Fjord-ing it... Antipodeans heading north


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Europe » Norway » Western Norway » Ålesund
August 26th 2010
Published: September 12th 2010
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Alesund City CentreAlesund City CentreAlesund City Centre

The view from... 410 steps above.
Five hundred kilometres short of the Arctic Circle is our destination. From Notts we take a midnight bus to Standsted, an early morning flight to Oslo Rygge, a 110 km train ride from Oslo Rygge to Oslo Gardermoen, a one hour domestic flight, a bus to the city centre and then, almost 17 hours after we started our adventure, we arrive in the Norweigan city of Alesund. Latitude: Sixty-two degrees north.

The best news (other than the fact that we’re now closer to either pole than we have ever been) is that we’ve still got one hour left before the stalls of Alesund’s 26th annual Norwegian food festival closes for the day!

The displays start out as you would expect at a festival like this with dairy produce, various salamis, coffee stalls etc. before we stumble across something distinctly Norwegian... a whale meat stall. Which, even more interestingly, is offering free tastings of smoked whale meat. Now this takes some thought. What are the ethics of eating whale? Australia takes a very strong anti-whaling stance at the IWC, so would it make us un-Australian to try a little?

After some deliberation Lachlan goes for it, justified by the
Smoked Whale MeatSmoked Whale MeatSmoked Whale Meat

Alesund Food Festival
logic: (1) the whale is already dead (2) the tasting is free so we are not financially supporting whaling (3) the whale was hunted in Norway’s (undisputed) sovereign waters, and (4) Norway only hunts Minkes (we could never justify eating a Humpback).

So what does smoked whale taste like? Similar to tuna but more intense in flavour, akin to the difference between beef and venison. It’s OK, but to be fair, give us a good steak or lamb chop any day!

With the excitement of the whale stall behind us we continue through the food festival where we stumble across another seafood stall. This one is selling whole scollops, shucked in front of us, then grilled in their shell with cheese, tomato and mushrooms. Hmm...yum. Our dinner decision for our first night is an easy one topped off with a cup of seafood soup and Norwegian crackers.

Friday morning we’re up early and our first port of call is Alesund’s Tourist Information Centre (TIC). We stock up with information on the area including the details and routes of the local buses. Our plan is to go for a bit of a hike and the idea of climbing the ridge on nearby Godoya island sounds good to us (we’re not proper mountaineers - but we do like being in the great outdoors).

So twenty minutes later we’re sitting at Alesund bus station waiting for the 664 bus to turn up. The 662 turns up, it’s in the right bay, but our timetable says 664... so clearly that’s not our bus (or is it?). As it trundles off, right on 10:30 (the scheduled time of departure for our 664) we consult our timetable again and note that there’s a footnote! Uh-oh... a footnote! The small print, which is in Norwegian, seems to imply that we are supposed to catch the 662 then change to the 664. Oh no... there goes our bus!

Time for a plan B.

Consulting our recently collected pack of information, we notice that we can do a tour of the Fjords inland of Alesund with a company called Fjord1. Looking up there’s a Fjord1 bus right in front of us and even more conveniently they also have an office right next to the bus station!

So we head off to the office where the friendly English speaking lady behind the desk
Alesund's art nouveau architectureAlesund's art nouveau architectureAlesund's art nouveau architecture

Basically the whole town burnt down in 1904 (one of the pitfalls of wooden buildings). They rebuilt the city in the popular style at the time. Very cool.
(Norway’s incredible - everyone seems to speak excellent English) gives us all the details and we head back to the bus station and jump onboard the Fjord1 bus to buy our ticket for the first leg of our trip from Alesund to Hellesylt.

As we set off we discover that Fjord1 are actually a local public transport organisation and as our bus trundles along in the countryside we get plenty of time to admire the increasingly beautiful scenery. We’ve pulled up at a port and when a ferry pulls up the bus drives right on! It feels a bit strange sitting on a bus while on a boat... so we jump out with the driver, who’s off for a coffee and some lunch in the cafe. So while he's doing his thing we go for a stroll around the decks, enjoying the fresh air and magic scenery.

When we arrive at the other side of the ferry crossing the big steel door opens and our bus drives off. From here the landscape becomes incredibly spectacular. The fjord that we are following has taken on the colour of the moody motley grey sky overhead and it seems like we’ve instantly become surrounded by mountains. Mountains whose peaks are shrouded in the shifting low cloud. Looking around we sense an immense feeling of space - something that we must admit that we’ve not felt in Europe before. This is probably not all that surprising as Norway is almost twice as big as Great Britain, with almost 12 times less people. You sure can tell!

The houses we notice as we drive past are almost all wooden and notably they all have a little porch with their front door on the first floor (presumably this is to ensure that the snow doesn’t stop you from opening the front door in winter).

