DAY 62: SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING BORROWED & SOMETHING BLUE IN OSLO


Life in Oslo is fantastic!

We had a great day today wandering around Oslo. It’s a pretty cool city; it doesn’t have quite the same charm as Stockholm, but it’s certainly worth exploring for at least a day or two. The city itself only has a population of 600,00 people, but the greater Oslo metropolitan area includes 1.4 million people (that’s a significant proportion of Norway’s population of 5 million). This city has been the economic and governmental heart of Norway since the 14th century, and is today a busy town that counts amongst its many claims to fame the fact that it hosts the annual Nobel Prize Awards, has been repeatedly voted Europe’s most liveable city, and is the world’s most expensive place to buy a Big Mac. Obviously you cannot get to know a city in just a couple of days, but from we have seen, Oslo seems quite cosmopolitan and sitting as it does at the top of the Oslofjord, its also a very beautiful spot. Of course our opinion of Oslo’s natural beauty is probably skewed by the fact that we had another spectacular day, with blue skies as far as our eyes could see…

 

Just an example of how our day went… 

 

We started this morning with an exploration of Akershus Fortress (something old). This medieval fort, built in 1299, was ancient Oslo’s first line of defence against ocean-faring foes. The fortress was modernised and modified by King Kristian IV in the 18th century but continued to function as Oslo’s main military base, even once Norway gained its independence from Denmark*. Akershus Fortress is still a functional military base today, though they open parts of it to the public. It was a little odd, strolling through the fortress grounds with military personnel going about their business, all dressed up in their uniforms and us in our Birkenstocks and jeans. It was an interesting historical site to visit, and learn a little about the history of Norway.  

 

*If you anthromorphosise the countries involved, the history of Norway reads a little like a Mills & Boon novella of broken promises and relationships. First, Norway entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Sweden in 1397 (the initial polygamous relationship). Then Sweden left the union in 1523 and Norway became the junior partner in the state of Denmark-Norway. Norway was essentially ruled by Denmark for almost 300 years until 1814, when Norway quit that relationship and got together with Sweden, leaving Denmark out in the cold to fend for itself. Finally, after so many divorces and heart breaks, Norway had had enough and went out on its own in 1905. And she’s never looked back folks! Norway has flourished as an independent state, what with its thriving petroleum industry, fishing exports, scientific achievements and contributions to global arts. 

 

Entering Akershus Fortress. That’s some pretty impressive fortifications.

 

The central square within Akershus Fortress.

 

The ocean-facing side of the fortress, complete with canons and all.

 

After something old, comes something new right? So we went to explore the brand new Oslo Opera House. Completed in 2007 this ultra-modern structure is apparently designed to look like a glacier sliding into the ocean. The structure contains 1,100 rooms, and its main auditorium seats 1,364 guests. The angled exterior surfaces of the building are covered with white Italian marble and white granite, making the whole thing very bright and shiny. Not really my thing, but impressive enough for what it is. The best part of our visit to the Oslo Opera House is that you can walk all over it – made for some nice views across the water.

 

The Oslo Opera House. It’s supposed to look like a glacier sliding into the water.

 

Nice views over the bay in Oslo.

 

After our walking tour along the waterfront, past the Opera House and Akershus Fortress we continued on past a few more of Oslo’s iconic sites, including Oslo City Hall (by far the ugliest building we’ve seen anywhere in the world), Norway’s Parliament House (currently under renovation, no impressive photos available), the National Theatre of Norway (much prettier than the City Hall building), Oslo’s Domkirke cathedral (a bit austere but very churchy), and the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace of Norway was originally built in the 18th century as the Oslo home for Sweden’s kings and queens (who back then also ruled Norway). When Norway gained independence in 1905, their own King (Haakon) took up residence there. The current Norwegian royals (i.e. King Harald and his family) live there, but allow tourists like us to enjoy their royal gardens and take guided tours through parts of the palace. There were 3 cruise ships in port today so the palace tours were all booked out, so we didn’t get to sneak a peak into any of the royal dressers drawers or anything. We did get to enjoy the beautiful gardens though, along with half of Oslo – there were heaps of people sun-baking all through the Royal Gardens which I think is so cool. I mean, how many monarchs would be happy to let their subjects lie semi-clothed all over their lawns?!  

 

The Royal Palace, Oslo.

 

Oslo’s City Hall. Built in 1950 this building is all about functionality I think – it certainly ain’t pretty, that’s for sure!

