Eric Parsons started an idea of going to Scandinavia a while ago. His idea was to travel sometime in 2010. Parsons being how he is, he needed a little prodding to pick a time to go. With a rough date picked Jon Crim, Chrystal, and I all committed to going, with Chrystal showing up a five days after the rest of us. The rough plan was to see Oslo, Bergen, and Flam/Aurland area. After which we would fly to Copenhagen to see some of the flatter Scandinavian sights. Before returning to the US we would spend a few days in Fredrikstad.
We spent the first couple days in Oslo. Camping at a campground just outside the city to save on cash. We had tents and sleeping bags because we planned to do some backpacking. After that we took the quintessential Norwegian tour, called Norway in a Nutshell. This tour travels from Oslo to a town high up on the mountains at 1,222 m above sea level. There was lots of snow and ice covered lakes even in June. From there we continued on the train and switched trains at a town called Myrdal. Here the new train wound down through tunnels and switchbacks. The scenery in the valley was breathtaking. Some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. High rock cliffs, thundering 300 foot waterfalls, sparkling rivers, and the quaintest towns on the planet. From there, a village called Flåm, we took a ferry to a seaside town called Bergen. Again the fjord views from the ferry are spectacular.
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Bergen is a nice town and we visit trading museums, see a fortress, take a funicular to the top of a local mountain, and general exploring of the city. The sea food naturally is great and we have lots of smoked salmon, shrimp, caviar, mussels, and even whale. Norway is one of those “unethical” countries who ignore the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on whaling. Whale is quite tasty by the way. Huge steaks all with the texture of filet mignon.
From Bergen we take a high speed ferry back to Flåm to meet Chrystal. After spending the night we take another ferry to a national park across the Sognefjord, the largest in Norway. There we make an attempt to hike up to a glacier. While the temperatures are very pleasant, in the 70’s, we are unable to get to the glacier because of all the snow. It is too deep and soft without snowshoes or crampons.
Heading back to the Flåm area the next day we hiked up a large, this time snow-free, mountain overlooking the town of Aurland. We see para-gliders soaring on the thermals above the fjord. From the top of Mt. Prest (~1,300 m) there is a spectacular view. It is straight out of a brochure or a movie. Truly amazing.
From there we work our way back to Oslo and fly to Copenhagen. Once there we see some of the standard tourist stuff. Rosenborg Castle, Kronborg Castle (featured in Hamlet), an aquarium, and others. The hostel we stay in the first day has some of the creepiest paintings on the walls. Worth checking out in the picture gallery. After a couple days, we head back to Norway to visit a friend of Eric’s named Harald.
Harald lives in a town south of Oslo named Fredrikstad. We take a bus to the town and he meets us there. He is not quite eccentric but close. His an 80 year old man who’s led quite and interesting life and he’s interested in sharing his life experiences with usyoungin’s. He hosts us for a few days in his island cabin that is a 30 minute ride in his little sail boat from where the bus dropped us off. The area is very peaceful and we are able to catch our breath from the furious days of travel leading up to this. He brings us to Sweden, just a 50 minute ferry ride, for lunch and groceries.
Finally Chrystal and me head back to Oslo while Eric and Jon stay another day Harald’s company. Chrystal and me see the place where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. We also have some tasty mussels and more whale meat. Finally we return to the US. My bag is left in London, our connection to Newark, and doesn’t make it to me for a few days. Luckily this is at end of the trip.
In conclusion Norway is a visually spectacular country. We only scratched the surface of its natural beauty. There are literally tens of thousands of miles of coastline more beautiful. The country is also the most expensive place I’ve ever been. A six pack of mediocre beer will cost $15. Even so this country is worth visiting. The amount of daylight is comical. It never seems to end. The longest day for us was 18 hours 58 minutes. Sunrise was at 4:00 am.
The country is beautiful, do yourself a favor and visit if you have any appreciation of the outdoors.
I’ve created a Map of our Travels that you can bring up as you read. It is roughly chronologically ordered. The stuff at the top is what we did first.
Clicking on the Next Page link below will bring up a lengthy summary of the trip. I did not write it with the expectation that many people would read it. It is more a summary for me and my travel companions. However if you are motivated and have plenty of time on your hands you are welcome to find out more. Just don’t come knocking down my door when you think I’m not a good writer. I’m not.
Day 0-1 – May 28-29 – Travel
I redeemed some miles on Continental and so had a different flight from Crim and Parsons. They would be leaving from Laguardia and I from Newark. After a 5.5 hour layover for a 50 minute flight from Stockholm, I met Jon and Eric at the Oslo airport. Eric’s typical stoic greeting was balanced by Jon’s happy-go-lucky one. This was Jon’s first out of the US experience so he was high on the fresh glue of his passport.
A twenty minute express train whisked us into the center of Oslo. Exiting the train station we were greeted by some amazing weather, high fifties and sunny. Absolutely perfect for getting out and about. Oslo has the look of a modern relatively clean European city. Not quite the old world style of Prague and not quite the modern Hong Kong, Oslo is comfortably in between. As expected tall blond haired people fill the streets. Not everyone is blond but a much larger number than in the US. Oslo’s residents projected a fashion minded air, which Crim thought “was trying to hard.” He is used to the slobs, which certainly include us in our camping gear, that live in the US.
Prior to the trip we didn’t see any open hostels in Oslo for the first couple days. Of course we only looked a couple weeks prior to departure so it was our fault to some extent. I figured that we could find something on arrival. The easiest way to find out about open beds is the tourist office so we headed there, which happened to be in the same square as the main train station, Oslo S. After talking with them we find that all hostels are booked for a few days because of a European singing contest called Eurovision, being held in Oslo. So we fall on our backup plan of camping. The place the tourist office gives us is called Bogstad Camping, thirty minutes from Oslo S. We catch a ride on the bus and find a nice patch of grass to set up our tents. This place is a car camping type place so showers and toilets are abundant. The campground is busy because of the Eurovision contest and an AC/DC concert. Luckily we had ear plugs to drown out the music being played until the not so dark wee hours of the morning.
We knew that the days would be long but it is hard to describe how strange it is of sunset being after 10pm and sunrise just after 4am. Sunsets/rises last longer too because of the shallow arc the sun takes at 60 deg N latitude. This means there isn’t true darkness in this area of the world at the end of May. All of this leads to an almost comical time when trying to sleep in a tent since there are no curtains to draw and your ceiling is nylon.
Day 2 – May 30 – Oslo
Riding a mid-day bus back to Oslo S and cramming our stuff in a locker allow us to explore the city without our +30 lb packs. Norway, being part of Scandinavia, has a rich history filled with Vikings and therefore Viking museums. Oslo happens to have a Viking Ship Museum housing three ships that were discovered in various areas of Norway. The ships have been partially restored so that they are in one piece. The hundreds of years beneath the ground did a number on them and look a little worn. However the museum has expertly assembled the pieces rather than restoring them. During excavation the ships contained many artifacts including some amazingly ornate carved wood pieces.
The maritime theme continued on at the Kon Tiki Museum in which a crazy Norwegian scientist sailed nearly around the world, albeit in non contiguous segments, on reed boats. This guy was nuts and some how independently wealthy enough to build and staff these boats with 5-8 people for these multi month expeditions. He even sailed to Easter Island and made casts of the statues.
Not wanting to stop our maritime museum short, we headed to the Polarship Fram Museum. This ship was launched in 1882 and got very close to the North Pole between 1893-1896. The architect and financier of the boat, Fridtjof Nansen, never got to the pole, though he made a good attempt. The ship, Fram, is housed indoors and let’s visitors explore the deck and some of the below deck quarters. It is difficult to imagine traveling to the North Pole in the ship without our modern amenities. During numerous winters the ship was locked in the ice for months. However the egg shaped hull lifted up on tot the ice rather than being crushed in the ice.
We finish up our museum tour because they are closing an Jon is sleeping at every bench he comes across. We grab some food from a restaurant and sample some aquavit. Aquavit is a traditional Scandinavian liquor made from potatoes and flavored with caraway seeds among other ingredients. Jon and me opt to get a shot but sip it slowly to take in the flavor. It is quite good, if you like rye bread, and we plan to buy some before we leave as souvenirs.
Heading back to the campground we feel the first couple days in Oslo are proving to be difficult. While it isn’t difficult to get around we don’t get great vibe out of the city. Food is very expensive in Oslo. The lack of grocery stores and hard to find low cost eateries is leaving us with a bitter taste for the city and thus Norway so far.
