Unlike Oslo or Bergen, Trondheim isn't surrounded by a lot of "must-see" satellite attractions. But all true Norwegians, or Norwegian-Americans, head for Stiklestad.
Lying 90km (56 miles) northeast of Trondheim, Stiklestad is the most famous historic site in Norway. It was the site of an epic battle on July 29, 1030, between the forces of King Olaf Tryggvason and a better-equipped army of Viking chieftains. The battle marked the twilight of the Viking era and the inauguration of the Middle Ages, a transition that would greatly change the face of Norway.
Although Olaf lost the battle and was killed, in death he triumphed. Word of his death spread, and in time he was viewed as a martyr to Christianity. His followers made him a saint, and as the years went by, Saint Olaf became the very symbol of Norway itself. In the wake of his martyrdom, Christianity quickly spread across the land, and monasteries sprouted up all over the country. As his fame and popularity grew, Olaf's grave site at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim became the goal of nationwide pilgrimages. In time, his death would lead to the unification of Norway under one king.
Every year on the anniversary of his death, a pageant is staged at the open-air theater in Stiklestad, using 350 actors and drawing thousands in the audience. Launched in 1992, the Stiklestad Nasjonale Kulturhus (tel. 74-04-42-00) is like a virtual theme park, with exhibitions of the famous battle, plus a folk museum and a church from the 12th century. Some of the artifacts on display here were actually relics of the battle, which were discovered by archaeologists.
The open-air Stiklestad Museum is a living tableau of regional village life from the 17th century. In summer. there are demonstrations of farm life, and on-site is a carpenter's cottage, along with a water mill and an old-fashioned, 18th-century style sauna.
Stiklestad Kirke is a Romanesque church from 1150 built over a former wooden church on the exact spot where it is believed that King Olaf was felled in battle. In 1500, the nave of the little church was extended, and some 9 centuries later a series of 16th-century frescoes that had been used to decorate the walls of the nave were uncovered. At one time a stone that was said to have been the rock on which Olaf leaned before he died was on display here. In medieval times it was said that the stone had miraculous healing powers, but in time it disappeared, never to resurface. A soapstone baptismal font from the 12th century is the only artifact remaining from ancient times. A series of paintings in the chancel, commissioned for the 900th anniversary of the battle, relates the events of that fateful day.
The center can be visited from June to mid-August daily from 9am to 8pm. In the off season, hours are daily 11am to 5:30pm. In summer, admission is NOK110 ($22/£11) for adults, NOK65 ($13/£6.50) for children. In the off season, the price is reduced to NOK75 ($15/£7.50) for adults, or NOK45 ($9/£4.50) for children. On-site is a restaurant with a museum cafe.
There is no train station at Stiklestad. The nearest depot is at Verdal, lying 6km (3 3/4 miles) away. The train from Trondheim to Verdal takes 1 3/4 hours, costing NOK138 ($28/£14). At Verdal you can take local bus no. 22; all go within 2km (1 1/4 miles) of the site, costing NOK30 ($6/£3). The trip takes only 15 minutes. Motorists from Trondheim can reach the center by taking the E6 northeast.
Zealots, "Perverts" & the Ax Man
Munkholmen (Monk's Island), is a small, rocky, inhospitable, and richly historic island a short distance offshore from Trondheim's core. When the weather permits, daily ferries depart from a point at the northern terminus of Munkegate at hourly intervals between 10am and 7pm for the 10-minute jaunt offshore for picnicking, bird-watching, and beach excursions on the island. Round-trip passage requires less than 12 minutes each way and costs NOK55 ($11/£5.50) for adults, NOK30 ($6/£3) for children 14 and under. Advance bookings aren't necessary, and you can buy your ticket directly from the on-board driver. When the boats operate, departures from the landing stages at Trondheim are hourly, and the boats pick up whichever Munkholmen passenger is trying to reverse his or her direction.
But there's more to this sparse island than fun, games, and picnicking sites. For hundreds of years, beginning in 1658, the island functioned as a prison and an execution site, with a prominent hangman's scaffold, instruments of torture, and wooden blocks where ax men would lop off the heads of wretches condemned as criminals, "perverts," or enemies of the church or state. Before that, in the 11th century, the island was developed by Benedictine monks into one of the first two Christian monasteries in Scandinavia, housing zealots who shivered away the winters as winds and snows howled down the edges of the fjord. You can take a guided tour of the island's historic fortress for NOK30 ($6/£3) for adults and NOK20 ($4/£2) for children. There are many panoramic sites if you've opted to bring a picnic. You can buy supplies at the Ravnkloa fish market, a few steps from the landing piers. Otherwise, a cafe and snack bar are built into the much-restored fortifications.
Today Monk's Island is moderately popular as a destination for beachgoers, historians, and bird-watchers, even though the beach is small, gravelly, and relatively narrow, and the island is also very small. Some locals even insist the place is haunted. What you may come away with -- at least, in our opinion -- is a pervasive sense of melancholy and a profound new appreciation for the hardships and severity of life in medieval Norway. Most first-timers to Munkeholmen return to Trondheim and head immediately for the nearest bar for food, drink, and a replenishment of whatever good cheer they might have lost during their excursion.
Incidentally, Munkegate, the broad boulevard known ironically (facetiously?) as the "Champs-Elysées of Trondheim," was named after the medieval monks who lived here and who made frequent, sometimes daily, processionals between the landing pier at the avenue's base and Trondheim's cathedral, a 20-minute walk to the south.