The Sæther’s in Nord-Odal, Norway

Nord Odal
Leif and Annelise
Wild Berries

The Place: Nord-Odal, Norway

When I think of Odal, one word comes to mind: unspoiled. By definition, this word would apply to most parts of Norway. However, places like the north are so dramatic, calling it unspoiled doesn’t seem to fit. But Odal’s special because its beauty is so simplistic. Quaint, wooden family homes are scattered around a lake that glistens a deep shade of blue. In the tiny town, on weekends, a farmer’s market pops up selling local goods, which is a particular treat for residents and visitors. To top it all off, arguably the best part about staying in Odal is the intense feeling of being so close to nature. Without the rush of traffic going past or pollution of lights, being in Odal makes you feel like you’ve gone back to a simpler time in history. Time doesn’t seem to work the same in Odal as it does everywhere else. Days blur into each other and it’s easy to forget how long you’ve been there. It’s a rustic and relaxing getaway where not much happens, but the area does hold some historical significance, too. Just 20 minutes by car from the kommune is Eidsvoll, where the Norwegian constitution was first signed on the 17th of May, 1814.

Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own. 

The People: Leif, 76, Retired Headmaster and Former Local Politician, and Annelise Sæther, 77, Retired Teacher

Annelise: I am 77 years old and I was born here in Delbekk. My grandparents and my father are from this home. They lived in the old house you can see in the garden, which is a little more than 100 years old. I was a teacher, and in Summer I swim in the lake and do a lot of gardening. I met Leif in 1964, and we have three children, and eight grandchildren. Our first grandchild was Tieran!


Leif: I am 76, and I am not from here, but from Trøgstad. I am also educated as a teacher with extra qualifications after my teachers education in Pedagogy, Leadership, School Development, Biology, Norwegian, Gym and Media Studies. I was a principle in a school, you see. I have many hobbies, mostly sporting activities like cross-country skiing. We sing in the local choir. I’m still active in local politics (see the story of how Leif got elected at the bottom), and in local culture. 

I met Annelise during Russ (a month of partying before the end of the last year of school) when she was a teacher, and I was still a student. I drove past her in my Russebil (a Norwegian party vehicle used exclusively during Russ), and I felt on top of the world, so I thought maybe I can give her a ride seeing as she’s waiting for the bus.

Annelise: And I thought, because I was a teacher, what a story that would be if I turned up to work in a Russebil.  

Leif: So I stopped the car, I pulled over, and bowed a little so I was being elegant an impressed her. So I said can I give you a lift to work? But she said-

Annelise: I’m finished with all that stuff.

Leif: But then later I started at teaching school and we met again. And there was a party, with a dance. And of course I asked, “will you dance with me?” And so we danced. Since then I never looked back. One-and-a-half years later we were married, and 11 months after that we were parents.


  1. What is home to you?

“…home is something you have built up; you have built up the feeling, you live there with the person you love.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: To me, home is something you have built up; you have built up the feeling, you live there with the person you love. We built this house together. Home is something other than just a house. This is where we dig into the earth, plant our crops, and carry water to them. This is where our children come to visit us, and our grandchildren with them.


Annelise: I have my roots here, but Leif has his in Trøgstad, so it’s different for him as he moved here 30 years ago. The Redcurrent bushes here were my grandmother’s. I don’t know exactly how old they are, but I’m 77 and they were here way before I was born. The old house in the garden, even though only a quarter of it is left, it is kept exactly as it was when I grew up.

  1. What is special about Odal?

You can gaze out across the lake while you’re eating breakfast.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: The beautiful nature here. You can gaze out across the lake while you’re eating breakfast. We have fantastic ski tracks too. You can be very active both in nature and in the community here. ‘Kultur’ here doesn’t just mean ‘culture’. It is anything in the community, as well as things like art and music. And that here is special. We have a very active theatre, two big choirs, and a great marching band. When we moved here, the environment of the school was amazing, so we loved it.


  1. What have you learned from living in Odal?

“…if you don’t do the work, no one will do it for you.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: Here we live closely with nature. We have a big area in the garden, almost like a small farm, in Norwegian we call it a ‘Småbruk’. Maybe we could be satisfied living in a different setting, but what we like so much about this is how free we are here. We work on our own land, and with our own tools and materials. But what we learn from this is if you don’t do the work, no one will do it for you. If you don’t take the plants that you don’t want out of your garden, then they will spread. If you don’t water your plants, they will die. If you don’t cut the trees, they may just fall. Now we have become 76 and 77, there is the question of ‘How much longer can we do this?’ It’s very hard work.


