I got up this morning and saw Ginger off to the airport for her flight home. It’s just Rob and me for our last two days in Norway. Today is sunny (although also really windy) so we figured we’d best get out there and see some more of the city. We decided to walk over to Ekebergparken. It is uphill from our place, about a half hour walk to get to the park. There are sculptures and other artwork scattered throughout the park, but it is mostly just a nice hill, covered in trees and paths, that looks down on the city from the east. Most of the art was not to our taste, but I posted a few shots of some that I found more interesting on my Instagram and Facebook accounts.
We had lunch in the flat, then set out to explore the opera house that is located right across a small water inlet from us. From the other side of the opera house one can walk up massive slanting white marble walkways that eventually form the roof of the opera. It was pretty cool, but coming down was tough on the knees. From there we walked among a lot of construction and over a temporary looking floating pedestrian bridge to a supermarket to pick up some last minute chocolate that we want to take home.
On the way back, Rob stopped to feed some ducks, seagulls, pigeons, and white swans in Middelalderparken. All the birds were interested in what Rob was throwing (Cheerios), but the ducks were the only ones that ate any of it. I watched as one pigeon picked up a Cheerio, then spit it back out. After a while, and after Rob and I walked down to the other end of the water, all the birds were eating his Cheerios, but then he was out.
Ginger and I headed out to the Viking Ship Museum this morning. It houses 3 original Viking ships, all were discovered inside burial mounds and unearthed in the late 1800s/early 1900s. The people buried inside would have been quite prominent among their people. All the ships have been reconstructed, although the 3rd one was missing to many parts that only about ⅓ of the ship is on display, the rest having disintegrated through the ages. The other 2 were so well intact, that the museum workers reconstructed the few missing parts in order to display what the complete ship would have looked like originally. The first one that you encounter upon entering the exhibit is the most lavishly decorated Viking ship ever found. And, indeed, it had some exquisite carvings along the keel, both front and back. See photos below. This ship was buried in a massive mound with 2 women (who may or may not have been queens). It was built in the year 820, and buried 14 years later. Buried inside with the two women were lots of things they would need in the after life, including a lavishly carved cart, several horses and dogs, combs, cooking utensils, a couple of beds, and lots of other things that I can’t remember. Some of the items from the burial chamber were also on display. The balls of yarn (so they were labeled) looked like a cat’s hairball. Not sure how they figured out that was a ball of yarn. The ship that was in worst repair had a warrior buried inside it. They figure he died from battle wounds; his leg bone was cut entirely off just above the knee and he had several other cuts to his leg bones consistent with sword wounds. He had, among many other things, a game board and playing pieces buried with him. There were large photos of the dig sites, old and black & white, since the ships were dug up around the turn of the 20th century. I thought it was interesting to see how the shape of the ship had sort of sunk into a flat version of itself through the centuries of dirt pressing down on it and decay of the items buried with the bodies.
After the museum, we walked around the corner to a little restaurant called Cafe Hjemme hos Svigers (which translates to “the home of the in-laws”). Ginger and I both ordered sandwiches, which came shaped like three dimensional Viking ships. (See photos). We ate them with forks, as they seemed not to be the kind of sandwich you pick up with your hands to eat.
After lunch we strolled (in the steadily increasing rain) among the shops along Karl Johans Gate – a central shopping district in Oslo. One of the souvenir shops that we stopped in, called Universal Presentkort, had a little Troll Forest scene in the middle of the store. There were animatronic trolls and taxidermied animals, including a bear eating some berries.
I was awake a lot overnight, listening to the rain (and possibly sleet) crash against our windows. The wind howled, and something metal occasionally creaked in the wind. All I could think was that if this lasted into the day, I would not want to go out. Sure enough, the rain and wind have lasted all day. Every time I looked out the window I was more motivated to stay inside. We decided it would be a good day for a tv marathon. Late in the afternoon, Ginger ventured out to grab one last reindeer sausage, but Rob and I opted to stay in. We were planning to walk to the train station tomorrow morning, but the forecast is for continued rain, so we went ahead and ordered a taxi to take us.