The next hour or so sees us heading further into the mountains before we disappear into one of the rock walled road tunnels which have been an almost common occurrence in our limited journey so far. As we emerge out the other side we notice that we’re now following the Sunnylvs Fjord from 200 metres above as it snakes around the side of a steep pine covered mountainside. All we can see is mountain, fjord and sky. Magic.

The road gently makes its way downhill to Hellesylt,
Bus ride through a tunnelBus ride through a tunnelBus ride through a tunnel

Part and parcel of travel through Norway
where we jump off the bus and take a short stroll past a waterfall, over a stream and to the Fjord1 ferry which will soon take us down the full 15 km length of the famed Geiranger Fjord. We’re very excited and after grabbing our tickets, determined to take in as much of the scenery as possible, we stake out a front row seat at the nose of the boat.

Out on the water we really start to understand about what fjords are all about. During the last ice age large glaciers moved from the mountains down to the coast cutting large U-shaped sections through the mountainous river valleys as they did so. When they reached the sea they eventually melted creating an impressive steep sided estuary in their wake. This geology is highlighted particularly well in the spectacular Geiranger Fjord and as our ferry pulls into it we are blown away by the view.

The fjord is about 400 metres across. On the sides are vast vertical faces of exposed rock which rise 200-250 metres straight up from the water’s surface. In parts, the melting snow and recent rains have created a supply of water which flows
On the Geiranger FjordOn the Geiranger FjordOn the Geiranger Fjord

Sorry - the photo just doesn't do it justice.
off the immense drops in a waterfall. As we take in the amazing sight we’re told by the onboard ferry commentary that in places the fjord is over 200 meters deep!

As we make our way into a wider section of the fjord, and closer to the village of Geiranger, we can make out the mountainous peaks which sit further back from the immediate vertical rock faces. It is quite astounding to read that some of these mountains are in excess of 1500m! This is why we’ve come to Norway.

Eventually the tiny tounship of Geiranger comes in to view and as we dock, our ferry trip comes to an end.

While we wait for the next bus heading to Alesund, we potter about the streets on the lower hillside of the town before grabbing a bite to eat. It’s a truly spectacular spot for a town and we regret not being able to spend more time exploring the hillsides and possibly even taking a canoe trip down the fjord itself!

Once onboard for the final leg of our journey the bus sets off up the hill on the steep mountainside of Geiranger. As the road zigs and zags the changes in direction allow us to take in the progressively more incredible views out over the Geiranger Fjord below. At the top of the hill, the bus pulls over and the driver turns around, announcing with a big smile, “Photo! Five minutes!”.

Really? On a public bus? That’s great - thanks mate!

We waste no time rushing over to the viewing platform, which must be at least 750 meters higher than the fjord below. As we peer of the edge we are again completely blown away by the beauty of this area of Norway. It is truly magnificent.

The images of the day remain vivid in our minds as we travel back through more mountains and rock tunnels, across another fjord by ferry, before eventually arriving into Alesund in the early evening.

We’re full of excitement from our near perfect first day in Norway so rather than call it a night, we return to our hotel room, pull on our walking boots and head through town to climb the 410 steps up to the top of Aksla, the small hill which overlooks the city. Even though it is kind of late we still make it in time to watch the sun disappear into the Norwegian Sea and send low glittering light across the waterways to the west.

As pretty as it is, we can see rain coming our way so we climb down and head back to the hotel, stopping by a supermarket along our way. Picking up some local cheese, salted Norwegian salmon, Reindeer salami and a couple of cans of local large we make ourselves a simple supper before crashing out for the day.

On Saturday morning we enjoy a massive breakfast at the hotel before making the most of the morning by completing half of the Alesund walking tour (which we picked up at the TIC yesterday).

Just before noon we return to the bus station and make sure that today we don’t miss the 662! When the bus arrives we tell the driver that we want to climb the mountain on Godoya and we ask him if we can let us know which stop to get off at. With a big smile he lets us know that we need to change buses, but don’t worry - the next bus driver will let us know where
Detour from walking tourDetour from walking tourDetour from walking tour

Back to the food festival (conveniently in time for a free tasting of cold water prawns. Delicious!)
to get off to find the start of the trail. Great!

About ten minutes later we change buses and as we board the rather elusive 664 we discover that our next driver doesn’t speak any English. Uh-oh...

The 664 sets off with only us onboard and we do a loop around the single lane roads of the quaint island of Giske before heading into a sub sea tunnel en route to Godoya. Almost as soon as we pop out the other side, bus pulls over and the driver opens the door for us to disembark. There are no obvious trails anywhere in sight so we try pointing at the ridge and doing little walking motions with our fingers but we’re just met with a hearty laugh (crazy foreigners, he’s probably thinking). Acutely aware that the next bus back isn’t for another 2.5 hours we tentatively step off the bus, and a few seconds later it disappears back into the tunnel from where it came from.

Oh well, we’re here now.