Annelise: We don’t fit in an apartment. The alternative to here is to live in a block of apartments in a city or something, and that’s not for me. But it means we work all the time. But I think we can keep doing this until I’m put in a nursing home! I just read in the newspaper people should live at home as long as possible before going to one of those.

  1. Have you been outside of Odal and Norway?

“…the history there. You see it around you, and you’re in it.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: We know very well a little town in England called ‘Steyning’! There we have been many times to visit our grandson. I think Rome may have been my favourite other than that. We have only been to Rome as tourists. I loved it because of the history there. You see it around you, and you’re in it. You walk out of the hotel, and there will be historical ground everywhere.


Annelise: For me that’s difficult. We have been to Tanzania, to Russia, Spain, Denmark, New York. Many places. I can’t say my favourite. We went on an interrail trip many years ago to Switzerland.

  1. Can you think of a time you have been proud of Odal?

“…we have a special festival that is put on for people with Downs Syndrome…called ‘Mor-Odal’…”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: I am proud of the local culture. This year the two choirs put on a play about some local stories from 90 years ago. There were 17-18 actors and a band and an original manuscript. It was sold out, with 600 people two days in a row, and that’s a lot for a small place like this, and it’s very good for the town. Two weeks before that, we had a brass band concert which was also great. We have a great trumpeter, Ole Edvard Antonsen, from Hamar which is in the same county as us, and he was there. He is world famous and has played all over the world, in the Royal Albert Hall for example.


Annelise: Here in Odal, we have a special festival that is put on for people with Downs Syndrome, and other conditions, called ‘Mor-Odal’, which means ‘Fun-Odal’. It’s the greatest event in Odal, and something I’m very proud of. Buses full of people from Eastern Norway come here, and there are big Norwegian stars performing- it’s fantastic.


  1. What is your main concern or worry about Odal?

The question is ‘should the community earn the money from destroying our beautiful nature, or should we take care of it instead?”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: We have a problem. We have a need for renewable energy. But the nation of Norway gets 97% of its energy from renewables because it has so much hydroelectric power. So we don’t have a need to build more wind power. But Denmark, Sweden and England have lots of windmills. And so came a large multi-billion dollar conglomerate from Germany called “Eon”, saying the hills here are a good location for wind turbines. They want to build them, and sell the wind energy to the rest of Europe. So myself and many others believe that the kommune should have the power to decide where to put what in the community, and some of those turbines are 225 metres tall. If they are placed here, we will have to create large roads up into untouched nature, and much of that will be destroyed. If we agree to allow them to build here, Eon pays the community. But some people’s neighbouring land loses a lot of value, and it becomes harder to grow things. The question is ‘should the community earn the money from destroying our beautiful nature, or should we take care of it instead?’ Or at least shouldn’t the community decide for itself where they are going to be placed.

  1. How would you convince someone to visit Odal?

We can do a little PR for Odal! It is still a small town but a central town, not so far from Oslo.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: There are two things I would say.  We can do a little PR for Odal! It is still a small town but a central town, not so far from Oslo. It takes one hour on the train to be in the centre of the capital, and the train runs three times an hour. It’s one hour and 30 minutes to Sjusjøen, one of the most popular places to have a holiday cabin in Norway. We have a rich and big culture, and if you want to live here rather than visit as a tourist, there’s great day care and schools. There are also many jobs in this area, and the houses here are way less expensive than in the cities. You can spend a third of the price and get a much bigger property than you would in Oslo.


Annelise: Every Tuesday, I visit Oslo, and Leif every Wednesday. Door-to-door it is an hour to my grandchildren including the bus and tram, which is very quick.

  1. What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of People from Odal?

“I’m from Nord-Odal, and here I shall stay!”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: The Norwegian districts get more and more urbanised by the day. But I think people from this area say “I’m from Nord-Odal, and here I shall stay!” People here are very proud of living here. There is a Sur-Odal. On the kommunhus, it said “we are Odalen”, and many, many people from Nord-Odal were angry because they feel they are Odalen.


Annelise: There is also a stereotype that people here aren’t well educated. Years ago, the education wasn’t so good here, but that is changing now.

  1. What is the best thing to ever come out of Odal?

Stein Gruben who ski jumped with the Olympic torch… he was from here.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: There are many good speed skaters and other athletes like ski jumpers. The biggest athlete to come from here is probably Lasse Sætre, who came 3rd in the winter Olympic for speed skating in 2002. I used to speed skate a little when I was younger too. When the Olympics were in Norway, there was a guy called Stein Gruben who ski jumped with the Olympic torch, and he was from here.


