Saturday, 19 July 2008
We caught the channel tunnel early on the Saturday morning and drove up through Belgium to stay with our friend Dean in Amsterdam. It was a pretty uneventful drive, the only break being a stop to pick up beer in the town of Westmalle in Belgium. This in itself was easier said than done. The town appeared to have two supermarkets: One was an Aldi, which was little more than a warehouse with crates of products dumped in it and only one type of beer. The other was a Coyrut which was only a little less basic, and although it had a selection of beers only had crates of 24 of the local brew. Although it may seem odd to the uninitiated that we were buying beer we had a tip off that beer is astronomically expensive in Norway.
Arriving in Amsterdam we found Dean in fine form and after a short break went to have dinner at a restaurant called the Supperclub. This was an odd affair, all the customers reclined on two galleries on padded platforms whilst a five course meal was served and the place gradually turned into a full on club. On one hand the food was good, we even had a starter we had to eat with our hands and were furnished with rubber gloves. There was also a show after the main course - an opera singer belting her way through a couple of high pitched solos. However n the other hand it was uncomfortable and the toilets were something else. It was a unisex toilet but rather than being all stalls it had urinals in it - and even better the bowls of these were lit with spotlight for your performance. We left at about 1am.
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Arhus, Midtjylland, Denmark
Mostly a boring day of crossing through Northern Germany to reach Denmark. The only stop was to have a Hamburger in McDonalds in Hamburg. This was not our first choice but nothing else seemed open on Sunday and we could not venture too far off the Motorway. It rained on and off most of the day and it was little surprise to us to see rivers in full spate.
We spent the night in Arhus, which is known as Denmark's cultural capital. That may well have been but it turned out that on Sundays it was totally dead, with many restaurants closed. We had an okay Italian down by the riverside and retired to our very comfortable hotel to sleep.
Monday, 21 July 2008
We had a ferry booked from Friedrikshavn in Denmark to Göteborg in Sweden at 12. This meant a pleasant drive up the East coast of Denmark. The rolling countryside was pretty ad the main event of the trip was seeing the component parts of a wind turbine (of which there are many in Denmark) trundling down the other side of the road on four separate lorries. Each blade was about 50m long.
The ferry ride was three hours and without doubt the highlight was the approach to Göteborg. The approach is a fairly narrow channel dotted with small islands with sailing boats, out enjoying the sunny day, weaving between them. The ferry then passes the docks and under a huge road bridge (actually the one we were to cross half an hour later to go North) before getting the docks.
After Göteborg we had a few hundred kilometres to Oslo. Here we first encountered the pleasures of driving in Scandinavia. In short speed limits are very conservative, speed cameras numerous (even on motorways) and most people stick to the limits. Our hotel in Oslo was very nice, a converted old gabled house in one of the posher neighbourhoods just off the Drammensvein. Having already had the benefit of visiting Oslo before I knew roughly where to go. We had dinner in Aker Brygge, the spruced up old warehouse district. Our restaurant - funnily enough called the Lofoten restaurant after our ultimate destination - served up winderful seafood dishes which we ate whilst watching the last rays of sun turning the clouds red above the castle. By the time we finished dinner it was ten and there was still more than enough light to walk home by.
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
Steinkjer, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway
This was to be one of the longest days of driving. We were planning to drive from Oslo to Trondheim a distance of 500km. Bad enough normally except we found out half way through the day that every hotel in Trondheim was booked out because, of all things, an Iron Maiden concert. So we would be forced to carry on to Steinkjer another 100km on top.
The drive however was pretty dramatic. The first few hours were spent driving up the Mjosa lake to Lillehammer and then up the scenic Gudbrandsdalen to Dombas. This valley has been the traditional route of all people journeying between Trondheim (which used to be the capital) and the South for thousands of years. We stopped off at Ringebu to see one of the few remaining stave churches. We also stopped off at a place called Hundorp which was one of the traditional stopping off points in the valley. However now it seemed to be a very low key tourist trap with little for us to do except buy strawberries.