Day 3 – May 31 – Norway in a Nutshell Tour
Early on Monday we set off for our Norway in a Nutshell (NIN) tour. This tour package has many options and every tourist to this country should take at least one of them. Ours starts with a train bound for Myrdal, a town up in the mountains, and sets out from Oslo at 8:11am. Again weather is on our side, 60’s and sunny. As the miles grow between the train and Oslo, gentle mountains, lakes, rivers, and sheep filled farms appear. Norway’s legendary beauty finally starts to unfold before us. Nearing the 4th hour our increasing elevation becomes noticeable. Rather than lush farms and forests the scene outside changes to scrubbier trees and brown grasses. Further and higher still we begin to see abundant snow and lakes with ice patches. Soon we reach Finse station, the highest rail station in Norway, situated at 1,222 m. Here there is plenty of snow but temperatures are still into the 50’s. The contrast from the first hours of the trip is significant.
At our last stop on this train, Myrdal, we switch trains to the Flåmsbana train. This train only descends to Flåm, a small town at the end of the Aurlandsfjorden, 20 km away down at sea level. To do this the train travels through almost 6 km of tunnels and numerous switchbacks. As we start to descend on the Flåmsbana amazing sights begin to appear. Huge mountains breakaway leaving shear cliffs and precipitous drops immediately adjacent to the tracks. We can stare down 2,000 ft to the bottom of the valley just feet from the rail tracks. Valleys and gorges carved by melting snow and glaciation are visible to either side of the train. All that snow creates countless waterfalls. Thankfully the train is oriented towards tourists, not like a Amtrak. The cars are wide with generous spacing between the seats. Some of the windows also slide down to allow for uninterrupted photography. All of the 10 or so passengers in our car, myself included, took advantage of this. Coming from Oslo these sights are a relief. After a day of travel and poking around the city we see the scenery that makes this country famous.
Once in Flåm our necks almost ache from how high we needed to look up at the peaks 1,000 m above us. Patches of trees and grass interrupt the barren scree and shear cliffs. Seeing these cliffs makes me wonder how good the climbing is and why I didn’t find more information about climbing while searching the Internet.
The short stay is followed by the next leg of our NIN tour, a ferry to Gudvangen. Aurlandsfjorden splits from the Sognefjord and forks to form Nærøyfjorden. Aurlandsfjorden proper continues and starts at Flåm. Nærøyfjorden is one of the narrowest fjords in Norway, only 250 m wide at one point. The ferry slowly departs from the dock and it’s slow pace allows us to take some great picture opportunities from the deck. Waterfalls crash around every turn, many cascading down 1,000 m or more from the snowy peaks down to the sea. This ferry is the Norway you see in pictures and it is breathtaking.
Once in Gudvangen we are quickly ushered to some waiting buses for a ride to Voss. Much of the scenery tames a bit since we are traveling between fjords. However before completely leaving the valley we travel down an impossibly steep and narrow road. The dozen switchbacks are so tight that the bus can only crawl to make it around. No guardrails prevent our fall only a 10 in curbing.
Our stop in Voss is uneventful aside from cementing our amazement at the price of food in this country. I buy small bag of peanuts and M&Ms for about $4.
The train to Bergen is not as impressive as our previous few hours of travel. Voss is also at elevation and therefore our trip down to sea level is similar to the trip up from Oslo.
The first order of business in Bergen is a place to stay. At the recommendation of my Lonely Planet book we head to a place called City Box. Bergen is a small enough town that we can walk from the station. After finally figuring out the automated booking kiosk, there is no receptionist after 4pm, we get a nice spacious room for about $110/night. We decided to cheat the system a bit by booking a two bed room for the three of us, with me taking the floor.
City Box is very well situated for walking around Bergen. In fact much of the touristy areas are all in the harbor area and can easily be walked between. After setting up basecamp we head out to explore an find some dinner. Again we look to the Lonely Planet book and find a place recommended called Pingvigen. After being burned in Oslo with restaurants shutting their kitchens down early, to American standards at least, we made no delay in getting there. The place is a nice little bar/restaurant located on a corner of a quiet street. I ask the bartender if they are still serving food to which he replies, “for another 10 minutes.” Good thing we hurried here I guess. We get a translation of the menu and make our selections. Crim for Norwegian meatballs and potatoes, Parsons for salmon, and myself for mussels in a white wine sauce. While waiting for our meals Crim and I gingerly sip our Hansa pilsners. The beer is locally brewed in Bergen and is available all over the country. Of course being locally brewed doesn’t keep the price from being above NYC prices, around $10 each. Thankfully the main dishes are ample. My plate of mussels easily weighs in at over a pound. The white wine sauce is very good. Eric and Crim as usual finish their dinner before me and are left to watch me pick out every last bit of meat and spoon up all the sauce. Crim and I decide spring for another beer, me with a Hansa dark, which is a Vienna lager style if I remember correctly. Crim goes for the high roller beer, a rauchbier style lager which was very good. All told we walked out with a 800 NOK bill, about $120.
Day 4 – June 1 – Bergen
The next day we head out for some exploring of the Bryggen section of Bergen. This is the historic waterfront of the town. On the way we stop at Torget Fish Market. The open air market has numerous dealers selling all manner of North Sea creatures; salmon, mackerel, king crab, tiny shrimp, large shrimp, and whale. The Norwegians along with Japan and Iceland have ignored the International Whaling Commission ban on whalingand continue to harvest minke whales. Norway’s stance is that they can sustainably take these whales because they are not threatened. The sellers are eager to entice customers to buy so they give samples out. We each try a small bite. The smoked whale is very tasty, similar to jerky but not as dry. Obligatory pictures of Eric eating the whale are taken. The market also offers less expensive and less ethically challenging foods. We opt for some of their sandwiches which were the best value we had seen since arriving in Norway. A good sized sandwich with salmon and smoked shrimp for 50-75 NOK ($7-11).
After lunch we checkout the Rosencrantz Tower after lunch which is an old defensive fortress of city. Exploring the stone passageways and staircases is pretty cool, as is the dungeon. A very small boarded up window is the only natural source of light and air once the prisoner is locked inside. Crim’s interest for the tower wains after an hour and he waits for Eric and me outside He naps on a bench in the sun and befriends a large cat, napping under his bench.
From Rosenkratz Tower we explore some of the other areas nearby including the Bergen Cathedral, which is closed to visitors. Our walking brings us by an outdoor store where we stop to pick up some information. In a couple days our plan is to head back to Flåm, pick up Chrystal, and start a few days of backpacking. A very helpful guy at the store tells us that the best place to go for hiking information is the Turlag DNT office. We make note of this and head back to the hostel to get some food.
For the most part we notice that aside from salmon being on the menu a bit more, the quick/easy places to eat are all similar to American food. Pizza, cheeseburgers, fish & chips, and sandwiches all fill the menus of the places we see. Price does not seem to ease up in Bergen either. A cheeseburger going for around $10-12. And don’t think that it looks like the 3/4 lb Angus burger at Chili’s. It is a frozen patty and with some frozen fries.
We realize the the only way we’ll be able to survive the next two weeks is to start getting food at the grocery store. Luckily the section of Bergen we are in has three just a moments walk from the hostel. After doing some shopping we check out only to find they do not take non-Norwegian credit cards and we are out of cash. As I walk to an ATM a few blocks away, Crim and Eric just stand at the register. No doubt every Norwegian going passed wonders what the hell the dumb Americans are doing. I’m able to take out some cash (whew!) to pay for the food; bread, cured meats, cheese, cucumbers, and cookies.
We head down to the city park nearby to catch more of the great weather and do some people watching. The people of Bergen seem a bit more relaxed and not quite as Saks 5th Avenue as Oslo.
After some relaxation and a trip back to the hostel we decide to take advantage of the funicular up to the peak that overlooks the city. Eric and I thus far have been taking a lot of pictures and he wanted to try a high dynamic range (HDR) shot from the peak when the city is lit up at night. To do this we need to take the 10pm train up as sunset is around 10:30pm.
As the funicular brings us up from sea level to a height of 320 m, the view of the city slowly increases. Tourists on bridges snap pictures of us as the 26 degree angle train tracks pass underneath them. The view from the top is great. Down in the harbor it is difficult to see the extents of the city. Primarily only the houses climbing up Mt. Fløyen are visible from the harbor. From the top of Mt. Fløyen the entire city is visible even that stretching to the southeast behind another mountain, Mt. Løvstakken. After a nice sunset and then an hour after that, the city starts to get dark, though darkness is only a relative term. According to the app on my phone there is no beginning and end to when the sky is dark this far north at this time of year. After snapping a bunch of photos we head down one of the walking trails. The trail winds back and forth across the mountain until we reach the narrow streets above the harbor. Here we trot down the impossibly narrow streets wondering how firetrucks get up in case of an emergency. All the houses are pretty fancy, some with well manicured lawns, though all are modestly sized.
Day 5 – June 2 – Bergen
Our final full day in Bergen starts with the first extensive cloud cover thus far. The WiFi that comes with our hostel comes in handy as does my iPhone to check on the weather for the day. The forecast and radar show that we are in for rain in the early afternoon. Once we get moving again we head to the Hanseatic Museum on the harbor. While we stop in the Fish Market it begins to rain and fairly hard. We suit up and head out. Our rain jackets and daypacks are in stark contrast to the umbrellas and fashionable outfits of the locals.
