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Published: August 13th 2017
We caught the 12.05 train to Bergen. I had booked this three weeks in advance, leaving it a little too late, as we had the last two adjoining seats available. The 8 carriage train was fully booked. The Journey took approximately 7 hours but the seats adjusted and it was a very smooth ride. As anticipated the scenery passing by our window was fantastic: villages, waterfalls, green fields, snow-capped mountains, lakes and rivers. As I had left the booking so late, we missed out on the spur train journey from Myrdal (about 90 mins from Bergen) to Flam, a small town situated on the Sognafjord. This 20km stretch of rail going down the mountain at up to 45 degree incline is rated one of the most spectacular rail journey’s you can go on. We had time to book this in Bergen doing the reverse Journey up the mountain but we were advised at the tourist office that as we were driving around the fjords for the next week we would see enough spectacular sights and that the effort to go on the Flam railway wasn’t worthwhile.
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway,
Bryggen -World heritage Area
situated on the west coast. It is reported to be the wettest city in Europe raining approximately 330 days each year! We had booked for two night and we were reasonably lucky in that on our one full day here we had some decent sunny periods.
It is surrounded by 7 mountains and there is a funicular rail from the old city centre to the top of one of these. Alongside the historic fishing harbour and market is the UNESCO World Heritage area of Bryggen. These wooden buildings date from the 17th
century and add a lot of character to the area. Behind these buildings are old residential houses that are built on the steep mountainside. We walked around this quaint area as it offered panoramic views of the old city.
I should add at this point that sunset was around 10.30 pm and there was still light in the sky at 11pm. Dawn starts at 5.30am Balestrand
We collected or car not too far from our hotel and aimed for an overnight stop on the Sognefjord at Balestrand , on its northern shore. This fjord is the
longest in Norway at 204 kms and is the second longest in the world. To get there, and to cross the fjord, we had to catch a car ferry, our first of many on this tour. The day started really sunny and the colours of the lakes and mountains were beautiful. Our hotel overlooked the fjord but the views weren’t as good as they could have been as the weather had closed in and it was drizzling.
Due to Balestrands’ location it became a favourite place for writers and artists to spend summers here in the nineteenth century. Their paintings of the scenery inspired other visitors. There is a beautiful Stave Anglican Church which was built as a memorial to an English Lady who came here as a tourist and married into the Kviknes family The village boasts , the Kviknes Hotel, the largest wooden building in Europe. Built in the 19th
century, it was made popular in the early part of the 20th
century by the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II, since then Kings, Emperors, Presidents, Prime Ministers, artist and film stars have stayed there. It boasts and impressive art gallery and historical pieces (none of
View from our hotel!
which we liked). A renowned pianist played popular tunes after dinner, light opera, songs from musicals etc. Although he was an accomplished pianist his presentation skills left a lot to be desired.
The other memorable thing about Balestrand is our evening meal at the Pilgrim restaurant. The menu was not extensive but it did have on it two items that attracted our interest; Elk pattie and reindeer stew. We both plumped for the stew and were told that it had sold out. This was a little unusual since we were dining early and there were only a few people in the small restaurant. We did not fancy the Elk so Joyce chose meatballs, a popular dish in Scandinavia, whilst I had a local fish soup (similar to a chowder). We’re not sure what meat was used to make the meatballs but it was delicious as was my soup.
If you are wondering why it was memorable it was not because an item was not available from the menu. The owner of the restaurant was an elderly lady, who was also an artist and had a gallery in the building. She was a little eccentric,
not only with the décor and the way she dressed, but during the meal she called for everyone to pay attention to her whereby she welcomed her guests, told a little local story and the sang to us all.
The next morning we set off early heading towards a town named Alesund where we were stopping for two nights We knew that we would be arriving only in the early evening so the first night was just to get us accommodated and the next day was for sightseeing.
The itinerary that we followed was not to get to a particular place to stay so we could explore that area, but to have a route that would show us the best of the fjord scenery. To this end the Norwegian Tourist Board set up 18 National Tourist Routes throughout the country. And even though we were just touring the west coast area we managed to drive along 5 of these.
Alesund was the base for driving along the Atlantic Ocean Road, about 90 mins north of the town. This is a 8km stretch of road that runs alongside the ocean over several
small islands which are connected by 8 bridges. The central and largest bridge is an amazing piece of architecture. Viewed head on, the road appears to end in the sky with vehicles dropping of the edge. It was worth the visit. The road is preserved as a cultural heritage site.
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