Floating in Flåm

Friday, Oct 18

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.

Falls at Feigefossen

Thursday, Oct 17

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.

Miscellaneous Meanderings

Wednesday, Oct 16

The elk bellowed all night again, at least I’ll assume they did, since I heard them as I was going to bed and heard them again this morning.  I used my white noise app, and was able to sleep much better. As I typed up yesterday’s journal in the very early morning hours today, I could hear the male elk bellowing as he moved around on the hill below our house.  There are bushes right outside the house, so I couldn’t see him. After I finished typing, I went to stand outside the house, and listened some more. I could clearly make out that there was one male near me and another farther up the hill and to the east.  I could also hear rustling feet, probably the females following the male near me. After waiting for about 3-4 minutes, I was rewarded with a view of 3 females walking up the hill next to the house. Shortly behind them came the male, all stealthy and quiet now.  He came from behind, but then ran up the hill. The female at the back ran after him, and they all proceeded up the hill. It was still too dark to capture these beautiful beasts on my iPhone, but later in the morning, I did capture a pair of females taking the same path up the hill.  You can check out that video here.  

We didn’t have much for set plans today.  Our first stop was the Kaupanger Stave Church.  Norway’s oldest churches are stave churches, so called because of their architectural structure.  They are generally a dark brown color and made entirely of wood. The one in Kaupanger was built in 1150.  We weren’t able to go inside, but we did enjoy walking around the outside and checking out the graveyard all around it.  Despite the church being so old, there were a surprising number of recent graves in the churchyard. The modern style of headstone incorporates a place in front of the stone for planted flowers (to be maintained by family or friends, I assume), an urn for fresh cut flowers, and a space for a light of some kind.  See sample grave in the photos below. There was a laminated sign on the entrance to the graveyard warning that only lights with batteries were allowed, no open flames. I’ve noticed in many cemeteries throughout the country that Norwegians take very good care of their loved one’s graves. They are always neat and tidy.  Most have a water pump for watering plants that have been planted around graves. One cemetery that we stopped at later in the day went to even greater lengths. Not only did they have a water pump with a watering can, but they also supplied several hand tools for weeding and digging. Suspiciously, this cemetery was located next to a garden center, so I suspect it was the garden center who supplied the tools.

There were pastures surrounding the stave church graveyard.  One held some large goats with amazing horns. As I watched, one of them stood up and started peeing.  I was astonished when he turned his head and started lapping up his pee stream in mid-air, drinking his own pee.  Ugh! Another pasture held smaller goats who were on a mission to get somewhere. As Ginger and I approached, about 30 goats came down the hill, along the fence where we stood, and through a small hole (it looked intentional) into another fenced area.  It was really sweet to watch them all make their way past us. A few stopped to pose for the cameras.  

When the goats had all passed us by, we got back in the car and headed to the nearby city of Songdal.  It’s a small city. We parked in the central shopping mall and wandered around a bit. We saw some cute old houses near the waterfront.  We stopped by a statue of a man named Gjest Baarsden, who was a “Norwegian outlaw, jail-breaker, non-fiction writer, songwriter and memoirist. He was among the most notorious criminals in Norway in the 19th century.” According to Wikipedia.  I guess that explains the leg iron on the statue (which is not visible in the photo). Near the waterfront Rob found the first friendly cat we’ve encountered in Norway. He had massive paws and what looked like opposable thumbs.  

We stopped for lunch at the cafe near the Meny grocery store.  Ginger had a bacon burger and I had a Norwegian staple that I hadn’t yet tried.  I don’t know the name for it, but it was basically a crepe that you add sour cream and strawberry or raspberry jam (I opted for both).  It was pretty good, tasted just as one would expect.

From here, we set out to see Kvinnefossen waterfall.  It cascades down right next to the road and then underneath. It wasn’t much of a hike, but it sure was pretty!  Our next stop was Balderssteinen. Here we saw the tallest standing stone in Norway, nearly 8 meters tall (or 26 feet).  Just a bit down the hill from the standing stone were 2 Iron Age burial grounds that were unearthed in the 1990s when the city developed that area for a new cemetery.  The town surrounding these Iron Age landmarks is called Husabø. It was the home of Harald Golden Beard who was the most significant king in the region before Norway was unified as one kingdom.  And his grandson, Harald the Fair-haired, eventually united all of Norway under one kingdom.