Hanseatic traders set up an office in Bergen back in the 12th century and the museum shows some of the living conditions from 1702. At that time there was fire and all the buildings where rebuilt so none of the pre-1702 building exist. The museum shows the quarters and offices. The traders traded fish and other goods with the rest of mainland Europe. Walking through the museum I see the old fish presses for extracting fish oil and other period tools. Crim once again succumbs to sleep and heads to the lobby, but not before we find him sitting in a chair with his elbows on his knees and head in his hands, completely asleep.
Eric and I send Crim back to the hostel for a nap while we continue to the second half of the Hanseatic museum where the traders ate and held functions. At this point it is starting to get late so we head back to the hostel to collect Crim and head to the Turlag DNT office.
The DNT is moderately sized store in the quaint streets above the harbor. They sell some gear but their primary function is to sell maps and dispense hiking information. As we walk into the office we see the walls and windows filled with amazing photos of trails and overlooks from the fjord tops. There are also many hut pictures as there seems to be an extensive system of huts in the area. Given the late hour, we send Crim to get some stove fuel from the outdoor store while Eric and I figure out where we will be backpacking.
As we talk to the girl behind the desk we get some bad news. Apparently the unusually late and abundant snowfall has yet to leave the mountaintops where we would most like to go. Anything over 900 m will have snow. Given the time of year and warm temperatures, it will be very soft and slippery. Eric and I look at each other and realize that our plan of spending 3-4 days in the wilds of Norway won’t be happening on this trip.
As an alternative the DNT girl suggests talking to the tourist office in Flåm. “There they will have more information on shorter hikes in the area,” she says. There are perhaps day hikes available, but this office had no information to provide on those. We keep this in mind as we walk back to towards our hostel and pick up a 209 NOK pizza, $33 for a regular pizza! While good it doesn’t seem to be worth the money. Everything is so expensive!
Day 6 – June 3 – Flåm
An early morning ferry from Bergen brings us out along the coastline. The ferry is a high speed, double hulled vessel. We are rarely at top speed except just after leaving Bergen. This is because the extremely rocky coast shaped by the glaciers is littered with rocks and micro-islands. These rocks lay just under the surface of the water in some cases and slow the progress of the ferry as it negotiates it’s path among them. In a little over 5 hours we make our way from rainy Bergen, up the coast and all the way down the Sognefjord, the largest fjord in Norway. By the time we reach Flåm the rain is gone and a partly cloudy sky is overhead.
The tourist office further confirms that extended backpacking above 900 m is not going to be possible, too much snow. However we do find some good day hikes near Flåm and an impressive peak overlooking Aurland that seem reasonable.
To stem the tide of money leaving our wallets we have been reduced to going to the supermarket and making our own. Even this proves to be expensive, depending on the meal, only 40-60% less than getting it at one of the few places to eat in Flåm. Since Chrystal will be arriving in Flåm that evening at 21:45 after an 8 hour flight and 5.5 hour train ride, we elect for a cabin instead of our tents. The Flåm Campground, a two minute stroll from “town”, has beautiful little cabins for four that have a hot plate and a small table. Since this is a sleepy little town we go to the only grocery store before they close at 7.
To kill time before Chrystal’s train we head up a trail recommended by the tourist office. The trail heads up towards the Brekkefossen, a waterfall a short walk from the campground. Along the way we walk down a small road of the town observing how many people make their living by farming. Sheep are abundant and we see a few lambs as well as a shaggy highland cow. Domesticated animals are all that we will see on our entire trip.
Before hiking up to the falls they are plainly visible from the road. The East Coast of the US is very much lacking waterfalls. Had these falls been on the East Coast they would have been the largest around. In fjord country however this was just an average one. Raging from high up on the slope of the fjord the water free falls approximately 150 ft to the rocks below. The hike up is a quick 30 minutes. At the top Eric, Jon, and me fight the spray hitting our camera lenses. Keeping the lens cap on until the last instant is imperative otherwise the windswept droplets quickly cover the lens. Before returning to camp we see a girl dressed in what seems to be traditional Norwegian clothes who begins signing and playing some kind of maraca instrument. It looks like she is chanting or doing other kind of spiritual ceremony. The noise of the falls and our position keep her from noticing us. We leave by another route to avoid disturbing her, partly for her and partly because she looks a bit loony.
After getting back into town and still waiting to pick up Chrystal we open a couple beers I picked up while getting food for dinner. While in Bergen we observed that beers out at the bar run around 50-70 NOK each. Beer at the grocery store runs about 100 NOK/6 pack. I was therefore happy to see another kind of beer at the Flåm store that was half that price. I had seen the bottle in other stores but have never heard of it. Not letting a unknown beer go under my nose I picked some up for Jon and me.
We open two and Jon takes his to our little porch so he can enjoy the view, weather, and satisfaction of our first hiking of the trip. Within moments of his first sip Jon calls back to me in the cabin and asks, “Pete! Does your beer taste OK? It’s got a weird taste and aftertaste.” I reply, “I don’t know I haven’t tried mine yet. What kind of weird taste?” I take a swig and I immediately see what Jon is talking about. The beer, Vørterøl, has no hops aroma or flavor. The beer is very sweet as well. We both sit on the porch and continue to sip away, each ounce becoming worse and worse. At about half the bottle we announce that we can’t finish them and pour them out. The list of beers that I can’t finish even a single one is nonexistent. Only one beer, Modelo Especial, is so bad that I can’t have more than one. This beer seemed even beat that out for worst all time beer. Jon and I try to place the flavor. The best I can come up with is what my wort tastes like before adding any hops. Wort is the mixture of water and malt that is boiled to make beer. Eric, no doubt feeling smug about the fact that we couldn’t drink the six beverages, searches through the Scandinavian phrase book for some of the words on the bottle. Coming across what he was looking for he exclaims, “Vørterøl means alcohol free beer!” to which he bursts out laughing as we sit there with dumbfounded looks on our faces. We shortly began laughing as well at my epic fail in beer selection.
Despite the “beer” we had a spectacular dinner after Chrystal arrived. Chrystal also tried the “beer” and declared it terrible. Why hadn’t the girl at the checkout counter given me a warning? Oh well. The next day we were to depart by bus to Fjærland. This small town is located at the beginning of a long fjord running north-south from the Sognefjord.
Day 7 – June 4 – Fjærland
The early morning bus made it’s way along the windy roads and tunnels of fjord country. Not long after leaving we entered the longest road tunnel in the world, 24.5 km long. Basically dead straight and level, the dimly lit tunnel was only interrupted by the pull-off areas which were hollowed out a bit more than the rest of the tunnel and lit with blue and yellow lights. A couple hours later, passing through a few more tunnels and a short ferry ride for the bus, we arrived in Songdal. There we nearly missed our connecting bus to Fjærland. That bus dropped us in what would have been the middle of nowhere except for the Glacier Museum located a short walk away.
We trot on over to the museum to see if they can give us some information on dayhikes in the area, or at least direct us to the tourist office. At the museum they tell us that the info office is a 2 km walk south, away from the glaciers, into town. Since this would take about an hour to do round trip with a stop at the tourist office, we ask if they have any hikes they know of. The guy working the desk describes a hike he is planning to do after work that very day. The hike involves going to a parking area about 2-3 km away and then following a trail to a hut, the Flatbrehytta, up near the glacier. Even with walking to the parking area rather than driving, he insists that it will take about 5.5 hours round trip.
Our plan is to do a hike then catch a return bus at 18:00ish back to Flåm or Aurland where we will spend the night. The guy generously offers the museum’s storeroom to keep our bags while we hike. Provided we return before 19:00 or so we would able to pick up our bags. This seems like a great plan, though it would be tight on time. It is already 12:45, thus leaving little time for dawdling along the way.
We set out optimistic with the promise of seeing a glacier and it’s blue ice up close. Forty-five minutes into our thirty minute walk to the trailhead we start to realize that the time given by our friend at the museum may be a little ambitious, that or Americans walk a whole lot slower than Norwegians. I start to doubt that we are on the right road while Eric insists that the trailhead is continually around the next bend. Thus far the only glacier terrain seemed perhaps 3-4 miles from us. Luckily I am wrong and as we crest a small rise we see the parking area and trailhead.
The sign at the trailhead gives little information that we can decipher. No map nor distances listed. The map we have consists of a 5th generation photocopy of a hand drawn tourist map. Not exactly something we could use much while on the trail.
We start up the valley along the left side of one of the perfectly clear, icy cold rivers that runs off the snowmelt. While this water is probably pure enough to drink, I recommended against it. While the animal traffic is low the trail looked well worn and that means potential contamination from human waste.
