Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Category: Norway

I’ve just returned from…

I’ve just returned from a glorious three weeks in Sweden and Norway, where the scenery is to die for–mountains, rivers, waterfalls at every turn–and cities exude old world charm, “old” meaning 12th century. It was my first experience with a digital camera, so I went a little crazy, knowing I could erase with ease. But it also allows me to show you a few of the highlights and a few of the interesting people who crossed my path.

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Our day began at 9:45 AM …

Our day began at 9:45 AM with the famous train ride up to Myrdal to see an enormous waterfall. I remembered that I had taken this same trip with Lynn Rubright in 1983. On the way we saw some outstanding waterfalls with a free fall of 500 ft. or more. Then we slowly chugged upward, overlooking a deep valley, until we arrived at 2500 ft. I saw the usual red houses with wooden roof tiles laid in a teardrop pattern.

We changed trains and headed for Voss, going down to 150 ft. Voss is a lovely town with centuries old churches and an ancient cross from 1000 AD on a grass mound behind the post office. I also came upon a plaque in honor of Knut Rockne, the football coach at Nore Dame in the 30’s. I took a picture for my soon-to-be-son-in-law, Gary Shippy. He’s a proud Notre Dame graduate (is there any other kind?).

It started to rain, so we ducked into a nearby café where I decided on the Norwegian “special.” Holy calories, Bat Man! A huge, fatty lunch arrived on the arm of a blond Viking. Fried potato/wheat balls, a kind of mashed turnip swimming in butter, a fat sausage, and lamb shanks garnished with bacon bits. But Gullvi’s BLT was even bigger! Fortified, we waddled off to our next bus ride, which began with a famous mile of highway boasting 13 hairpin turns. It was very narrow and amazing how the driver negotiated each turn. And it was scary! Needless to say, there were numerous waterfalls along the way. It would take more superlatives than I know to describe the beauty of the landscape that unfolded on this trip. It started to rain gently as we got to a level area and from behind the mountains came a stunning rainbow covering the entire sky. It ended in one of the man lakes we passed. I tried, but failed to get a photo, but the scene will remain in my mind forever.

It was 6:15 when we arrived in Godvagen and boarded the ferry which took us on the Naroy fjord, the narrowest branch of the Sognefjord. What we saw from our perch on the upper deck was a microcosm of every type of Norwegian scenery, from tiny churches and villages along a green coast to shining slabs of rock and high, rounded hills rising directly from the water’s edge. We watched the changing panorama, frustrated because it was just too vast and too high to capture on film. We froze as we watched the sun set and the sky become black, a perfect backdrop for a surfeit of stars. I was glad for my Peruvian hat and mittens.

By 9 we had reached the small town of Kaupanger. We were taken to our pensione, a charming white clapboard house owned by a widow who specialized in growing every conceivable variety of flower. The place was a riot of color. The young couple who picked us up graciously let us stop at an old stave church close by and wander through the cemetery, before taking us to a Shell station where we could buy some bread, ham, and cheese for dinner. How incongruous! The next morning we were thrilled to see the inside of the same church, along with several other stave churches in this part of Norway.(click here for pictures)

No sun screen today!

No sun screen today! We elected to do the “high route” after much discussion with hikers. There is a very steep section where metal wires are put on both sides to aid in the descent. But I wasn’t scared, even though many places were reminiscent of the Himalayas—narrow trails next to crevasses, where a misstep could have been disastrous. One beautiful stretch was next to a river, where the path was so cramped that at times you had to duck under huge black rocky overhangs. Then the wind came up. It was ferocious…blowing straight down the river and nearly toppling us. I literally ran, trying to beat the rain and glad for my pack as ballast. My pants billowed and I was bent forward. The wind made waves on the wide river. Waterfalls were streaming down from the mountains at every turn. It was amazing!

By the time we’d passed five more summer bridges, one of which was at the bottom of a six-tired waterfall, it was raining steadily. The force of tons of water crashing from hundreds of feet above gave off a spray reminiscent of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I was entranced, but the weather prodded me on. We had to watch our feet at all times, but would have loved to spend more time gaping at the rock walls and the spectacular views.

The last two hours were interesting, since we passed several very old farms and one goat farm, Sinjarheim, which had not been opened all year because of a disease among the goats.

As we climbed lower there were meadows of flowers, birches, and ferns. We finished the 15 miles trek by 5 PM and reached a dirt road lined with ripe raspberries. But there was little time to pick them if we were to catch the bus to our next stop, Flam.

Before leaving Vossbygdi we talked with the man who runs the small kiosk (barn-red like most of the houses) at the tiny bus station. He told us that 12,000 people go over the mountains and through the valley each summer. I kidded him for not having soft ice cream and he said that the government regulations for cleanliness and inspection make it too difficult, because the season is so short. Just as we were leaving we got into politics, as usual. His parting words to us were, “How on earth did Bush win again?” The word gets around.

