Saturday, July 28, 2012

Following in the Footsteps of Vikings

UNESCO World Heritage site- Bergen

Its official; Norway is by far my favorite place I have ever visited.  We haven't made it to Oslo yet- that is next up on our agenda- but from what I've seen so far, this is truly an amazing country.  The combination of spectacular scenery, cool temperatures that require a sweater even in the middle of the summer, and clean ocean air make for a mesmerizing experience.  Add in the friendly people, the abundance of fresh fish, and the fact we are so disconnected from our everyday life and I feel as though I never want to leave.  In many ways, this area reminds me of where I grew up along the coast of Maine.

We flew from Stockholm to Norwegian Fjord Country.  Using Bergen as our home base, we've been exploring the breathtaking scenery that makes up Norway's western coast.  Bergen is simultaneously quaint, off the beaten path, and touristy (although the tourist factor decreased significantly with the departure of a cruise ship).  Bryggen, the old wharf along the waterfront is a UNESCO World Heritage site and we spent time roaming through the alleys that surround these traditional wooden houses. We've wandered through the Torget Fish Market, dined on both local (fresh fish, elk, reindeer and wonderfully fresh berries) and international (Indian, Italian, and American) cuisines and thanks to Sidney, had a walking tour of all of Bergen's many fountains (there really are a lot).  Our time has been spontaneous and lazy and everything a vacation should be.

Fishing village at the end of the road- Hellesoy
As has been the case for most of our vacation so far, daily activities go unplanned.  We have a general sense of what we want to see but are taking each activity moment by moment and exploring as the mood strikes.  (This is a complete departure from the way we used to vacation and I have to say, even my Type A self is enjoying this way of traveling).  In one of my Internet searches I came across Car Walks, a compilation of self guided driving and walking tours for the greater Bergen area.  With numerous options, we chose the one that took us the most off the beaten path and out onto the archipelago to the west of Bergen.  We left the city through a series of tunnels (Bergen is known as the city of seven hills) and out into the fishing villages that make up Norway's rocky coastline.  We followed narrow, yet well maintained roads for miles through fishing villages and along narrow inlets all the way to the end of the archipelago to the village of Hellesoy.  (Much to our surprise, a well traveled paved bike lane mirrored all of the main road and the majority of the side roads).  Without a real plan, we turned down country lanes when curious and stopped to play in coves when the inspiration struck.  With minimal traffic, no restaurants or stores, and acres and acres of rock covered hills, we felt much farther away from civilization than we were.  I loved it.

The long and narrow fjord
Waterfall along the Osterfjorden
And of course there are the fjords.  One can not travel to Norway without experiencing the fjords.  We got our first peek at these magnificent bodies of water on our flight into Bergen.  We got up close and personal with the Osterfjorden during a fjord cruise where we meandered up into the increasingly narrow waterway.  There was so much to take in; from the waterfalls to the salmon farms to the hidden settlements dotting the shoreline, it was all impressive.  Even onboard the ferry surrounded by thirty other tourists from various countries I felt a sense of serenity and isolation from the rest of the world.  We spent a day driving from Bergen to Fjaerland following and (twice) crossing the Sognefjorden, which at 200 km long and 1308 m deep is Norway's longest and deepest fjord, before spending the night in Mundal.   Along the way we traveled through tiny fjord-side farming villages, passed through too many tunnels to count, and saw icy waterfalls plummeting from snow (and glacier) covered mountains.   Pictures and words do not do the scenery justice.  I can only imagine what early settlers must have thought when they first saw the completely unspoiled land.  Even today, looking beyond the paved roads, power lines, and occasional cruise ship, this part of Norway appears to be pristine.

Of course, we have spent our time in Norway in July.  Our days have been long and filled with daylight with the temperatures fluctuating between warm enough for short sleeves and cool enough to need a sweater.  We've had some light rain but mostly sun and a few clouds.  The weather has been, by all accounts, ideal.  I can only imagine how this same area looks during a long, dark Scandinavian winter.  With minimal hours of daylight and even less sun, raw cold temperatures, and continuous snow, I know this is a very different place in the winter.  I'm not sure I would like it as much as I do now (actually, I know I wouldn't) but I'm here now, so I'm going to enjoy it.

Family time in Fjord Country

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