 

The National Theatre of Norway.

 

Oslo’s Domkirke Cathedral.

 

By this time it was most certainly lunch time so we continued our stroll through the old centre of Oslo, enjoying the cityscape and soaking up the rays. We stopped for an eye-wateringly expensive lunch in a great spot, taking the opportunity to people watch (the city was packed today!). Not sure if you could say we really “borrowed” anything from Oslo, but we certainly partook in its sunshine and joyous summer vibe!

 

Enjoying the view from our lunch spot.

 

The Oslo cityscape. 

 

Some thing old, something new, something “borrowed”, and, well, there was only something blue left to go! So we spent our afternoon cruising down the Oslofjord. And man was it BLUE!  The Oslofjord is about 100km long, with Oslo sitting right at the Northern apex of the inlet, in the most sheltered part. As a consequence of this the waters we sailed through today were incredibly flat. The Oslofjord is quite different to the steep-sided, dramatic fjords we sailed through on the Hurtigruten ferry along the Western coast of Norway, or around Bergen – the Oslofjord seems so tame by comparison! The mountains along the side are more like hills, and rather than plunging steeply into the water, these hills slope gently towards the water. There are even beaches! This southern part of Norway is far less rugged and harsh than the rest of what we’ve seen, but is still beautiful in its own way. 

 

We sailed sailed out of the harbour and passed the 4 main holiday islands off Oslo’s shores (Hovedoya, Lindoya, Gressholmen and Langoyene). As in Sweden, these islands contain holiday homes that Oslo-ites flock to in summer. Most of these holiday homes have belonged to the same family for decades, passed down from one generation to the next. We also sailed passed the peninsula of Nesodden, where many of Oslo’s wealthiest residents traditionally retired to. Many of the houses in Nesodden were built high up on the hill, far from the water; all the houses on the island however have a bathing cabin down on the water that they have access to. During the 1700s and 1800s, when being seen in a bathing suit in public was completely unacceptable, these cabins used to have internal stairs leading down into a bathing room, in the water. This way people could go down to bathe in the ocean without offending their neighbours. Today many of the bathing cabins have been extended and added to so that they are more like small gazebos, complete with BBQs, tables and chairs, for entertaining by the water. Apparently these bathing cabins were also used as storehouses for the smuggling of illegal liquor in the 1920s when Norway was under a prohibition ban – being right down by the water, in a respectable neighbourhood and not visible from Oslo city, they were the perfect site for smugglers!

 

About to embark on our Oslofjord cruise.

 

Sailing out of Oslo harbour, past Hovedoya island.

 

The legendary bathing cabins of Nesodden.

 

A couple of Oslofjord’s smaller islands.

 

Just sailing the Oslofjord…

 

Shane blisses out, watching the wonders of the Oslofjord go past.

 

It was, overall, another superb day in Scandinavia. Life really is fantastic at the moment – this travelling thing is AWESOME! And look Oslo agrees:

 

Yes Oslo, life really IS fantastic!

DAY 61: RIDING THE BERGENSBANEN


Hitching a ride to Oslo on the Bergen Railway

We’re in Oslo blog-fans! The only city in the world where you can pay $12 for a Big Mac (if you’re so inclined, which we are not), and yet pay nothing to see the original “Scream” painting by Impressionist artists Edvard Munch. We’re only here for a couple of days, but plan to see as much of Oslo as we can in that time. We’ve checked in, unpacked and have just been enjoying the view from our room. Here, check it out:

 

Our view of Oslo for the next couple of nights.

 

Not a bad view to wake up to hey? Unfortunately we haven’t had time to check out any more of Oslo as we spent most of our day on a train. We rode the Bergensbanen (translation = Bergen Railway) today! This 500km stretch of rail is considered one of the world’s most scenic train rides and given we just love epic scenery so much, we thought it would be the best way to get to Oslo! It took us almost 7 hours in total to get to Oslo, but the brochures don’t lie, the Bergensbanen really is extraordinary. See if you agree… 

 

Some passing views from the Bergen Railway. We call this one “The Waterfall”.

 

This photo we think of as “Dark & Ominous Glacier Glimpses”.

 

And this one we call “The Alpine Lake”.

 

And this one is simply “The View”. This is typical of what we were seeing go past as we crossed the Hardangervidda Plateau.