Wednesday, Oct 23
All went well with the taxi. We arrived at the train station nearly an hour before our train left, but that made us feel good to know that we didn’t need to rush or scurry about in the rain. We were all looking forward to this train ride; it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. I don’t know that I would go that far with my own description of it, but it did give a really nice overview of the various types of Norwegian countryside. The first hour of our train ride was in darkness, but we had driven the same route a few days earlier when we came down from Kaupanger, so we didn’t miss anything. Almost immediately, Rob started to feel really sick from the motion of the train, so he spent most of the ride with his eyes closed, feeling pretty miserable. Some Dramamine did help settle his stomach once it kicked in. The train took us past raging rivers (likely extra fueled by all that rain we had the day before), up to snowy mountains, past sleepy villages, and down into more fertile green valleys as we neared Oslo. It was a 7 hour train ride, so plenty of time to get some knitting done in between bouts of watching the scenery out the window. I would recommend this train ride to anyone who only has a little bit of time to spend in Norway, since you get to see so many different types of terrain. There was a dining car; Ginger and I got decent pizzas for lunch. A note to future travelers: we sprang for the “Komfort” car, which was a little more expensive and had maybe slightly more leg room. It seems everyone else did, too. Our car was completely full. We were in a set of four seats facing each other and a stranger was in the fourth. When Ginger and I walked through the regular cars to get to the dining car, they were nearly empty. One car had, literally, 2 people in it. I would have rather had the only slightly smaller seats and had them to ourselves, rather than have to ask a stranger to move every time I wanted to get up, and feel like our conversation was disrupting her work on her laptop.
On to Oslo. It was a rare sunny day, so after we got settled into our last flat of the trip, Ginger and I set out to find Frogner Park to see the Vigeland statues. Rob was still feeling a tiny bit off from the train ride so he stayed home. The park is huge, a really nice big green space in the middle of the city. The trees are all decked out in bright autumn yellows. The sun was getting low by this time, so we didn’t get very good pictures of the lovely trees. The sculptures are scattered all around the park. They are all by one person – Gustav Vigeland. The metal and stone sculptures were all naked people in various poses, some serious, some silly, some joyous, some sexual. Some were in fountains, some on plinths framing a bridge, lots on a giant monolith (stone pillar) that rises 46 feet high and has 121 human figures all wrapped around each other like snakes writhing in a pit. The most famous statue in the park seems to be the Angry Boy (I keep calling him the cranky baby). He’s just one among about 40 lining the central bridge, but there’s just something about his expression that the sculptor captured so perfectly that I think resonates with people.
For dinner, Ginger and I went to a restaurant called Fiskeriat. When we arrived, we could see through the windows that it was tiny and completely packed. But, upon further inspection, the queue for seats held only a few people, so we decided to wait. Good decision on our part! Ginger had fish and chips, which she thoroughly enjoyed! I finally got to have bacalao. When we were in Ålesund, I had read about bacalao and how it was a Norwegian national dish – especially known in Ålesund. It is a soup that uses Norwegian stockfish (the dried cod that the north and especially Lofoten is known for producing) along with a lot of foreign Portuguese spices and garlic (hence the Portuguese name). I was hoping to try it in Ålesund, but we were unsuccessful in finding a place to get it. So, I figured I needed to give it a try today when I saw it on the menu. It’s a tomato based soup, which isn’t usually my thing. Really, it’s more of a stew with large chunks of the stockfish and potatoes, garnished with black olives and pine nuts. The soup was very aromatic, as soon as it was set down in front of me I could smell the paprika and other spices wafting up from the bowl. Funnily enough, the red-orange color of the bacalao matched the sweater I was wearing. Bacalao is not my new favorite soup, but I’m really glad that I tried it. I was only able to eat about half of it, so brought the rest home and will have it again another day. We also finally got a chance to try the Norwegian national spirit, called Akevitt. It’s distilled from potatoes and flavored with spices like caraway, dill, anise, and others. Ours also had citrus tones to it. It’s quite strong, so you just get a shot of it and sip it. We shared the shot in a fancy mini-wine glass. I’m not much of a drinker, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but it was kind of nice, perhaps nicer to smell than to have going down. It definitely warmed the throat and cleared the sinuses.
Our goal for the morning was to explore Brygge, the old warehouses and related buildings built by the Hanseatic League in medieval times. The league controlled all trade in the region, especially the cod trade, which made Bergen prosperous. But, we sort of meandered our way over there. I wanted to stop at a Fretex bin and donate a pair of gloves and some socks that we didn’t need anymore. Fretex is like the Norwegain version of Goodwill or the Salvation Army; they take donations and sell them in second-hand shops. There are bins stationed all around the country to make donating easier and there were some to the north of our house. We headed over there first, Along the way we spotted some more street art. That’s always fun to stumble upon. Then we figured we should check out the train station to make sure we have the right one for Wednesday when we take an early morning train to Oslo. None of us want to be schlepping our luggage all around the city looking for the train station in the dark.
