Beautiful Bergen and Surrounds

Trip Start Jun 16, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Eidfjord Gjestgiveri

Flag of Norway  , Western Fjords,
Monday, August 1, 2011

We farewelled Oslo early in the morning and headed on the train towards Bergen. The Norwegian Rail website claims that this is the best train ride in the world. Further research indicated that Vancouver- Banff is also up there (and given the high esteem we have for the beauty of the Rocky Mountains we aren't surprised) along with a few others. So we think that it is probably accurate to say that it is 'one of the best train rides in the world'. Definitely worth being on the Ticket to Ride board!
The first part of the trip was in familiar territory as we had followed the train line on our travels to the bear park.  The train then climbs over the mountains, with the highest station at Finse, 1222m above sea level. There were a few glaciers and snow-capped mountains to see and the trip down the mountain was very spectacular. The train goes over the Hardangervidda, Europe's highest mountainous plateau, and there are great scenes of mountains, snow, trees, cliffs, beautiful clear water (so the reflection of everything also).  We of course tried to take lots of photos though Vicki perfected the art of setting up an amazing photo just in time for a tunnel or a station or a pillar!! Such talent...
When we arrived in Bergen we wandered around the city, which is quite small but very beautiful with old cobblestoned streets and lots of little shops and eateries. We wandered around the fish markets which had an impressive variety of fresh fish and seafood as well as some fruit and veg stalls (more strawberries - yum yum). We walked to Bryggen, which is the oldest area of Bergen and consists of lots of warehouse-type buildings which are colourfully painted and are now UNESCO heritage listed. It was quite a touristy area so we didn't buy anything though did wander down lots of the alleyways between the buildings. We then went to Bergenhus fortress and enjoyed a view of the harbour from the corner of the walled area. There were two huge cruise ships docked and we saw one of them toot its horn and head out to sea. It was a bit of a sight given its massive size and it was also nice to know that Bergen would be a bit quieter the next day!
In Bergen we did a lot of our own cooking at our hostel to avoid paying $30 for a hamburger (albeit a nice hamburger) so the menu for our first night was pasta with local salmon, cherry tomatoes and zucchini that was the envy of the rest of the guests. The hostel kitchen provided its own challenges but was a good venue to bond with other travellers over broken saucepans, stovetops, lack of can-openers etc.
We hoped for good weather (and kind of got it - Bergen has a reputation for being a very rainy place so we didn't expect too much weather-wise) so went on a train called Floibanen up to Mt Floyen overlooking the city. The view was pretty and we explored the woods at the top of the mountain for a while. We also found some Norwegian waffles which were tricky to find in Bergen. They weren't up to the Bear Park standard as they were pre-cooked. We went and had lunch at a soup restaurant (Dan may have even been converted to liking soup if all soup was that tasty...) and then went in to a random museum that we came across.  We think that it was a design museum but whatever it was Vicki really enjoyed it, Dan thought it was a bit lacking. The first thing we looked at was a room full of silver objects - pitchers, spoons, jeweller, bowls, silver galore and all really sparkly! There was also a room full of 'useful' items made out of recycled goods including a doorbell made from two wine glasses and a whole room of chairs.
We had ben umming and aahing about which fjord to go and see from Bergen. The most popular is Sognefjord (called the most spectacular and the King of the Fjords) though Hardangerfjord is also close by and is known as the most beautiful and the Queen of the Fjords. A clever marketing campaign if I've ever seen one. It is like Dan naming the buses at our wedding as Bus A and Bus 1
We decided to go for the 'most beautiful' so the following day headed on the train towards the Hardangerfjord. Douglas Adams' coastline designer Slartibartfast won an award for the Nowegian fjords and it was certainly worth it. We took the Hardanger in a Nutshell trip down to Ulvik and by ferry through the spectacular views of orchards and farms perched on the walls of the fjord, ending up in Eidfjord. We made our way to a tiny town further into the valley called Øvre Eidfjord where we were to stay the night. We arrived in the early afternoon so decided to take a walk up the nearest fjord and were amazed by skydivers' parachuting over and over again. It started off being like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - the parachuters seemed like they were landing just in the next paddock. And then the next paddock. And then the next. Eventually we found where they were landing and still there were parachuters jumping for us to watch. It was a pretty amazing place to skydive - there were stunning rock walls and waterfalls galore. We followed an old stock path up the valley and found some wonderful wild strawberries and raspberries on the way. They were tiny but had a really strong and sweet flavour and there really were a lot of them. In classical Nordic style, there was a named place every hundred metres which was pretty interesting but they weren't on the map. We had gone a fair way up towards the plateau, Hardangervidda before it started to get late and we had to turn back so we could get to the pancake restaurant at our hotel before it closed (we were in the country after all so everything shut early!).
Next day we went back to Eidfjord to join a tour up to Vøringfossen. We explored the town a little while waiting for the bus and had to compete with a whole cruise ship of German tourists that had arrived that morning, not to mention the rain. There were some people, who looked just a little crazy, training for the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon later that week swimming in the icy fjord. Our tour first stopped at the Nature Centre back in Øvre Eidfjord with lots of information about the wildlife and scenery and an impressive video of the area taken from a helicopter. We then headed up the other valley to the Vøringfossen waterfall which is pretty spectacular, if crowded. We returned to Eidfjord to finish our Hardanger exploration and return to Bergen with another beautiful boat trip to Lofthus, surrounded by apple groves (and thus known as the orchard of Hardanger). 
Bergen is certainly a very beautiful city and if you have a bit of extra cash to cope with the Norwegian prices we would definitely recommend spending a couple of days there. Next time we will think about hiring a car and exploring the surrounding fjords ourselves to give us a bit more flexibility for strawberry-gathering-type walks!
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