Thursday, 12 August 2010

Award winning crinkly edges

Written 11th August

And in my opinion, Slartybartfast deserves every accolade he got for them!

Somehow, yesterday was our last full day in Norway - how did that happen so quick?? - but we couldn't have asked for a better one.

After a nothing-y sort of day on Monday consisting of road, ferry and tunnels

- one of which was 24.5 km long though and someone has subsequently told us that it is the longest road tunnel in the world, or europe or some such thing. I don't know whether that's true or not but take it from me, it is considerably less exciting than it sounds, really it is - we wound up spending the night on a road to nowhere, halfway up the Naeroyfjorden in the miserable rain.

Oh there was a stave church in Kaupanger, which is apparently the biggest, with the greatest number of staves (22) and one of the oldest (c1150 AD), but the thing about a stave church is the massive staves - the towering tree-trunk columns which support the roof - and the intricate paintings and carvings, all of which are on the inside, on the far side of a Nkr45 entrance fee, so even that was less interesting than we hoped.

But against all the odds, yesterday more than made up for it.

The Naeroyfjorden, another UNESCO listed place, is billed as the narrowest, wildest and most famous of the branches of the Sognefjorden, which itself is the longest and deepest of Norway's fjords, stretching as it does 204km from the coast into the heart of the country.

And in the sunshine, it is another of those indescribably glorious places.

In picking a parking spot the previous night, we had done nothing more considered than driving to the farm at the very end of the road, turning round, pulling off the road at the first possible point and battening down the hatches against the driving rain.

It was only in the morning that we realised that we had inadvertently parked at the bottom of the Rimstigen path, a rocky track which set off at right angles to the road, seemingly straight up the steep fjord walls.

This old 'road' is apparently the only way the farmers used to have of getting from the bottom of the valley to their summer farms way up above, where they grew the hay required to keep their cattle fed over the winter. It was still regularly used up until the 1960s when it fell out of use and into disrepair.

But more recently it was rescued from rack and ruin by a team of himalayan sherpas, imported especially for the task, who built it back up again and it is now an apparently well publicised hiking trail.

The full trail is 17km across to a settlement on the other side of the crest, reaching a dizzying height of 1,300m above sea level and branching into a couple of hilltop trails along the ridge of the fjord walls. Well, we obviously had no hope of getting that far but as the view from the bottom had been ok but nothing spectacular, we decided give it a go 'just until we found a good view'. So we packed up our remaining hiking rations - a packet of rich tea biscuits - and headed on up.

A short way up we happened upon an australian couple on the three month trip to Europe and a happy couple of hundred metres were spent swapping travelling tales. They too were coming to the end of their Norway experience and were about to head to Zurich to meet some friends and see Switzerland, a bit of Italy and Croatia. And next year they will be back on an even more extended trip involving a series of house swaps in various places in euope including a greek island, northern italy, and france, whilst their respective occupants enjoy shorter breaks in Tasmania. Seems like quite a good way to do it.

They have just come off the Hertigerti - the full 11-day up and back trip - and although they said a lot of it was spectacular, as outdoorsy, hiking types, from the sound of it they felt just a little bit trapped. And if they went again, they wouldn't go any further north than Tromso apparently. So there you go.

But, fitter as I inevitably am, I am still not leaping up mountains in a single bound, so we stopped for a breather whilst they pressed on. But we did find some wild raspberry bushes to munch on - mmm mmm mmm, homemade jammy dodgers! maybe I won't get scurvy after all.

Onwards and upwards then, with the view getting ever more impressive - although the 390m altitude sign was a bit depressing, we had thought that we were at least half way! - and the path getting ever steeper. At one point, we could just see Jules, a tiny white spec sunning itself at the very bottom of the picture. Ahhh, there's my little van! :)

It was another one of those climbs where you're completely knackered but just can't help going just that little bit further, just up to that next rise, or round that next corner, just in case it got even better.

To be honest, I was secretly hoping to meet the australians on their way back down in the hope they would tell us that there was nothing more to see further up... :)

But we did get to a point just at the top of the tree line with a view in both directions and another opportunity to play with the photo stitcher. I am loving this! Even though it makes the fjord strangely curvy.

We eventually puffed our way up to the waterfall viewing point, which should have been achievement enough to constitute a suitable turning point

but I allowed myself to be seduced by by the idea of the top which appeared to be really, only just, that little bit further on....

And then Will wouldn't let me give up when it wasn't :(

And then we rounded a corner and there was the waterfall spilling over the edge, a 'look I made it here' book to write your name in and a signpost. Hurrah! But apparently only 750m!! Surely we went higher than that! Still a long way to the top then....

But this was quite fabulous enough for me.

And just when we'd agreed enough was definitely enough, we did meet the australians on their way back down again, and they did indeed confirm that the flat expanse we had reached the edge of was marshy and largely uninteresting so no point continuing anyway. Hurrah!

So we slipped and skidded our way back down again - stopping by the raspberries again of course - all the way back to fjord level and our patiently waiting little van.

Fjord Perfect, some might say :)

So here we are, our last morning in Norway, in Bergen, in the ferry queue.

From a walk this morning and our late night drive around town last night in an attempt to find the ferry - done deliberately at midnight when there was no traffic but still a complete nightmare, compounded by the fact that there are two ports in Bergen with no distinguishing labels on the road signs and confusingly the southbound ferries go from the northside port and the northbound ferries go from the southern port... - it seems very pleasant, especially round the old harbour area which is full of restaurants and pavement cafes. Just as a warning though, Bergen has a reputation for being wet, very wet. 275 days of rain a year wet in fact. Our Swiss van dwelling friend Meli wants to come to Bergen just because she has a waterproof jacket which claims to be 'Bergen Proof' and she wants to test this out :)

But fortunately no need for waterproofs for us as the sun shone (well peered blearily from behind its cliud blanket anyway) and I had just enough time for a very quick wander past the famous old Bryggen (harbour warehouse area from Hanseatic trading times)

and the fish market en route to the supermarket to spend our last kroner. How is it that, I have been whinging on and on incessently about how expensive things are but then found it really hard to spend Nkr 120 (c€15)?? Well it would have been easy if I had bought cheese at Nkr60 for 200g but I am now so conditioned against that sort of profligate behaviour (and recreational cheese) that it actually was a struggle to find enough things I could justify the purchase of in order to spend the cash. But all done and back to the van just in time for check in.

So here we are. Leaving on a jetboat. Well, big fat ferry boat anyway. The start of the long trip home....

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