Next we passed over the high fells of Dovre, a suitably sparse pass between two river valleys. Then it was down into Gauldalen for the run down to Trondheim. We did not go into the city, the thought of 22,000 Scandanavian Iron Maiden fans being a bit too much to bear. We stopped off to look at a fort at Steinvikholmen purportedly based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci. Then we worked our way up the coast passing the Fjaettenfjord, a narrow inlet off the Trondheim Fjord where the Germans based the Tirpitz for 3 years during the war. Due to the high mountains surrounding the fjord it was almost impossible to attack from the air and good sea defences made it impregnable to a sea attack.
We got to Steinkjer around 8pm, like a lot of towns on the Northern Fjords it was heavily industrialised and although the hotel was fairly nice our view consisted of little more than the back of some storage silos. The restaurant managed to do a pretty good fish stew for dinner, this was washed down with 0.3l of beer which we got for the bargain price of £6!!
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Mo i Rana, Nordland, Norway
We were ahead of schedule so did not have to start massively early. The journey up to Mo i Rana was about six hours which gave us ample opportunity to stop off in a couple of places to admire the scenery. The longest stop was at the waterfalls at Laksforsen, a stunning setting where we were able to watch salmon leaping in the water below the falls.
Other than that we had an attempt at a walk. We drove up a dramatic side valley but when we got out of the car at the end of it found the path was marked private after 50m. We realised as a result that footpaths in Norway are not as well marked as in the UK and so made a resolution to try and get maps of any area we wanted to walk in ahead of schedule.
Mo i Rana was pretty much as our book had stated. The town had been tidied up by moving the obligatory factory from the shore of the fjord to a location hidden from view. There was a somewhat anomalous Anthony Gormley sculpture down by the shore, looking out into the Fjord, which suffered a bit from being the favourite perch of seagulls. Apart from this there was little to report. We were staying in a decidedly run down hotel and had an okay dinner in a stuffy restaurant at the best hotel in town.
Thursday, 24 July 2008
Å, Nordland, Norway
Having failed the day before we were determined to have a walk in the Saltfeljt National Park just North of the Arctic circle. We started off at seven and had the roads almost to ourselves. The scenery was stunning, as we approached the polar circle we ascended to a pass at the watershed of two valleys. It certainly looked the part, the vegetation was suitably Arctic tundra like and we had snow all around us. At the polar circle there was a peculiar tourist igloo selling a variety of tat and a variety of monuments to have your photo taken next to. We only stopped briefly and then drove a few km up the road to the start of our walk. It was not extensive, just 30 minutes along a track and back, as we had to catch a ferry in Bodo. However it was great to get out of the car and we ate our breakfast of smoked salmon and cream cheese rolls on a hillock overlooking a crystal clear arctic stream.
Past the polar circle the scenery continued to get better and better. We got to Bodo far too early and so had some lunch and popped into an outdoor shop where I found some freeze dried food for our potential camping trip. It was a Norwegian brand I had previously bought over the Internet for our trip to Peru and stunningly it was the first purchase in Norway that actually did not cost us a factor of two times the price in the UK.
The ferry ride out to the Lofoten islands was four hours of stomach curdling pitching with zero visibility as we crossed a fairly choppy North Atlantic. Fortunately we are fairly robust when it comes to sea journeys but there were a few green faces.
The approach to Moskenes, the southern most of the chain of islands, was magical. The sheer mountains first loomed out of the mist and clouds and only slowly did it become apparent that there was a small village nestling at the foot of the cliffs. We disembarked and drove ten minutes own the road to the tiny fishing village of Å where we were to stay for the next couple of nights.
Around the coast of Lofoten are dotted thousands of Robruer - fishermen's shacks. Many years ago these used to provide temporary accommodation for fishermen overnighting during the fishing season in spring whilst cod were migrating past the island. As boats became more comfortable the tradition was carried on by tourists and in picturesque A nearly half the village was composed of these shacks for hire. We unfortunately had not booked in time to grab one but had instead got a room in a converted warehouse.