 

The Bergensbanen climbs rapidly from Bergen, up the steep mountainsides of the Hardangervidda Plateau, Europe’s highest mountain plateau (1,250m elevation). The only township on the plateau is Finse, which, as you can see on the map below, is about a third of the way along the journey. Most of the plateau is national park, with the landscape dominated by barren, treeless moors, mountains, lakes and rivers. The highest peak within the park is Mt Harteigen (1,690m), which we got to see form the train. We also got to see glimpses of the Hardangerjøkulen glacier, one of Norway’s 1,600 glaciers.

 

The route taken by the Bergensbanen from Bergen to Oslo.

 

Between Bergen and the Hardangervidda Plateau we passed many small villages and farming communities. Often the houses have turfed roofs for insulation – like these.

 

We could see the snowy flanks of Mt Harteigen from miles away, even before we ascended the plateau.

 

Once we were on the plateau, the scenery became quite stark, but still stunning.

 

There was barely a tree to be seen across the whole plateau, but still lots of snow. In winter the drifts can get up to 7m high, which is what those wooden barriers are for: to help prevent too much snow getting onto the railway tracks.

 

There were few houses up on the plateau, though we did see quite a few shepherds’ huts like these. Presumably farmers bring their animals up to pasture in these higher realms during summer when the new growth is green and lush.

 

And we saw lots of mad keen hikers walking along tracks criss-crossing the plateau. With viws like this I can almost understand why people would hike and camp up here. Almost.


Once we’d crossed the Hardangervidda Plateau the scenery became far greener, forested and just generally “tamer”.  There were progressively more and more farms, villages and towns, until we finally hit the outskirts of Oslo. It was very pretty scenery, and even though it was a cloudy day, we could still see why the Bergensbanen is referred to as one of the world’s most scenic train rides. Norway in general is one epic bit of scenery after another!


Once we started to climb down from the plateau the scenery gradually started to change, with more signs of human habitation.

 

The rugged rocky plateau gave way to rolling green hills and farms.

 

With wide, still rivers like this one carrying water from the mountains towards one of the many lakes in Central Norway.

 

We saw quite a few lakes on our way from Gol in Central Norway to Oslo.

 

It was well worth the time and money we’ve spent in Norway to see so much of this magnificent country. Even just the week or so we’ve had here so far has left us feeling awed and conscious of small human beings really are. The mountains and fjords of Norway have been here for millennia and they will undoubtedly outlive us all. There is an incredible sense of majesty in what we’ve seen here and it has been quite a humbling experience overall.

 

The self-satisfied smiles of people on the Bergensbanen. 

DAY 60: HUNTING TROLLS IN BERGEN


A damp day to go troll hunting in Bergen…

After our 12 hour adventure yesterday we wanted to spend today chilling out here in Bergen, checking out the local sights and soaking in some Norwegian ambience. So we had a sleep-in then set out with all our wet weather gear (it’s been cloudy, drizzling or all out raining all day!) to check out more of Bergen’s Old Town. First though we caught the funicular railway up to the top of My Floyen to get some views of Bergen and go troll hunting.

 

Out of the front of the Floibanen funicular railway station.

 

Catching the funicular railway up to the top of Mt Floyen.

 

Admiring the view of Bergen city from the top of Mt Floyen.

 

That’s Bergen’s Old Town – our B&B is in there somewhere.

 

We hiked a little way up the trail on My Floyen to admire the scenery and see if we could find any trolls…

 

Look a troll! We found one!

A Note on Trolls

Trolls are an intrinsic part of Scandinavian mythology. These gigantic, cave-dwelling creatures reportedly live in rocky, mountainous places (i.e. most of Norway, from what we’ve seen!), and are just one type of Jötunn – the ancient race of “hidden people”. Though descriptions vary somewhat from country to country, Norwegian trolls resemble giant humans. They are extremely tall (i.e. 50m+ tall) and their bodies are covered in fur and tangled matted hair. Often they have exaggerated and deformed facial features such as jutting lower jaws, protruding brows, long bulbous noses and up to 3 heads. Trolls also have claws and fangs, and eat humans if hungry. They don’t talk or wear clothes, and can live for 1000 years. We’ve been quite intrigued by the whole troll thing for a while now; a few years ago we saw an awesome Norwegian movie called “The Troll Hunter”  which sparked our interest (you should check the movies out if you’re keen to have a laugh).  We didn’t find any of the real, giant trolls, but there are funny troll statues all over place here. They almost make trolls look cute!

