We spent the night at a camping site at Kvaal, on the outskirts of Trondheim. As we had spent most part of afternoon exploring Trondheim, we were dead tired by the time we hit the camping site. It had started raining, but we were able to hire a small, comfortable and snug cabin, which felt extra snug, as the rain soon turned in to a downpour.
However the rain abated during the early morning hours, and the weather was fine by the time we had packed the car and were ready to leave in good spirits. Most other guests at the camping site appeared to be sports fishers, angling for salmon in the nearby river. Their spirits were definitely more dampened by the rainfall. Not that they could not stand a little rain, but it had turned the river muddy with chances of salmon seeing the bait remote. Anyway, it wasn’t our concern, we pressed on.
Still driving the E-6 and making good speed, we had neglected to look at the petrol gauge – and suddenly found the pointer pointing firmly to red. We were in what could be termed as “sparsely populated area”, and for many kilometers we listened anxiously for signs of the engine dying. Salvation came in the form of a blue and orange Statoil-sign. We stopped, tanked, and moved on.
Passing through the cultivated countryside of Southern Trondelag, the road started the climb up Drivdalen towards the plateau of Dovrefjell. This plateau is traditionally regarded as the divide between the Southern and Northern Norway. Dovrefjell boasts of a heard of musk oxen, and we hoped to see at least one. We didn’t, but taking in the majestic highland landscape was no bad consolation.
Having passed the plateau it was downhill to the junction at Dombås. Now we were in the upper reaches of eastern Norway.
We followed the E-6 as far as Otta and turned west – to the land of fjords and glaciers. Vaagaavatnet is one of those long, narrow, but deep lakes to be found in Norway – part of the glacial landscape.
We stopped at Lom to take a look at the stave church at Lom. These churches were built with special building technique using vertical poles as supports. They were entirely made of wood including the roof which was made of wooden shingles. Some of them were probably built as “missionary churches” during the (rather violent) christening in the 11th and 12th century. Decoration certainly hints at more demons than saints.
As we left Lom the weather thickened, with more rain to feed the already swollen rivers.
Weather forecasts for western Norway were not too bright either. We were headed for Geiranger Fjord and could only hope for the best. It was overcast, but we could take in the splendor of snow clad mountains and ice covered lakes.
Even the overcast weather couldn’t dull the icy palette of blue and green, displayed on Djupvatnet, meaning a “Deep lake”.
It certainly merited a photo-stop. We took in the same scenery as Burton Holmes did a hundred years ago. He had found the scenery spectacular enough to include in one of his travelogue lectures. In fact he was the one who first coined the word “travelogue” even if the picture he captured was monochrome.
We now started the descent to Geiranger, more than a vertical km down. We could only see tall peaks awash in a sea of clouds, with no sea in sight.
Hoping for the clouds to lift and visibility to improve, we continued our descent, stopping at a couple of places to photograph, what motives presented themselves. Soon the clouds engulfed us completely.
With visibility down to a dozen meters or so, we made a slow descent. Down and down we went, for what seemed like ages with no sea in sight. We were still debating how much farther down it could be, when we spotted the lights of a BIG cruise ship. We were suddenly level with the upper decks of the ship. So much for the visibility at sea-level!
Taking the ferry was certainly no option. We stopped for rest and to take some pictures of what little we could see – and started the climb back. Weather was, even thicker now. When we reached Stryn, lakes and rivers were running white, fed by the heavy rains. Numerous fields were flooded. Lucky for us the road was not blocked as yet, but it was “a close run” with rain swollen rivers eagerly licking the road edges. We could only hope things would look brighter when we reach our next planned destination – Joelstervatnet. This long and narrow lake is renowned for its scenic beauty. Norwegian painter and graphic artist Nicolai Astrup (1880 – 1928) lived here for most of his life, and found the bulk of his motives here.
As weather did not abate, and it was getting late, with no suitable accommodation in sight, we decided to skip Joelster and turned left to follow road 13, hoping the number was not a bad omen. It was dark, rainy and foggy and the road narrow and winding. We were tired, and the spirit wasn’t exactly cheerful. Suddenly, driving uphill, we spotted a camping-sign. Turning into an even narrower, downhill lane, we found the camping site with a few cabins, but completely deserted (it was closer to 1 AM – after all). Braving the squalls, we looked at the notices on the reception building and it turned out to be only “self service” camping ground we encountered during our entire travel. A poster decorated with a smiley said: “The key is in the lock, unless cabin is occupied. When you leave, kindly put the money in this box “ – an arrow indicated the box in question, followed by a list of cabins and price per night. Cabin #2 turned out to be the cheapest. The price was definitely reasonable, perhaps not unsurprising, given that the floor sagged and one of the plates in the ceiling seemed to be still in place only by defying gravity. To us this didn’t matter, as the cabin was reasonably clean and roomy, cooking facilities clean and functional (if not exactly brand new) and bunks looked very inviting to tired travelers. We had a good night’s sleep in that cabin.