The trail begins non technical, little more than a 4×4 track. However, this becomes interrupted with detours into the woods to avoid washouts of the trail. Eventually the trail starts getting steeper and comes to a fork. According to the map, the trail to the hut makes a loop at this point with either way bringing us to to hut.
Scanning the lay of the land Eric and me think that we will get to the glacier faster by taking the left path. This path seems to lead more directly up another valley, though the river follows up the main valley on the right trail.
Looking at our watches as we hike we become aware that we are either moving tooslowly or the estimated time given to us was again incorrect. As Eric and Jon climb higher while I hike with Chrystal we all know that if the glacier didn’t pop up around the a ridge soon we might not be able to make it to the bus.
At a pit stop we review our suite of options: Plan A) hike up and turn around at 15:00 regardless of place on the mountain and return in time for the bus. B) Hike until 15:30 and turnaround regardless so that we can collect our bags at the museum before they close. Or C) use one of the phones to call the museum and tell them to stash our stuff outside. We would then collect it and camp in Fjærland. Plans B and C will commit ourselves to staying the night Fjærland where we could catch a ferry early in the morning.
Day 7 – June 4 – Fjærland (part 2)
As we hike on the sun ceaselessly beats on us. The temps are still in the low to mid 70’s but the sun is strong and unmoving. Fjærland is the northern most point we reached on this trip and the sun would be up for 18 hours and 58 minutes. While this removed the risk of getting stuck walking down with headlamps, we also go no break from the sun once above above the treelike.
As we hiked the graduated landscape seen from the bottom of the fjords became clearer. At the lowest altitudes there were many trees, bushes, and flowers all in full force. As we went higher the trees slowly got shorter and thinner until they had few leaves on them at all. The grasses turned from vibrant green to browns and dark reds. Patches of snow started appearing more frequently on the slopes to either side. All the while there was no sign of this glacier we were looking for.
The appointed hour came for plan A. Not wanting to have hiked all this way for nothing we decide to slip to plan B. Another thirty minutes goes by and we re-evaluate our situation: We are hiking along the right slope of a small valley. The main valley is now out of sight behind a large buttress to our right. The valley to the left doesn’t have a glacier so the valley with the glacier must be behind the buttress on the right. However it seems that we need to get to a small notch below a large peak to the left and the top of the buttress on the right. From there we might be able to summit the buttress and get to the other side to see the glacier.
We decide we will press on so we call the museum and get them to put our bags outside at closing time. Note that the museum is literally in the middle of a field with nothing else around it, so our bags will probably be fine even if they put them on the front door. So with the prospect of our bags being locked in the museum gone we feel better but still had no idea how close we are to our goal. At the top of the third or fourth false summit we stop to evaluate again. Before us the trail entered a snow field, unbroken to the notch. Though it is sparsely dotted with rocks and outcroppings too steep for snow. The time is getting late even for plan C, perhaps 16:00. We decide that if we unload just to our cameras we could sprint up the snowfield to the notch and by then we would know how far we were from the glacier. Chrystal and Jon would follow at their own pace after Eric and me. After reaching the glacier we would all collect our stuff on the way down. I estimate 10-12 minutes to the top of the notch and Eric guesses 20 min.
We start strong making up perhaps 1/3 the distance in 3-4 minutes. The problem is the angle steepens and we are forced to try and use the outcroppings of grass as sanctuary from the thigh high soft wet snow. Looking back I see the tiny dots of Crim and Chrystal behind us plodding upwards.
At this point I become worried that the terrain is getting too difficult and potentially hazardous not only for Crim and Chrystal but for Eric and me. Therefore he and I decide to do a more direct but steeper line to the top of the ridge, skipping the notch which is obviously farther away than either of us estimated. Scrambling up the last few feet we finally reach the top of the buttress.
From here we can see the glacier….about 1/2 a mile away! It’s covering of smooth snow is broken by small seracs (ice blocks) revealing blue ice. The ice wasn’t aqua blue like that seen in National Geographic iceberg photos but it is a pale gray blue.
The Flatbrehytta hut lay to our right at the tip of the flat area on the buttress’s top. We make our way over as quickly as we can for a look. The hut has a magnificent view of the surroundings. The main valley of the glacier spread to the left and the smaller one we climbed to the right. The hut is not like an Appalachian Trial hut I’m familiar with, but is a complete cabin including wood burning stove, doors, windows, and bunks. Adjacent to the hut is the original hut built in 1954 This one was a bit more rustic built only from stones to make walls with a roof on it. These huts are made to withstand the rigors of winter, exposed and at altitude. We snap a few pictures for Jon and Chrystal and set out back down.
It quickly becomes apparent that descending in the same manner as ascending would be long, difficult, and injury prone endeavour. So I give glissading a try. I’ve read about it in my Freedom of the Hill mountaineering book so I’m at least familiar with the concept. It is essentially a controlled slide down a slope of snow or ice. The technique proves to be quicker, easier, and a whole lot more fun. Eric and I reach a slight rise above Crim. From his position he hadn’t seen us on the summit and the glissade descents to that point. Now that Crim and his camera are around Eric and me are eager to get some photos and video of the fun. “You are going to slide down? That is a bad idea and I highly recommend against that.” Crim calls out after telling him what our plan is. Not seeing us higher up he didn’t get the controlled manner at which we were descending. After badgering him to just get his camera out he finally does and snaps a few before his memory card filled up.
Tired we finally make it down and briskly walk, this time Chrystal and me ahead of Eric and Jon, 45 minutes to the museum where we hoped our stuff would be sitting outside. Everything is in order as the museum had stashed our bags behind a shed that was out of view. Not that anyone was around to have seen it anyway. A 5 minute walk to Bøyum Campground and we pitch our tents. Around 22:00 we have the rest of the pasta from the night before. Luckily we had the food and the campground had another jar of sauce for sale. Otherwise we would have gone hungry. Fjærland is very small, pop. 300, and there were no other options available. We stay up until about 00:30 at which point we realize that it isn’t going get dark. No midnight sun but 5 hours of light dusk.
Day 8 – June 5 – Aurland
That morning we rise and eat a quick breakfast of that last of our food. The 2.5 km walk into Fjærland the town is wonderful. The fjord is mirror smooth and the mountains are lit more softly given it isn’t high noon. A ferry to Balestrand then another to Aurland almost retrace our steps of the fjord part of the NIN tour. This I was glad of because Chrystal hadn’t seen the Aurlandsdjorden which is some of the best scenery on earth.
Pulling in at Aurland we see our next objective, Mt. Prest, looming high over the town. Restocking at the grocery store acquainted us with our new favorite Norwegian word, tilbud, which Google translates as “deals.” We pick up two roasted chickens for 30 NOK each, a fantastic deal even for the US.
While eating we debate the next move. Mt. Prest again has a parking lot trailhead, approximately 1/2 way up. But with no car we will be stuck walking up to it. In the process of finding a bathroom Crim meets some very helpful people at a B&B nearby. They offer to store our packs and drive us up to the trailhead. Once summiting we could walk down the 10 km road or continue down another trail ending in the Aurland valley.
On the ride up we all agree that the road would be a bad way down. It is so narrow in places that cars have to backup to let each other pass. Not to mention it is 10 km long. We figure we will all have to take the alternate route.
A minute or two from the parking area where we are dropped off we see a para-glider launching pad. While in town we had seen a bunch of them slowly gliding down the currents over the fjord. After watching a few of them launch we continued up the slopes.
For reasons beyond me the 1,362 m Prest does not have any large amounts of snow along the southeast ridge. The same is not true of similarly sized and oriented peaks around it. Perhaps it’s close proximity to the fjord kept it more free of snow. Regardless, we wouldn’t be turned away because of snow like the day before.
The path wound steeply upward, increasing in technical difficulty as we went. Chrystal and I lagged behind Crim and Eric and we eventually cut them loose so they could travel at their own speed.
As we rose and came into a more exposed position on the mountain the wind started to hit us and it became cold despite the ample sunshine and mid-60s temps. Trudging along we met up with Eric and Jon at the false summit. The true summit was a bit higher up but this spot had a more precipitous drop off and view, therefore someone had constructed a cairn.
A few minutes after we arrived an early 50’s couple from England made their way over to the marker. We strike up a conversation about Norway, how beautiful and expensive it is. We describe our predicament of getting back to town and they offer a ride to three of us but the fourth would not fit in their small car. We graciously decline even at the late hour (18:00).
The plan remained largely unchanged until we realize that our pace is going too slowly because of the steepness. Crim and Eric were fine but my knee was getting achy and Chrystal was getting tired.
We resolve back at the parking lot that Crim, also tired and looking forward to a buffet described by the English couple, will catch a ride down. I decide that I’ll head down with Crim and bring Chrystal with me. Eric wants to continue along the trail so it solves our ride-for-three problem. Unfortunately the English couple is nowhere to be seen by the time we reach the parking lot.
