A Hadeland Holiday

November 15, 2016.  Grumpy from our 24/7 work schedules and getting Grinch-ier by the minute, Matthew and I decided we needed to dredge up a little holiday spirit.  A flyer for the Hadeland Julemarked (Christmas Market) seemed just the thing to boost our basement-level attitudes.  It promised Christmas music, horse-drawn sleigh rides, traditional Norwegian food and mulled wine — plus steep discounts on the company’s incredible blown glass.  Call us Scrooges, but we’re all about bargain shopping for Christmas gifts.  (Nothing comes cheap here in Oslo, especially at holiday time.)

Established in 1762, Hadeland is Norway's oldest industrial company in continuous operation since its foundation.
Established in 1762, Hadeland Glassverk is Norway’s oldest industrial company in continuous operation since its foundation.  It’s also Norway’s third largest tourist destination, with more than 600,000 visitors a year.

However, getting to Hadeland (pronounced “HA-duh-lund”) required a bit more planning on our part.  The glass factory sits about an hour north of Oslo at the southern tip of Norway’s fourth largest lake, the serene Randsfjorden. You can reach it via public transportation, but we decided to save an hour and avoid the motion sickness that comes with bus travel.  Instead, we rented a car for the bargain price of $100 for the day ($150 is typical.)  The deal seemed even better when we showed up expecting a GM Opel but were given the keys to an Audi A3.  Who doesn’t love an early Christmas gift?

The gas station had a cool computer that allowed us to input the car's license plate to find out the right kind of oil for the vehicle. Never seen this in the U.S. before....
The gas station had a cool computer that allowed us to input the car’s license plate to find out the right kind of oil for the vehicle.

As the rental agent showed us to the car, he commented, “The low-tire-pressure light might come on at first, but don’t worry.  We just finished a vehicle checkup, and it takes a few minutes to register the air refill.”  That should’ve been our first clue.  Fifteen minutes into the trip, the gold low-pressure light still glared at us.  Then the green right-turn signal clicked on uninvited and stubbornly refused to turn off.  Ten minutes later, the red ‘low oil, service immediately’ indicator joined the increasingly Christmasy dash display.  So we called the manager to report the situation.  His response?  “Stop and fill it with oil, of course.  Keep the receipt.  We’ll pay you back.”

Uh, okay.  Having taken Driving Lessons in preparation for passing the Norwegian driving exam — during which the examiner can ask the driver to check the oil, explain how to change a tire, or perform other types of basic car maintenance — I assumed this was just another version of:  “We are not soft; we are Vikings.  It’s normal to personally repair your rental car.”  So we stopped to add oil, then checked the tires for good measure.  Not only was the front left one low, but all were bald.  The extremely low rental rate was now starting to make sense.

As you can see, Oslo's not fond of perfect right angles in their street system.
As you can see, perfect right-angle intersections are thin upon the ground in Oslo’s street layout.

Next hurdle.  Finding our way to Hadeland.  To explain, Oslo’s city streets are a snarl of one-way winding roads.  The strict Roman grid system doesn’t really rule here.  I’ve created my own mythology to explain the chaos, and it goes like this:  Long ago, one of the Norns — Viking goddesses responsible for weaving the fate of mankind — dropped her knitting, and the tangled skein of wool became the roadmap for the city.  It’s plausible, right?

Anyway, we’d hoped that the car’s GPS would help us decipher the goddess’s runic road plan, but no such luck.  Our English-accented navigator, whom we christened “The British Boob,” became increasingly befuddled by the roadways, making us backtrack several times.  And while my Norwegian accent might be poor, her pronunciation made street names utterly unrecognizable.  Not to mention that her penchant for precision (“Turn left in 167 meters”) irritated me.  Sure, lemme just get out my freakin’ ruler and measure that distance.

Our little detour did provide us with some Currier-and-Ives postcard views, but at the risk of skating off the road and into a
Our little detour did provide us with some postcard views, but at the risk of skating off the road and straight into a Currier-and-Ives painting.