 

 

After our trip up Mt Floyen we went down to check out Bryggen, Bergen’s old port. Bryggen is  the oldest part of Bergen, famous for the multi-coloured 14th century Hanseatic warehouses that line the waterfront there. Bergen was part of the Hanseatic League* for almost 400 years and has been an important trade town for at least a millennia. Today Bryggen is a major tourist attraction and all the old warehouses have been restored and turned into souvenir shops and restaurants. There is also a market set up on the waterfront, which made for a perfect place to grab a coffee and watch tourists go past. We spent the rest of our morning wandering through the streets of Bryggen, sampling raspberries, blueberries and strawberries at the markets and peering at the giant King Crabs in the tanks at the fish market. They had whale meat for sale at the markets too, as well as cloudberry jam, reindeer leather and moose prosciutto. 

 

*The Hanseatic League was a confederation of trading towns in Northern Europe that existed from the 13th to 17th centuries. The League was created to protect the economic interests of its member cities; it had its own legal system and member cities had their own armies that could be deployed to other member cities for mutual protection and aid. Cities that were part of the League flourished under this protective banner and were often very wealthy. 


The waterfront warehouses in Bergen are some of the oldest wooden structures in the world.

 

These buildings were so higgelty-piggelty – barely a straight line to be seen!

 

“Back off or you’re lunch mate!” Shane warns the moose. 

 

From Bryggen we continued on to Bergenhus Fortress. This defensive structure, built in 1240, is one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Norway. This medieval building is constructed form local stone, which makes for a grey and rather imposing structure. In its time it has been used as a fort, a monastery, and as the German navy headquarters during the WWII Nazi occupation of Norway. 

 

Soaking up some history at Bergenhus Fortress.

 

Bergenhus Fortress was built in 1240 and remained an important defensive post for many centuries.

 

It was an interesting enough building, but we didn’t get to hang around and see much of the fortress or gardens because at this point the heavens opened up and it started to pour. So we quickly headed home and have been tucked up warm and dry for the afternoon, waiting for the rain to ease up so we can see a bit more of Bergen. Tonight’s our last chance too because tomorrow we’re off to Oslo, Norway’s capital city and our last stop in this country.

 

Farewell Bergen – we’re off to Oslo tomorrow!

 

 

DAY 59: CAN’T AFFJORD TO MISS THIS!


Norway in a Nutshell

Evening blog-heads. Hope your day was as awesomely EPIC as ours! Today we embarked on a 12 hour adventure aptly named “Norway in a Nutshell”. The tour is designed to showcase a little bit of everything Norway has to offer in the way of natural wonders – rolling green farmland, crystal clear rivers, alpine lakes, waterfalls, mountains, and of course: fjords. It’s not really a tour per se, more like a series of tickets for trains, ferries and buses that, cobbled together, took us from Bergen to the tiny village of Flam by train, then onto Gudvangen by ferry, to Voss by bus, and finally back to Bergen. A grand total of 400kms of the most amazing scenery, like this…   

 

Norway is fjording amazing!

 

Our “Norway in a Nutshell” route.

 

“Norway in a Nutshell” gave us Norway’s beautiful fjord country on a scenic platter, starting right from the initial 2 hour train journey to Myrdal. We sped past some amazing views, though much of the journey was in the dark as the train-line passes through numerous tunnels. Tunnelling through must make travelling much quicker than going around the massive mounds of granite that Norway is covered in! The mountains here are unique – like great rocky boulders thrown around by some giant hand. It makes for some very dramatic scenery.

 

Watching mountains, farms and lakes speed past from the train.

 

The still waters of Lake Vangvasnet.

 

Looking up to the rocky roof of Norway.

 

Myrdal itself is barely a village, more just a train station and a couple of summer cottages. The only reason we even stopped there was because Myrdal is the starting point of the Flam Railway, one of the world’s most scenic railway lines. The Flam Railway is only 21kms long, but takes almost an hour to wind its way down the mountain-side from Myrdal to Flam. The railway line was opened in 1923 and took 20 years to build. It was considered a major feat of engineering in its time, and is still pretty impressive in that sense; to meander down the steep mountainside the railway goes through 20 hairpin tunnels, crosses 2 bridges and drops 863m to reach the village of Flam. There are cottages here and there throughout the valley and lots of amazing views to enjoy along the way.

 

Enjoying the views of the valley on our way down the Flam Railway.

 

Looking up at the peaks around us on the way down the Flam Railway.

 

View of the Flam Valley far below from the train.