About the only thing left to do is start walking down the road hope to thumb a ride. The four of us head down, with Eric planning to split off down the trail to the valley before too long. As we approach the turn off where Eric would go down the trail, I decide that it would easier for 2 people to get a ride rather than three. Also sending Eric down the trail alone into unfamiliar territory was probably not the best idea. He is certainly capable but there is no need for the extra risk if he was to have a mishap alone.
Day 8 – June 5 – Aurland (part 2)
Just as Eric and I start down the dirt road to the trail we see Crim and Chrystal flag down a car and hop in. By flag down I mean Crim almost dives in front of the car waving his hands wildly. We find out later that he scared the Spanish lady driving it. When they drive off Eric and me know that at they were on their way with out any problems.
Eric and me trot along. Though it is still early, perhaps only 18:30 we are in the shadow of Mt. Prest and so it is darker. We were told that this trail had a waterfall on it somewhere. As we continue down a quaint dirt road with sheep bells clanging in the distance we come to a bridge and very healthy river rushing down some steep rocks. While it is a nice sight we don’t think this is the one pointed out to us. Going further along the road we pass through a couple livestock gates. Our pace is quick because we still hoped to get back to Flåm that night, not to mention we were hungry and didn’t have any food.
Eventually the road ended at what looked to be unoccupied summer cabins. Here the road became a trail according to the map (this time a topo purchased in earlier in Flåm). After a bit of searching in the unused pasture we picked up the trail and continued on.
As we pass through more of these old pastures we come upon numerous farm sheds and other small structures. It was unclear how long ago they were used or how people used them as the slopes were fairly steep and there didn’t appear to be any roads. Another peculiar sight we stumble on is a thick wire under tension going down to the valley. It is uninsulated and has been there for many years, as evident by the small trees that had grown around it. Unfortunately the pace of the hike doesn’t allow time for pictures just yet. We are still unsure how long it will take to get down so we don’t want to waste time.
After a while later we make another stream crossing. This yields a pleasant cascade followed by a 25 foot drop. The trail is at the top of this drop giving an interesting perspective on the waterfall.
Continuing farther we begin to hear the roar of another waterfall. As we come around a switchback the falls are partially visible through the trees to the right and below us. As we work our way down we see an almost fairytale like scene. The waterfall drops 40 feet or so and is interrupted in spots by rocks creating different levels of water. At the bottom, a sloping grassy area is cast in the golden light of the afternoon sun. We had descended enough so that Prest is behind us and no longer blocking the sun’s rays. Eric and I swap his Gorilla tripod back and forth snapping pictures. I kick myself for not bringing my full size tripod, but the previous day on the glacier hike I hardly used it. Crossing over the river at the bottom we are both amazed at the scene and are were disappointed that Chrystal and Crim missed it.
Little did we know that the idyllic scene behind us would pale in comparison to that which lay just ten minutes down the trail.
Making good time, experiencing some beautiful scenery, we were pretty happy with ourselves. Almost to the point where we didn’t notice the low rumble of another waterfall. Coming up a small rise and behind a small spur of rock we came into sight a third waterfall, Turlifossen. This one perhaps twice as big as Brekkefossen. I estimate around 250-300 feet high. As we get closer the spray starts drift through the trees, their leaves back lit with the late afternoon sun. The trail clears the spur of rock and we get a fuller view of the falls. While it does not free-fall its full height, it violently cascades off nearly vertical cliffs. The source above us is out of sight, implying further height to the falls. Given the amount of spray in the air I pull out my rain shell while Eric forges ahead ignoring the spray. The rain jacket turns out was a wise move on my part. As the trail works its way down the falls it gets closer to it. The trail winds almost to the very base of the falls. Only 30-40 feet from it. A large boulder protect us from thousands of gallons of water per second crashing down. By this point Eric is soaked from the spray raining down. I however am dry with my rain shell and hood pulled up. As we depart we snap a few more pictures so that Chrystal and Jon will be able to share the experience.
A quick jaunt back into the center of Aurland puts Eric and me back at the little outdoor cafe we started our Mt. Prest hike. We see Chrystal and Jon but no bags of groceries like we hoped. It turns out that the grocery store had closed an hour before they arrived back in town. Our only option for food is at the pub. So, while the burgers taste great, it is more the beautiful scenery and the accomplishment of the day that enhances the flavor, rather than the quality.
That evening on the walk to the campground we decide on tomorrow’s plans. Eric and Crim will catch an early bus to Flåm and start hiking up the road to Myrdal. They would camp along the way. Chrystal and I would spend the morning in Aurland, hiking back up to Turlifossen, then catch a bus to Flåm, and do a small hike to Brekkefossen. We would spend the night in Flåm and take the Flåmsbana up to Myrdal where we’ll meet Eric and Jon.
Day 9 – June 6 – Aurland & Flåm
The day begins with us skipping out on paying the campground we stayed at. The previous night we arrived around 11:00 pm and no one was at the office. In the morning we got started early enough that we didn’t really feel the need to pay for <8 hours of camping. That and our tolerance for Norway’s prices had grown thin. Wrong? Yes, but not in the grand scheme of things.
We say our goodbyes as Crim and Eric head off for the bus while Chrystal and me head in the other direction towards Turlifossen. We get there and the falls are just as impressive in the morning as they had been the evening before. We played around for a little while in the spray trying to catch some rainbows with our cameras. We pass the bus stop and confirm our time for the bus to Flåm. The town is almost deserted and the only option for food is a small café. While waiting for it to open we talk to a Swedish woman who confirms that nothing is open on Sunday’s. The previous Sunday we had been in Oslo so it seems that outside the city everything shuts down for Sunday.
With some food in our bellies (there was no breakfast) we walk back to the bus stop with about 30 minutes to kill before the bus arrives. As the time gets closer we are surprised there are no other passengers waiting with us. Eventually about 5 minutes before our bus is due to arrive we see a bus going in the other direction. As the bus goes by the driver looks out his window and I see him give us an inquisitive look. We wait another 15 minutes and realize why. Another check of the bus schedule reveals that the bus we are waiting for won’t start running until the 21st of June. Our only choice is to wait 3 hours for another bus to come. Chrystal and I walk with our heads low across the street to a grassy area on the river feeding into Aurlandsfjord. We nap, read, and generally just lounge around until we can get the next bus. The question we have is Eric and Jon’s bus also didn’t start until June 21st. What did they do to get to Flåm, or are they even there?
We arrive in Flåm about 25 minutes later. And head to the campground we had stayed at before. Deciding that we were too tired to head to Brekkefossen we do some more lounging at the campground. At some point we figure that we should head towards the restaurants if we want some supper. Turns out that the town of Flåm has a pretty sweet operation going to separate tourists from their money. The two small cafes with moderately priced ($20) cafeteria food close at 6:30pm on Sundays. Ridiculous you say? What are people to eat if they arrive by ferry, cruise ship, train, or bus after that time? Well the town or more specifically the hotel is more than happy to serve you their all-you-can-eat buffet, for $45/person. This is just too much and the buffet is fancy enough to dissuade us from paying for one, eating for two type of behaviour. We decide to just head to the brewery for a beer then go back to camp.
The Æergir Brewery is made to look like a stave church from the outside. These wooden churches are scattered about Norway and are many hundreds of years old. Some even are around 1,000 years old. Inside everything is wood. The small chairs around the polished tree stump tables are stumps themselves. The chairs are polished and cut away so that the natural contours of the gnarled stump is a perfect seat. The bar stools are enormous chunks of wood looking like they weight 50 lbs by themselves. We sit down and try the sampler since there are 5 different kinds of beer on tap but a single one will run nearly $12 and they close at 7 or 8 pm. This way we are able to try everything the pub has to offer. The beers are tasty and include a golden ale, pilsner, a few I forget, and finishing up with a robust stout.
After our beers we head back to the campground to get something out of the camp store that we can eat. Unfortunately I realize that Eric has the stove that I could buy fuel for, and I have the stove that Eric has fuel for. Looks like both pairs of travelers will be going without a hot meal this night. Luckily the store has some cans of super thick stew that we can add hot water to. This stew, while not looking like much doesn’t taste too bad. We munch it down along with some potato chips to finish our last day in fjord country. As we get ready for bed we wonder if Crim and Eric made it to Myrdal or at least to a place they can pick up the Flåmsbana so we can meet them in Myrdal the next day. If they aren’t there we’re not sure what we’ll do since tomorrow will be our flight to Copenhagen.
