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Published: September 15th 2009
Motorhome News from Europe 33
Norway 23rd August 2005
Travels along the big fjords to Bergen
It was ‘Turn up the Wow-Meter’ time as we pulled on to narrow winding roads edging the steep-sided mountains cascading dramatically into the fjords, with Janice at the wheel. We were entering the spectacular deep- cut fjords for which this country is famous, and its fruit growing centre where cherries, raspberries, strawberries, apples and plums abound, where roses grow around cottage doors and fresh trees carpet the hillsides; horse chestnut, ash, hazel, lime, sycamore, elm, rowan bright with regal berries, and pine and spruce climb gracefully to the tree-line. Time to sample a few raspberries with sour cream for tea.
There is a certain magic about the fjords of Norway without equal anywhere else in Europe. It is the magic that has inspired poets and painters, writers and musicians for many centuries. Elsewhere, there are taller mountains and mountains with more snow. There are bigger lakes and lakes with more sunshine. But there will never be that special amalgam of sparkling water, steep mountains and crystal light as crisp as a freshly cut cucumber that exists in this fairytale land
there will never be that special amalgam of sparkling water, steep mountains and crystal light as crisp as a freshly cut cucumber that exists in this fairytale land.
called Norway. This land of tiny farmsteads on grassy plateau nestling at the bottom of vertical cloud-clad mountains rising majestically from sparkling blue waters; in a land where people are rarely seen or heard. Janice described Norway’s fjords quite succinctly. ‘They are as spectacular as Italy’s Amalfi Coast, with the added bonus of mountains on both sides of the water.’
The origins of surnames came up in conversation the other day, prompted by the many towns and villages bearing names we might associate with known acquaintances, like Holmen, Lunde and ….Fossoy. Along the Jostedal valley lie fertile plains and brightly painted wooden farmstead communities each with a few patches of meadow, prim lace curtains and pots of flowers on the window sill....and a small shaded light in the window as a reminder of summer when winter clothes the land in darkness and the sun so rarely gets above the mountain. The creamy blue river churns its way south from glacier to fjord through a steep sided gully cloaked in trees already tinged with the yellows and browns of autumn, to the hamlet of Fossoy; a Foss being a waterfall on this occasion - and there are lots of those
Norway, and many other places come to that. Later in the week we also stopped off at Fossli, to see the roaring waterfall, a great bath-tap, sending wave after wave of water tumbling 590ft in a freefall flight of mist and spray crashing to the valley floor below.
Our goal that day was a short way beyond Fossoy, to an arm of the Jostedal Galcier at Nigardsbreen. The glacier was looking blue but rather sad, edged with grey as if in need of a good dust, but grand and tantalizing as glaciers always are. We chose just to stand, stare and wonder, but others were unable to resist getting closer. The Mortimer family were there, all the way from Taunton in Devon. They had been on our campsite the previous night: father, mother and the three children all under nine in a small, rather old, caravan. Their new caravan, purchased specially for the trip, was stolen just two weeks before they were due to leave the UK! They were coming to the end of a six-month tour of Europe and looked very well on it. Father was a Project Manager in the construction industry taking six months
leave for his family to enjoy themselves and for the children to learn some of the important things in life.
A day at the glacier can be expensive for a family. It’s a fiver each to get into everything here, even the not very good glacier museum at the tourist office. To save the 6km walk to the ferry there’s a road toll costing £3, then another £3 for a ferry across the lake to the bottom of the glacier and yet another £10 for a guided walk on the glacier. The Mortimers did all that! If we were to be critical of Norway, it would be to complain about tolls, particularly those around major towns, and what amounts to tourist taxes. Touring brochures are informative, free and plentiful and I’m the first to applaud that, but if you want a map of the area it can cost as much as £3 for a flimsy piece of A4….very strange.