The breaking point came when she steered us off a main road and onto a country lane that lay encased in six inches of ice.  The steep hills had me crawling at a snail’s pace to avoid skidding and slipping due to our bald tires.  Although the view was gorgeous, my terror at narrowly missing an adorable log-cabin home while trying to steer out of a slide made me less appreciative of the sightseeing opportunities.  And when we rejoined the main road “in an eyeblink,” as the Norwegians say, we realized that The Boob’s detour had been a shortcut designed to shave perhaps only 30 seconds off the route.  Whereupon we decided to pull her plug.  May she rest in peace.

Looks like s scene out of Disney's "Frozen," doesn't it? BTW, the movie is called "Frost" in Norwegian, and Aurland is a real town in Norway.
Looks like s scene out of Disney’s “Frozen,” doesn’t it? BTW, the movie is called “Frost” in Norwegian, and Aurendelle is a real town (Arendal) in Norway.  The country provided the inspiration for the film’s graphics and storyline.

Out came our good, old-fashioned paper map, which gave us greater bird’s-eye clarity for the overall route.  Our journey took us past gently rolling hills blanketed in snow and wreathed in moody fog.  And as predicted by our Norwegian colleagues, the drive was one of the prettiest we’d experienced near Oslo — all crystalline stillness and frozen light.  I know most folks shudder at the idea of visiting Scandinavia when it’s cold.  But Norway in winter is truly breathtaking.  So if you want the quintessential Christmas vista, bundle up and plan a December trip.  You won’t find a more magical holiday landscape.

img_3971
We spent about a half hour just enjoying the serenity of the Randsfjorden and its “symphony in blue.”

Arriving at Hadeland brought another another picture-postcard view, this time of the Randsfjorden itself.  Surprisingly, the freshwater lake hadn’t yet frozen over, and its clear, still waters reflected the sky, creating a wintery palette of about a bazillion shades of blue.  The small town of Jevnaker slept peacefully along the shoreline, providing us with a great potential backdrop for our upcoming Christmas card.  (Click on the images for bigger views.)

In the photo from 1870, you can see the old piers where rafts docked to deliver their wood to the Hadeland factory.
In the photo from 1870, you can see the old piers where rafts docked to deliver their wood to the Hadeland factory.

After our photo session, we tore ourselves away from the scenery and walked across the street to Hadeland, which is situated almost on the Randsfjorden’s rocky beach.  Historically, Hadeland floated logs down the length of the immense lake to the company barns, where the wood helped fire the melt-ovens for glass production.  A lumber mill on site also turned the timber into shipping crates for the glass, while the sawdust and shavings provided protective packing materials.  Talk about using every little bit of your resources.

I’m standing in front of the “Honey House,” an old worker’s cottage that has been repurposed to feature locally produced honey and the necessary accoutrement. In summer, kids can work with the glassblowers and make their own honeypots.
I’m standing in front of the “Honey House,” an old workers’ cottage that has been repurposed to feature locally produced honey and the necessary accoutrement. On weekends, kids can work with the glassblowers and make their own honeypots.

Beyond the factory itself, Hadeland also harbors a collection of cute cabins that once provided offices, homes, a bakery, school, post office, and other amenities for employees.  (Think of it as an early planned workers’ community or “company town.”)  Today, most of the buildings act as shops and showrooms for Hadeland’s various lines of glassware, as well as Scandinavian porcelain, textiles, cutlery, décor, and edibles.  And speaking of food, should you get hungry during your shopping excursion, the original bakery is still in operation, along with a waffle shop, and a café featuring Norwegian cuisine.

Hadeland's Main Café
Hadeland’s homey café serves up generous helpings of both holiday spirit and traditional Norwegian food.

Starving after our drive, we made the café our first stop, where we gnoshed on moose burgers and marzipan cake while trying to look like we fit in amongst a sea of Norwegian sweaters.  From the odd glances we received when speaking English, I got the feeling that most folks were a bit surprised to find Americans venturing so far inland to visit such a local attraction at this time of year.  The many staff that also leapt to help us and eagerly swapped stories about Christmas traditions cemented our impression that perhaps Yanks aren’t the usual holiday fare here.

After lunch, we hit the big factory-outlet barn where we scored some incredible mouth-blown Hadeland beer glasses and wine decanters.  Next, we sampled a huge variety of Norwegian cheeses, browsed the specialty Christmas foods, and stocked up on incredible artisanal beers from around the country.  By the time we’d finished canvassing the various showrooms for treasures (both “first-quality” and half-priced “seconds” are available), we’d ticked almost everyone off our Christmas list — and completely filled the trunk and backseat of the rental car.