Day 10 – June 7 – Copenhagen
Chrystal and me get up at a reasonable time perhaps around 7:15am. We have to catch the train to Myrdal at 8:25am so we can then get the train from Myrdal to Oslo, which will then get us to the airport, and finally a flight to Copenhagen around 7:30pm. Our whole day rests on getting on the Flåmsbana and getting to Oslo, there won’t be a second chance if we miss the trains. Chrystal and me make it to the platform with plenty of time. Though the price of the tickets is about $35 each there is no other choice. Plus the scenery on the 50 minute ride is worth it. As we work our way up the valley, the reverse of what we did to get to fjord country, we have 6 to 8 stops. It will be at one of those we are supposed to meet with Eric and Crim. At each stop we look out the window at empty platforms, no Eric and Jon. We never got a phone call from them so we try calling them. Here’s where Chrystal’s unlocked (free to use any SIM) will come in handy, right? Nope. There’s no answer from them. We get to Myrdal and start searching the platform. If they aren’t here what do we do? Continue on to Copenhagen without them?
After a couple minutes we spot Crim waving at us. The two of them are sitting on a bench tearing open some muffins. After swapping stories of the previous day we find out that they also realized the bus problem. They had run back to the hotel where the British couple we met was staying. The couple just happened to be in the lobby and agreed to drive them to Flåm. Once in Flåm they started hiking up the road, which quickly turns into a pedestrian path. The path goes from sea level to Myrdal (867 m). Along the way the scenery is obviously the same as what Chrystal and I saw from the train, but it comes at a slower pace. Eventually they realized the path was so steep and tiring that they wouldn’t be able to take a side excursion, so they just went all the way to Myrdal that day. Once there they just found a good patch of land and took advantage of the law in Norway that allows camping on any land, private or public, provided there is sufficient distance between the tent and the nearest building.
All caught up on our adventures in the last 24 hours we board the train for Oslo. I type away at some of this article and most of the others nap. Eventually we arrive in Oslo and have an hour or two to burn so we decide to check out the Oslo Cathedral. On her arrival, Chrystal went from plane to train and thus never saw any part of the city. Walking the streets of Oslo is almost culture shock after her last week in the “wilderness” of fjord country.
The cathedral was completed in 1697 but its frescoes inside were done by a contemporary artist, Emanuel Vigeland, between the 1930’s and 1950’s. The scenes are vibrant colors and depict what seem to be violent times because of flames, buildings crumbling and lightning bolts. Sitting through mass isn’t quite as boring when there is fire and brimstone over your head.
After the church we wander some more. We come across a mail store. Crim and Eric have the idea to ship some of their stuff home so as to lighten their packs. They split the cost of the box and send home their tent, as well as some other camping gear. Finally we make our way to the train station and then to the airport for our flight. We dash to our plane, cutting it closer than we expected, only 20 minutes before take off.
Arriving in Copenhagen about an hour later we start making our way to our hostel. The first thing that strikes us is there is even more graffiti here than there is in Oslo! Taggers seem to get everything that is man-made, though leaving things like natural rocks alone. The other thing we notice is the number of bicycles. Copenhagen is a bike rider’s paradise. The bike lanes are wide and numerous. Nearly every walk of life rides a bike, young, old, rich, and poor. Women where high heels on the bikes as they text across the intersections. The bicyclists respect the rules of the road. The number of bike doesn’t mean there are no cars on the road, there are. And they are likely to be a Mercedes taxi cab.
The hostel, which we booked for 3 days, is called Sleep-in Green. From the cursory check of the reviews it seemed to be an ok place. The place is located in an ok section of town, nothing too spectacular but not too ghetto either. The entrance is located in a small courtyard surrounded by residential apartments. We buzz the door and once through it immediately start to get a different impression than the cozy courtyard entrance portrays. The walls are painted with dark colors and comic book like figures of dragons, destruction, and all manner of chaos. The floor where the office is has a figure wearing a biohazard gas mask standing on a pile of skulls. In his outstretched arm is a wooden stake on which are skewered two more skulls. A shotgun rests in his other hand, propped against his shoulder. Wow. This place is nothing like any of the other hostels I’ve ever stayed in before.
We head in the door and talk to the kid behind the desk. He is in his early 20’s and speaks ok English but has a wicked stutter. On his head he’s got a trendy, but alternative, pointed fedora style hat. From his chin is a scraggly goatee. He looks up our reservation, furiously clicking at the mouse, which we realize is involuntary since he’s got the shakes. To top it off he’s got a BO problem. Naturally we nickname him Shakes/Smelly, or S&S for short. He shows us to our room which is even darker than the hallways. The single bulb above our pair of bunks is barely enough to eat our falafel dinner. We all sort of quietly eat as we each count away the seconds until someone mentions our surroundings. I finally break the ice and say if we don’t want to stay here a second night I’ll go and cancel the reservation. No one is in opposition to this suggestion.
The next day we continue to find the charms of Sleep-in Green. They are a ‘green’ establishment, recycling nearly all of their waste, and utilizing CFL lights throughout. They even had a battery bin, which actually came in handy for spent camera batteries. Our floor’s toilets and showers are through a large +20 person room adjacent to our own accessible through a one way door. This room has similar “artistry” on the walls. Including one Jon notices, “it has a bus with the driver’s window shot out and a spray of red paint indicating the driver was shot. The bus is careening off a cliff. At the bottom are flames and a slogan that says ‘Copenhagen – Welcome to Hell’.” To top it off there are prison style showers. Jon narrowly misses out on showering with a middle-age guy who appears to be homeless. I would really like to see some statistics of the number of people who cancel their multi-night stay after their first night at Sleep-in Green.
Day 11 – June 8 – Copenhagen
We wake up from Sleep-in Green with intentions for finding a new place to stay. Based on the Frommer’s book we head towards another section of town. This one happens to be much more centrally located for transit and the tourist information office. We decide that trying to stay in a hotel will work out cheaper if we can get all four of us in a double room. The Absalon Hotel seems like it’ll fit the bill because if we can’t do the single hotel room we can do one of their dormitory style rooms. Chrystal and I head in to see if we can secure a room and decide if the layout of the place will be conducive to sneaking Eric and Jon in. While we are talking to the girl behind the desk Jon and Eric have the ever so covert idea of standing directly across the street on the corner. While the receptionist didn’t take note, neither Jon or Eric will be recruited by the CIA anytime soon.
The hotel room is small, much smaller than City Box, but we did get a free upgrade to a private bathroom which is handy for when you’ve got twice as many people in it. The tiny room is quickly forgotten when breakfast buffet is factored int. Though at the time we check in we don’t know how awesome it’ll be. Its worth noting that in the Frommer’s book they mention the neighborhood around our hotel was once a thriving red light district but it is now evolving into more legitimate businesses. This is immediately noticeable from the sex shops, a couple strip clubs, and the prostitutes hanging out on the corners. Eric and Jon are approached more than once asking if they want a date, though I’m not sure what language it was in.
Heading on over to the tourist office for some info we find an amazing bakery inside thetourist office. There are various types of breads arranged on shelves. All of them look spectacular. However what really catches our eye is the pastries. Under a glass case is a spread of pastries like I’ve never seen before. There are cakes, weinerbrød (what we call danishes), and a whole bunch of other little tarts and stuff I don’t know how to describe. They also have sandwiches. The prices are reasonable so we make our selections. Parsons and I pick out a little morsel that is a buttery shortbread type cup covered with dark chocolate. Inside the cup is a light frosting/cream stuff. On top of that are some macerated berries. It is as good and better than it looks in the picture.
Heading out after a great lunch we point ourselves towards Rosenborg Slot, built roughly around 1624. The castle is in the city center. Denmark has had a much richer (monetarily) history than Norway. The kingdom commanded trade in the North Sea and as a result has enjoyed much more power in the past than Norway. This is blatantly obvious at the Rosenborg. Inside the castle are endless rooms filled with ornate artifacts commissioned by, or donated to the kingdom. Each artifact is accompanied by a small number placcard. Rather than trying to describe each item, the castle management sells a book with information on each. I noticed around 5,500 items. Each one has intricate workmanship. It is amazing to think about the number of man hours spent on all of the stuff inside. Ornate clocks with fully moving figurines, wardrobes with so much inlaid wood, it is hard to tell what is inlaid and what is the parent structure. Jewelery of all kinds. In the basement are dozens of muskets with so much engraving, embossing, and inlay that they probably have never been fired. In the very basement are located the crown jewels. Parsons and I both agree that England’s are better but these are still good. Near the crown jewels are many ivory carvings. Some of the carvings are large and impressive, others are tiny and delicate. Some have spheres of ivory inside each other. These are carved all at the same time so that the spheres are from one piece of ivory. All the while Parsons, Chrystal and me walk through Rosenborg, Jon is outside on the lawn sleeping. We’ve identified that he has no interest in these sorts of museums.
Following Rosenborg we decide to head to the Botanic Gardens and along the way take advantage of our COPENhagen card which gets us free public transport. We hop on one of the little mainly tourist oriented mini buses. Our driver is very friendly and since we’re basically the only ones on the bus he makes sure to point out all the different sights of the city. He mentions that we shouldn’t bother going to see the Little Mermaid statue since it is in Shanghi. I was unaware prior to this trip but Disney didn’t invent the Little Mermaid story, Hans Christen Andersen did. The statue was commissioned in 1909 by the founder of Carlsberg Brewing Company.