We were just across the glacier from here on our last visit to Norway, aiming to visit the Glacier Museum at Fjaerland. We didn’t get to see that one. Having travelled 11km through a tunnel and in sight of
the museum we were faced with a horrendous toll which we considered outrageous at the time. We refused to pay and turned around to enjoy another 11km drive back through the tunnel in the opposite direction - a bit dark, but all for free. A little later in the afternoon we took a five-seater seaplane flight over the top of the glacier for the same money as the toll! Whilst complaining, it’s 80p - £1.30 for a fairly ordinary postcard and another 90p to post it; but then, our own card shops back in the UK are a rip-off, aren’t they? Books and print here and in Sweden and Finland are all terribly expensive which is strange considering the number of trees they harvest each year. A loaf of bread costs anything from £1.60 to £2, a cucumber £1.60, diesel nearly £1 per litre, a bottle of fairly ordinary whisky £28 and a similar wine around £8. All the essentials in life! I think I’d shtop drwinking if I lived here. With this in mind, we had the foresight to buy up large quantities of good Australian wine on ‘special promotion’ at the local supermarket before we left home and
at 25km it's the longest tunnel in the world. To make sure drivers are awake, they have light shows every 6km!
somewhat surprisingly there were still one or two in the cupboard, hidden from Norwegian Customs on our arrival some twelve weeks ago. Where have those twelve weeks gone?
You might know of Flam. Flam is the place where the Japanese and Americans arrive on coaches and cruise-liners before being stuffed on to electric trains and sent for a short compulsory ride up over - and under, the mountains on the Bergen to Oslo line. We’re told it’s a spectacular ride in the long tunnel under the glacier! The station car park was packed with coaches, cars, zimmer-frames and German motorhomes. The liner Marco Polo was in port there too, disgorging some of its 1,000 passengers (we last saw it at Honningsvag near Nordkapp on the 20th July). Twice round the car park looking for somewhere to park without success was enough and finally we gave up trying. We don’t do crowds anyway. Instead, we decided to circumnavigate the Hardanger Glacier by road, east along the ‘Snow Road’ on its northern shore and then west again, back towards Hardanger.
Our drive up the Snow Road followed a high pass through raw landscape, treeless snow topped mountains
and leaden lakes set against blue skies; a brittle contrast of light and dark, with no town, village or shop for 90km. This place is truly desolate even in summer and surely chillingly horrific in winter. It is comparable to the remotest barren Highlands on a huge scale, strung with menacing power-lines from the Hydro installation at the dam. I could be miserable here.
The road to the south was much greener and more welcoming, through narrow valleys and a dramatic pie-bald landscape of mountains patched with snow; a contrast of light and shade across the endless grey-green scree and upland fell to the stunning white cap of the Hardanger glacier in the distance, a shining beacon in the sunlight. The 10ft snow poles beside the road were a further reminder of how bad it gets up here in winter at 5,000ft.
I get the feeling that Norway is a nation of moles. There are road and rail tunnels everywhere here in the heart of Norway, either through mountains or under fjords. In one day we travelled more than 80km in almost total darkness on a day’s journey of 170km. Laerdalstunnelen, at 25km (15 miles) is the
longest tunnel in the world and to make sure drivers are awake, they have light shows every 6km, a UV blue and yellow light extravaganza covering the walls of wide galleries. Very pretty. For some unknown reason the tunnel isn’t straight all the way, it goes up and down, to the right and to the left, though I don’t know why - it would have been so much easier to go straight and come out the other end at the right point, surely? Todd loved it of course - he likes tunnels.
It’s not that we don’t have anything left to talk about, living in a little box as we do, but shortly after we started serious travelling we took to talking to the animals on board. Todd is regularly asked for his opinion on the day, a view, or a particular event. He will always reply in a squeaky voice without even moving his lips. We talk to Smiley, the motorhome too, words of encouragement when the going gets tough, appreciation after a good day’s travelling and that sort of thing. We’re both too young to put it down to senility. Could it possibly be insanity?
