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Published: June 16th 2008
What lies beyond?
The fabulous Naeroyfjord
A land of fjords, waterfalls, seafood and mountains - seems like my kind of place. So I headed to Norway for an extra long weekend at the end of May.
We flew into Oslo on Friday morning and checked out the sights (although we took it pretty easy, knowing we had a big couple of days ahead). A highlight was the Munch museum where we saw the famous 'Scream' painting, which had only just been returned to the walls after having been stolen in 2004 and recovered in 2006. The painting had been damaged by the thieves and the museum spent the next 2 years restoring it (and creating an interesting exhibition about the process). Apparently the thieves left a note saying 'Thanks for the poor security' - cheeky. (As an aside, security had been improved). It is a pretty cool painting though - and in its honour I did my best Scream impersonation outside the museum (see picture).
We also leaned some Viking history, checking out the Viking Ship Museum, which you get to by ferry. The ships don't seem to offer much protection from the elements - they are pretty shallow! A good thing about the museum
is that to get there you walk through the Oslo suburbs. Putting aside the expense (Norway is not a bargain) I reckon I could live in one of those houses.
We had a lovely dinner out - tried the Norwegian lobster which was a definite highlight! Norway is definitely NOT a bargain for food or alcohol - everything is expensive, no matter where you get it.
The next day we started off on the famous 'Norway in a Nutshell' tour designed to show you some of the highlights of Norway (albeit quickly). It's also a pretty cool way to get to Bergen.
First you get the train from Oslo to Myrdal. It's a five and a half hour trip on one of Northern Europe's highest altitude railways and the scenery is amazing. (In case you are wondering, there are higher railways in China (to Tibet - highest point 4,829 m (or 5,072 m - depending on which article you read). The highest point on this railway is Finse, a mere 1,221 m. There are also higher cog and wheel railways, but they don't qualify as 'railways' in the ranking.)
The railway travels through the mountains, still
covered in snow at the end of May (although none of the ski lifts we saw were operating). It was beautiful. You arrive at Myrdal station (865 m above sea level) and transfer to the famous Flamsbana train. It goes thorough 20 tunnels (18 of which were dug out manually) on the 20 km journey to sea level and the Fjords. Apparently it's an engineering marvel because of its steepness (the third steepest adhesion railway (ie not a funicular or cog and wheel) in the world - the steepest is Pöstlingberg in Austria). However, all that mattered to me was the views - and they are pretty impressive. The train zig zags down the mountain, with great views from both sides. As there was only one other person in our carriage, I was able to appreciate all the sights (apparently, is summer it can get so busy it is hard to see).
There are lots of waterfalls (which I got quite excited about - not realising how many more were to come) and breathtaking views out over the valley. By far the biggest waterfall was the Kjosfossen waterfall that cascades 94m, but there are heaps of smaller ones everywhere
Don't walk signs in Oslo
For some reason we could not work out, they have two red men. We thought that it was not clear enough, and added a third stop symbol
On arrival in Flam, was feeling a bit 'sceneried out' and glad that we had decided to stay overnight rather then continue on the fjord sightseeing that day (you can do it in 24 hours - but it would be intense!). Instead we stayed at the Fretheim Hotel, where the have a big buffet dinner, with lots of local organic food. Got to have a wide variety of seafood (including crayfish, trout 3 ways and catfish as well as of the pickled variety) plus more. A real find was a Norweigen cheese called Gjetost. It is a brown colour and tastes a bit of caramel, with a texture not unlike fudge - yum! It can be made from goat's milk or a mixture of goat and cow milk. Also tried another Norweigen cheese made from goat milk - not such a hit!
That night was also the Eurovision finals, so we watched some of that with a Norweigen guy who was VERY knowledgeable about all the songs, contestants and history. Hilarious.
A bit of a sleep in the next morning, meant we only got the dregs of breakfast (very poor planning on my part, but,
to be fair, it was our only sleep in day, and breakfast was all cleaned up by 10!) - so we missed out in the pickled and creamed fish. As Flam is pretty small, and mostly made up of tourist shops, we headed off on a walk up one of the valley sides. While we only had time to do a walk up one of the roads (albeit narrow and little used - we saw only one car) and didn't actually get to anywhere - it was a nice walk (and steep - so a good workout for the (increasingly aged) calves).
At 3pm we were back and boarding a boat for the fjord cruise which takes you through the Aurlandsfjord and the narrow (one of the narrowest in Europe) Naeroyfjord (a further addition to my UNESCO World Heritage List tour). They are both branches of the Sognefjord - the "King of all the fjords" which is the worlds longest and deepest (1.3 km in places) fjord (although only the second largest). The mountains that surround the Naeroyfjord stretch up to 1,700m into the sky, straight from the waters' edge, making for some amazing views. (I know, I know,
so many facts - sorry).
The trip was a combination of a number of things I love: boats, craggy cliffs, waterfalls, cool rocks - how could it go wrong? Luckily it didn't .... the only slightly annoying thing was the tourists who kept throwing food for the seagulls resulting in them flying en masse around the boat and getting in the way of my pictures!!!
The number of waterfalls was amazing - from tiny trickles to proper gushing waters, they were everywhere I looked (it is possible - although no formal admission is made) that too many photos were taken. The small farms nestled at the base of the mountains look miniature, and really give you an idea of the scale of the cliffs towering above them. I loved it - and would be keen to go back and do some more exploring of the area. Unfortunately, we did not see any seals, but you can't have everything. I loved the fjords, and have gained a new understanding of how the Norwegian Blue parrot (of Monty Python fame) could be pining for the fjords so badly so as to appear dead.
The cruise lasted about 2 hours,
and ended in a small town called Gudvangen. From there we hopped on a bus for a windy journey up the narrow, steep and spectacular hairpin bends of Stalheimskleiva - affording fantastic views back along the valley and toward the fjord - breathtaking. Finally, we caught one last train to Bergen (now read again from paragraph 5 and imaging fitting all of that in in a day!)
On or final day in Norway, we explored Bergen, catching the funicular up to the hills above the city for spectacular views, wandering around the port (especially Brygen with its charming row of restored 14th century merchant buildings) and visiting the Leprosy museum (in a little known fact - Norway was the leprosy capital of Europe and Norwegians contributed much to research into and understanding of the disease). Anyway - the exhibition was surprisingly interesting, as well as being something I am unlikely to check out anywhere else! Apparently, while leprosy all but disappeared in the rest of Europe in the 1300's it remained in Scandinavia, and especially Norway, until the 1900 - no one really knows why.
Turns out we were lucky with the weather in Bergen - it rains
Ready to rock and roll
On the Flamsbana train
for about 260 days a year!
On our departure from Bergen we had an unexpected highlight. We had ended up having to get a flight through Oslo as, at the time we booked, flights direct to London were very expensive. As we had a clear day on departure, what this meant was that we got a fabulous view of the fjords as we flew over them. They truly are amazing from the air (I definitely think Slartibartfast the planetary engineer deserved his award for creating the fiddly bits around the fjords in Norway). We also ended up with a fabulous view of the snow covered mountain plateaus - worth the couple of extra hours that were added onto the trip.
Norway - definitely worth a second trip.
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