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Published: September 23rd 2012
We had wanted to do this particular Norwegian Fjords cruise for some time – it seemed like a cruise would be the best way to see the fjords, as you want to see the amazing scenery from the water as well as on shore and also we remembered how hideously expensive Oslo was when we went back in 2007 so a cruise shields you a bit from that!
We were off to a bit of a rocky start though… our cruise departed from Amsterdam on a Saturday. However, on the Friday afternoon we were told by the cruise company that there were strikes in all the Norwegian ports (clearly we hadn’t been keeping up to date on our news!) and therefore the entire cruise had to be changed and could no longer go anywhere in Norway…… doh! The new itinerary was not great … places we would prefer not to have seen from cruise ship but it was too late to arrange a complete new holiday so with the promise of free on-board credit for the bar we re-packed our bag for the new city-hopping itinerary including Denmark and Germany, swapped our Norwegian Krone to Danish Krone, cancelled the activities
we’d booked through tourism offices in the different ports in Norway and headed off to Amsterdam.
On our arrival on board we decided that first up we had to figure out what we were going to do at the new ports, having had no time to research! However, on flicking through the room’s TV all we could find was info on Norway! To be honest, we thought it a bit slack this hadn’t been updated. Anyway, we headed out to explore the ‘Brilliance of the Seas’ and saw that everywhere there was only info on Norway… eventually we stopped a random crew member and were like “Um, where is this ship going???” to which we were told that strikes had been called off just a couple of hours before and we were back on our original itinerary!!! Whoop whoop! We were REALLY happy about this – the trip we’d wanted and booked all along! Bunny had to get over removing all her hiking gear and information about Norway from her bag and being stuck with Danish krone and the cruise helped us out with a few bonuses when we explained the predicament – swearing us to secrecy! ;-)
‘Brilliance of the Seas’ is nowhere near the mammoth ‘Freedom’ that we’d been on but a nicer ship than ‘Vision’. We got ourselves orientated and then it wasn’t long until the ’eating began’ but enough about ships and on to the fantastic Norway ports we visited on our trip……..
We had high hopes for being stunned by the spectacular Geirangerfjord, now a World UNESCO heritage site – and weren’t disappointed. It took a few hours to cruise through the fjords to the small town of Geiranger and the sheer beauty of the place is spellbinding – whether you were on the balcony in our cabin, on the decks… or even running on the treadmill in the gym ;-) As you head through the fjords, you notice there is no habitable shore line; sheer mountains seemingly rise straight up out of the water on either side of you to soar high, high above… the peaks covered in snow even in the summer month of June. Waterfalls are dotted everywhere, plunging into the aqua coloured water of the fjord from jagged peaks. Dotted here and there are mountain farms, mostly long abandoned, with such hazardous access, by
The Atlantic Road
on an overcast day
paths that wind around steep precipices, and by bridges that cling to the mountain with long rusted iron bolts and rings, that you can see why the owners eventually gave up their spectacular views for easier locations.