We bid goodbye and tak, to our driver as he drops us off near the Botanic Gardens. By this time, late afternoon, the sun is getting lower but many hours of sunlight still are ahead of us. This actually made for our walk around the gardens very enjoyable and calming. Though Crim, true to his form, made a beeline straight for our meeting place. Once their he napped again. Given the pattern, it is amazing he remembers anything about the cities we visited.
Day 11 – June 8 – Copenhagen (part 2)
The gardens are nice but not particularly note worthy. At our meeting place there is an enormous glass greenhouse. Because of the late hour it is closed so we aren’t able to see the plants from inside, but it looks impressive. The palm tree room looks particularly interesting. From the greenhouse we make our way to Tivoli Gardens.
Tivoli Gardens is an amusement/restaurant park in the center of Copehagen. The park is short on rides, though it does have a roller coaster and some other high flying stuff, it primarily is an amusement park for adults because of the restaurants and open air theaters. We head to the park with the hope that we can find some cheap food for dinner. Unfortunately there is none to be had.
Back out on the street we search for something reasonably priced to eat. While the prices here are better than Norway, they are still expensive, on par with NYC. Eventually we come across a smørrebrød restaurant. Smørrebrød are open faced sandwiches that the Danes, but also Norwegians, eat frequently. We had a couple of these in Bergen’s Torget Fish Market and they were good. After passing a number of beer gardens, falafel houses, and over priced local restaurants we come across a smørrebrød place. According to Jon’s research on Copenhagen, many foodies are trying to take the usually low class smørrebrød and change it into a gormet meal. This is one such place.
The tiny restaurant is dimly but adequately lit and is largely empty. Perhaps the fact that it is a week day keeps the locals away. We sit down and are told by the waiter that we should order two smørrebrøds, one from the seafood side and one from the land side. After a bit of a wait we get our first round of selections.
- Jon: Shrimp, caviar, egg
- Eric: Orange mackerel with corriander
- Chrystal: Pickled mackerel
- Me: Marinated mackerel
All except Jon’s come with a bit of red onion and fried capers. Chrystal doesn’t care forhers but I find it to be ok. Some what unexpectedly the dark rye bread is in short supply but additional slices cost more. In the end we eat these sandwiches with utensils than anything else. A few minutes after finishing these round 2 comes out.
- Jon: Thinly sliced veal brisket garnished with sprouts, lettuce, and creme fraché.
- Eric: Same as Jon
- Chrystal: Liver pâté with bacon and mushrooms garnished with a couple slices of pickles and beets
- Me: Fried liver with bacon, carmelized onions and lightly sauted tomato accompany mine as well as what looks to be a fried mozeralla stick, but on closer inspection actually contains mushrooms.
We are very pleased with the meal even though the waiter is a little slow getting us the bill. As mentioned prices even in Denmark, while lower than Norway, are still expensive. This one set us back about $25 each and we didn’t get any alcoholic drinks.
After heading out of this restaurant Jon is determined to have some beers at a bar. We find a little place called Heidi’s Bar located slightly below street level. The bartender here happens to be an Australian who moved here with his Danish girlfriend. The bar looks like any old pub/dive bar in the US. Dark wooden furniture, dark green walls and the usual bar accoutrements hang from the walls. Jon and I sample a medium to dark ale local to the region. I’m not sure of the style but it seemed close to a alt or an old ale. Lightly hoppy on the nose and low bitterness. After a few rounds and a 10 DKK ($1.68 US) shot of Jager we head home to the hotel.
Day 12 – June 9 – Copenhagen
Our second full day in Copenhagen starts with a trip down to the breakfast buffet. Until now we have been stopping in at one of the many 7-Elevens that seem to be around every corner. The 7-Eleven actually has a pretty good selection of quick eats. For breakfast we’ve been having some pastries and fruit. Today however Chrystal and I walk down to a bounty of food. This is no continental breakfast at the Ho-Jo. This spread has fresh breads, weinerbrød, pickled herring, cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, greek yogurt, granola, and individual packets of Nutella! Chrystal and I pack our stomacs and backpacks full. A little while later Eric and Jon go down and do the same.
After the gorging we head to the train headed for Helsingør and Kronborg Slot. This castle was originally just a fortress built around 1420 and is the castle featured in Shakespear’s Hamlet. As I mentioned the Danes were much more influential as a military power and the land where the castle stands was strategically important given it is the shortest distance across the sound to the mainland of Sweden. Unfortunately today is not clear like most of the Copenhagen weather thus far. A light rain sprinkled on and off throughout the day. The good thing about the rain, and the fact that it is a Wednesday, is that we largely had the place to ourselves. A couple school groups go through but for the most part we wander the grounds alone.
Inside the castle are four attractions, the Chapel, Maritime Museum, Casemates, and Royal Apartments. We opt for admission to all four. The chapel is nice but pretty typical. The Maritime Museum is not unlike the Norwegian one we had already visited in Oslo. This one however seems to have more model boats. So many in fact that it is almost like they had a model for every boat ever made in Denmark, even freigter vessels. Though it is understandable because shipping is a large industry in the country. Maersk, for instance, is from Denmark.
Chrystal and me split off shortly after purchasing our admission tickets. This allows Eric and Crim to go at their own pace aka, quicker. The Royal Apartments are pretty nice. Frescos aplenty, huge 10, 12, even 20 foot paintings hang from every wall. Gold leaf, tapestries dating back to 1600’s, and more ornately carved furniture fill the apartments. There are fireplaces big enough for me to stand in.
Following the Royal Apartments we head down to the Casemates. The Casemates are essentially the cellar. Beneath a large portion of the castle are sprawling rooms for storing food and other goods. As we make our way towards their entrance we notice a vending machine selling “portable torches”. These torches are small flash lights. We don’t think that we need one so we continue. The long tunnel down into the Casemates is lined with small orange colored lights to give some ambiance. Once inside the lights are few and far between. The dark, damp cellar has dozens of rooms and alcoves, none of which are illuminated by any light whatsoever. Luckily my iPhone proved to be bright enough to guide us around. We wander through the cobblestone floored cellar exploring for about 20 minutes. In some places there are some candles giving us an idea of what it was like before electricity.
Our castle exploring attention span has worn thin by the time we see all four of the Kronborg’s attractions. We head back to the train station, wandering the streets of Helsingør on our way. The town is a 30 minute train ride outside of Copenhagen. The hustle and bustle of big city life is absent and most buildings are only a couple stories. The streets are cobble stone and perhaps because of the World Cup in a few days, have the Danish flag hanging from strings zigzagging across the streets. These streets are what most people think of when Europe comes to mind. It is on one of these little streets that we find a bakery. Inside they again have breads of all sizes and textures, but it isn’t the breads that had caught our eyes on the street. The pastries were. Again the full spread of tarts, weinerbrød, crossiants, and other unknown yummies. We purchase enough sweet treats to send a diabetic into a coma. Lunch in Helsingør is not a healthy one, but tasty for sure
After dining on the pastries we head back to Copenhagen and decide that we can’t take any more royal apartments, ballrooms, or stuffy museums for the day. Chrystal suggets heading to the aquarium. Our now expired COPENhagen card gets us in for free, which is good because the aquarium is rather small. There are four major wings connected by a long hallway. We browse through looking at the various fishes eventually getting to the last area which has some incrediably active turtles. They also have mudsucker fish. These fish are the missing link between amphibians and fish. They are able to breath air to some degree, but need to go back to the water frequently. Their front fins are quite strong and adapted for “walking” on land. While the current aquarium is quite small a model inside suggests that major reconstruction will occur in a few years creating an ulta modern style building to house more exhibits.
Day 13 – June 10 – Fredrikstad
The next day, the last in Copenhagen, we travel down in pairs to avoid detection by the hotel room staff. Our plan works again, or they don’t care because we’re not confronted. Wiser from the morning before Crim and Eric decide to pack away more food from the morning feast provided by our hotel. With packed stomacs and backpacks we catch a train back to the airport and then to Oslo.
Rewind a couple months. Shortly after starting the brainstorming sessions for this Norway trip Eric noticed an interesting old coot in his automotive technician classes. This guy had an accent and a Norwegian flag on his bag. Eric struck up a conversation and found out that he was a Norwegian who spends much of his time in the US but also frequently travels back to Norway. After a few trips to his house to hear stories about Norway he found out that this old coot, Harald, would be in Norway at his cabin near Fredrikstad. After a little coordinating Eric got a formal invitation to stay with Harald for a few days.