 

The Flam train passes numerous waterfalls, including the rather grand Kjosfossen (Kjos Falls). The train actually stopped at the Kjos Falls to let us all off to snap our photos. Very cool (literally – a lot of that water is melted ice and snow!).

 

The massive Kjosfossen, Flam Railway.

 

Looking down at one of the many waterfalls along the Flam Railway.

 

The Flam Railway also stops at the village of Berekvam where passengers can get off to hike the final leg of the journey to Flam. Berekvam’s claim to fame is that it is home to more sheep than people, and that it is THE CUTEST village we have ever seen (to date)!

 

The Flam Railway stops at Berekvam, about half way down the mountain.

 

Coming down the mountainside, towards the bottom of the Flam Valley and the village of Berekvam.

 

The village of Berekvam. Is this not the cutest village you’ve ever seen?!

 

We arrived in Flam around noon and had time to walk around the village, take a few photos and have some lunch before the ferry for Gudvangen left. Shane had a moose burger (made from 100% real moose apparently) for lunch and I had grilled salmon (the salmon here is amazing, as one would expect), ensuring we were well fed and ready for the next (not so) arduous leg of our journey.

 

Our lunch stopover in Flam for lunch

 

The tiny village of Flam sits at the end of the Flam Valley, at the mouth of the Aurlandsfjord.

 

Looking down the river, out towards the fjord from our lunch spot in Flam.

 

As you can see from the photos so far, we had a bit of a patchy day – a bit cloudy but with the occasional moment of sunshine. We knew coming to this part of the world that it would probably be a bit damp and cloudy. The topography in this area means that moist air off the North Sea hits the mountains and condenses on an almost daily basis, meaning Bergen and surrounds are cloudy and wet almost every day of the year. In fact, on average Bergen has less than 30 days of unclouded, dry sunshine very year and the average summer temperature is 14C. (Just don’t know how people live in such a damp, cold place! Guess we’re just spoilt, used to sunny Queensland weather as we are.) For us the fact that it wasn’t actually raining today was a real bonus! It meant we could sit outside on the ferry from Flam, staring up in awe at the cliffs and mountains around us. For 2 glorious hours we cruised up the up the Aurlandsfjord then down the narrow Naeroyfjord to Gudavangen (43kms in total).

 

Cruising through Norway’s fjords the water was an incredible aquamarine colour.

 

These guys were cruising up the fjord in a kayak – how cool is that?!

 

It’s difficult to get a sense of size for these photos, but these mountains were HUGE (most are in fact over 2000m high).

 

There were occasional farms and sheep dotting the pastures alongside the fjord.

 

We sailed past a few of the cutest farming hamlets like this one.

 

Norway’s fjords – are they on your Bucket List?

 

The water was so dark and still – probably de to the very deep waters (these fjords are over 1300m deep).

 

There were lots of waterfalls spilling into the ocean waters, like this one.

 

The ferry dropped us all off at the tiny village of Gudvangen where buses awaited to drive us the 46kms along the Stalheimskleiva Road to the town of Voss. The Stalheimskleiva Road is Northern Europe’s steepest road. From the top of Mt Stalheimskleiva the road winds its way down to the Naeroy Valley, down a seriously steep mountainside and around hairpin bends so tight that we were praying the bus driver really knew what he was doing.  On the way down we had fantastic views into the valley and passed two stunning views called Sivlefossen and Stalheimsfossen.

 

Looking down from the top of the Stalheimskleiva Road.

 

The awesome view down into the Naeroy Valley.

 

We drove past the Sivlefossen (Silve Waterfall) on our way down.

 

After 1.5 hours on the bus we arrived in Voss, a nondescript town with a small train station where we hopped on a train back to Bergen. And even then the scenery just kept giving! Norway is incredible – the windswept mountains, barren heaths, pine forests, waterfalls, rivers and lakes combine to create a harsh, unique kind of beauty that has seriously impressed us.

 

More epic scenery on the train from Voss to Bergen.

 

With the sun still out at 7:00pm we continued to get the odd moment of glorious sunshine.

 

The train stopped briefly in the village of Dale to drop off a few passengers (and give us the chance to snap a quick photo).

 

We finally made it back to Bergen, 12 hours and innumerable rivers, lakes, mountains, valleys and fjords later.