On arriving at Geiranger Township, a small town with a pier, a few shops and grocers and, bizarrely, a Chocolate shop, we took a bus up to the two main viewpoints in town. The first was called Ørnesvingenand we wound our way up there on the Eagle road through a series of 11 sharp switchbacks/hairpin bends. The second called Flydalsjuvet. As you would have guessed, both afforded beautiful views. After a short stop at Gieranger’s very cute octagonal church, built in 1842 with stunning views across the fjord; and more photos (our trigger fingers already feeling the brunt of such a magical location) we stopped for a hot chocolate with a view. The very friendly Swedish owner of Geiranger Sjokolade gave us several samples of his unique chocolate all made right there in the boathouse – from simple dark chocolate to blue cheese chocolate, blueberry chocolate and chilli chocolate. Definitely worth a visit! We then took a small boat out on to
the fjord to learn more about the fjord and feel even smaller than before given how much smaller our vessel was! About 2hrs later we reached a stopping off point….. a place where we could start our hike/climb to one of Geiranger’s best known farms, Skagefla. Getting off the boat, the skipper told us it was about a 2.5hr walk back to Geiranger town over the mountain (though he did smile as he said this). The steep side of the fjord towered up above us, and in fact from where we were, we couldn’t see the top…. Somewhat daunting but hey, we’re game! It took about 30mins to hike the steep climb to Skagefla – at times the path literally clings to the cliffs, or has a dodgy wire to hold on to with a lot of rusty, loose bolts holding it together, or pretty much was hardly a path at all! On arrival though, it was easy to see why they set up camp there in the first place. The view is simply out of this world! We soaked it in for some time, it seemed so hard to ever leave. The sun was shining and our breath was
taken away by the view. The farm, which sits on a steep mountain ledge approx 250m above the fjord, was abandoned in 1916 and in 2006 a plaque was unveiled by royal dignatories at the farm to celebrate Geiranger becoming a World UNESCO Heritage site. Along with a small number of other farms in the area, the farm has been restored as a site of important and fascinating Norwegian culture and history. We were so pleased we had made the effort to do the hike.
Only a handful of people had ventured the climb to Skagefla, and of these even less continued the hike even further up and over the mountain back to Geiranger town – I think about 6 people from the boat in total! … most walked back down to the water to catch the next boat back. Of the people that did do the hike, we ended up walking with an Irish couple called Aiden and Deirdre who were really fun (and we ended up hanging out with a lot for the rest of the cruise). In fact, they were the only people we saw over the next few hours on the path at all! We
hiked up and over the top of the mountain, curious if we were going to meet snow as we could already see snow at and below our level on the other side of the fjord... luckily we never did though. We found another abandoned farm, Homlongsetra, the sun came out and glistened off the snow capped peaks around us, waterfalls cascaded down across our path, it was a really great hike.
All in all the hike took about 4.5hrs at a leisurely pace. On arrival back at Geiranger we stopped at a small grocers and found a park bench to drink some well-earned beverages! All before heading back to the port to see the tenders waiting and a guy on a walkie talkie say ‘we have them, the last 4 are here’. Yup, 20mins early but we were actually last aboard the ship – stellar effort!!!! Definitely worth making the most of every moment you’re there though of course!! Being completely unprepared for hiking given the change of itinerary, we hiked in jeans, brand new trainers (Martin was wearing his for the first time, Bunny’s were bright white at the start of the hike… not so much now… and
Alesund, a true fjord
town built on islands and canals
without drink bottles we drank from every fresh water stream and waterfall we came across – refreshingly yummy!) but we did it! It was a great hike and we’d recommend that anyone going to Geiranger should do it.
Alesund is a small ‘art nouveau’ town nestled around canals, waterways and islands. The town was actually destroyed by fire in 1904 but was rebuilt to a specific vision by a string of Norwegian designers and architects… which means that you get a quite pretty town with loads of brightly coloured buildings all in roughly the same style but each with its own unique touches/characteristics.
Not having had enough climbing the day before, we walked up the 418 steps to the viewpoint on top of Mt Aksla. This turned out to be super easy compared to the day before – we even wore jandals and had people pointing at our feet in surprise ha ha.
Alesund is particularly picturesque from the viewpoint though, it really puts the town and it’s location into perspective and the whole landscape of the stunning Norwegian fjords. The views of the town, the surrounding islands and the majestic Sunnmore Alps
spreading out around you are quite breath-taking.
After exercising our photo trigger fingers we headed down and strolled around the residential streets and canal. We did stop for a beer at a restaurant/bar but at £10 a pint even Martin buckled ;-) So we got beers from a local grocers and sat on the canal’s edge instead which was quite lovely. It’s a small area so after this we decided to make an early afternoon of it and head back to the ship.
We found Molde didn’t have a lot of the character of other places we’d been in Norway, it’s a relatively ‘urban’ city with an uninspiring high street. However, the highlight of the stop was the very trippy ‘Atlantic Road’.
