All travelers, even professional ones, experience the woes of plans gone awry. In our new column, Travel Fails, we’re highlighting stories where everything went wrong.
Who Failed: Anna Davies and daughter, Lucy
Where Was the Failure: Røros, Norway
How Bad Was the Failure (Editors rate the failure across five categories in our 0-5 Fail Scale):
The Fail Tale
Iced-covered fjords. Prancing reindeer. Warm, alcohol-spiked glog. What could go wrong with a trip to Norway two weeks before Christmas?
That’s what I thought as I spontaneously booked a trip to Røros, a town of just over 5,000 in Norway, for myself and my three-year-old daughter, Lucy. After all, Lucy and I had watched Frozen multiple times a week, entranced by the fantasy unfolding in front of her. Other parents went to Disneyworld. But Lucy and I were world travelers. We wouldn’t go to Disney. We would go straight to the source, the tiny town in the Trøndelag municipality that Disney animators had allegedly used for inspiration for the film.
A month later, we landed in Trondheim in the 3 p.m. polar night.
“Most people don’t come here in winter,” the cab driver said, his wipers squeaking. I squinted in the darkness at the bleak urban landscape as the car went through the Skansen Tunnel toward the city center. The darkness was disorienting, especially combined with jet lag.
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As we walked into our generic chain hotel, I had second thoughts. Where were the fjords? The reindeer? The glog? This looked like any generic city; the snow dingy as it landed on the icy parking lot. Lucy, however, was unfazed.
“We’re looking for Elsa!” my daughter said cheerily at the reception desk.
“Not here. That’s in Arendelle,” the grandmotherly clerk corrected sternly.
“Yes, but… it could be here?” I asked loudly. Just say yes, I implored with my eyes.
“Nope. It’s in the south! Far from here. You went the wrong way!” She grinned as Lucy’s eyes widened and I shrugged awkwardly.
This would be a repeat conversation the next day, as we explored Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral. With Scandinavian exactness, the Norwegians we encountered at the gift shop and the sanctuary and inside the Archibishop’s Palace were quick to point out why we were wrong to come to this area of the country to look for Elsa. My heart sunk every time they didn’t play along. We had come from New York. We were here! Did they think we had come just for the cathedral tour? And for what it’s worth, Elsa is a made-up character—why couldn’t she live here?
By 3 p.m., it was pitch black, and Lucy insisted on having dinner at the pizza joint down the street from our hotel—Peppe’s Pizza, a Norwegian pizza chain serving “real American pizza since 1970.” Our order: The “Very Special.” While I couldn’t fully understand the menu notation: “Sett sammen din egen favorittpizza!” I liked the exclamation point. What I didn’t like: The elastic-y cheese, spongy crust, and what turned out to be a $37 price tag.
So far: No reindeer. No glog. And no magic.
At least Disney has rides, I thought to myself.
The next morning, we got up early to head to the train station to Røros in the pitch 8 a.m. dark. I was eager to get out of the city and into “real” Norway.
“No trains. All full,” the ticket agent said matter of factly.
“None? To Røros?” I said. Tears began to prick my eyes. What if we were stuck in this city of overpriced food and ice-covered sidewalks.
“No. Not tomorrow, either,” the ticket agent said. “Or…nope, not the next day either.”
We walked outside and I saw a line of taxis. We had already come so far.
I stuck my head into the passenger window. “Røros” I said definitively, like everyone springs for a taxi for a 100-mile trip.
“I can do it … but that will be 4,500 krone. He sounded shocked at the price. I discreetly pulled out my phone to assess the conversion damage. $500 USD.
“Do you take cards?”
This was a ride … but not the ride I had anticipated. Three hours later, the weak midday sun barely illuminating the cows and forests we passed along the road, we drove up to our lodgings for the next two days: The Røros Rehabilitering Guesthotell, a sprawling alpine lodge that doubled as a rehab facility for cardiac patients—a fact not mentioned on Booking.com.
The linoleum floors smelled like cleaning supplies; the walk to our room included a tour past the physical therapy room and an unused ping-pong table collecting dust. The room itself had two dorm-style twin beds with an emergency medical call button placed prominently near the toilet. The Norwegians had been right: It was definitely not Arendelle.
But we had made it. And as we headed outside to walk the half-mile toward the Christmas market, I cheered up. The snow was crunchy, the tiny log cabins were picturesque, and we were finally doing something.
“Sven!” Lucy called excitedly, tearing away from me when we got to the center of town. Walking through the crowd was a one-antlered reindeer, and Lucy was jumping up and down to touch him. The woman holding his reigns spoke sharply in Norwegian as the crowd cleared.
“Is this your child?” she asked finally, in English.
I nodded, expecting her to praise us for coming so far, to comment on how cute it was that she was excited, to offer to pose.
“We do not touch reindeer! Take her!” She pushed Lucy toward me as tears stung my eyes. I felt like it was an indictment on the whole trip. We do not touch reindeer. We do not book random trips to Norway.
“Do you want a picture?” one woman asked in English, nudging us toward the reindeer as she noticed my phone clutched in my hand.
I shook my head. I did not want to remember this.
But there was a glog stand nearby. Finally. I eagerly pulled 100 krone out of my bag with my mittened hand.
I took a sip, surprised by how sweet it was.
“Alcohol?” I asked, gesturing to Lucy, as if the reason I wanted to know was for her. The vendor shook his head.
But the festival was pretty, and the drink was spicy and warm, and I finally could brag on my Instagram stories that we had made it to the land of Frozen to people who wouldn’t correct me. We bought mittens, hats, ornaments. We went to the ATM multiple times. And when it was 4 p.m. or midnight or who can tell with this polar night situation, we trudged through the snow to our rehab-hotel, by way of a supermarket.
No restaurants tonight. Just provisions back at the hotel. I had made my peace with the fact that this wouldn’t be a gourmet trip. But I couldn’t figure out the best sandwiches to buy. Shrimp and cucumber? Ham and cheese in a tube? Bruneost, the brown cheese that Norwegians love but can smell like feet to the uninitiated? We finally settled on kolebrød—a coconut and vanilla pastry—and a half a pound of gummy candy. It was grim. But also delicious.
We slept fitfully through the night on our uncomfortable bed. Finally, we turned on the lights and watched Frozen on our iPad while finishing the gummies. But snow had begun to fall, dusting the pine trees. The lights from the city twinkled in the distance. I felt the most relaxed I had during the whole trip.
The next day, after overspending on woolen crafts at the market and finally getting a chance to touch the reindeer, we called it a day. We took the bus back to Trondheim—an option I wish had been made clear back at the train station—for about $20 each. And then, we followed the advice of the concierge and went straight to an indoor water park for the rest of the afternoon.
We had spent our “cultural immersion” weekend getting scolded, spending way too much money and gorging ourselves on candy and pizza. In other words, we pretty much had the Disney experience—minus Elsa, the whole point of the trip. And I would 100% do it again.