But beyond the shopping, we made time for Hadeland’s glass museum to learn the story of the company and peruse art pieces made throughout the eras.  It seems that when the company began in 1762, nobody in Norway knew much about making glass.  So they imported craftsmen from Germany and focused mainly on the basics, like bottles and jars for chemists and pharmacies.

Arne Jon Jutrem created these gorgeous glass pieces for Hadeland in 1985/6. Many of Hadeland's artists have received Royal Norwegian Order-of-St. Olaf medals (for Norwegians) or Royal-Order-of-Merit medals (for foreigners working in Norway) -- the highest honor an artist can receive.
Arne Jon Jutrem created these gorgeous glass pieces for Hadeland in 1985/6. Many of Hadeland’s glassblowers have received Royal Norwegian Order-of-St. Olaf medals — the highest honor an artist can receive in Norway.

Then in1852, Ole Berg took over the factory, re-tooling it to copy European designs for crystal glassware, bowls, and such.  And by the 1920s, the company had begun developing its own award-winning designs with characteristic Scandi simplicity and elegance.  Today, the company produces everything from utilitarian pieces to incredible art glass and interior design installations, and also sponsors artists-in-residence programs.

jfk-chandeliers
Norway’s gift of seven Hadeland Chandeliers hangs from the honeycombed ceiling of the JFK Center Concert Hall. C. Andrew Bossi

Although Hadeland products aren’t readily available in the States, you might be familiar with some famous pieces that have made their way into U.S. history.  Norway gave the Kennedy Center its spectacular set of Concert Hall chandeliers, which were designed by Hadeland’s Jonas Hilde.  And you might have seen the company’s Peer Gynt crystal on display if you’ve taken a White House tour (the set was added during the Johnson Administration.)  Check out some of my favorite Hadeland pieces, both historical and modern, by clicking through the gallery below.

About 30 glassblowers ply their skills across 6 workshops at Hadeland. They must work quickly in perfect unison to prevent the glass from growing cold.
About 30 glassblowers spread their skills across 6 workshops at Hadeland. The artists must work quickly and in perfect unison to prevent the glass from growing cold.

Our last stop was the factory itself.  I’ve seen glass blowing many times before, but usually in small artisan workshops or in tourist traps like the Smokey Mountains.  Never have I seen glass blowing done in a factory production line, and I gotta say, it’s pretty impressive.  The workshop we’d entered had at least 30 furnaces and ovens, as well as innumerable machines for etching, sandblasting, and polishing.

By the time we wandered in, late in the day, about three guys were still manning the ovens set up in front of theater seating for curious visitors.  Each worker seemed intent on a specific task, with some blowing the initial shape while others added color to glowing blobs of glass or trimmed their pieces.  Nearby, two more workers sat busily engraving and polishing delicate wine glasses that had cooled.

Traditionally glassblowing is a male-dominated field, with less than 10% of the artists being women. However, Maud Gjeruldsen Bugge heads Hadeland's design team of seven artists, six of whom are women.
A little girl’s mom looks on as a glassblower shows her daughter some skills.  Traditionally, glassblowing is a male-dominated field, with less than 10% of the artists being women.

We watched the glassblowers’ carefully orchestrated dance as they worked around each other to blow, shape, and refine their pieces.  Can’t be too cautious with fire-hot glass.  Eventually, children were invited to get in on the action.  One worker let a little girl blow her own glass bowl — with some coaching and the assistance of a stair-stepped stage for a better angle on the blowpipe.

As it turns out, folks can blow their own glass on weekends for a mere $20, plus an additional $20 for sandblasting a pattern of their choice on their creation.  I would’ve loved to have tried it myself, but the place was closing, and it takes at least 1.5 hours for a piece to cool down before you can take it home.  Note to self:  come earlier next time, and make a beeline for the factory.

Nonetheless, it was nice to round out our shopping spree with the chance to see the stuff we loved being made by hand.  And if you’d like a little dissertation on what we learned about the ancient art of glassblowing, take a look at my final gallery below….

 

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