After unpacking we went for a buffet dinner of smoked salmon at the only restaurant in town. We then went upstairs to the only pub in town where amazingly they were having a pub quiz and it was only £5 a pint. We initially did well at the quiz, second after the second round against some much larger teams. However we had a disaster in the music round and an equally bad time in the geography round where most of the questions had a peculiar Norwegian theme to them. We ended up third from last and had to retire to bed without the first prize T-shirts. It was 0030 and still light. We stayed up reading until 0130 and although it was gloomy it was apparent that it was the darkest it was going to get and it was still not dark.
Friday, 25 July 2008
Å, Nordland, Norway
Being the first day of the holiday where we had no driving to do we took the opportunity to sleep in. We then got up and had a walk around in the early morning drizzle, popping into the "bakeri" for their special of a cinnamon bun. Although it appears to be mostly given over to tourists A was a very idyllic town of red wooden shacks at the base of two vertical mountains, between which there nestled a lake. There are several inlets to dock boats in and a series of interconnected wooden walkways linking them and the robru. There was only one concrete building - a seemingly disused warehouse - and drying frames for fish are scattered over the rocks. It was exceptionally quiet and the only down point was the drizzle which only let up towards the end of Friday.
At 1030 we walked down to the docks to meet Morten, a fisherman who takes tourists out on his ship for fishing and sightseeing. This turned out to be quite a trip but not for the reasons I had been expecting. One of the key reasons for coming to the Lofoten was to see the Moknestraummen, the original Maelstrom which Edgar Allen Poe had written about in his short story "A Descent Into the Maelstrom" which I had read as a young boy. However it turned out when we drove through it that we were really there at the wrong season and no even when the tide was at its highest so it was not that spectacular. The phenomenon is caused by a ridge at 50m depth, either side of which plunges to 200m. The currents meet at the change of the tide causing the sea to boil and vortexes to form. however not that day, instead it was relatively flat with some disturbingly still patches of water in between rough ones.
The real star of the show was before this when we went fishing. My previous attempts at fishing had always been disappointing, however of Lofoten the fish are so numerous that we and the other ten or so people on the boat were literally scooping them up. They were not the tiny fish you normally manage to catch either, the first one was a Pollock caught by a six year old lad and it was practically as big as him. We caught far too much fish and had to stop before there was waste. Anna caught our first fish, a small pollock, I followed this up with a larger cod and a pollock.
After this and the Maelstrom Merton took us to Hellsegga the abandoned village of his relatives. Apparently during the German occupation two remote villages at the tip of Moskenes island, inaccessible by road, were resettled. Hellesegga was a very marginal place and it was easy to see how especially during the winter life would be pretty hard there.
On the way back we found a patch of sun and Merton filleted the fish, throwing the leftovers to a pack of feverish gulls. This left us with a problem in that the party had caught more fish than it needed. However back on land Anna solved this by running around asking everyone whether they wanted our spare couple of fish, finally finding some Japanese tourists who were more than happy to take them off her. We then bought some vegetables in the local shop and proceeded to cook our cod fillets. They were so thick it was almost impossible to cook them properly on the poor electric hob in the shared kitchen next to our rooms. I managed to cook the outside of it to perfection whilst leaving the inside perhaps a bit underdone.
After dinner we went for a walk up the shore of A's lake and sat by it admiring the view of the mountains with the waterfalls tumbling down their flanks. We then had a very pleasant £5 pint outside at the waterfront restaurant before retiring early for the day of travelling ahead.
Saturday, 26 July 2008
Andenes, Nordland, Norway
We had predictably picked two destinations at either end of the chain of islands that the Lofoten were part of. Andenes was well over 300km and a ferry journey from Å. The first part of the journey was through three or four islands of the Lofoten to the ferry port at Fiskebol. Its very hard to find more superlatives to describe the scenery of the Lofoten, Imagine turquoise fjords fed by crystal clear melt water, white sand beaches and soaring mountains with the occasional red hut. You are only half way there as you need to factor in beautiful arched bridges and wonderfully empty roads. All in all it seems amazingly remote and amazingly pure, we felt sorry we were not staying longer.
We stopped off at a couple of places including Henningsvaer a jaw dropping beautiful fishing village which was predictably crowded with tourists. We also found some turquoise sea, white sand beaches just before Henningsvaer that were very tempting on account of the view of a row of horn shaped mountains on the opposite side of the fjord. However we pressed on to Fiskebol and predictably got there just after the ferry had left, so had to wait for an hour.
