Fiords and mountains, and the ubiquitous red barns.
Saturday the 8th of July 2006 Malcolm is Off to Norway!
I got up early, or at least it felt that way after my cultural effort last night of comedy and pints of English ale, and caught the tube to Heathrow. No delays – Woo! Hoo!
I got my first ever business class upgrade. It was only a 2 hour flight so the real bonus was the included meal of smoked salmon and salad, which, being Norwegian and not British, was actually very nice.
After catching the train from the airport to Oslo central station, I followed instructions from the hostel on which tram number to catch. They went both directions out front and unfortunately they didn’t specify which I should take.
Why is it that when faced with a 50/50 choice there’s a 90% chance of getting it wrong?
Changed trams and took one back the other way, found my digs okay and dumped my backpack and went off wandering, as I am wont to do.
Armed with an all-you-can-ride for 24 hours tram ticket I set off ‘tramming’ around Oslo. To begin the randomness, I caught the first tram that came past, regardless of the number. It was #12 and I took it to the end of the line. On the return journey, it passed the waterfront. The evening light was golden, so I jumped off and took a couple of photos of the harbour and castle, realised the expensive waterfront tourist restaurants would not be where I was eating, and jumped on the next tram back.
i found a restaurant near the hostel for a steak dinner. Scotch steak great, asparagus missing and vegetables were frozen packet ones and still cold. Glad it only cost me $50.
Sunday – Oslo’s enchanted forest.I’m staying in Oslo for 2 nights, which gives me all day today to explore.
(Foreshadowing - I am returning here for 3 nights at the end of the month when I will meet up with my friend Nathan who is joining me for the last 3 weeks. We will fly to Svalbard and kayak near the North Pole looking for polar bears and walruses amongst the ice floes, but that is an adventure for August and it is only July. Stay tuned to www.thewandera.travellerspoint.com)
If you want to say 'hello'by email it's firstname.lastname@example.org
I began the day with a buffet breakfast at the hotel next door. Great value and a filler for the rest of the day. Like everything in Norway, food here is very expensive.
I wanted to leave Oslo as a clean slate for when Nathan is here, so didn’t want to ‘do’ anything that we might want to do together. It was only for Nathan’s benefit that I didn’t go to the knitting museum. I did, however, walk across town to the National Gallery. (If Nathan really wants to visit the gallery I will happily go again.) They have a varied collection, the feature of which is of course a room full of Edvard Munch paintings. He is Norway’s most famous artist and the painter of ‘The Scream’. I think too that I might have found the only free thing in Norway. Even having a leak will cost you $2.50.
Wanting to reconnoitre the place a little, I went tramming again, this time ending up on the #13 tram. This one went so far out it wasn’t on my tourist map! Jumping off at the end point, I went wandering and investigating.
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but methinks I will be fine. So far – so good.
Heading back towards the tram stop I noticed a thick forest with a narrow rough track leading into it. Wondering where it might take me, I followed it to find out.
The path, lined with ferns, wound downwards steeply through a dense canopy of trees. I reached the bottom to find a beautiful cascading stream. What a magic place! An enchanted forest all to myself. I paused to reflect on the difference of only 2 days ago. London – grey skies and buildings, a crush of people and that ever present city noise. Here I was on my own in a special place surrounded by green, with the only noise a gurgling stream and chirping birds. This spot is not in any guidebook! The Wandera scores again!
Figuring that if I followed the stream I couldn’t get too lost and would end up somewhere, eventually. The rough path continued streamside through a verdant valley and I stopped to take some special photos at a small waterfall. Beautiful slow shots that blurred the falling water. This was not the Oslo I had expected and a little reward for my fondness for tramming and wandering.
On exiting the forest in to a small town 2 hours later, I ascertained my location and caught the train back to Oslo.
Still time to try one more line and this time I caught the #19 as it went in completely the other direction. The map gave no indication that this one went high up a hill overlooking Oslo, so I jumped off at the top for a look and photos. Another bonus for The Wandera
Tonight it’s the World Cup soccer final. Time to find a pub with TVs. I’d heard Norway was expensive, but my first beer here cost me $17! On checking out the bar menu the $30 cheeseburger had a diet-like effect on my appetite. $30 would buy me two beers!
World Cup ‘football’. What a stupid game! Here we had another important soccer match that goes to penalty shoot out. Why not save 2 hours of everyone’s time and just go to the penalty shoot out?
Has anyone stopped to think that if you have a game where two teams regularly play for two hours and NO ONE wins, there is a fundamental flaw. Make the goals bigger? No off-side?
This travelling Aussie sure misses REAL football – Aussie Rules football. AFL way to go!
Monday – Oslo to Bergen.
I’m crossing the country by train for this one. What a magnificent menu of scenery was dished up as I looked out the window.After beginning with a 10km tunnel of blackness, fortunately the scenery just got better and better. Mountains, lakes and farms with the ubiquitous Scandinavian red barns were the entree. (Being a rebel, I’m tempted to buy a barn, paint it blue and see what they do!)
