homemade rye bread, we spoke with the owner, Annie, who proudly showed us a portrait of her great grandmother, Ågot, who not only gave the restaurant its name but served as a major inspiration. Everything is completely homemade, and a strong emphasis is given to using only the best local produce.
While Ågot Lian is committed to traditional Norwegian food, Astrum prides itself on offering a “fusion of Nordic cuisine with rustic American and sophisticated Asian dishes.”
Here - a change from all the seafood - we ate reindeer with a mustard foam, complemented with cabbage and apple jelly. All quite satisfactory, as were the blueberry and white chocolate dessert that followed. On the roof terrace outside we were treated to a beautiful sunset. In front of us stretched the fjord, and there about a quarter of a mile out rose Monk’s Island, a tiny islet, which was once a prison, then a fort, then a monastery, and now a tourist attraction.
Music was a significant part of our Trondheim adventure. The St. Olav Festival had included a rock concert outside the Bishop’s Palace next to the cathedral. I also visited Rockheim, Norway’s national museum of pop and rock music.
As suggested, I started out in the The Time Tunnel on the 6th floor of the museum, journeying through decades of musical and cultural history. I especially recall the 50s room with an original 1957 T-bird standing in the middle of the floor. And then there was the old Rock-Ola jukebox with buttons to trigger videos across three screens.
The museum abounded with cutting edge interactive activities and provided some very helpful guiding. Other things I remember: a typical Norwegian living room from the 60’s, a 70s virtual reality band bus driving on picturesque roads in Lofoten, a 90s black metal room, and, shedding light on the “Swinging Sixties,” a collection of photos by Pattie Boyd in a special exhibit called “George, Eric & Me.”
In another room, you’re invited to jam with Ronnie Le Tekrø, a Norwegian guitarist best known for playing with the hard rock band TNT, and match your skills with his.
Certainly, when it comes to music, Trondheim has a lot to offer – Baroque, choir, classical, gospel, rock and pop. Plus superb food and beautifully preserved architecture. What more could you ask for?
© February 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.