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Fjords & Bonfires in Bergen

NORWAY | Wednesday, 22 June 2011 | Views [952]

My ticket directed me to the "family car" of the train to Bergen where I was the only passenger. I was a bit worried that I'd caught the wrong train until the ticket collector came through and put my mind at rest! There had been a fire on the tracks a few days previously so we were unable to pass through the highest train station, and had to change to a bus instead. The road through the mountains was impressive though, with some amazing views of the snow-capped peaks and of the fjords below. We arrived in Bergen around 4pm and I walked the 5 minutes from the train station to what turned out to be my favourite hostel of the trip. Intermission Hostel is run by students from the US and, although it advertised as a 50 bed dorm, it’s not as bad as it sounds as the triple-bunk beds are well spaced out in 2 big dorm rooms and separated by boarded areas, so it’s not nearly as squashed as some of the smaller rooms I’ve had. There’s a great common room (with a piano), good kitchen, free washing, tea and coffee every evening and twice a week they cook waffles for the entire hostel! But what makes the hostel great is the lovely friendly staff. My only complaint would be that they only have 2 toilets and 2 showers, which is not really enough when the hostel is full.

Having booked a fjord trip for the following day I decided to spend today exploring the town. I walked past the fountain/lake in the park towards the quay where I visited the famous fish market (but didn’t buy anything) and the wooden houses of Bryggen, a UNESCO site of old preserved houses that contain tourist shops and museums. I visited a fur shop what was a bit depressing with its polar bear and wolf skin and heads, and at least 50 fox pelts. I thought they must be drowning in foxes and then learnt that they are actually on the threatened list through a photography expedition, so not really impressed with that. I was all museumed-out from Oslo so decided not to visit any Bergen Museums, and instead walked up to the Bergenhus old castle area where the preserved Hakonshallen (Hakon’s Hall) and Rosenkranztarnet (tower) sit. I wandered up onto the fortress walls for a great view over the next bay and the other side of the city where I had lunch and watched an aquaplane land before having a little nap in the rare afternoon sun. Back at the hostel we pigged out on waffles before heading out the “biggest barrel bonfire” in the world. Some aimless wandering eventually led us over the bridge (taking in a beautiful view of the river and city) and towards the bonfire, where we found out there was a charge of 120NOK to get in and that there was no drinks or food there! So instead we sat on a hill further back with a lot of the locals to watch the most controlled bonfire I’ve ever seen – three firehoses were constantly trained on the fire to ensure it burned evenly from the top down. Soon we were freezing as we hadn’t been organised enough to bring blankets or portable barbeques like the locals, and we went to try our luck down by the gate. Eventually the guards relented and let us in when the fire had died down, and we were able to warm ourselves up for the long walk home.

I had to have an early breakfast in order to rush down to the ferry for my trip up Sognefjord, the largest fjordin Norway and the second longest in the world. We changed from the express ferry onto a slower car ferry heading up the Fjaerlamsfjorden to Fjaerland, the “booktown” that has 13 bookshops and an annual book festival. From there we caught a bus up to the Glacier Museum where we learnt about the formation of glaciers and took a virtual 210 degree panoramic flying tour over the glacier, before heading up to the Boyabreen, an arm of the massive Jostedalsbreen glacier. Our guide was very friendly and talked about how they had an 8 month winter with snow from October to May. No matter how beautiful Norway is that is too much snow! On the ferry trip home I got to chatting to a couple of American women who were on the tour, and we ended up walking up the fortress walls before having dinner at the fish market. Eventually I got home after midnight...and it was still light!

Tip of the day: If you have 2 babies, a HOSTEL with one shared dorm room is NOT an appropriate place to stay. I think most of the people in the hostel complained about the family whose babies woke us through the night and again at 5am with their crying. At least when people come back from the pub late or are noisy in the morning, you can yell at them to shut up. Unfortunately you can’t tell screaming kids to do the same. After a disturbed night’s sleep I dragged myself out of bed and caught the furnicular up Mt Floyden, where I checked out the view of the city along with around 300 other people, before following a popular trail to Skomakerdiket Lake and then continuing up to Brushytten cabin. I was glad I’d wrapped up in my leggings, extra jacket and gloves because it was freezing up on the plateau – I could see my breath! It threatened to rain but never actually did, which was pretty lucky considering that it rains 275 days of the year in Bergen (and probably snows the rest)! From the hut I followed the signs for Rundemanen Mountain, where I continued onto the Vidden (plateau) towards Mt Ulriken. I had to follow large cairns marking the 13km route across uneven terrain where I had to rock hop most of the way in order to avoid the mud. I had the first half of the walk almost to myself and enjoyed the beautiful views of the rolling mountains and emerald green hills, interspersed with tarns (small lakes) along the hilltops. It was approximately a 5 hour walk from Mt Floyden to Mt Ulriken, and after a short lunch huddling away from the icy wind amongst the rocks on top of the mountain, I was glad to reach the warmth of the restaurant at the top of Mt Ulriken where I bought a coffee and enjoyed the afternoon sun that finally broke through the clouds. I probably should have walked back down the mountain, but still had a 3km walk back into town, so decided to catch the cable car back down the mountain before my little stroll back home.

I caught the train back to Oslo and this time we went through the mountains past the site of the fire and via Finse Station, the highest elevated station in Norway at 1222.2m. There was already snow at the top and the lakes were still half frozen…and this is summer! We arrived in Oslo in the mid-afternoon and I went to the information centre to get some tips on where to hike around the city the following day.

The following day I caught the metro out past the ski jump to the last stop, Frognerseteren, and wondered what I was getting myself into as the train steadily wound its way up into the misty rain covering the Nordmarka Forest. But, despite the weather being decidedly average, it was my only day to hike and I was determined to make the most of it. After being dropped off in the middle of nowhere, I started off walking down a path towards Tryvannstua, which soon turned into a track where I had to try to avoid the mud and extremely slippery rocks while following the blue paint markings on the trees and hoping that I was heading in the right direction. Ironically, just as I was thinking that I would be in real trouble if I injured myself out in the middle of nowhere with no-one around, I slipped on a wet rock and fell backwards onto my arse. That little scare made me even more aware of my surroundings and footing. I finally arrived in Tryvannstua where unfortunately everything seemed to be closed, so I continued on to the next stop further north at Ullevalseter where I was hoping to get a coffee. The path was a bit better, and eventually led out onto a road, where I finally saw a few other people in the form of crazy joggers. I arrived at Ullevalseter desperate for a hot drink after 3 hours of walking in the rain, but discovered that the café was closed as well. Fortunately there were tables under cover where I could eat my lunch while watching a big group of kids messing about on their mountain bikes. I’d thought some of those muddy tracks would be fun on a mountain bike. It wasn’t long before I headed back out into the rain and continued to follow the blue markers back into the forest and down some more dodgy tracks. The path wound its way around a couple of lakes and over some marshland before opening out onto another road, which led to my final destination at Sognsvann Lake. I had a much welcome coffee at the little stand near the lake entrance before catching the metro back to town for an even more welcome hot shower. What a great day!

Tags: bergen, fjord, glacier, hiking, mt floyden

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