A Travellerspoint blog

On to Sognefjord

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Following the climb-down from the Cherry Stone Spitting Championships, it was time to move on. We wanted to head north towards Sognefjord. This meant a stopover in Voss, a pretty ordinary town by a lake, but it has developed a reputation for adventure sports which take over from skiing in the summer months. An opportunity for face-saving, me thinks.
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The latest craze to hit town is for adrenaline junkies for whom bungee-jumping is old hat. A platform suspended from a paraglider is towed by a boat over the lake. The punter and assistant (he’s the one with the pitchfork for recalcitrants) are towed up to 100 metres. After the Last Rites have been read, the person jumps (or was he pushed?) towards the potentially watery grave below. With a bit of luck, the slack in the bungee will be taken up before he hits the water. This leaves him suspended upside down being flown over the lake at about 15mph. At this point, a rescue boat draws up underneath him and, in a carefully-coordinated manoeuvre, the tow-boat slows down thus lowering the victim into the rescue boat.
I made serious enquiries about the safety precautions for the whole thing which the company were able to assure me were all above board. They thought they were on the point of a sale when I decided at the last minute to bow out on the grounds that the driver of the safety boat had a squint and might go for the wrong “me”.
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Warning: Private Detectives are known to operate in this area

A spectacular bus journey took us on from Voss to Balestrand. The road which climbs up to the high plateau between fjord systems is often closed by snow until June. Over the tops, the scenery is eerily moonscape before the road drops precipitously by a series of hairpin bends to Sognefjord below.
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We caught one of the car ferries to the northern side which took us to within 8 miles of Balestrand. Unfortunately, it being Sunday, there wasn’t another bus that day. We started walking and after an hour of repetitive thumb strain, a lovely lady picked us up in her Volvo Estate and delivered us to the door of the hostel. I say hostel, but, like a lot of them over here, much more like a hotel. Our en-suite room, with balcony, looked out over the fjord with its ever-changing light and passing boats.
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Balestrand has long been a resort for the gentry from England and other parts of Europe. It even has its own Norwegian-style Church of England which, for administrative purposes, comes under the Diocese of Gibraltar.
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Balestrand is in a lovely setting, but like lots of places on the tourist trail, you feel a bit like just another number. We’d heard of another town, reached by boat, called Mundal. Until a road tunnel was built in 1986, boat was the only way of getting there. It has retained its beauty and naturalness without any commercialisation as yet. The highlight is the Mundal Hotel (see photos) which is like going back to the days when the well-healed would come for the summer and climb up to the nearby glacier and take in the mountain air.

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Even though it rained a lot whilst we were there, walking trails took us past the fjord, milky green from the glacier waters, and fast-running streams with abundant plant and bird wildlife. We even saw a sea-eagle, en-route between jobs rather than fishing for tea, unfortunately.
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The hotel was too expensive for those on a budget for six months so we slummed it in a cabin on the camp site. Basic but cosy, with wild raspberries outside to add to breakfast muesli - a different sensation altogether from those tasteless, freeze-dried, high-vis, colour-additive lumps they put in Special K that are meant to pass for fruit.
After all this nature and rurality, we’re heading off to Alesund further north and a bit of the city life.
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Posted by dikansu 12:36 Comments (3)

Hardangerfjord

It's amazing what Norwegians can do with cherry stones

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On from Bergen inland and we came to the first proper fjord country. A couple of short ferry rides across deep dark waters brought us to Lofthus on the Hardangerfjord. The first night was in a guest house with an owner from the Basil Faulty School of Hospitality and Humour, so we looked up the hill at the local Hostel which was part of a boarding school, closed for the summer, surrounded by cherry trees overlooking the fjord. The atmosphere was completely different and homely with large communal breakfasts in the mornings with local produce - cheeses, fish, salami, berries - which kept us going all day.
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We walked high into the mountains up steep forest tracks and past waterfalls. Lots of bird life including woodpeckers of both green and greater-spotted variety. Eventually, we came out of the trees onto the plateau overlooking the fjord.
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This is one of Norway's prime fruit-growing regions with apples, pears, plums - and cherries.
In fact, a cherry festival was about to happen with lots of activities revolving around this particular fruit, including the World Cherry Stone-Spitting Championships. After a carefully reheared warm-up routine, contestants stand at a barrier and, with a carefully coordinated thrust of the diaphragm combined with finely-tuned curling of the tongue and pursing of the lips, the stone is directed at high velocity in a perfect arc, coming to rest close to where the judges are waiting to measure the distance with state-of-the-art laser technology. I was hoping for a "wild-card" entry on behalf
of the UK until I heard that the favourite had a season's personal best of 14 metres! At this point, I thought discretion the better part of valour, feigned a groin strain and cried off.
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Posted by dikansu 03:48 Comments (1)

Bergen

- gateway to the fjords

We left Oslo by train on 16th July. The sun was shining as we headed west along what is renowned as one of the most spectacular rail routes in Europe over the mountains and high plateaus of western Norway. Low cloud filled the valleys at first and there was still snow on the higher ground, even in mid-summer. The 7 hour trip didn’t seem to take that long at all and soon we were descending into Bergen.
Sheltered from the Atlantic by a series of islands to the west, Bergen has been a trading port for centuries. Nowadays, cruise liners come and go daily and it is the start of the Hurtigruten route - the round-the-clock service of 14 boats plying up and down the Norwegian coastline, serving as a lifeline to small towns far up within the Arctic Circle.
After the disappointment of the hostel in Oslo, we found wonderful self-catering accommodation run by the lovely Line (as in Zavaroni). She couldn’t have made us feel more at home and our room overlooked the rooftops of the city. There were lots of other travellers coming and going with whom we exchanged hints and experiences in the communal kitchen.
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One of the nicest parts of town was the University area with some beautiful old wooden houses and parks. It also contains the maritime museum with examples of long boats and an exhibition on Norwegian submariners. One of the old photographs showed 2 "Norwegian submarines in England, probably Dundee.” There will be one or two north of the border spitting feathers on hearing that !Submarinep..dited-2.jpg
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Posted by dikansu 11:49 Comments (2)