Over the other side in the Vesteralen we had a couple less rugged islands to deal with before we got onto Andonoy. Here we took the more dramatic West coast road through a marshy national park and on to Bleik, an area of sand dunes and amazing rock formations out to sea. We finally pulled into Andenes about four and immediately checked into our hotel and went to explore the town.
We should not have rushed, we and at least a hundred other tourists were in town for the Whale Safari but it seemed that the town had failed to cash in on this and was little more than a run down grid iron of failed businesses. I suspected that at one point it had been a thriving whaling centre and when this had to stop it had failed to downsize leaving a large number of properties empty. The location has a lot going for it in terms of attractions, a 4km long beach, mountains within a stones throw, wonderful views of mountains on the mainland not to mention the whales. However it seemed most tourists were staying elsewhere, which was a shame as really all they needed to do was demolish some of the failed businesses and rebuild the quayside.
We went round the national history museum which was a poor shadow of the whale centre and seemed to be in the process of re-inventing itself as a museum without exhibits. We then went into a local pub, which was very, very local. Although the denizens did not make us feel unwelcome we left them to it after one pint. We had dinner in a restaurant next to our hotel called Lygthusset which was the best restaurant we had eaten in since Oslo, with excellent service and well presented meals. That night we stayed up for a bit reading and were rewarded by seeing a sunset, at midnight!!
Sunday, 27 July 2008
Andenes, Nordland, Norway
We had booked the Whale Safari well in advance and after a bit of a lie in turned up at the Whale centre at 1030. Here we were confronted with a bit of an angry mob. Although the day had started out with clear blue skies a fog had come in and there was no wind to shift it, thus they were unsure if the safari would leave on time. Nevertheless they took us round the centre explaining that Sperm whales can dive the deepest of all whales so, amongst other locations, like to congregate in the 2km deep Bleik canyon off the coast of Andenes to hunt squid. We also learned that all the whales in Andenes and in other extreme North and South locations, such as New Zealand, are males. They apparently migrate their after maturing then journey back to locations around the equator, where the female congregate, to mate every ten years. We also saw the 15m skeleton of a sperm whale and a very elderly model of a squid wrestling a whale.
After this we were given the bad news that the decision about whether to go out in the fog had been postponed till three so we had to go back then. We were a bit skeptical about wether we would ever go but decided to take the opportunity to walk along the beach. This was magical as the fog had descended so we were walking along a white sand beach in a dense white fog with only the occasional rocky outcrop of patch of green seaweed to break up the scene.
When we finally got back to the whale centre we had somewhat mixed feelings about the news that we were going to go out. On the one hand it was good we were going, on the other hand were we going to see anything in the fog? It was a pretty spooky journey cruising out of port with 220m visibility. We had about an hour of cruising to get to the deep Bleik Canyon on the edge of the continental shelf. We hung on to the starboard rail watching seagulls and generally keeping ourselves busy until the clicking started.
Sperm Whales can be tracked down by the noise they make. The bulge of their heads contains oil, for which they were once hunted and also for which they were misnamed as the oil is a white gloopey liquid. This acts as an amplifier for the clicking noises they make to echo locate their pray of squid. Using these clicking noises and two hydrophonic microphones the crew of the boat are able to track a whale and wait for it to surface. Since the whales are able to hold their breath for up to two hours it can be quite a lengthy wait. The handy thing however is that they stop clicking 300m before the surface on their way up so its easy to tell when they are about to come out.
We tracked our whale, Glen, down relatively easily and then tracked it until the clicking stopped. There was some tension as we waited in total silence in the mist and then suddenly we saw the dorsal fin pop out of the water and a blast of water vapour as the whale exhaled air ad water vapour from its left, and only, nostril. We then followed it slowly for ten minutes as it stocked up on air, then the captain shouted "Diving" and everyone pressed forwards with their cameras for the all important money shot of the fluke going up in the air.