As the track rose from the coast in Oslo to over 1200m ASL, snow-capped mountains, glaciers and waterfalls were the main course.
As we descended towards Bergen, hugging the sides of mountains as we did so, Dessert was served. Waterfalls of all sizes cascaded into rushing rivers which in turn flowed into cliff-lined fiords.
What is a fiord? Not sure myself, I looked it up while researching this adventure.
The dictionary definition is - A long, narrow, inlet of the sea between steep slopes. esp. Norway. Even the dictionary says - when you think of fiords, think of Norway.
I've seen fiords in New Zealand and in the far south of Chile, but as the dictionary suggests, Norway takes the prize.
Arriving in Bergen was like being catapulted into one of the world’s truly beautiful cities – except that I had come here via “The World’s Most Beautiful Train Journey”, not a catapult! Their claim.
“The World’s Most Beautiful…….” is a claim I am seeing often here in Norway, but if that train ride is a sampler, they could well be right.
Perhaps “The World’s Most Beautiful Country?” I’ll get back to you on that one after I wander and explore this country some more.
According to the tourist brochure, Bergen is “The city surrounded by 7 mountains and 7 fiords.”
Another location winner. This hostel has the best location in town, better even than the best hotels. The view from the terrace roof over the harbour is fantastic.
It was 4pm by now, so time to go wandering – first stop the fish markets on the harbour front. I saw and photographed a whole anglerfish, trawled from the deep. Euphemism – monkfish.
Many samples available and when in Rome, or Bergen in this case, there is ‘hval’ to try. It’s pronounced ‘vale’ and yes, it is whale meat. Meat is a good word for it because it doesn’t look like fish, which is good because they’re mammals. I tried it smoked - delicious, and raw - not so nice.
I explored Bergen away from the waterfront and found a nice park with a big fountain. After enjoying a bargain dinner of an all-you-can-eat Mongolian BBQ, I went back to the harbour to continue wandering. It was later in the evening now and armed with my camera, I took advantage of the gorgeous golden evening light that bathed the town. Sunset was at 10:45.
Tuesday – With the price of meals in Norway, the $12 breakfast on offer at the hostel was not bad value, just as long as you grabbed a ham and cheese roll for lunch as well.
Weather overcast and raining. Perhaps they should call this place, “Bring a brolly Bergen.”? This is summer, but on enquiring I discovered that it rains here 400 days a year!The average temperature in July, their warmest month, is 14 deg C. Yikes! Gotta LOVE Perth! I do!
My solution to the precipitation problem was to jump on a sightseeing tour of Bergen. 3 hours in a bus out of the rain. No such luck.
First stop – an open air museum.
Second stop – 10 minute walk from the car park to the house museum of Edvard Grieg, Norway’s most beloved composer.
The third and final stop was a tiny viewpoint of the city that was crushed with the people from 5 coach loads of tourists all trying to get their ‘been there’ photo!
There are however, some benefits of being herded - sorry guided - around, and today on the bus has made me realise how much I am missing out on as a solo traveller.
Today I felt a real sense of belonging that I have lacked, as I too got to wear a yellow sticker that identified me as part of the group.
I got rehearsed and clichéd comments from a guide, instead of the hassle of actually meeting a local person and having a real conversation.
I got to feel young, as I was the youngest in the group by about 20 years.
I realised that using my eyes and other senses was NOT the way to do it. What I need is a video camera stuck to my hand and view my holiday as it happens, through the viewfinder and then watch it all in slow motion when I get home. i can't believe I am trusting my memory for the sights and sounds of this holiday.
I realised I am wandering and exploring too fast. Silly me for walking at a normal speed. As the group moved at the speed of the slowest member I realised I must be missing something by moving SO FAST!
Finally as an independent traveller I would otherwise have missed out on having the same photos and going to exactly the same places as all the cruise ships and other package tours that land on Bergen’s shores. Imagine going to Bergen and being the only person without ‘that’ photo.
Imagine? I do!
The inclement weather drowned my plan to hike to the top of one of the mountains this arvo so I used the internet to book some travel bits (flights over fiords) for later in the month as I explore the far north of Norway and meet up with my ship. It is all coming together beautifully. Arctic Circle here I come for the second of three times this trip.
Pizza was a dinner option, until I realised they were $60 – for pepperoni pizza! I kid you not. When you find a good thing stick to it. Mongolian BBQ again.
The weather was beginning to break, maybe, so hoping for some nice sunset photos if the clouds cooperated, I grabbed my camera and set off walking to a vantage point by the harbour that I’d spotted on the bus tour this morning. (See, there was some benefit.) It was a lot longer to walk than I realised, but I was in no hurry and neither was the sun. My optimism paid off as an orange hue draped the buildings by the wharf. The clouds too put on a show and I felt like the only spectator.
I wandered, as I do, back a different way, through some small old wooden houses that fronted narrow cobbled streets. The quaint part of Bergen. Another nice discovery for he who wanders.
