Mountains, fjords and Bergen

Trip Start Aug 12, 2011
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Flag of Norway  , Western Fjords,
Friday, September 23, 2011

After deciding it was impossible to see more than one region of Norway in a week, we hot-footed it to Voss in the region of the western fjords. The journey to Voss mustn't be neglected in our telling, the rail journey is touted as one of the most beautiful in the world- and it did not disappoint. We lived it up in a fist class carriage where we had free coffee whilst we sailed open mouthed past mountains, rivers, waterfalls and lakes. A stark snow covered section in the middle was particularly memorable. On our way we passed the steepest section of railway in the world which descended from where we were down into one of the fjords. The section of rail is known as the Flam railway, and the passage it takes down into the fjord is a real eye opener.
The next day we felt we should get out and about; really see the fjords and that sort of thing. So we caught a bus up to the Stalheim hotel, which was said to have a spectacular view. It certainly did (see our photos), and this only fueled the wanderlust. So we found out about some trails from the hotel staff and set off. It was autumn, not too cold, but there was snow on the tops and most of the trees and scrub were a yellowy-browny colour. Whatever the reason, we decided the prescribed route wasn't out there enough so we waded across a small mountain stream and headed up one of the nearby mountains in order to join one of the higher paths. The plan was foolproof; based on the information supplied. Trouble was, Norwegian trails that say they are well marked means they were once well marked and those that are just marked trails are probably more like sheep tracks- of which there are many. After passing some stunning mountain scenery we realised the day was getting on and the going was tougher than we reckoned. Thank heaven for the longer days in that part of the world, because things were getting a bit dicy and we didn't have a torch. The thought of spending a night in the Norwegian mountains in October didn't suit us much. We made it back before the light completely went, but after the last bus on Sunday had gone. Thanks to our networking skills we sweet talked our way into getting a lift back to Voss with one of the hotel staff. We were very grateful that there was a bar at the hotel whilst we waited.
The next day we had kayaking planned, but this was scuttled by poor weather. Not to be defeated, we decided to try and see the fjords from the multiple ferries that operate in the region. So we cobbled a few buses and a ferry together to get to the beautifully situated Eidfjord; at the very head of one of the biggest fjords in Norway. Starved for time, we walked out of town to the nearby Viking burial mounds of which there are about 350 (apparently) scattered about. There wasn't much information about them, whether they belonged to Eric Forkbeard II or Harald Bluetooth or some other fearsome oceangoer, but again the location was a killer one. Nice place to be buried - with vertical rock faces disappearing into cloud above and amongst thick pine forest. In the river nearby, there were some of the old salmon traps. Apparently your salmon trap could not be more than one third of the river's width, and no more than eight were allowed.
Had we another day or so, there was a small farm located in the most inaccessible place imaginable 600m or so above the fjord and for a long time was only accessible by climbing up there. Now there`s a road, thanks to the nearby hydroelectric plant, but it would have been a great view on the way up. Somehow the fact there is a road there now made it less appealing anyway. So we decided to crack on to Bergen, the way out being back through the maze of the fjord. On the way we passed Ulvik which is a tiny fjordside town that apparently grows heaps of apples and pears and is a cider powerhouse for Norway. Who knew?!
Spent most of the day getting to Bergen and there we met with Mim's cousin Dion and his wife Anh, and Odin (!) who is their son, not really the king of the Norse gods (although try telling him that). Enter huge meals, large quantities of quintessentially Norwegian food including (for breakfast) herring, caviar and mackerral pastes and the prescribed cod liver oil (to combat vitamin D deficiency and seasonal affective disorder). The first day we were there the Bergen fog closed in so we played at being a Norwegian family on a Sunday, despite the fact it was Tuesday, and went for a walk up into the hills behind Dion and Anh`s house. Taking along chocolate, sandwiches and a thermos for hot drinks in what Anh assured us was a typically norwegian fashion.
We tried to visit Ole Bull's (famous violinist) pad just out of Bergen, but things were shutting down for the season so all ferries to the island were not running. No matter, as we found a sunny lunch spot by the water - it was 22 degrees plus for most of our stay which was unheard of for the end of september. We also found the well preserved ruins of a cloister nearby dating from 1147 (roughly). It was good to spend time out of the city in the countryside surrounding Bergen.
We spent our last afternoon exploring Bergen's port and Bryggen (sea merchants) area. We saw the Bryggen museum, Hakon's hall built in Viking times and picked up some reindeer sausage. As you do. They had whale and moose available too, but we have it on good authority that whale tastes like bad kidney and we wouldn't have chosen it anyway. We picked up some seafood chowder for a late lunch by the wharf- very rich, very traditional - and one of the few meals we had out in Bergen.
We were sad to finish our time en famille, but heartened by the prospect of fun times in Cambridge ahead!
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