Incidentally the fluke is the main method by which whales are tracked. During their childhood they often take bites out of each other's flukes in play as well as have the occasional run ins with Orcas. This leaves each of them with a unique "tail print" thus our whale Glen could easily be recognised. Following the first dive we again tracked the same whale and waited for it to resurface, this time we got a bit closer and I managed to get a few good pictures.
As we had left late we got back around 2030. The popularity of the trip was such that they had made up a second boat with the waiting list of the first and these people were all clamouring at the docks. It may sound strange to go out whale watching at nine but we had seen some photos of the whale blow back lit by the golden red of the midnight sun which were amazing. If it had not been for our early start the next day I think we would have jumped back on. After this we had a late dinner at the same restaurant and went straight to bed.
Monday, 28 July 2008
Steinkjer, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway
We had a long drive ahead of us and had got up at 0530 to make the 0800 ferry from Lodingen on the next island South of Andoyen. The roads were very empty and we only had to overtake a couple of people. There was only one place on the whole island chain where we had run into speed cameras - they are around Sortland - so were able to make it on time. One thing that is annoying about driving in Norway is the amount of speed cameras requiring you to get down to speeds of 50kmph. This would not be so bad but the major roads are not exactly major with a 90 or even 80mph limit, and villages tend to be located right on the road so you are continually having to slow down. In the south it is difficult to average much over 80kmph which equates to a mind numbing 50mph!!
However in the North villages are pretty infrequent and even the locals seem to acknowledge that the great distances demand a higher average. One bonus is that there was only one speed camera on the E6 between Bognes (where the ferry lands, just South of Narvik and Stenjkar, 100km North of Trondheim.
It was very sunny, nearly 27 degrees C, and we were for once able to enjoy the full majesty of the scenery which was unencumbered by clouds. North of Fauske, where we had turned off the E6 for Bodo, the scenery was without parallel. One crystal clear lake set amongst snow topped mountains was particularly inviting but given that it was on the main road and I had forgotten my swimming trunks going for a paddle was out of the question. However the idea had set in so we started to look out for a quiet spot for a skinny dip.
Just past Mo i Rana we found ourselves in the Saltfeljt national park and turned off the main road on to a small track by a turquoise glacier fed river. Unfortunately after an hour of searching we could not find anywhere to access the river as it was very deep and the beaches were always on the other side of the road to us. More annoyingly in attempting to get to the river we had been bitten by insects which seem to be a hazard of the wilds of Norway. Disappointed we re-joined the E6 and almost immediately I spotted a single parking space with a small track leading off through a pine forest. We stopped and following the path down found a very fast flowing river with slabs of rocks next to it. There we were able to go for a very chilling dip in the river and enjoy the sun whilst drying off and having the lunch, completely hidden from the road.
The rest of the day was more like an endurance marathon. We had an insane notion of getting to Trondheim but in the end limped into Steinkjar at around 2130. It made sense as we knew the hotel and tat the restaurant would be open. They gave us much better rooms than before when we had asked for the top floor and Steinkjar in the heat and evening sun at 2200 was a lot more pleasant and lively place than when we had stopped there six days earlier in the rain.
Tuesday, 29 July 2008
Lom, Oppland, Norway
We spent the day travelling to Lom, a small town North of the Jotunheim National Park. It was fairly routine as we had already covered most of the route coming up from Oslo. So we decided to get to Lom as quickly as possible and then go for a walk in the mountains around town to prepare ourselves for our planed trek.
Lom itself was a pleasant enough sort of place. Entirely made up of chalet style wooden buildings, the town would not have looked out of place in Switzerland or Austria. We checked into our hotel, then popped into the supermarket to get a last few supplies, then finally headed up the nearest hill. We only had two hours or so before all the restaurants in town shut (ten seemed to be the normal closing time of restaurants in the countryside). However we exerted our atrophied muscles and managed to gain some altitude and find a spot to take a picture..
Once back down we went straight for dinner at a cafe next to the hotel which had a rooftop dining area. It was amazingly well positioned and we enjoyed our beers and pizza whilst watching the sun set over Lom's church.
