"Odin threw Hel into Niflheim, and gave her authority over the nine worlds on the condition that she shared all her provisions with those who were sent to her, namely men who die from disease, or old age. She has a great homestead there with extraordinarily high walls and huge gates. ( These gates, called Helgrind, Nagrind, or Valgrind, are mentioned later when Hermod jumps them on his steed to visit Balder) Her hall is called Eljudnir, her plate hunger, her knife famine, her man servant Ganglati, her maid servant Ganglot, the stone at the entrance drop to destruction, her bed sick - bed, its hangings glimmering misfortune."
This seems like a desperate place of famine and disease, and yet when Hermod visits Balder he sees, " His brother sitting on the high seat. " There is also a description of both Balder and Nanna giving gifts to Hermod to bring back to Asgard. " Balder took off the ring Draupnir, and sent it to Odin. But Nanna, along with other gifts sent linen for a headdress to Frigga, and a gold ring to Fulla. They at least do not seem to be in a desperate situation, or lacking for anything. I believe it is only Hel herself who has to suffer by giving all she has to those who are sent to her. Those in her care are well cared for and lack nothing. As far as it being a cold and damp place..... well anyone who has lived, or even visited Scandinavia, knows that this is the way it is there. These conditions would not have been foreign to our ancestors.
Then there is the place of retribution. The place where all earthly transgressions must be paid for in full ! This place is called Nastrandir. And for the most vile of humankind there is that place called Hvergelmir. Gylfaginning gives us the best picture of this vile and torturous place :
"On Nastrandir there is a large and horrible hall whose doors face north. It is made of the backs of serpents woven together, like wattle - work, with all their heads turning into the house, and spewing forth poison so that rivers of it run through the hall. Perjurors and murderers wade through these rivers as it says here: I know a hall whose doors face north, on Nastrand far from the sun. Poison drips from lights in the roof. That building is woven of the backs of snakes. There heavy streams must be waded through by breakers of pledges and murderers. But it is worst of all in Hvergelmir; there Nidhogg bedevils the bodies of the dead. "
Not a pleasant place at all to be spending one's afterlife. Imagine being immersed in agonizing poisons, or to be gnawed at by Nidhogg while still being concious, and aware of each bite that it tears away from your flesh ! In my opinion it cannot get any worse ! Or can it ? After Nidhogg has consumed you, you would be reborn to suffer it all again the next day for eternity !
I have heard some say that the heavens are available to us now, but the Eddas make it very clear that this is not the case. We all, ( other than children, warriors, or unmarried women ), must first go to Niflheim, and there bide our time awaiting the final battle that is Ragnarok. This will release us from the grip of Hel, including Balder and Nanna of course, to go to the great heaven called Gimle. What is an eternity for us may be but a blink of an eye to the Gods and Goddesses. Fortunately , or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the only way to discover the truth of the afterlife is to experience it first hand. And that is one question that I can wait a little longer to have answered. That is why we must have faith in the All - Father, and the other Gods and Goddesses. We must all believe and trust in Them to direct us when our time comes. I know that my faith is strong and I hope that yours is too my friends !
Go with Odin's wisdom, Freyja's love, and Thor's protection !