 

 

DAY 58: JUST FJORDING AROUND IN NORWAY…


Misty mornings, fabulous fjords and beautiful Bergen

Greetings blogaholics! We woke very early this morning after a seriously crap nights’ sleep – I mean, I know they say the Hurtigruten ferry is a “working ship”, and I get that this means it will make regular stops at all sorts of little towns, all through the night. But what I didn’t realise is that when you have a cabin right at the front of the ship near the anchors and mooring equipment, you WILL get woken up EVERY time the ships pulls in to harbour – EVERY time… Like, at 1:00am, 3:00am and 5:00am. *SIGH* I seriously don’t know how people with young kids do it man; getting woken up every 2 hours is a sure recipe for threatened homicide (i.e. I get so cranky I threaten to kill people). On the up side, being woken up at 5:00am (I’m on HOLIDAY people – NO ONE should be woken up at 5:00am when they’re on holiday! Sorry, end of rant), is that we got to see more of the epic Norwegian fjords. Like this one…

 

Not a bad view to start the day with.

 

To start with it was really misty and absolutely glassy. It made for an eerie early morning, with the ship barely causing a ripple in the water and the mist blanketing all sounds. As we silently swept past the rocky shores of the fjord, the occasional pier or house appeared out of the mist. Very cool (EARLY) start to the day.

 

It was cool and misty at 5:00am.

 

We could just make out some of the rocky outcrops through the mist.

 

Occasionally we saw houses through the mist as well.

 

It was incredibly flat and glassy, and creepily silent as the boat glided through the water.

 

Gradually the sun started to warm things up and the mist began to lift, revealing cute little fishing villages, massive mountains and craggy islands on either side of the ship. Occasionally the passage through the islands was so narrow that it felt like we could almost touch them.

 

As the mists lifted the rocks around us became more visible.

 

This little fishing shack was on an island all by itself. Bet no one lives there in winter!

 

Sometimes the channel narrowed so much the ship had to literally weave its way through.

 

The village of Floro, our 8:00am stop.

 

Once the sun came out in full, the glory of the fjords was truly revealed – made all the better by the fact that it was only 6:00am and everyone else was still in bed. It was just marvellous. It’s always hard to capture the essence of what you experience in a photo, but hopefully these will help you understand why we so enjoyed cruising the fjords today. 

 

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 08:30am Sunday 29 July 2013.

 

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 08:40am Sunday 29 July 2013.

 

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 08:50am Sunday 29 July 2013.

 

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 09:00am Sunday 29 July 2013.

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 09:10am Sunday 29 July 2013.

 

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 09:20am Sunday 29 July 2013.

 

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 09:30am Sunday 29 July 2013.

 

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 09:40am Sunday 29 July 2013.

 

Cruising Norway’s fjords, 09:50am Sunday 29 July 2013.

 

Unfortunately the sun disappeared around mid-morning, never to re-emerge.  The skies stayed cloudy all the way to Bergen, our final destination. we’re staying in Bergen for a few days, using it as a base to explore this most scenic part of Norway. Bergen is Norway’s second largest city, with a population of just over 270,000. Built along seven hillsides facing Vågen Bay, Bergen is often referred to a “the City of 7 Hills”. Originally a Viking settlement, Bergen is today a busy commercial hub. It’s the main base for the Norwegian navy and is home to thousands of workers who fly-in/fly-out to off-shore oil and gas rigs in the North Sea. There’s also a big university here and a thriving tourist trade. Tourists in there hundreds of thousands flock here every year because Bergen is the gateway to some of Southern Norway’s most glorious fjords, mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers. Which is exactly why we’re here too!

 

Views from Bergen, Norway.

 

The town itself is very pretty, with lots of quaint wooden houses perched precariously along the hills. We’re actually staying in one of the 19th century houses in the Old Town – it’s a private residence but there’s downstairs room with its own entry that has been converted into a small guest room with an ensuite bathroom. It’s just so great to be right in the middle of this old part of Bergen! The streets are narrow, winding, cobbled and all higgelty-piggelty; the houses are all painted bright colours and have summer flowers planted in pots around them. A great home base for next few days, to be sure!

 

The streets of Bergen’s Old Town.

 

Our room for the next few nights is just through that door…

 

DAY 57: THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL SEA JOURNEY


The spectacular natural beauty of Norway’s coastline.

The brochure for the Hurtigruten cruise touts itself as “The World’s Most Beautiful Sea Voyage”. Who could resist a sales pitch like that?! Not these 2 dedicated tourists, that’s for sure… So here we are, enjoying some of the best Norway has to offer in the way of fjords, islands, sounds and cruising serenity.