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Jotunheim, Oppland, Norway
We perhaps should have got up earlier but like so many things on our holiday it worked out well that we did not. We ended up leaving Lom at around 10am and headed up into the Jotunheim. If you are interested in stunning car journeys the E55 or Songnesfjellveg from Lom has to rank near the top. You start by working your way up the Leirdal, a turquoise stream set in pine forests. The trees then start to peter out and pretty quickly you find yourself 1430m above sea level on the Jotunheim plateau. The scenery is jaw droppingly stunning on a nice day (which it was). The road is surrounded by 2000-2500m high peaks the North flanks of which are encased in glaciers which melt into a series of pools which dot the plateau.
However we were not in the Jotunheim for classic car journeys so sped on to Turtagro. This is little more than a walkers hostel set in an 800m high mountain valley on the West side of the Jotunheim. We parked the car here and donned rucksacks for a couple of days walking. The Jotunheim is incredibly well organised for long (well 3-4 day) walks but not so good or circular two day walks so we had just picked a trail and decided to go up it, camp and return.
We could not have picked a better trail. It slowly worked its way up the Helgedalen towards a powerful waterfall where two streams fell into one cascade. Then we slogged our way uphill towards a 500m pass. On the way we followed a stream taking in several waterfalls and mirror calm mountain pools. We soon ran into patches of snow and found ourselves having to trudge, in some cases, over 200m to traverse them. After the pass we found a beautiful lake and a shepherds hut. However it was a bit exposed so we decided to descend a bit and found an excellent place to camp in the Jervvassdalen, a completely empty valley with the enormous Gjertvassbreen hanging above us about a kilometre away. Concerned about the glacier calving I had found a raised mound with a flat top by the side of the glacial stream.
Tired, we sat in the sun enjoying the rays for a bit too long and were caught by surprise when it started raining. We immediately leapt into action and put the tent up. However we rushed it and, not pegged correctly, the fly touched the top sheet and we had to spend an hour sheltering from the rain holding the two apart. After this it died down and we were able to cook and have some very nice freeze dried chili con carne out in the open, glacier on one side of us and the sun disappearing behind a hill on the other side.
Thursday, 31 July 2008
Loen, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway
It was not a bad nights sleep and thankfully, having corrected the tent problems, was completely dry despite a couple of showers. We climbed out of the tent to find it was slightly overcast but nevertheless dry. Girding my loins I ambled down to the stream to brave the freezing cold stream, managing to immerse myself waste deep for a microsecond before deciding that my legs were about to freeze off and jumping out. We then had breakfast, packed up and set off.
We followed exactly the same route back and, as a measure of just how scenic it was, enjoyed it as much in reverse and taking nearly as many photos. As she had not been brave enough in the morning, and the sun was now shining, Anna decided to stop at a secluded spot below a waterfall on the way and take a bath and I also went for my second dip of the day.
We got back to the car around 2pm. I was relatively tired which was a reflection not on how far we had walked but on how unfit we were and how unused I was to hauling a full rucksack on my back. Then it was back in the car and along the Sognesfjellveg to Lom and up into the mountains again towards Loen. Again the scenery was awesome, particularly the lofty Strynefjellet where we turned off the road at the side of a (by now obligatory) turquoise lake overhung by a huge black cliff.
We had turned off to pay a visit to Geirangerfjord, which is famed for its narrowness and sheer cliff walls. The approach in itself was remarkable, again a climb over a pass to emerge at a huge drop overlooking one end of Geirangerfjord. We were in some ways lucky that when we arrived their was a massive cruise ship in the Fjord so we could get some perspective on exactly how narrow it was. Then, trying not to burn the car's gear box or brakes out, you descend to the town of Geiranger via a series of tight hairpin bends. When we arrived we found that we had timed things just wrong and missed the ferry to the other end of the Fjord so would either have to wait an hour or drive back the way we had come. We decided to do the best thing for the car and found a bench on the pleasant boardwalk and watched the comings and goings of the cruiseship's passengers whilst we waited.
The ferry from Geiranger to Hellesylt is more of a tour than a serious transport connection (although I expect if they get a discount the locals' cars live longer if the use the ferry to escape the village). It even has a running commentary to in three languages. The cliffs were indeed sheer and around every corner lurked a more spectacular waterfall than the last. Also of interest were several abandoned farms set up on near vertical plots of land by Quakers attracted by the beauty and isolation of the Fjord. Apparently the farmers used to have to tether their children when letting them out to play for fear they may have fallen off the cliffs!!