With our two errands completed, we continued meandering toward the waterfront and Brygge. Along the way we stopped to take some photos of the Leprosy hospital which sits on the oldest foundations in Bergen. While there, we watched a hooded crow on the roof pick at some moss, throw sections of it down off the roof, then eat something enticing it found underneath.
When we finally reached Brygge, Rob decided he’d had enough walking around, so he headed back to the house while Ginger and I continued on to check out the shops and old wooden buildings. Most of the shops were the same touristy stuff we’ve seen in other places. We also explored back between the buildings, that was more interesting. Since they are so old, and sitting so near to water, the buildings have tilted and settled quite a bit over the centuries. Many of the front doors to shops were slanted to one side. We were allowed to walk along the upper stories of a couple of them and it felt like walking in a fun house at carnival.
Today we set out on our last long drive. It was about 4 hours from Kaupanger to Bergen. We didn’t stop for much along the way. We did go through a lot of tunnels. About ¾ of the way there, we wished we’d been counting them. Our best guess is that we probably went through about 35 tunnels on the 4 hour trip. We arrived in Bergen about 2:00 in the afternoon and checked right into our penultimate AirBnB house. It’s in the historic district, with a little park in front and cobbled streets all around. It was tricky to drive the car through the centuries old streets. As soon as we had unloaded all our stuff, we took the car back to the rental agency and dropped it off. We are now car free. It took about 2 hours to walk back from the rental car agency. We sort of meandered back, stopping at various places that looked interesting along the way. We bought groceries and then relaxed in the house for the evening.
Sunday, Oct 20
We set out this morning a little after 10:00am. Nothing much is open on Sundays, especially in the morning, so there was no hurry to get going. Our general plan was to take the funicular up Mt Fløya. We started out just wandering along in the general direction of the funicular. As we reached the dockside, we spotted a building with several pieces of street art painted on its side. As we walked around it, we found paintings on 3 of its 4 sides and stopped to take a bunch of photos.
Just across the street from the building with the art, we spotted a really cute cafe called Sweet Rain. It was just opening and the beautiful pastries inside the display cases lured us in off the street. We had some amazing chocolate mousse desserts; one with 3 kinds of mousse and one with a really strong orange purée encased in chocolate mousse. Magnifique!
Having filled our bellies, we made our way along the waterfront toward the funicular entrance. We bought our tickets and headed up the mountain. We got spots at the very top of the car, which turned out to be the front, so we could see where we were going. It was a short ride to the top, maybe 5 minutes. Once at the top, we admired the view. We were able to easily spot the house we’re staying in, thanks to the park out front. Lots of other people were up on top of Fløya, both tourists and native Bergeners. It’s a fairly warm (temps around 50F) and slightly sunny Sunday, so lots of people were out getting their exercise and walking the myriad paths. We set off down a random path and spent about an hour walking around on top and then slowly making our way downhill toward the city center. By the time we neared the bottom, my knees were not so happy with all that downhill, but it was good to be out on what might be our last nice day here in Norway.
When we were again in the city center (really the touristy area) Rob decided to head back to the flat. He was feeling a little bit under the weather. Ginger and I wanted to grab reindeer sausages from a place we’d heard was famous for them. It’s just a little kiosk located next to the McDonald’s called Trekroneren (which means 3 kroner – I guess sausages were originally that cheap, they are more like 69 kroner now). I got my reindeer sausage served the traditional way in a bun with lingonberry sauce and mustard, and topped with crispy onions. It was really nice. The sauce and onions really made it so, the sausage could have been made from any kind of meat – the flavor of it was nothing special. Ginger had mango curry sauce and crispy onions on hers. She liked hers, too. She and I did a little bit of shopping in the touristy area (those shops are open on a Sunday). But, my knee was still unhappy, so we parted ways and I headed home to rest my aching knee (and feet). I’ve clocked 14,607 steps today. Not bad!
Today’s outing was to Flåm and Gudvangen. Ginger was interested in taking the boat from Flåm to Gudvangen and Rob and I had planned to check out Flåm, anyway. So we all drove down to Flåm together, Ginger took the boat, and Rob & I drove to Gudvangen to pick her up (it was only a 20 minute drive). On the way to Flåm we passed through the world’s longest road tunnel at 24.5 km (15.2 miles) long. Such a long tunnel is really boring to drive through, so there were 3 spots, each about 6km apart, where the ceiling and walls opened up a bit and were illuminated with blue and green lights. I noticed as we drove along that the temperature was going consistently up the further into the tunnel we drove. When we entered the tunnel, the car said it was about 6 degrees (43F)outside. Inside the tunnel, the temp maxed out at 19.5 degrees (67 F). Our theory was that all the heat and exhaust from the vehicles passing through just gets trapped inside.