What a wonderful, jolly ride we had to Flam. The bus driver gave us a special rate, the bus was luxurious as they all seem to be in Norway, and the scenery was glorious. We found a hotel, The Heimly Pensjonat, just as dusk was settling in. Flam is on a branch of the main fjord, (the Sognefjord), named the Aurland. Our room had a balcony that looked out at the fjord and the mountains beyond, which formed a V-shaped notch. Large boats were dotting the harbor and we watched as they laboriously turned around and sailed off into the mist. How great to sleep in a bed with real sheets and take a shower in a bathroom with a warmed floor. And have breakfast included in the price!

I learned something interesting …

I learned something interesting while making a thick sandwich of cheese, ham, and cucumber at breakfast. Bread is sold by the slice (10 KOK), because in Norway people eat single slices of bread with a separate spread on each. They prepare the slice, then put wax paper between the slices, so that when they eat it, they can open it up, remove the paper, and have two separate spreads. I haven’t seen wax paper since my kids used it to iron red leaves in the fall.

The weather had turned cold and the clouds were gray, portending rain. A brisk wind pushed us forward over the hills. The terrain was dotted with lakes and there was plenty of rock-hopping, with three summer bridges to cross, one of which I crawled over, much to Gullvi’s delight. A summer bridge is a flimsy plank or ladder-like creation placed over a swollen river in a temporary fashion. Today we hiked more down than up and the temperature warmed as soon as we got off the high peaks. Sheep began to appear, along with more grass and bushes. But still, at times, the landscape was bleak and gray. I likened the higher regions to a moon walk. Swirling holes and depressions alternated with bright aqua-blue alpine lakes. The only place I’ve seen so many lakes is from the Knife’s Edge on Mt. Kathadin in Maine, or in Udaipur, India.

In four hours we arrived at Steinbergdalen (dalen means valley). As we approached the hut the sun came out on an alpine garden. Tiny wildflowers, too numerous to photograph, delighted me. Our room was great—a double bunk with sink, sofa, and table. And hot showers! We spent the afternoon roaming around this 110-year-old building, enjoying its many sitting rooms, rugs, hand-woven wall hangings, and exquisite furniture. Stuffed wolverines, fox, and other mountain animals adorned the entrance and the charming dining room where we indulged in coffee and waffles with yellow cloudberries (a delicacy of the region).

The roofs of the two oldest buildings had grass growing on them—part insulation, part tradition, I was told at the reception desk. Looked like an illustration from an old-fashioned Norwegian story book .

These two days treated me to a landscape of such variety that I am at a loss to describe it. Yes, Norway is a hiker’s paradise!

(click here for pictures)

We’re off to Norway …

We’re off to Norway, grabbing the flygbuss to the airport and leaving at 5 PM for Oslo. By 6 PM we were speeding on a modern train to central station where Dag Arne, Gullvi’s charming nephew picked us up. This is one amazing person—an electrical engineer by profession, but a major athlete in areas like technical climbing and hang gliding. He showed us a movie of hang gliding in Nepal, which he’d shot from a paraglider. Scared me to death, but it was fantastic!

Dag Arne and his partner, Annika, live on a small island twenty minutes from Oslo. Their house is surrounded by native trees and an extensive garden of flowers and edible plants, plus a greenhouse for the storage of 35 varieties of exotic plants. Their two children, Daniel, almost three and Lasse, 10 months, are adorable blonds who made me think of two of my boys (those Scandinavian genes are strong!).

Just before we left the next morning, Annika wrapped Lasse in a winter outfit and took him out for his nap in the carriage on the porch. She put an electronic speaker in the carriage, and covered him with a blanket and mosquito netting, assuring us that he sleeps well in the cool, crisp air. This is done all over Norway, even at 20 below, she assured me. Shades of hardy Vikings, is what came to mind. (click here for pictures)

At 10:30 AM we caught the train for Bergen, winding our way uphill through rocky hills until we’d reached the high plateau, Hardangervidda, which means vast land. Many lakes and fjords dotted the landscape, but there were very few trees by the time we reached our destination, Finsl (about 4,000 ft.) It was rather bleak as we headed for the hostel, but the sun came out about 5, glistening on the lake and creating a perfect reflection of the building and the mountains. We noticed lots of bicyclists who were using the trail that had originated with the men who built the railway years ago. In the distance we saw a glacier, on which there are daily excursions.

The prices of these hostels and the excellent food they serve are high, but I knew this ahead of time, so I just closed my eyes, handed over my credit card, and didn’t complain. And the accommodations are far more luxurious than anything I was used to in the White Mountains. After dinner we went down to the shore to watch the sunset, all white light and shades of gray.

The political discussion that evening, as with most subsequent evenings, was depressing for an American. Nothing but criticism about the war and our government’s policies. I was in total agreement, and as an informal ambassador for the U.S., I let them know that there were many, like me, who strongly objected to our policies. (click here for pictures)

© 2024 Meg Noble Peterson