Because of the time spent waiting for the ferry we made it to Loen at 2030, much later than we had hoped. We checked into our hotel, the somewhat famous Alexandra and then had to immediately run to dinner which, for some reason, finished at 2130. After diner we sat out on our balcony looking out to the Nordfjord and snow covered mountains and had a few beers whilst reading.
Friday, 1 August 2008
Loen, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway
Probably the only day of our holiday where we had not planned any travelling or activities. We had a leisurely morning and puzzled a bit over what to do after opting to go to see the glacier at Briksdal. The Jostedalsbreen is a huge glacier, over 500km square, and has many tongues reaching down into the valleys around it. The Briksdalsbreen is one of the most popular and we joined a long tradition of tourists, going back to the Victorians, who used to stay at the Alexandra (which was named after Princess Alexandra) and then drive up to the glacier on pony and trap.
These days however you drive most of the way and then walk the remaining 45 minutes uphill to the nose of glacier. It was a hot day (the fifth day of 27 degree temperatures) and the only relief was from the powerful glacial stream that roared down the valley. There were a lot of tourists however when we got to the lake at the foot of the glacier we found there was plenty of room to spread out and it was not at all crowded. Like the majority of tourists early on that day we ignored the half hearted warnings and scrambled over the moraine to get to the base of the glacier. We have been to a few glaciers but this was particularly scenic being almost like a waterfall of cascading ice.
When we arrived the glacier was in shade, but I saw that the sun was swinging around and would soon be on the glacier so managed to persuade Anna to hang out at the shores of the lake until the glacier was completely in the sun. Our wait was somewhat dramatically rewarded as we heard a massive crack as, heated by the sun, small chunks of the glacier calved off. Well they looked small from where we were but judging by the size of the people below they were actually pretty large. Meanwhile the people below were freaking out to some extent and were rapidly getting out of the way.
The walk back to the car was equally dramatic. We walked back down the river rushing out of the glacial lake and then got soaked passing by the foot of a large waterfall which we had avoided on the way up. After the glacier we had thought about visiting yet another tongue of the Jostedalsbreen. However we were both, understandably, pretty tired of driving so we retreated back to the hotel to sunbathe on our balcony overlooking the Nordfjord. It was somewhat indulgent but the view was wonderful. We followed it up by an excellent meal in the hotel's excellent, but seemingly undiscovered, a la carte restaurant.
Saturday, 2 August 2008
Bergen, Hordaland, Norway
In the morning we got up fairly early and drove down to Bergen. This involved a fairly long drive to a ferry to cross the Sognefjord. Again the scenery was jaw dropping. It was getting hard to absorb any more of the beauty and since it was a bit overcast I got very few photographs. Once over the Sognefjord it was another couple of hours down to Bergen. The approach to Bergen from the North was also stunning. As the area is very mountainous the mainly wooden suburbs of Bergen cling to mountains strung along kilometres of coast. We got to our hotel near to the historic Bryggen district around lunch time, unpacked and went for a look around.
Sadly, but apparently typically for Bergen, it started raining almost the instant we arrived. We had a look round the fish market which seemed quite touristy, then attempted to do some shopping which went badly as everything was too expensive. As the afternoon wore on we slowly warmed to Bergen as the weather dried up and the sun came out. We explored the Bryggen, a historic quarter of old painted wooden shops and warehouses. Finally we had a nice walk around the Nordnes district then found an excellent restaurant for our last dinner in Norway.
Sunday, 3 August 2008
Bergen, Hordaland, Norway
Our last few hours in Norway were spent loading the car onto the last of the many ferries on our holiday, this time a 24 hour stint back to Newcastle. We just about managed to pass the time without getting bored, by reading on the deck and even seeing the latest, and hopefully last Indiana Jones Movie in one of the ship's two cinemas.
On the journey we had plenty of time to reflect on the holiday. It had been a lot of travelling but the journey up to the Lofoten islands had been epic and rewarded us with the scenery to match.