Copenhagen to Oslo

Where were we? Oh yes. Having had 3 days in Copenhagen, we caught the wonderful DFDS ferry overnight to Oslo. The cabin was much better appointed and cheaper than the German train couchettes - why didn’t we think of using the same company’s route from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark? No navigational problems finding the loo in the middle of the night and, compared to the rattly points, an effortless passage across the Skagerrak between Denmark and Sweden, then Norway further north. The only let-down was that they didn’t have the backing for the tenor aria in Mozart’s Requiem for the karaoke competition in the bar. The DJ said they hadn’t had any demand for it before. Damn cheek!
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We awoke the next morning just as we were entering Oslofjord, much less precipitous than the famous ones on the west coast which we hope to see later, but beautiful nevertheless in the early morning sunshine. It’s the fjord which was the backdrop to Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream”. The ferry had to negotiate several narrow channels with land close on either side. Eventually, Oslo appeared in the distance, quite a long way inland from the open sea.
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We disembarked and wended our way to a hotel/hostel on the western side of the city. It turned out to be very disappointing with little character and few other people staying there to get to know. The highlight of Oslo was undoubtedly the sculpture park close to where we were staying. The park and its grounds were modelled by Gustav Vigeland in the early 20th century. Over the course of 30 years, he designed and had made 192 life-size sculptures of people in bronze and stone which are displayed around the grounds (see photos). They depict people both individually and in families in many different human states of emotion and experience - pleasure, despair, joy, humour, horror, death. The highlight is a 46ft high monolith of human figures piled on top of one another, subject to various interpretations such as the struggle of life.
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Sculptures seem to be very much a part of the outdoor furniture of Scandinavian towns and cities, not just the usual historical monuments to the great and the good, but also modern images of many types. As in Vigeland’s sculpture park, they are often at ground level and accessible rather than raised up on plinths. Children were able to climb on them and inspect them at close quarters, so becoming an additional member of a family group, kissing their baby siblings as if they were real. It was moving to see people of all ages naturally interacting with art in this way.
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On a lighter note, iPhone was able to make a currency calculation from Norwegian Kroner to British Sterling in 3.2278 seconds. Sue only managed it in 3.9879

Latest score: Luddites 1:1 iPhone
(iPhone ahead 2:1 on agg. on away-goal rule)

Posted by dikansu 15:20 Comments (1)

Dorchester South to Copenhagen Central by train

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July 10th 2009.
And finally we're off. After months of non-planning - we have decided not to have too much of a timetable and just go with the flow - we're about to climb onto a Eurostar at St Pancras heading overland (and under sea) for Scandanavia. We've got 6 months off work, and are travelling light with just a rucksack each. Oh, and as recommended by Stephan Fry (but not Sue) that most advanced of modern multi-media communication devices, an iPhone - what more could a man want?
Norway is the first main target but via Copenhagen for a couple of days. In just 135 minutes, we're in Brussels and then boarding a German high-speed train for Cologne. They are so sleek and futuristic looking that with the addition of a few heat-resistant tiles at the front end, aim it skywards and you feel it could easily break free of the earth's gravitational pull and be expanding its network to neighbouring galaxies. "Vorsprung durch technik", as they say in Germany. And National Express can't even make a go of it to Edinburgh.
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Another 2 hours later and we're in Cologne. Time for supper then we bord the night sleeper for Copenhagen. We're sharing a couchette compartment with a French couple. She lives and works in Frankfurt, he in Amsterdam. They meet up at weekends to go places to have fun. Sue thinks it sounds like a good arrangement.
If you've never been on a sleeper train, it's quite an experience. Somehow the cacophony of noise as the bogies cross over countless points and the buffers buffet against their counterparts on either side combine with the unpredictable lurching of the carriage to lull the traveler into some sort of fitfull sleep. Until, that is, the nightcap which seemed like a good idea before bedding down produces the inevitable premature wake-up call. Then it's like a game of hide-and-seek as you try to make your way to the nearest servicable toilet. Then as you make your way out again, you realise that you can't remember the number of your compartment and don't they all look exactly the same, especially in the dark. This is becoming more of a ghost-train nightmare! If only I'd thought of taking my iPhone and its GPS navigation system with me.
We wake in the morning to the sight of Danish wheat fields. The carriage attendant tells us we've lost the Restaurant Car somewhere in Germany (?) but he rustles up a coffee and bun each from his kitchenette. Just 24 hours after leaving home, and we're pulling in to Copenhagen Central. Much more satisfying, in a masochistic sort of way, than arriving by air. You definately feel you've travelled, even if as though through a hedge backwards.
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Copenhagen immediately feels very relaxed and laid-back - very few cars and everyone on bikes (see photos). With its small streets and intersecting canals, it can be a bit confusing for visitors at first. This is when I used the opportunity to impress Sue with the virtues of the iPhone's afore-mentioned GPS navigational system. "You see all you need to do is open up the 'Maps' application from the Home screen, then get it to find out where you are, then under 'Directions', tell it where you are looking for, press 'Route' and, depending on the strenghth of the 3G connection, within a few seconds, you'll have the pathway marked out for you on the map in front of you and with written directions to boot!" But I'd lost Sue ages ago. She'd got bored waiting, asked a passer-by and was already half way down the street! Drat, and double-drat!
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Next up, Oslo.

Posted by dikansu 14:22 Comments (2)

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