Tuesday, Oct 15

Perhaps the 4 female elk we saw last night should have clued me in to the night’s follies, but I went to bed blissfully unaware that my night would be full of disruptions.  During the night, a male elk (or maybe more than 1 at certain times) bellowed and bellowed. I looked it up this morning, it’s referred to as a bugle. “It starts with a low-pitched growl that rises to a high-pitched scream.” According to Christian Monson’s June 5, 2019 article on Target Crazy.  To me, it sounded a lot like uneven snoring, with just a bit too much time in between each snore. In fact, I spent much of the night thinking it might be Ginger snoring, while Ginger thought that it was Rob snoring. I think this particular elk is just doing the low-pitched growl and not the rising scream. This morning while I was eating breakfast, I spotted him in the growing light outside the kitchen window.  I managed to step outside and watch him for a few moments. A female came along and they walked quietly out of sight up the hill. But, as I continued typing up my journal, I noticed at least 2 more females head up the hill. There may have been more, since I wasn’t sitting facing the window and the light outside was very low. It has grown quiet since the first female and male headed up the hill, so I guess perhaps his desires have been fulfilled.

We spent the day today driving around Lustafjorden (another fjord).  Our first destination was a little town called Marifjora. Rob had seen lots of pictures and buzz online about this town.  But, when we got there, it was just a cafe that was closed, a couple of closed outdoor gear rental places, some houses, and a standoffish cat.  We spent all of 10 minutes there. Then it was on around the northern tip of the fjord. At a village called Guapne we got out and explored their tiny mall.  As we drove out of town, we passed a pen with 3 sheep inside. Just as we drove by them, the brown one stood up and head-butted one of the white ones. We thought about turning around to see if they would do it again, but then spotted a place we could park, a bridge across the river and a path on the other side.  So, we got out, took the path along the river, took lots of photos of the lovely yellow birch trees, and finally made our way over to the sheep. Rob was keen to try to feed them, so along the way, he collected a very nice tuft of grass and a mushroom to feed to the sheep. They were not interested in eating from his hands, but as soon as he dropped the grass tuft on the ground they gobbled it right up.  We watched for a while longer, hoping they would do another head-butt. I realized they were all male sheep, so I guess that explains the aggressive behavior. They spent some time rubbing their rumps against some trees. One of them sort of mooed at us. And then finally, the brown one head butted the white one again.

A little further along, we stopped at Bakeri Lustrabui, a bakery in another little village.  It seemed to be a hopping place for such a small town, a few locals came in while we were there.  Rob had the best cinnamon roll he’s had in Norway. I had a very nice apple muffin, and Ginger had a rather dry raisin scone.  Then it was back in the car to finish our circle around the fjord. As we entered the road that would take us back to the south, there was a big orange construction sign, in Norwegian, of course.  As best we could make out, there was some road ahead that was closed near the town of Sorheim. Or maybe there might be delays of up to 3 hours. We weren’t quite sure how to interpret the sign, so decided to just go for it.  Well, it turns out the road was really only 1 lane all the way. There was a crew out working on it, and it probably should have been closed, but as we approached, the crew were taking a break, so one of the guys waved us through.  We were just able to squeeze past their digger and continue on our way. This was very good, since there is only one road along this side of the fjord; we would have had to drive 2 hours back the way we came if we couldn’t get through this way.  It also meant that there were no other cars on the road – smooth sailing on a narrow road. We ran out of time to hike to the waterfall and to stop and see an old church. We needed to take a ferry back, and it turns out this particular ferry only runs 5 times a day.  We’ll try to go back for the waterfall and church later this week.

Glaciers and Animals

Monday, Oct 14

We left Alnes island today and headed inland to the shores of the largest and deepest Fjord in Norway: Sognefjord.  It was another nice, sunny day. Norway’s fall colors consist mostly of brilliant yellow trees. Today they glowed golden in the sunshine.  It was about a 5 hour drive. We stopped a few places along the way to take pictures.  

About an hour before our final destination, we emerged from yet another long tunnel, and spotted 2 glaciers on top of the mountains to our left.  There was a small road leading off in their direction, so we decided to take it and see how close we could get. It turned out we could get pretty close, indeed!  Best of all, we were the only people there – no tour buses full of cruise-ship tourists. This glacier is called Bøyabreen; it’s another finger of the large Jostedalsbreen glacier that we were at last week.  We parked and walked to the edge of the lake that inevitably forms below any glacier. It was just as lovely a turquoise color as the one we saw the other day. This glacier was bigger and not as high above us.  But, it was initially difficult to see how the water was getting down from the glacier to the lake. When we looked a bit closer, we saw and heard a waterfall inside a crevice of rock off to the right of the glacier.  It looked like we might be able to walk around the lake and get closer to see the waterfall. I was not wearing appropriate footwear; a pair of motorcycle boots instead of my hiking shoes. But, we decided to give it a try.  It was very rocky and muddy and at points we had to push trees out of our way that bent down toward the water’s edge. I came away with some mud on my leggings and some on my boots, but managed to make it around the lake. To our surprise, there were 2 chunks of glacier at the lake’s edge.  Rob climbed up on one of them to inspect the crevasses. Ginger and I inspected the base, taking photos and videos. We weren’t able to get close to the waterfall (I blame it on the inappropriate footwear), but it was really cool to see those bits of glacier up close. Rob even slid down, haunched over into a ball.