  1. What do you eat during the Holidays here?

“I think it is taken from Jewish culture; the exodus from Egypt.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: As a family when we lived in Trøgstad, we had Calcun (Turkey). In Easter, we have a tradition here to eat Easter lamb. I think it is taken from Jewish culture; the exodus from Egypt. It was slaughtered and put on the doors- it is part of the paesach (Passover) celebration.

Annelise: But Calcun isn’t special for Norway. There is a special kind of ribs which can be salted or smoked. Pinnekjott of course is popular, which is salted lamb ribs and cooked with sticks through it. It takes many hours to cook, because all the water you put in it is supposed to dry up. With the Easter lamb, we cook it on a low heat from early in the morning until late at night, and with garlic and rosemary inside it. It is served with sweet potatoes and carrots. Very typical for Easter but it’s not strict in how you prepare it.

  1. What is your favourite Norwegian Dish?

It tastes great, is traditional, and we look forward to it all year round.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Leif: Jule (Christmas) food, especially pinnekjott. It tastes great, is traditional, and we look forward to it all year round.


Annelise: It’s interesting, when Cecilie cooks Vietnamese food, it is so delicious and exciting. But that is not like typical Norwegian food.

  1. What is your least favourite Norwegian food?

Maybe Leif doesn’t eat mashed lung. I hate it.”

See Leif and Annelise's Full Answer

Annelise: Leif will say Macaroni, though it’s not Norwegian. It’s difficult because he eats absolutely everything! Literally everything. For me it’s klottmjelk, which is sour, separated, warm milk. It’s more popular in rural areas, and most people hate it. Maybe Leif doesn’t eat mashed lung. I hate it. I don’t even know what animal it’s from.


Leif: It’s just lung that has been mashed up.


Annelise: Berries from Odal! The berry plants in the front garden have always been there as long as I have known. My son has planted new ones in the back which are descendants from the ones in the front. We make jam with them, and ‘saft’ which is like a squash. You can take them to this berry presserie; you bring your berries, and in payment, you get something in return, like fresh juice, blueberry jam, or whatever else is there. They have the best apple juice called ‘Eplemost’ (applemash). They’re great to give as gifts to people on special occasions. We keep berries in the freezer all year long from the garden.

Life According to Locals #NordOdal #Sand #Norway #InterviewsWithLocals Click To Tweet

The Plate: Fresh and Wild Berries from Odal

Wherever you are in Norway, the berries are something special. Not something you think of when you think ‘Norsk cuisine’- most people jump to salmon or cod – but these forgotten treats that so often go unnoticed by foreign visitors have a secret weapon. In summer, the sun dips below the horizon for just two hours in Odal, and for even less time as you move further North until you find yourself basking in midnight sun. Without reminding you too much of your GCSE Biology course, the seemingly endless daylight means more energy can be converted into sucrose and deposited in the fruits of plants, and that, of course, means they are much, much sweeter. Whether it’s a wild raspberry from the banks of Råsen in Odal, or blackcurrants from a local family’s garden, you’re in for an explosion of flavour that you wouldn’t expect from something so small. So if you’re walking in the mountains or having a break at a roadside, be sure to scan the ground for some of nature’s finest sweets, and keep an eye out especially for cloudberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. With supermarket prices that’ll make you take out a second mortgage, it’s good to keep in mind that the best things in Norway are free, and this is one of them.

Bonus – How Leif got elected:

Leif: In Trøstad, where I was born and where I spent my first 50 years, I was very active in the local community but never involved in local politics. However, I was a candidate for the ‘kommunestyre’, but I was way down at the bottom of the list and had only agreed to be on there so the local party that I supported had enough candidates to qualify for the election. I never ever expected to be elected. But, as a principle, a lot of people knew who I was and recognised my name, and so during the within-party election, they put a cross which equals one extra vote next to my name on the ballot. So I gradually began moving to the top of that list. The problem was that I didn’t expect to be elected, so I never told my wife that I’d even put my name down! So I reached the top section of the list and then that party got elected, and you can’t say no when you’re elected. You have to stay in office for four years. So I had to come home and say to Annelise, “Now I’m in Politics.” 


Annelise: And so said I “If you’re going into politics, I’m going to go and knit whenever I want.” That was my payback.

Leif: But this is a surprisingly common way to enter politics here, and I know a few others who can tell you the same story. I left after the four years and, here in Odalen where we have lived for 30 years, I am no longer involved in politics.

Watch part of our cycle journey through Central Norway below:


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Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

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4 years ago

Fascinating….but what is a Røss van?

4 years ago

It appears that north of Oslo, Norway is in complete harmony with nature. What a privilege. I enjoyed Annelise’s explanation of the sweetness of the berry fruits. Could almost taste them.