Bergen Fish Market
....and whale steaks too
Down the eastern edge of Sorfjorden, a narrow branch of the Hardanger fjord, there’s a long road running due south through beautiful Kinsarvic, a peaceful ‘Lake District’ village without crowds, you could retire to. Beyond that we travelled to Lofthus where we took a short walk through hillside plantations spread with apple trees, plums, pears, Morello cherries and soft fruits. The cherries were just coming to an end, many months later than in the UK and gardens in the village were alive with dahlias, blue hydrangeas, deep red roses and colourful shrubs, reflecting the mild climate on these west facing slopes. It was good to find this little piece of ‘Old England’ off the main tourist route and to relax in the sun over dinner by the fjord in the late evening. We couldn’t recommend Norway if it’s a suntan you want, but the weather has been very pleasant, rarely too hot and never too cold - at this time of year!
With just a few days before our ferry, we turned west again in glorious sunshine, skirting Bergen and out to the islands off the west coast for a final bird walk at Herdla on the northern
in the back-streets
tip of the islands. There, we chanced to meet a Norwegian ‘birder’ complete with scope and bird lists and eager to show us around his patch.
‘You want to see King eider?’He asked.
‘Yes please!’ we chanted in unison.
‘You want to see Eagle owl?’
‘Wow! Yes please.
Then the fog closed in. The King eider had gone off somewhere else and the Eagle owl was nowhere to be seen. Never mind, we ticked a list of twenty-five species and we did get a good lesson in birding Norwegian style. Erik had a great deal of technical kit with him. His company give him a tax-free ‘gadget’ allowance each year. We followed him to a patch of recently cleared spruce where he pulled a hard-drive matchbox from his pocket and proceeded to play nutcracker calls through a pair of sophisticated speakers on top of his car. Within seconds, an inquisitive nutcracker appeared, looking for a mate!
Nothing had changed in Bergen since our last visit. Picturesque Bergen, Norway’s second City, is surrounded by ski-mountains, fishing lakes and fjords, stiff walking country and endless forests, making it an attractive place to enjoy life. It also rains a lot,
en route to somewhere else!
though we did have a pleasant stroll through the back streets, a leisurely café lunch and a nose around the shops amongst the cruisers and other tourists before the rain started.
The gas saga continued on our final day in Bergen as we attempted to get some of our money back on our Norwegian Aga gas cylinder. It’s not compatible with anything in the UK. Despite assurances from Statoil that we could get most of our money back ‘at any Statoil petrol station,’ it proved impossible. Even the Agas gas agent refused our ‘buy it back at half price’ offer as our receipt was from a Swedish company. Crazy! After half a dozen attempts across town, we eventually gave up. Our next option will be to try to sell it at the Caravan Centre in Lerwick when we get there, Norway being a popular holiday destination for Shetlanders.
We arrived at the dockside two hours ahead of sailing time with fond memories of Norway tucked neatly into our pockets and full of anticipation and excitement for the next phase of our journey. The gaggle of motorhomers on the quay smiled knowingly and came to our open window with
Morag and Ernie
.. our dear friends from Shetland
the latest news from Smyril Line. Our sailing to Lerwick was cancelled because of severe weather warnings off Shetland!
‘The next boat for Shetland will be in one week - next Tuesday.’ The lady at the ticket desk advised without so much as a blush. ‘To avoid the worst of the weather we shall be sailing direct to Faroe as soon as possible. You can either stay here and wait for next week’s ferry, or, if you like, you can sail with us today and travel via Faroe and Iceland to hopefully arrive in Shetland on Friday if the storm passes.’
Ernie and Morag, from Shetland, had shared a glass or two with us at the campsite the previous night and they were in the same boat - so to speak, along with several others trying to get back to Shetland with work biting at their heels. Our decision was instantaneous, but for some it was rather more difficult. Shetlanders are evidently well known for their inability to make decisions, probably because ‘tomorrow will do,’ when you live on an island and much debate ensued for more than an hour in a dialect totally beyond our comprehension. Morag
was keen to see Iceland having never been there, but Ernie was not a good sailor apparently, despite having spent much of his working life as a fisherman and ferryman.
There is only this one boat plying these waters. The ‘Norrona’, a sizeable cruiser - cum ferry, does the weekly round of Bergen, Shetland, Faroe, Iceland, Faroe, Shetland, Denmark and back to Bergen - weather permitting.
This week, on Tuesday, it didn’t.
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads
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