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The traveler: An expected journey This time it's the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden & Norway before England again for several weeks and on to Croatia.

Fjord Country

NORWAY | Friday, 19 October 2018 | Views [268]

After trying and failing to stay entirely awake on the 6:25 am train out of Oslo my friend and I revived for the most impressive scenery passing the train windows as we climbed higher into the mountains. As we approached approximately 4,000 feet above sea level the landscape outside reminded me irresistibly of tree line in Colorado approximately 7,000 feet higher with rock, brush and blue grey lakes. At the highest point we briefly stepped off the train into a light, wet snow (yes, even at the end of August). Further down the other side of the mountain we disembarked at our final stop with a surprising number of other tourists, given how early the train left, for the next part of our “Norway in a Nutshell” tour. Sometimes you just have to do what all the other tourist think is worthwhile because it really is.

After giving us adequate time to peruse the gift shop the cog train with an old fashioned interior took us down into the valley past stunning scenery of waterfalls and vibrant, green valleys. Almost each time you raised your camera though you found yourself entering another short tunnel! At a magnificent waterfall everyone poured onto the platform after a minute’s pause wondering how long the train was stopped for. The hundred or so other tourists of course detracted from the natural beauty somewhat. However after a few photos of the spray sparkling in the air the dancing siren also stepped out accompanied with a full sound system, which though I’d heard about, completely ruined the experience. Nature is quite beautiful enough in it’s own majestic force.

Our ferry from Flam to the fjord side town of Balestrand though was the one less taken by the tourists, and though there were still many people on board it was very spacious (imagine an entirely first class airplane). We took a seat outside on the back deck, which was blissfully quieter from the ferry to the Stockholm archipelago. I spent the majority of the next 2 hours at the rail watching the fjord disappear behind us, a dark lake between the steep, grey mountain walls with tears of waterfalls pouring down. 

Towards the end of the journey I got to talking with a Norwegian lady about the country. “What is something most people don’t know about Norway?” I asked. After thinking a moment she said “The people might seem a bit rude sometimes to visitors. When people bump into each other here they don’t apologize. It’s not rude, it’s just the way we are.” This was a bit surprising to me, but I don’t recall actually noticing whether it was true or not. After saying goodbye as we’d starting to talk about her kids and the education system in Norway I disembarked with my friend in the small town of Balestrand before the ferry very promptly pulled away from the dock.

That evening we both just collapsed into our beds with no interest to do anything other than relaxing for the rest of the evening. However we did spend probably an hour pouring over timetables for possible outings the next day. Of all the days of our trip the one that was most dependent on the weather was of course the one that was forecasted to be decidedly wet. Frustratingly Balestrand was also not well connected for day trips to somewhat drier possibilities without returning around 11 pm. 

The next morning dawned grey, and drizzly. We headed down to the tourist office to ask for suggestions for the day and were pleasantly surprised to be told that there was a hiking trail that would give us a great view of the fjords and was perfectly doable in the light drizzle. So in our rain gear we set off to the edge of town where the trail began.

At first we wound our way through the the damp forest going up and up before reaching a plateau where the trees ended and the shrubs began. Along the trail were occasional boxes with journals for visitors to jot down notes. I’d risked eating what I was very certain was a wild raspberry earlier, though my friend remained unconvinced. However in this journal a visitor just slightly earlier in the day, according to the date, had written “We loved the wild berries: raspberries and blueberries!” Well now we were both convinced to look more closely at the shrubs I had earlier guessed were wild blueberries, but also assumed were past fruiting. It appeared my plant identification was correct, and that these shrubs were high enough that most visitors hadn’t reached them (or perhaps they simply had a later season)! We each gathered a couple handfuls of blueberries while I imagined the days when people must have spent all day out gathering berries on hillsides. A dozen or so berries together had a wonderful blueberry flavor, but perhaps surprisingly some of the larger berries on their own didn’t have much flavor at all. 

As we made the last part of the ascent among the shrubs and grasses I trailed behind somewhat picking blueberries every several steps until they gave way to pure grass, and stone steps. When we reached the summit a strong breeze suddenly blew around us. Freezing after only a few photos we took refuge in the unheated, but wonderfully windproof little A-frame type hut at the top. Still cold after our short lunch we were determined to go back to the summit for a few more photos before descending. Though it was probably only 3,500 ft. above sea level it felt much more impressive than that. Though it was grey the view of the fjord below was still clearly visible and met my friend’s sole desire for the hike.

As we descended we soon began to warm up once more; down the stone steps, down the dirt path by the blueberries, and through the humid forest.

Early that evening the rain dried up, and left us for a very pleasant wander around Balestrand once we too were dry again. It was one of those perfect times with nothing else to do until our chosen location for dinner opened up. In the meantime we found what I would call the most beautiful place in town in front of the grand Kviknes Hotel with several benches and a small harbor on the still water. 

We had a wonderful and leisurely meal at the family run restaurant of Gekkens, only open (at least in the off season) for the 3 or so hours around dinner. Perhaps it was the long hike, or the fact that it was my friend’s last night before heading home, but it seemed the best evening we had.

The next morning I waved my friend off on his ferry before catching mine back to where the cog train had left us a couple days before. Fully bundled up I spent part of the journey across the fjord enjoying the scenery with the wind full in my face at the very front of the boat. The force of the wind is truly amazing, but can only be endured for so long before returning to the warmth of the interior!

From Flam I boarded the sightseeing vessel for the last half of the Norway in a Nutshell trip through the Naeroyfjord. Though I usually find PR outstrips reality I will say that the new electric, hydrofoil cruise vessel in this case truly lives up to its praise. With zigzagging outside walkways it’s easy to escape from any group of people, and watch the fjord slide by from almost any angle. Eventually I tired of jumping up every few minutes from my warm seat inside to photograph another waterfall, or brilliant greenery around a little fjord side village, and was able to appreciate the quality of the view from the warmer side of the seat to ceiling windows. Low and behold this tinted glass actually improved the quality of lighting in my photos!

Before I knew it we were docking at the end of the journey. The main bus stop in Gudvangen is deceivingly further down the road than the conveniently placed bus stop near the ferry. After spending long enough at the sign and with Google maps (which my friend had finally talked me into) to realize this I grabbed the other American couple I’d bumped into along the way, who had been heading off for a cup of coffee. Instead we found ourselves calmly waiting at the bus station for the rather tardy bus as other people came panting up having only realized the location of the stop at the last minute. From there the final leg of my fjord journey came to an end with a few more conversations, and one last dash for the train in Voss.

Tags: balestrand, fjords, hiking, naeroyfjord, norway in a nutshell


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