 

Enjoying the world’s most beautiful sea voyage.

 

Norway’s rugged coastline stretches for over 25,000kms and is broken up by huge fjords and punctuated by thousands of islands. There are hundreds of small communities tucked into the fjords, or on these islands; many of them only accessible by sea. Hurtigruten (translation = the express route) is a passenger and freight shipping service that services these townships. TheHurtigruten  route runs all the way along Norway’s western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes (see map below). The company started running its freight and mail delivery service in 1893, providing many of the communities it visited with a valuable service. For example, before the Hurtigruten ships mail delivery to some of the Northern-most towns took 3 weeks in summer and 5 months in winter; whereas the ships delivered the mail twice every month, all year round.

 

The Hurtigruten route runs all along the Norwegian coast, covering 5,000kms in 12 days.

 

The Hurtigruten company has diversified its offerings and now also offers luxury cruises along the Norwegian coast, as we;l as its regular ferry/cargo services. We don’t have a fortnight (or $20,000AUD) up our sleeves at this point in time, so we’re not doing one of their cruises, just catching the ferry from Trondheim to Bergen. The trip takes about 30 hours and travels through some of Norway’s most spectacular fjord-lands on its way to pick up and drop off passengers, cars and cargo. 

 

Boarding the MS Polarlys this morning, about to embark on our journey down the Hurtigruten route.

 

Our ship is fairly small – just 127m long. It’s smaller size means it can navigate its way down into some of the shallower fjords that larger cruise ships cannot reach.

 

Just about to set off… 

 

We set off from Trondheim at 10:00am this morning and have been stopping in at a few little towns along the way (there are 7 stops on the way to Bergen). These stops are for only 30-45 minutes each – just long enough for the people, cars and cargo to be off-loaded and up-loaded; everywhere there are reminders that this is a “working boat”, not just a cruise ship. Our cabin is small and has 2 tiny portholes that we can barely see out of (more like torpedo tubes), but it’s comfortable enough for one night. More than anything for us it’s about having the opportunity to marvel at Norway’s scenic coastline.

 

Tonight’s abode – small but comfortable.

 

Settled into our viewing spot for the morning, watching the world glide past.

 

Admiring the view form the bow. Not bad hey?

 

Check this out! Flat, calm waters and epic scenery – can’t beat it.

 

We’ve seen immense rocky mountains and outcrops; green valleys of farmed land; and craggy islands  blasted by frigid winds straight from the Arctic with barely a tree on them.  We’ve been past and through many different sized towns – from tiny seaside hamlets and to urban hubs like Kristiansund (population 24,000).

 

Cruising out of the Trondheimfjord, past some farmland.

 

We also sailed past lots of rocky, almost barren islands.

 

And past some tiny villages.

 

Some of the mountains we passed were immense, and of all different shapes.

 

Kristiansund – the biggest town we stopped at today.

 

The characteristically Scandinavian multi-coloured houses of Kristiansund.

 

The houses in Kristiansund were built all the way up the hills, and right up to the water.

 

At one point, earlier this morning, we passed an island still shrouded in cloud. As we moved past the clouds began to burn off and move away, revealing the farms, green grass and houses on the island. It made for a rather unique spectacle.

 

The island shrouded in cloud.

 

Watching as the clouds start to move and burn away.

 

The island underneath is revealed at last!

 

We’ve also been lucky enough to see porpoises and killer whales today, and have had the perfect day for cruising, with flat eaters and barely a zephyr to stir things up. It’s been sunny most of the day and it’s a glorious 21C (warm for Norway!). Don’t think it gets much better than this…

 

Sailing Norway’s fjord-land.

 

At times we passed so close to the islands that you could almost see people going about their daily business.

 

Some of the mountains lining the fjords are immense.

 

Watching Norway go past as the sun sets (at 10:30pm!).
 

DAY 56: BIRTHDAY WISHES FROM TRONDHEIM MUM!


Exploring the historical sites of Trondheim

First things first: Gratulerer med dagen Mor! That is: Happy Birthday Mum! Wish we could be there to celebrate it with you… 

We spent our morning walking the streets of Trondheim; this is without a doubt our favourite thing to do in any town, it’s such a great way to get a feel for a place. Walking through a new city gives us time to soak in the atmosphere, enjoy the scenery and people watch, all at our own pace. So that’s what we did for the morning: wandered along the Nidelva River, through the cobbled streets of Trondheim’s Old Town. 