Waking up we discovered that the camping ground overlooked a dramatic, cascading waterfall. We took a few pictures, had a shower, breakfast, cleaned the cabin, put the money in the box – and left.
We were now headed for the ferry site at Balestrand. The weather was not exactly bright when we left, but the scenery was captivating. Passing through a beautiful valley of western Norway with a swollen river was enough to lift our spirits.
We paused for a few photographs and reached the ferry site .We were to cross Sognefjorden, Norway’s longest and the deepest fjord.
A short ferry ride brought us to Vangsnes.
Vangsnes has historic significance, as it is believed that the Viking hero, Fridtjof was buried here. This prompted the Viking-aficionado Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany to commission a statue near the supposed burial-site in 1913. Whether this huge statue is a work art is quite another matter… But one can easily contemplate the ideas that occupied the mind of Europe’s most powerful man at that time.
We were, perhaps, not very reverent as we scaled the statue’s foundation to get a picture that showed the scale.
The little park surrounding the statue was designed with more taste than the statue itself. Besides we saw some fine raspberry plantations nearby, reminding us that we were in Norway’s “fruit and berry district.”
We pressed on, having decided that we wanted to see Flaam with its renowned railway and get to Bergen on the same day. We followed Road 13, stopping by an ice covered lake, before reaching Vinje and taking the E-16 to Flaam. Quite a few of the 50 km between Vinje and Flaam is tunneled, but Flaam certainly is majestic. The cruise-lines have certainly found that out.
Flam Railway is Norway’s most spectacular tourist attraction. The train journey provides some of Norway’s wildest and most magnificent scenery. On the 20 km long train ride, we could see rivers that cut through deep ravines, waterfalls cascading down the steep snow capped mountains and mountain farms clinging dizzily to sheer slopes. The train journey was certainly scenic, but would have been more so with a brighter sky. The Kjosfossen waterfall was a sheer beauty.
Returning to Flaam, it was rather late in the day, and we wanted to reach Bergen as soon as possible. The drive to Bergen was rather uneventful though driving in to Bergen was quite another matter. To make a long and tangled story short we ended up at a camping ground round midnight. The camping ground was closed, but a piece of paper with a telephone number was pasted at the entrance. We called the number and were told that the camping was closed. We pleaded our case and finally got a grudging permission to pitch tent “if we behaved and did not disturb the other guests”. We were happy to get a few hours sleep, but it was certainly not a very warm reception.
Bergen has a distinctive culture of its own, It has a cosmopolitan tradition, and a dialect that betrays the place of birth of every Norwegian. The rest of Norway cannot make up its mind whether Bergen is to be admired or loathed for its self-assuredness. The centre of town is fairly compact and centered round “Vaagen” (the Bay).
Bergen was part of the Hanseatic League and had a strong German presence during the late middle ages. It was the main trade centre for the export of stock fish from Norway – and the imports bought for the proceeds. The store houses for this trade (“Bryggen”) are on the UNESCO World heritage list, and are a must see along with the famous fish-market.
Bergen, like other towns commemorates their great sons with statues. Chr. Michelsenl, Norwegian prime minister, in that fateful year 1905 when Norway cancelled the union with Sweden and gained sovereignty by peaceful means. Ludvig Holberg, the grand old man of theatre admired both in Denmark and Norway. Strolling along Bergen’s sea-front we had a good look at the old fortress.
Being a town with a strong tradition of shipping, it was not surprising to see a lot of vessels in the harbor. From small ferries to huge supply ships – and a modern yacht of brilliant, spotless shoeshine appearance – complete with a helicopter, in sheer contrast to the good old “local steamers” close by which were the workhorses of the coast – taking passengers and an assorted range of goods.
Though reluctantly, we left Bergen in the afternoon of july1. It was tempting to spend more time here, but we were booked on a ferry between Kristiansand and Hirtshals (in Denmark).
We drove out of Bergen, and ended up at Flesland – Bergens airport, definitely not where we intended to go. We turned and eventually got back on track.
Rest of the journey to Kristensand was generally uneventful.
We took a ferry at, Hardangerfjord, passed Odda, a centre of metallurgical industry in Western Norway and drove past Roldal, and as dusk approached, started the climb into the mountains.
Night came, and we drove on, stopping by Byglandsfjordin in the small hours for a nap, before the last leg to Kristiansand.
The rain started again as we entered the city, but we had the accommodation in Krisitiansand. So we rested, and in the evening as the rain abated, we took a walk in Baneheia, a popular recreation area. It is an area of footpaths and idyllic ponds surrounded by a forest. From the hill we had a good view of the town.