Once in Flåm, Ginger got her ticket for the boat and we spent a little time looking in the shops. The town was pretty dead and we all thought that she would be one of only a few people on her boat ride. How nice and peaceful that would be! We were, of course, very wrong. Just 10 minutes before the boat left, 2 buses full of Chinese tourists arrived and all flocked onto the boat with her. Despite the unexpected crowd, she had a wonderful time on the boat! When we picked her up at the other end, she had a big smile on her face and her hair was frozen back and plastered to her hat from the wind and the cold. The tourist brochures had claimed this boat trip was a bucket list experience, and she agreed!
Back in Flåm, Rob and I had some very nice cinnamon rolls at the bakery. Then we walked around the shoreline for a bit. We found an old, cumbling dock that we gingerly walked out on. From the dock, we could see hundreds of bright orange starfish. When it was time to head out to Gudvangen to pick up Ginger, we set out in the car through what turned out to be our 2nd longest tunnel on the trip at 11.4 km (7 miles). This tunnel, too, was really warm toward the middle, topping out at 18 degrees.
We had originally planned to take a scenic road (the old road that went over the mountain – used before they built the longest tunnel). There is a scenic viewpoint called Stegastein toward the beginning. I noticed a somewhat worrisome sign all in Norwegian as we set out on the road that, in retrospect said the road was closed over the mountain. We didn’t stop to translate the sign, though. We reached Stegastein after about 20 minutes of driving through several switchbacks up a steep slope only to find the cantilevered viewpoint swarming with Chinese tourists and monitored by 2 drones, flown by these same tourists, buzzing overhead. We waited for a while, hoping they would finish so we could go out and take our own photos without a lot of other people in the shot, but they took ages. While we were waiting, Rob explored up the hill behind the parking area. He whistled for us to join him and we made our own off-road excursion. We’re pretty sure we were following an elk or deer trail that meandered up and down through wooded land. Most of the trees were evergreens. We walked ⅔ of a mile and ended up at a really nice viewpoint, one even nicer than the official cantilevered viewpoint. When we finished our hike, the large group of tourists had gone, but the view just didn’t live up to the one we’d just had, so we headed back to the car and set out on the road that was supposed to take us over the mountains. We drove for about 10 minutes, then reached a barrier across the road, barring us from going any further. We guess they probably don’t plow the road and just close it from some date in October until the snows melt in the spring. So, back down the mountain we went, and back through the longest tunnel. Tomorrow we pack up and head to our penultimate destination, Bergen, and will drive through the same long tunnel (actually both of the long ones) that we did today. Tomorrow will be our last day of driving. We’ll be in Bergen (should easily be a walkable city) and Oslo for our last 2 destinations.
We set out this morning to check out the stave church and waterfall that we ran out of time to do on Tuesday. The ferry only runs 4 times today, so we caught the 11:00 ferry from Solvorn to Ornes. The same 2 guys and their sheltie dog were working the ferry. Once on the other side, we started at Urnes stave church. This is the oldest stave church in Norway, built in 1130. Unlike the very plain one that we saw yesterday, this one has some really intricate carvings on the north wall. It also had a more interesting roofline and roof tiles. As I approached the front gallery of the church, I could smell a burnt smell. It turns out that these old wooden churches have lasted so long because their exterior timbers are periodically coated with tar, made by burning charcoal until a molasses like tar emerged. We were not able to go inside, but did enjoy walking around the outside.
Once back in the car, we headed north, stopping once at an unknown (to us) waterfall that was right along the road. Then we carried on to the Feigefossen waterfall hike. We parked next to the fjord and then walked a ways down the road to the trailhead. Ginger pointed out just how narrow the road was, and to help show folks at home, volunteered to lay down in the road for a photo. After we got our photo, we hiked for 45 minutes to the viewpoint with a bench. We rested there, then continued on for 10 more minutes to complete the trail. We weren’t yet at the base of the 218 meter falls (second highest unregulated falls in Norway) but were at the end of the trail. We took our photos and headed back down. After just a few minutes, it started to sprinkle on us. Thankfully, it was just sprinkles all the way down, the rain held off until we reached the car.
Our original plan had been to take the ferry back, but the next ferry wasn’t for 2 more hours. We decided to take our chances with that road construction and try driving north around the fjord. Rob and Ginger were interested in getting cinnamon rolls from the Lustrabui Bakeri again, and I was hungry, too. Even with taking the long way around, we were back home at our house before the ferry would have even left from Urnes.