Wednesday – ‘Brunch’ at the hostel, then I caught the 10am fast catamaran ferry from Bergen to Stavanger. According to their brochure, it was supposed to be an “Amazingly beautiful journey”, but with overcast skies, and rain all the way, I’ll have to take their word for it. Like Bergen, the beauty of this region depends on some sunshine, something lacking today. As the ferry weaved through the islands and fiords of southern Norway on its 4-hour journey southwards, I did take one photo which I will title, Shades of Grey.
I was met in Stavanger by Sigrun, a pen friend of my mother for longer than I have been around. (A 'pen friend' for those of you too young to know is someone you write to in another country and quite likely have never met. Mum and Sigrun did not meet until over 20 years after they began regularly writing.) I will be staying with Sigrun for the next two nights. No point sightseeing this arvo as summer here is still pretending to be a Perth winter. Hey! At least it’s raining here in Norway. I hear Perth has had a dry winter. That would be right! Just the winter I nick off!
Thursday – Sightseeing and then a triple treat.
After a traditional Norwegian breakfast, including a brown sweet cheese, Sigrun and I went touring the islands of Rennesoy in the Stavanger region, accessed by a 6km tunnel from the mainland that goes 223 metres below the sea. Perhaps the speed restrictions are so you don’t get the bends on the way back up?
The sun was shining mostly and we had a pleasant meander around the quiet rural areas of this group of islands, stopping at the Abbey of Utstein, dating to 1260.
We wandered around Stavanger town centre and I had a small world moment on the wharf. On hearing, “Hey Aussie!” I turned to see the lady I’d sat across from on the train from Oslo to Bergen.
Interesting museums never cease - Sigrun and I toured a canning museum, but it was a bit fishy. Not as fishy as that pun though!
By mid afternoon it was time to visit her sister on the farm they run as an activity centre. We had a family meal together that was the ‘most traditional Norwegian meal’. Meatballs, plain boiled potatoes, split pea puree and gravy. No vegies. It was nice to share a meal in a home and of course, quite different to the restaurant meals I have been having. I know that it is a ‘most traditional Norwegian meal’, as they served that one on the train too. Yikes! Not a national dish to rave about.
I’ve come to the realisation that people
go to Norway for the scenery, not the food,
Sweden for the women, not the scenery,
Finland, hhmm. Saunas? Not a fan myself. Perhaps that's why I don't hear of many people who have been to Finland?
As for Denmark, Danish pastries? I am going there near the end, so I will report back on that one.
My triple treat followed and began with riding Icelandic horses through Norwegian forest. These beautiful, stocky and agile horses are a delight to ride, and ride them we did. How exhilarating to gallop past ponds, canter through the trees and clamber up steep tracks to the hill top. They are the only horse that has a fifth gait, called a tolt, between a canter and a gallop but much smoother than a gallop. Once we turned them home, they knew the way and were often keen to go fast. Luckily, so was I. Even the intermittent rain did nothing to dampen my enthusism.
Part two was to go kayaking on a salmon stream that runs past the farm.
Part three was to wear out whatever parts of me weren’t, on a climbing wall.
I had a heap of fun and Sigrun’s brother-in-law was suitably impressed by my competency at each of the activities undertaken.
What a day! A real bonus for staying with a local and definitely not one for the tourists.
Friday – Day trip to explore the Lysefiord.
Lysefiord is the most beautiful fiord in this region, so Sigrun booked us on the car ferry that took us 40 km, the full length of the fiord, to Lysebotn.
WOW! Words can’t really describe what I saw today, but I’ll give it a go and hope my photos do it justice. Psst! I took too many photos, but is that really possible in Norway? (Without access to a proper PC, I am unable to shrink and post any photos until I get home. Probably not a bad thing to spend my holiday ‘getting out there’ and leave photo editing until my return.)
I think that perhaps Norway may yet take the crown as “The worlds most beautiful country.”
Lysefiorden - Sheer cliffs rise 1000m out of turquoise water, from high above waterfalls cascade straight into the fiord, seals dive away as the boat approaches, and picturesque historic farms cling to a meagre existence stuck to the side of some of the less steep parts.
WOW! If this was a movie set, you would think it was fantasy.
With the depth and steepness of the fiord, the boat could approach close to the sides of the fiords without running aground giving us close-up views of the sides.
The four hour boat journey was non-stop awe and the weather was just as sensational.
On arriving in Lysebotn at the end of Lysefiord, Sigrun drove us up 27 hairpin bends and one single lane tunnel to bring us 900m up to the top of the mountains. We had a salmon lunch with a window seat in the Eagle’s Nest restaurant. “The worlds most beautiful restaurant view?”The road wound up some more and despite it being the middle of July, there was still some snow hiding in places. The road home was narrow, winding and gave us different views of this amazing area.
If this is a sampler, I can’t wait to see what the rest of Norway dishes up.
I am on the night train tonight from Stavanger on the west coast, around the south coast and up to Oslo – 9 hours. In Oslo, I change to a train for 7 hours to Trondheim, on the west coast again, far to the north.
It’s a good thing I love train journeys.
Not having had a drink since the World Cup final, it's offical! Norway has made the wandera an economic teetotaler.