Bonding with people from different cultures is officially good for your health. In their new ‘Cruise Mates‘ campaign, Thomson Cruises highlight the results of research they did with the Human Nature Research Lab at Yale University. It found that Brits who bond with up to five new people from different cultures while on holiday can experience a happiness boost of 10%.
Do you agree? It sounds plausible to me. My most vivid travel memories come from times when I’ve talked to locals, and listened to their life stories. The more different to my own, the better. One recent experience was when I met Jannet Aksnes, manager of the family-run Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, while on a press trip with Visit Norway.
Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell is a 40-room mountain lodge, built in 1896 as a sanitorium for TB sufferers. It’s in a remote part of west Norway, only accessible by rail, foot or bike. We arrived at Vatnahalsen after a breathtaking ascent on the Flåm Railway, through the winding twists of the scenic mountain route. At 820m above sea level, the place was cold.
We stowed our luggage in the unlocked cabin by the side of the railway tracks (no crime here), and headed up the slippery slope to the hotel. Waiting to greet us was the enticing smell of sweet waffles, and Jannet Aksnes’ sunny smile.
Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell is a homely, cosy place to stay if you want to get away from it all in the Norwegian countryside. It felt even more enticing when Jannet told us about her life, growing up at the hotel.
Forty people lived in Vatnahalsen’s tiny village. From the age of six the village’s ten children would take the train to school at Flåm. School hours were 10.30-14.30, timed to coincide with the train’s timetable. I could just picture the youngsters, bundled up against the cold, waiting for their school ‘bus’ to arrive on these tracks every morning.
The school is now closed. Since her childhood, Jannet has seen many changes to Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell. The hotel has always been lively. As well as the hotel’s visitors, eighty cabins are set nearby, where people come every weekend from Bergen. From the 1930s this area was a skiing hotspot, known as the ‘St Moritz of the Nordic’. Visitors have, on the whole, mostly been from Norway, but last year better transport links brought more guests from overseas.
The hotel’s popularity has extended to day-trippers from cruise ships. 40,000 came last year, to drink coffee and eat the mouth-watering waffles made by Jannet’s mother. Jannet told us she now has a burly ‘waffle muscle’ on her batter-stirring arm. Because of the huge demand, the Aksnes family are working with a larger company to build a waffle hut, separate from but near the hotel. The next few years will see big changes for Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell.
Meeting Jannet and spending a few hours at her family’s hotel really did leave me with a cosy glow. Thomson Cruises are trying to promote similar encounters, by running a campaign to encourage British holidaymakers to get to know locals. Actor Larry Lamb (from Eastenders and Gavin and Stacey) went around meeting ‘Cruise Mates‘ – new-found friends from his ports of call. These include Miguel, a fisherman in Ibiza; Christine, a Flamenco dancer in Barcelona; and Thelonious, a cyclist in Palma, who knew the best routes for beaches and views. Here’s Larry in Ibiza:
Do you have any stories to tell about meeting locals while on holiday?
If you’d like to read more about Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell and the western fjords of Norway, you can read my post:
To find out how to reach Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, visit their website. The only way to get there is by train, from Oslo, Bergen or Flåm. In the summer it’s possible to hike or to cycle from Haugastøl/Finse, Myrdal or Flåm.
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This is a collaborative post with Thomson Cruises. All views are my own.