The Atlantic Road is an 8km long stretch of road which zig zags from island to island, across low bridges that jut out over the ocean, and rockfills connecting islands between two coastal towns. It was finished in 1989 and makes for quite a dramatic sight out over the water and particularly so in storms we hear, when huge waves can be seen to crash over it.
We took a
public bus about 1hr from Molde to the start of the bridge, all the while admiring the stunning country scenery, the houses on lakes and mountain passes, and kept eyes peeled for some Elkhounds ;-) The houses all seem to be large timber, almost colonial style, houses, with loads of character! We could easily picture living in one of those out there in the country, a whole pack of Elkhounds with us ;-) Arriving at the bridge, we drove along the length of the bridge and then stopped off at a viewpoint to take in the sight. Even for one not much into engineering, I was easily impressed by this piece of work and the sheer vision they had had to create such a road!
Arriving back in Molde we did a 1hr walking tour thanks to a map from the tourism office, but without being rude, didn’t find a lot to see here, though there was one more lovely viewpoint atop a hill. Heading back down Martin was on a mission to find yet more local beers and we eventually found a supermarket with new ones plus Bunny found some Litchi cider! With cool drinks in tow we
found a grassy spot overlooking the water which just happened to randomly be in a carpark… I’m sure we looked a bit weird, but it was quite lovely and the sun came out again too so we were happy to be exactly where we were… feeling the grass beneath our feet, the water and mountains around us and the sun above us.
Bergen was the pick of the towns; we’d wanted to go ever since our visit to Oslo and it really is a lovely town. It has a lot of charm, particularly away from the main town in the residential areas which we went exploring. We spent the day just wandering really, with the brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets this town was made for strolling! The day started out a bit overcast as we wandered the streets, found a park, and walked around the local fish markets (Fisketorget i Bergen) – where we even saw Whale and Whale toasted sandwiches for sale! Eeeeeek… seriously?!
The afternoon saw the sun come out, we considered doing the Floibanen Funicular up to the top of Floyen Mountain, 320m above sea level, but had seen quite
a few stunning viewpoints in the last few days and there was a massive queue…. then while wandering past a tourist shop we saw a postcard of a cool looking street in the residential areas so we eventually located it on a map and off we headed in search of areas that looked like that! We found some really picturesque lovely lanes and streets and then got drinks and waffles in a really local café off the beaten track. Followed this up with another wander around the fish market, offering smoked salmon every way it came and Bunny finally relenting and ordering a piece of salmon marinated in cognac and spices – it was superb being that fresh though pretty rich! We couldn’t manage the whole piece!
We headed back to the famous Bergen (Bryggen!) Quayside with those famous coloured timber merchant houses lining the quay. Bars and cafes had outdoor seating set up in the sunshine. They really are charming and we spent a while just ‘hanging’ – wallowing in the feel and sense of the place before we headed back to the ship.
Overall, the Norwegian fjords are …. Well, it’s hard to put
into words. They are breath-taking and everything we imagined they would be and more. We loved the hike around Geiranger, a day just really getting to ‘know the lay of the land’ and picturing life back in the day. We loved the charm of Bergen, the views over Alesund and the countryside around Molde and just in general the way of life up in these parts! Sunset at times got to 10.30pm and sunrise at 4am, so officially 18.5 hour long days so that’s always a bit crazy. Yet even between these times it was never pitch black, it always looked like dusk. The North Sea, particularly coming back down to Amsterdam got pretty rough but that was all part of the trip, the North Sea conjuring up all the visions you have of what it would be like – huge, immense, overwhelming, dramatic waves. At its roughest we were standing out on our room’s balcony just in awe at the sea and the absolute POWER of it, I’m sure you wouldn’t last two seconds if you fell in! An icy mass with such ‘drama’ – after a while we even found the spectacle quite eerie and crept back inside
our cosy cabin ;-)
We would definitely recommend a trip to the Norwegian Fjords and actually think that a cruise is one of the best ways to do it! Until next time………
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