It seems Scandinavian men are an unabashed bunch. On the dancefloor at the Telemark resort, a hulk of a building riding high on the shoulders of the Norway’s Telemark mountain range with a decor similar to that of the daunting Overlook Hotel from The Shining – there is indeed a sight to behold.
Here, before a mass of pickled onlookers, a 16-year-old bloke is dancing wildly with his fiftysomething mum to the girl power strains of Shania Twain’s That Don’t Impress Me Much – this rare public engagement between parent and progeny almost unheard of in our image-conscious Americanised world.
But it was earlier in the sauna, where I was subjected to a conversation with one Norwegian and two Danish penises, their owners obscured behind a cloak of acrid, pinewood-soaked steam, that I realised my Bostonian sense of modesty was to take a battering in the Scandinavian peaks.
You are English,” one of the Danish penises announced somewhere disarmingly close to my right ear after I greeted it with a stifled “Hey, mate”. It added with a chuckle: “That is not very typical here you know, but you have come to the finest place in Norway.”
I side-glanced the penis doubtfully, but the Norwegian member, hanging at my left temple on the step above, backed him up with: “Mostly there are the Danish and Norwegians here, for the skiing. It is a good resort, I come with my family. It is good sailing, the fjords are very beautiful around Telemark.”
As the conversation rolled on to talk of fishing and local food, I couldn’t help but think what a hospitable bunch of penises these Scando blokes pack – entertaining, even. Their wives must be thrilled.
To be fair to my grizzled mates, the scenery just outside the sauna is indeed a natural wonder in the truest sense of the expression – a dazzlingly cut see-saw of emerald valleys and bracing peaks in the early spring months, the landscape boasts many of the nation’s most revered fjords, teeming with excited wildlife after the long freeze of the winter months.
I have arrived on the tail end of winter, along with the diehard Scandinavian families who are hunkering down to take advantage of the last snow that blankets the imposing Gaustatoppen Mountain at the top of the Telemark range, three hours’ drive north-west of Oslo.
The primary attractions at this time of year are the hiking and trout fishing, but the trump card tour of the mountains around Telemark can best be appreciated on a bike. Most resorts in the area will hire out a bike for the day for around £8, which incidentally is the cost of a beer in Norway so pack a few bottles of spirits before you head over.
The top biking trip for this region will take you over the Hardangervidda mountain plain, which is awash in spring and early summer with eruptions of white, purple and yellow wildflowers bordering pristine mountain lakes where, if you’re into this sort of thing, you can stop to fish for a while when the hills become too much to conquer.
The bike ride kicks off in style with a heart-stopping ride on the Krossobanen cable cars, which are affectionately known as the ‘cranberry’ and the ‘blueberry’ to the locals due to their lurid red and blue monochrome paintwork. The Krossobanen will carry you up from the base station at the foot of the mountain plain up to a café 886m above sea level, where you can grab an overpriced pint, a plate of waffles and spy a panorama that takes in the massive Hardangervidda, Gaustatoppen and Vermork peaks.
The bike route passes through about 30km of rolling countryside on a round trip back to the town of Rjukan.
Back at the resort for a break, another naked Scandinavian bloke is standing outside my hotel room door arguing with his six-year-old son. He stands up and chuckles something in Scandinavian and I smile knowingly while I frantically fish for my keys. I resolve to hit our tour guide up for a few beers before I face these locals in the lunch hall.
A swirl of local brew later and we’re back at the Rjukan foothills where we’re up for the infamous hike to the top of Gaustatoppen, a gruelling journey 1883m above sea level that offers a brilliant aeroplane-window view that covers one-sixth of Norway and the hazy Swedish coast. The walk is a clear, rocky climb that takes about two hours and is clearly aimed at more serious, sober hikers. The scenery on the way up takes in my shoes and the boulders immediately ahead.
After a harrowing hike like Gaustatoppen, most travellers choose to hop on the eight-minute funicular ride back down through the inside of Gaustatoppen mountain. It’s a hell of a trip, running downhill at breakneck speed at an angle of 40 degrees.
As a due warning of the descent ahead, we’re loaded down with a 10 kilogram safety pack consisting of a gas mask and oxygen canister as we mount the funicular, in case there is a fire inside the mountain”, our guide grins as he snaps the doors shut and pushes the green ‘go’ button that starts this expressway to hell.
But this is by the by compared to Telemark’s star attraction. My three Scando buddies had pointed me to the legendary fjords of Rjukan, and I wasn’t about to second-guess them. And so, on the deep green banks of Lake Mosvatn we board the relative luxury of the Fvjellvaken tour boat. The tour takes you on a 40km ride down the fjord on a two-hour sightseeing tour of the surrounding mountainsides and waterfalls that fill the fjord. Our guide explains that in summer most people choose to charter yachts as part of a guided tour, but at this point in the season with chunks of ice pock-marking the mirror lake, the cruiser is the only feasible option.
Later that evening, on the dancefloor back in the Telemark resort, the Scandinavian lads are back on the game, living large with their mums. Bulgarian house band Addy’s Trio are pumping out covers of Brown Eyed Girl and Comfortably Numb and a gaggle of Danes are staring me out as I order my fifth double whiskey and Coke.
“Hey, you still here – you have a good time,” a broad-shouldered and jovial looking bloke is shouting at me with a smile as I approach the bar. I double take in confusion then realise this bloke must be one of my sauna buddies.
“Yeah, mate. Brilliant spot. It’s been a blast. Seen a lot. Too much, even.”
A stifled response, but it beats what was going through my mind: “Oh, sorry I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on, mate.”