 

Walking along the banks of the Nidelva River in Trondheim.

 

The cobbled streets and wooden buildings of Trondheim’s Old Town.

 

Much of the riverfront area in Trondheim is parkland, which we had all to ourselves this morning.

 

Most of the buildings here are wooden, left from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Painted in bright colours, these wooden structures make the streets of Trondheim picturesque and charming. Particularly attractive are the rows of large wooden warehouses lining the river. Built in the 1800’s, when Trondheim was a trading hub and a major port of call for ships travelling up and down the Scandinavian coast, most of these warehouses have been beautifully restored and converted into restaurants, cafes, shops and business premises. 

 

Some of the wooden warehouses lining the Nidelva River are 250 years old.

 

The iconic waterfront warehouses of Trondheim.

 

These warehouses were historically used to store trading goods, but most are now restaurants or shops.

 

The riverfront area of Trondheim made for a lovely morning walk, and a great spot to grab a coffee. It’s hard to get used to the cost of everything here, but at least the $7AUD coffees were good! Apparently Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to the price of food, accommodation, etc; Oslo commonly comes up as THE most expensive city in the world on the “Big Mac Index”. Though this is really more of an issue for visitors like ourselves as median Norwegian incomes are also amongst the highest in the world. In fact, due to the high income level of most Norwegians, if you work here, Norway is actually one of the cheapest countries in the developed world (i.e. the number of hours one has to work to buy goods is low). As a consequence Norway has a very high standard of living. They also have a typical Scandinavian socialist welfare system that helps ensure those not on high incomes can still get by. The main source of income in Norway is North Sea oil – they have heaps of petroleum apparently. Who knew?! Since Norway has one of the smallest population in the world with one of the biggest oil industries it’s not hard to see why living expenses are high and the standard of living is so good. Still, a $7AUD cappuccino stills hurts the wallet!

 

Savouring our $7AUD cappuccinos.

 

The view from our coffee perch wasn’t too bad either.

 

Refreshed and re-energised we then continued on to Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim’s enormous Gothic church. Nidaros Cathedral was fist built in 1030 over St Olaf’s burial site (though on a much smaller scale than what stands there today), and became the seat of power of the Roman Catholic Church in Scandinavia soon after. Following the Reformation of the 16th century, however, all traces of St Olaf were removed and the church was converted into a Lutheran cathedral. Regardless of its denomination, the cathedral has played an important role in Norwegian history for almost a thousand years, as this was where Norway’s kings and queens came to be consecrated. Even when the capital of Norway moved to Oslo, Nidaros Cathedral still maintained its role in this regard. 

 

*A note on St Olaf: St Olaf, formerly King Olaf of Norway, was canonised upon his death in 1030 for his role in bringing Christianity to Norway. He is seen as a key figure in Norwegian history and pilgrims used to come in their thousands to Trondheim to visit his grave. St Olaf’s Way, as the pilgrimage route was known, is still traversed today and runs for over 640km from Oslo to Nidaros Cathedral. 


Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos within the cathedral itself, but suffice to say it was amazing inside. The satined glass windows were especially beautiful and the sheer size of the the place quite awe-inspiring.

 

Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim.

 

The ornate frontage of Nidaros Cathedral.

 

The cathedral was added to and remodelled repeatedly over the centuries with the current incarnation completed in the 19th century.

 

The cathedral’s grounds contain a very old and well maintained graveyard that was quite interesting – seeing what rich and famous people were buried there.

 

Alongside the cathedral there are a number of museums that we also visited. These contain various displays relating to the cathedral, its construction, its history and the life of the Archbishop and priests there; one of the museums also contained all the crowns and coronation paraphernalia of the Norwegian royalty; and a third was dedicated to all things war-related – from early 16th century weaponry through to WWII artefacts. So I guess you could say we spent our afternoon exploring Norwegian history.

 

As we left the cathedral and museums we had to navigate our way through a whole lot of trucks and workmen; the square around Nidaros Cathedral was busy with people setting up market stalls, stages and seating for the St Olaf Festival, which begins on Sunday. The festival is held every year around St Olaf’s Day and includes musical concerts, public talks and all sorts of entertainment in the name of King Olaf. Unfortunately we won’t be here to join in because we’re off sailing down the Norwegian coast tomorrow!  

 

So long Trondheim – tomorrow we’re off cruising the Norwegian fjords!