After making our way back to the car, we continued on to our place outside the village of Kaupanger.  At one point, we encountered a flock of goats just lounging on the road. There were probably 20-30 goats laying in the road,  At least they were kind enough to stay in one lane, leaving the other open for traffic. 

As the sun set, we spotted 4 female elk in a field near the house we’re staying in.

A Surprise Find

Sunday, Oct 13

I arose very early this morning, well before daylight, and was rewarded with a view of the bright orange moon setting over the water with tendrils of clouds attempting topull it under.  I ate breakfast while watching it descend to the horizon. A bit later, as the sun was rising, there was a large cloud bank just out above the water in front of our house. As the colors of the sunrise cycled through their pinks, the cloud bank reflected the pink, both in the cloud and on the surface of the water below.  I was secretly pleased to have these 2 fleeting views to myself while my 2 traveling companions slumbered in their beds.

Once the others rose, we were all glad to see the sunshine outside with only a few clouds dotting the sky.  Our destination for the day was to be the aquarium. We drove over around noon, and as we approached the parking lot, found that it was full.  Even the overflow parking was rather full. It seems lots of other people had the same idea as us. After some deliberation, during which no one really wanted to make a decision, we set off on a hiking trail near where we parked.  It turned out to be just the right decision. As we climbed up the hill nearing the water, we stumbled upon an old German gun battery from WWII. There were no signs or plaques to explain what anything was, so we had to just guess. It was kind of fun to guess, though. Later we found out it is called Tueneset Kystfort. One of the first things we stopped at was an anti-aircraft gun made in America by Kimberly-Clark. It was in very good shape. And incongruous in a German battery. Our theory is that the gun has been added recently by those seeking to preserve the area for its historical significance.  Later we came across a field oven that looked just right for baking pizzas. There was one more bug gun – this one likely for taking out ships – and lots of mystery bunkers.

Once we’d had enough of the bunkers, we headed back to the island we are staying on to check out a lighthouse that we could see from the bunkers.  We found it on a working farm. If you are respectful, you can walk through the farm and out to the rock jetty that the lighthouse sits on. Along the way, we passed an ancient burial mound from Roman times.  It was pretty tall, about twice as tall as Ginger. The farmer who owned the land discovered it was a burial mound in the 1930s when he was trying to clear it of rocks. Several items were found inside that suggested the occupant(s) were wealthy and traded with areas outside of Norway.  A little further on we walked down a long, rock jetty and out to the lighthouse. It was a pretty standard, round lighthouse. On the walk back to the car, Rob spotted a sea otter eating a fish. He grabbed the binoculars and was able to see him pretty well before he finished his dinner and slid back into the water.  Unfortunately, it happened so fast that Ginger and I didn’t get a chance to see him. Rob says he was really cute!

We headed back to the house for dinner.  After dinner I snapped a great shot of the other lighthouse on this island, the square one that is next to our house.

Ambling around Ålesund

Saturday, Oct 12

Today is Ginger’s first day in Norway.  It’s a bit rainy, but we want to make the most of her time here, so we set out to explore Ålesund.  It is famous for its Art Nouveau buildings. There was a widespread fire in the city in early 1904 that ruined nearly everything.  Major support poured in from all around Europe to help Ålesund rebuild. And so they did rebuild, with nearly all the buildings in the downtown area in the Art Nouveau style.  As in Trondheim, many of the buildings are painted pleasing colors that compliment each other and photograph well against the water, even with heavy dreary skies above. There are interesting details in the wrought iron railings, carvings on doors and pillars, and in relief along building facades.  The architecture was interesting, fewer in number than I was expecting. Being a Saturday, there were very few people out and about at just after 10am when we arrived. The rain picked up now and then throughout the day, and so did the number of folks out in the streets.

It was a bit difficult to find a place to eat lunch.  I had been expecting lots of little shops and restaurants, but there were only a few of each.  We managed to find a little cafe in a small mall that served up fiskesuppe (fish soup) for me, kanel snurr for Rob, and a skinke and ost (ham & cheese) croissant sandwich for Ginger.

After lunch we braved the rain to climb up 418 steps to Aksla Viewpoint, one of the mountains heming Ålesund in.  It was a lot of stairs and a long way up, but the view from the top was worth it. From there, we could see out to the peninsula on the island of Godøya where we are staying.  There is a lighthouse right next to our house, which we could just make out from on top of Aksla. The views and pictures of Ålesund taken from partway up were perhaps even better than those from the top.

After descending from the Aksla viewpoint, we wandered around a few more streets.  The rain had finally stopped, which was nice. We never really found much for cute shops, interesting shops.  By late afternoon, we were back in the car heading home. At home, we found that our internet had gone out, so my blog posts may be a bit delayed.