The Telemark Canal runs sixty five smooth miles between Skien and Dalen, connecting a collection of long lakes and rivers. The canal is noteworthy for its complex lock system - there are 18 wooden-sided chambers in all, scattered along the length, still in about the same shape as they were in 1861. Boats still use it; in fact, it's a point of Norwegian pride.
The locks are operated by hand, opened and shut by two young men. First, they close the aft gates. Then they open the downriver ports, letting all the water drain into the next chamber - this is a loud and frothy happening, accompanied by the slow settling of the boat into the chamber. Finally, they open the forward gates and the Victoria moves ahead into the next chamber.
It's difficult to image now, with Norway's miles of smooth tarmac and whisper-quiet trains, but the canal was a major development in the nineteenth century. It's not the most mountainous of Norway's regions, but the Telemark landscape is far from flat. There are also dozens of lakes and rivers. The water criss-crosses the terrain in long valleys, making overland travel difficult. Being able to link together these bodies of water was important and arduous. It took a crew of five hundred men almost five years to blast and dig through the rock, construct the locks and even the falls.
After the last gate was opened, the man put his jacket back on - complete with shining epaulets - and gave an exaggerated, stiff-backed salute to the two men who had worked the ratchets and levers. Once the Victoria was out of sight, these younger men lit cigarettes, got in their cars and zoomed out of the parking lot.