Simply stated, coastal Norway is stunning. There is something mystical - even spiritual - about the fjords as they plunge deep into the interior through mountain walls towering close to two-kilometres above the sea.
Lush landscape, monstrous cliffs, waterfalls, isolated farms and miniature villages, I felt like I was stepping into the pages of a Tolkien novel. It’s nature - so raw, so massive, so untamed and overwhelming that it creates an atmosphere, as well as magical scenery.
Our Nordic experience was a family affair! A week cruising the famous fjords gave us a chance in our year Away, eh! to spend special time with Don’s sister, brother, their spouses and his cousins from England.
It was a case of delightful serendipity that a Kelowna friend and her hubby were also on board. We ran into each other in the hallway of the ship! To say we were both surprised, was the epitome of understatement, but – yeah! - it meant more people to play with!
We are not normally cruisers. In fact, historically we’ve been adamant non-cruisers. But Don’s sister (a huge fan), can be very convincing! She was right...it was the perfect venue for a family reunion. The ship and shore provided something for our diverse interests and, at the end of each day, we were able to share our experiences over a glass (make that many glasses) of fine wine and a gourmet meal.
Our ship was so new, it was still shiny and, mon Dieu, it was massive - we got lost...hopelessly and often. With its multiple dining rooms, lounges, jazz and piano bars, spas, pools, theatres and a state-of-the-art gym, it felt like we were in a luxurious floating resort.
We were on the 10th of twelve floors and had a lovely balcony from which to enjoy coffee and the splendid Viking-esque views. Best of all, we didn’t have to pack and move daily. Considering we’re of no fixed address at the moment, that’s a big deal!
Our first port-of-call was tiny Flåm, a name that means “little place between steep mountains”. It fits, with a population of only 450 souls and a location on a glacial-cut fjord so pretty that UNESCO decided to protect the entire region.
At Flåm, we hopped on the train, but not just an ordinary train - a marvel of Norwegian engineering! No other standard-gauge railway in the world is as steep. We disembarked at a remote, otherwise inaccessible hotel and, from there, hiked about ten kilometres and 21-hairpin turns down to a mid-station to catch the same train back to Flåm.
The highlight of the day had to be the photo-op at Kjosfossen, a waterfall said to be haunted by the mysterious “Huldra”, a forest nymph. As we stepped onto the platform, I could hear music...an eerie, ancient sound that floated in the air around the crashing waterfall. Suddenly a tall, blonde apparition in a scarlet gown appeared in a clearing above us. Shrouded in mist, she danced for a bit, then was magically gone. Seconds later, she re-appeared on a ledge far below where we had first seen her. This time, she was beckoning us towards the cascade of water. Then once again, she disappeared. Within moments she was back, but this time on other side of the waterfall - twisting and twirling seductively in a tangle of blonde hair and red fabric. This intriguing performance was repeated until we had to get back in the train. Check it out on Don's video (Caveat - I've never posted a video before, so my fingers are crossed that this works!):
According to folklore, Huldra’s red dress conceals a cow’s tail which she can only shed by snaring a husband. If she lures a passing man deep into the woods and he is not able to help her, she turns him into a Troll. Convinced there was more than one Huldra and, more importantly, that “she” was actually a “he”, Don resisted her considerable charms, thus escaping the scary prospect of eternal Troll’hood!
Our next port was Stavanger, a city that became the country’s “Oil Capital” when oil was discovered in the North Sea. We happened to arrive on May 17th, smack in the middle of “National Day”, a celebration of Norway’s independence as a nation. It was a street party like no other - marching bands, parades and everyone wearing national costumes with a heartwarming sense of pride.
For us, the best thing about Stavanger was its proximity (a quick ferry and hour bus ride) to Pulpit Rock. Towering an impressive 604 meters over the sea, this massive table of stone (25m x 25m) is one of the most iconic images of the dramatic fjord landscape.
The hike there and back was less than four hours and, while we climbed steadily, it was not difficult. There are no words to describe the views from the plateau! I can see why it is Norway’s most photographed attraction. You’ve likely seen pictures of people (not me!) sitting on the edge with feet dangling into the abyss. My walk on the wild side was Dancer (yoga pose), well away from the drop. A note of caution to those with a fear of heights - give this one a miss!
At Kristiansand, our next stop and purportedly the sunniest city in Norway, it rained. We hung out with the family at fisherman’s wharf, strolled the pier and fish market, marvelling at the pristine’ness (...is that a word?) of the scenery there.
Our last port before setting sail back to Amsterdam was lovely Oslo. Fringed by forests and ringed by hills and lakes, Norway’s capital city is like everything else in the country, up close and personal with nature.
For us, it was a case of: “too much to see - too little time”. So we did what we love most - took a city cycling tour. The Vigeland Sculpture Park was the strangest of sights, featuring 212 naked sculptures. Why naked, you ask? According to our guide, the artist felt clothes would detract from his theme (the Journey-of-Life) and date his work. I’m thinking, even in clothes, men battling babies, women being forcefully carried away and dead bodies piled on top of each other would be reasonably timeless.
Less odd, but equally compelling was The Viking Ship Museum, where Viking ships, well-preserved and dating back to the 9th century were impressively housed in all their ruthless, plundering glory.
Our week was filled with copious quantities of fun, much love and laughter...and a hell of a lot of wine (we even had our own sommelier at dinner)! Upon reflection, I found the cruising experience tantamount to Reader’s Digest Travel! You get a delicious taste of a destination - condensed - but enough to decide whether or not you need a re-visit. We left the ship thinking Norway (in fact all of Scandinavia) warrants a closer, deeper look...
Ciao for now, mes amis!