Coming over from Sweden (here), we were eager to touch the third and final Nordic country of our tour. Ah Norway, one which evokes visions of emptiness in our minds. Huh? Yup that’s right. Absolutely nothing in our minds at all. And it is all because back in the day there wasn’t much in the way of information overload as we face today. Just remember, this was all before the phenomenal rise of the internet. Plus, we were not the epitome of researchers of information back then…
Here we are in the southern third of the country. While most folks coming to this part of Norway seek out the fjords, we cannot do injustice to the other sights we saw while making our way to the coastline of the country. So here goes.
Now the drive was from Stockholm toward a tiny hamlet of Laerdal, our base to explore the fjords. But before we got there our first stop on this drive was the town of Lillehammer, where we were oriented to the Winter Olympic grounds. Because the city had hosted quite a few of them since 1994. While we had skied before in Austria (here), the sport here was the jump. Imagine the near “rocket” speed an athlete achieves while hurtling downslope.
It was a brief stop for we needed to drive northwards to the region of Lom, where we would visit a unique architectural tradition that is characteristic of northwestern Europe – the Stave Church. It used to be common place, for the material used is timber and that is found in abundance in the northern half of the continent. But as you know wood does not last forever and do deteriorate. Thus today there are but 28 of them still standing, preserved by the state out of the many thousands that probably stood over the course of the last millennia.
This one’s a triple nave and constructed in the mid-1100s. You know, our guide told us that the features of some icons have Asiatic characteristics. And he said it reflected a little Buddhist influence… hmm. Take it with a pinch of salt? Well, there could be some justification there, for auras and halos did not originate from Christian art, but rather from older traditions which includes Buddhism.
Anyway, it was time to continue our journey for we have,
A massive barrier
In our way. For before we can get to the fjords, we’d need to surmount some of the loftiest roads in Europe.
The Vikafjell mountain extend towards Sognefjord and is high enough that even at the height of Summer, the snow has not fully melted – which shows how cold it was… and in the winter, these roads are virtually closed by virtue of the heavy snow. Come here prepared with some thicker clothing, for the one thing you don’t want to catch out there is a cold. Seems the tour season ends quite early in the Nordic countries when it comes to road trips… and how could the coach not stop for a picture on Vikafjell? Especially for tropical folks such as we, this was our first encounter with the white powdery stuff. Snow that is.
Look at the backdrop of mountains and snow. It was brrgh…! Cold.
The long drive took in lots of bends and turns on the road. So for those sitting at the front of the coach it felt more like a roller coaster ride. And because it was so nice and toasty in the coach, we soon fell into a slumber even as the beautiful scenery outside continues to fleet past unabated. Someone took a photo of the sleeping beauties who were only awakened when we finally reached the tiny hamlet of Laerdal.
A quiet place with nothing but a handful of buildings and the hotel in which we put up for the night, we were given some free time to roam around before dinner. Guess we might have to catch our own salmon in the river huh? It was late in the afternoon and most shops were closed. But in the one that was open we found lots of figurines depicting trolls. You know, those tall and ugly looking fellas? Well, they had plenty of them around as door stoppers, cigarette ash tray holder etc.
We had wondered why some of the huts had a green tuft of grass grown on the roof. The principle is that the tuft helps to the warmth in. Great idea indeed, but we wondered how the owner of the house will mow the lawn?
Yes! We are in the fjords!
Oh yes. We actually were already within the fjords when we got to Laerdal.
And it was time we embarked on a tour highlight – a cruise in the fjord. Geographically much of this part of Norway extending north are filled with such. A fjord is essentially a narrow inlet of water with very steep cliffs. The name of the fjord we’re in is Sogne and it extends all the way (~200km) to the North sea.
The cruise took us pass the cliffs. It is said that the cliffs represent only a small part of the total “height” of the mountains that you see in the photos. Like icebergs fjords are said to extend many more hundreds of feet deep (up to 1308m it is said). Therefore tides do not produce much effect and the surface appears unusually calm. Though we may seem to be surrounded by cliffs with snowy mountains, the water in this fjord is salty as it is connected to the sea.
Our cruise started from Sogndal and ended at Flam through the Aurlandsfjord, where we were transferred to the scenic Flam railway. The 20km+ railway runs all the way up through the mountains towards a town called Myrdal. Along the way we stopped at Kjosfossen, a waterfall with 93m drop. Imagine the volume of water after the snowmelt in spring. It must surely be a torrent that well exceeds what we saw.
The train took us to some of the nicest scenery in Norway it is claimed. Unfortunately it does not bring one to the edge of the fjord like many folks are posting on Instagram these days, but hey 20+ years ago it wasn’t easy to get to Norway in the first place! So yes we missed it and it appears to be bugging in us to get back there to see it. Perhaps pose and post a selfie… look ma, no hands!
Bade farewell to the fjords
Ah finally, we’ve touched the fjords. While we were at that, we’ve touched the mountains, the Stave church and bought some trolls home too. One of our tour mates picked up a really large greenish looking rock. Of all the people she convinced Suan’s brother to lug it home for her. Wow. Quite persuasive huh? We were moving back to the “big city” of Oslo (here), so here ends our road trip through the southern part of Norway as we drove into the coastal city of Bergen.
The row of houses along the harbor reminded us of Trondheim (here) and they are a restoration of the Hanseatic buildings. This area is called the Bryggen and a UNESCO heritage site. And there is a fat story behind this “kontore” that is located in this city. Have you heard of the Hanseatic league? If not, here’s an abridged version. This was a federation of free cities across the north German coast that banded together in an alliance for trade. It was a rather powerful entity for its time and where it had core interests it would set up a trading post. Bergen was one of the few that had a large office, making it an important trade center.
Our stop here was marred by rain. It is a city that where rain takes place more often than not, as its geography ‘catches’ the moist north Atlantic air and turns it into water falling from the skies. So despite what seemed to be misty conditions, we persisted in getting up to Mount Floyen for that glimpse of the city since it is the thing to do. Unfortunately we learned that the mist does not move for anyone and all we could see was the clouds punctuated with occasional drizzle.
But this is a place we think we definitely will be back. Why are we so confident? Simply because this is the starting point of our planned cruise along the Norwegian coast to view the aurora borealis. We’ll definitely be back, just when. And hopefully at the time it will not be so wet.
We cruised and “climbed” the fjords in June of 1996