Looking around we figure that if we want to climb onto the mountain we are at some point probably going to need to get onto the ridge, so our only option at the moment is to go down the main-ish looking road to our left and hope that we see a walking track. Luckily as we plod along putting that plan into action we come across a local teenager who is able to tell us that the track is unsigned, but it’s further ahead on the right. Phew...

A plank across the road side drain marks the start of the trail as it heads into a long rectangular field which runs up to the base of the ridge. Behind the trees at the back of the field we can see a Z shape track on the side of the ridge which is a tell-tale sign of where we want to be going.

The field proves to quite muddy and boggy but the track is graveled as it winds its way through the stand of pine trees at the base of the ridge. We then cross over a dirt vehicle track and find a map which shows all the walking trails across the mountainous interior of Godoya.

We’re doing our best to survey the map when a local, decked out in hiking gear, comes
Map of Godoya IslandMap of Godoya IslandMap of Godoya Island

Walking routes shown in red
strolling out of the trees down the track towards us. He stops by to say hello and while he doesn’t have much English, he’s super friendly and we manage to establish that it’s taken him about three hours to hike over from Alnes, the small fishing village on the other corner of the island, via the highest two peaks, to here. We thank him and with a big smile he waves us farewell.

So now we know how long it’s going to take, we consult our bus timetable which says the last bus back to Alesund leaves from Alnes just after 4pm. It’s now 12:40. So if we don’t spend too much time looking around we should be able to make it... (well we’d better make it, because there’s no plan B!)

And with that settled we set off.

It’s a fairly hard slog up onto the ridge, but once we make it over the tough part, the trail is an easy progressive ascent. To our surprise, the track up here is quiet boggy with tufted grasses and clumps of heather everywhere. In fact it’s not all that dissimilar to the UK - except instead of having views of villages and sheep all we can see is mountains, fjords, and islands.

The last little push up onto Godoya’s first peak (Sloktinden, 430m) is a bit exciting as there are very steep cliff sides on either side of the trail, but the views from the top are spectacular and make the whole adventure worthwhile. We can easily see over the top of Alesund, the other surrounding islands, and for the first time since arriving in area, the mountains on the edge of the mainland now don’t look so high!

We descend a short distance before reaching a cross roads in the trail where we decide that we probably don’t have time to climb up to the peak of Storhornet (497m) so we take the signposted turn off towards Alnes. It’s a bit of a shame but there’s more rain coming and we can’t miss that bus!

After a while the mountainside opens out and we get our first look down at Alnes. The scenery is spectacular and we get an almost plan view of Alnes’ break walled harbour, lighthouse, and sandy surf beach. As a bonus, the sun has come out and the outlook is probably even better now than it was from the top!

A further 20 minutes takes us down to a a high plateau and we skirt the edge of a freshwater lake before we start zig zagging our way down once more. Eventually, after more than 3 hours of walking, the trail comes to an end in a backstreet of Alnes. As a bonus we’ve still got at least 20 minutes to spare so we grab a bottle of water at the local store before taking a stroll through the village to find the bus stop.

In a country where things are so expensive we’ve had a fantastic day full of fun and it’s only cost us about four quid each. Looks like we might be able to eat out tonight after all!

Touring the city streets in search of somewhere nice to eat we spot a white tent with great noise and laughter coming from inside. It appears to be part of the food festival and as we tentatively peek our heads inside we’re greeted by a scene of large groups of families and friends enjoying local beer and food being served by a comical bunch of
AlnesAlnesAlnes

Lighthouse and local homes
wait staff who almost push each other out of the way to come and greet us. We’re quickly ushered to a table and offered beer and dinner. The menu of meat and veg for a great deal less than the local restaurants and teamed with the fantastic atmosphere inside the tent it is hard to resist. Once the staff discover that we’re foreigners they begin shouting to the guests and gesturing towards us ‘Outlander! We have some outlanders here!’. With much jostling over who was going to take our drinks order we settle in to soak it all up and join in with the comical antics of the actors. We agree it’s a much more authentic experience than in a sterile restaurant and we top off the night with some lovely cake and coffees at a cafe filled with trendy locals.

We’re up relatively early on Sunday morning and after breakfast we finish the second half of the Alesund walking tour which we had started yesterday. Our bus to the airport leaves at 1pm, so we grab fish’n’chips on Alesund’s harbour for lunch before heading off to the bus station.

Our long weekend is not quite over (because we’ve still got a couple of hours to walk around the centre of Oslo while we change trains), but it’s mostly over. So as we wait for the bus to the airport we reflect on all the cool things we’ve been able to do over the last couple of days. The fjords, especially Geiranger, were amazing. Alesund has been loads of fun too. We’ve been in the outdoors and felt a great sense of space. When coupled with the social infrastructure it’s no wonder that the Norwegians have the highest standard of living of anywhere on earth and we feel lucky that we’ve been able to visit.

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17th September 2010

WOW!!!!!

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