After arriving in Oslo from Copenhagen we catch a bus for the hour and 45 minute trip to Fredrikstad. On the plus side we have WiFi on the bus! I’m not sure how they do it but it is great to have plenty of time to check email, and other stuff online. The Europeans are definitely ahead of us in the WiFi department. This is the second mode of travel that has a free signal, the first being the high speed ferry from Bergen.
Finally we arrive in Fredrikstad at the bus station. From here I am expecting to see Harald. Crim and Eric make him out to be an interesting guy with lots of stories so I’m looking forward to meeting him. But Eric informs us that we need to wait for another bus. After 40 minutes or so the second bus pulls up to bring us to Hvaler/Skjærhalden. This ride takes us about 45 minutes. Along this second bus ride we start to realize that Harald is definitely away from the big city. The bus continues to stop along the side of the road and drop people off in what seems the middle of nowhere. While there are always houses every 60-80 seconds along the road, we were certainly in a more rural town than Fredrikstad proper.
Skjærhalden, population 642, is on the island of Kirkeøy. We pass over numerous islands and bridges and even a really steep tunnel to finally get to the last stop on the bus. The geography was almost exactly like that of northern Maine’s coast, Bar Harbor comes to mind. Ten thousand years ago, the glaciers here were heavy and thousands of feet thick. They wore away any trace of soil and rounded the bedrock. These rounded knobs of granite were left to form the islands we see.
Getting off the bus a tall, old man approaches us. He sticks out his hand to Eric and says “hello” in a deep strong voice. We introduce ourselves. After the pleasantries Harald informs us of the schedule for the next few days. Today we will do an easy 2-3 hour hike around the town of Skjærhalden. After that we will stop for some groceries and then take the boat to his cabin. The next day we will take a short ferry to Sweden for lunch and more groceries. The following day will be a tour of Harald’s island (the one his cabin is on), followed by a “shrimp party.”
To start this very well planned out itinerary we head to Harald’s boat to drop off our backpacks. He has a ~18ft sailboat that he motors back and forth between the harbor and his island, Rom. The walk begins by heading out of town passed the municipal administration building and through a stand of tall, thin pine trees. Along our way Harald provides us all sorts of factual information about the town, Norway, and life in general. He is also quick to provide his own opinion as well.
Day 13 – June 10 – Fredrikstad (part 2)
Our hike quickly takes us to the shoreline. We walk along the sand and take a detour around some marshy areas and begin to walk up what looks to be a private driveway. Harald informs us of the governments rules about building new houses and how it isn’t allowed in the town. Even expanding your existing home isn’t allowed. However on the plus side everyone’s land, even though private can be passed through by the public. While the socialist government has hefty taxes, it is good for keeping land for public use. Soon we approach a house with a man doing some woodworking. Harald strikes up a conversation with the man in Norwegian and appears to be describing us to the man, someone who he doesn’t seem to know. The man, in his 60’s-70’s, greets us in a clear English. He asks us where we are from and how long we’ve been in Norway.
One of the things that i find most appealing about Norway is their education system. Nearly everyone speaks English, and well. Even the plumber kid that drove us to the top of Mt. Prest spoke English. Can you imagine a plumber in the US knowing a second language? And I’m not talking about a Spanish/English pairing.
We use the man’s backyard to make our way to the beach again. We find a loose trail and Harald, spryly hops from rock to rock and over the rocky shoreline. Chrystal and I comment to ourselves on how well Harald not just keeps up, but is leading us on this hike. Apparently he isn’t kidding about the 2-3 hour hike. We come across a large stone cross on a hump of rock overlooking the major passageway from the open sea toward Oslo. The base of the cross has an inscription citing 1,000 years of Christianity in Norway, 995 to 1995.
Continuing on we pass an interesting, if somewhat depressing, set of sculptures. They are carved out of the bedrock. Unfortunately to do this there has been extensive blasting in the area. Finally we head back into town and pick up some light groceries along the way.
Harald’s island, Rom, is about 30 minutes from the harbor in Skjærhalden. While he does sail on occasion we only use the motor this time. There is little wind so it is likely we never would get there using the sail. After a while of lazy motoring Harald tells us to get ready. We approach a small dock floating about 10 feet away from a larger permanent pier that is 5 feet off the water. The two are connected by an aluminum rung ladder about 12 feet long. Eric, Jon, and I ferry backpacks and groceries up the ladder while Harald tiddys up the boat. We are all a bit surprised at the ease that this 80 year old man makes his way along the ladder to reach us on the pier.
A short stroll from the pier brings us to a cabin. It has outdoor toilets, but running water indoors, at least when there is sufficient rainwater. There is a nice covered porch in the front and large windows looking towards the water. We settle down and start conversation before we eat dinner.
At some point we decide that it is time for dinner so Harald preps. We eat in traditional Norwegian fashion for the first time since we arrived. Dinner is hearty bread, pickled herring with onions, smoked mackerel, honey, butter, tea, a few slices of cured ham, and brunost, or brown cheese. This cheese is made from goat’s milk and is slightly sharp, nutty and very creamy. Harald instructs us to use just one or at most two ingredients at a time in our bites. According to him the flavors are best individually rather than mixing. We can’t help experimenting and mixing brunost with not just butter and honey, but herring too. To which Harald let’s out a cry, “What are you doing! You must eat them individually!” We laugh and talk long into the night about engineering, life, and getting ahead in the world.
Day 14 – June 11 – Fredrikstad
Our weather luck for much of the trip had finally run out. The bright sunshine and cloud dotted skies were finally gone. We woke to a light but steady rain. Before heading out for the day we had some breakfast. We all sat down anxious for some kind of traditional Norwegian spread Harald would provide. He took orders for eggs, not so much how they would be prepared, just a number. To our surprise he pulled out essentially everything from the previous night with two additions, the eggs and prim. Prim is a spreadable version of the brunost we had the night before. It turns out that Norwegians, or at least this 80 year old one living on an island, had basically the same meal over and over again. While this might seem a bit boring, I found it good. There were enough individual ingredients that I could make up a new combination for almost every bite. The eggs by the way were hard boiled, which go spectacularly with pickled herring.
Heading out into the rain we watch Harald make his way down the cold wet aluminum ladder to his boat. Chrystal and I breath a sigh of relief when there is no slipping incident. Though his movements are confident so there is no reason to worry. A few minutes later and we head off to catch a ferry to Sweden.
Harald generously picks up our fare for the ferry in both directions. We board and find the boat to be nearly full and there are few seats available. Finding a place to sit is exacerbated by Crim and myself bringing our backpacks. The big backpacks are to bring back all the groceries we get in Sweden. The exchange rate and prices in general are much more favorable than in Norway. As a result Harald wants to take advantage of having four young backs to act as mules for groceries.
A few minutes after shoving off from the pier the duty free of candy and tobacco open up and all the pensioners crowded their way in trying to pick up some cheap smokes. While Harald smokes he is un-phased and continues to chat us up, telling us of his time working with Timex where he helped invent Indiglo.
A soggy Swedish town by the name of Strömstad greets us. This town is not unlike Helsingør in Denmark, quaint and happy to go about its business without tourists. However because of the ferry and its proximity to Norway, a steady stream of people looking for bargains come over.
We had gotten started a little later than Harald had anticipated and therefore we had little time for sightseeing. We go directly to the restaurant that he planned to have lunch at. This place is nothing special, just a mom and pop type place. They have a limited menu for lunch, only three items. Given there are five of us, we each are able to try all of the selections. Pizza, mackerel, and beef.
After eating we head out into the rainy streets again. Luckily by this time the rain has abated but not left completely. Everyone heads into the grocery store to pick up food for the shrimp party and miscellaneous items for Harald. While they are doing this I duck into an Swedish version of Radio Shack. Even with 23 gigs of memory card space I was running low, into the 30-40 picture range with the cards I had. I pick up a 4GB card for about 40% more than I had spent on an 8GB card in the US, sigh.
Dashing back we narrowly get the ferry back to Skjærhalden. With the late start, lunch, and grocery shopping we are a bit tired and just head back to Harald’s. There we enjoy his covered porch and listen to the rain. Jon and Eric take a nap while Chrystal and I chat up Harald and learn about his international engineering firm for shipyard planning. Eric and Jon nap well into the evening and Chrystal and I head off to bed shortly after they get up. Chrystal and me have decided there are still a few things in Oslo that we’d like to see and thus we will be leaving a bit early tomorrow. Eric and Jon’s flight doesn’t leave until Monday so they have an extra day on us. Much to our disappointment we will miss the shrimp party.
Day 15 – June 12 – Oslo
The day breaks much like the previous with a light rain. Harald wakes up promptly and supplies us with some breakfast–the same stuff we’ve had for the last few meals. We take a rubber dingy 200 yards from the island of Rom back to Kirkeøy so he can drive us to the bus stop in Skjærhalden. We have some time before the bus arrives so Harald gets us some tea and a little pastry that Chrystal had commented on the first day we arrived. The pastry is lime green and shaped like a little frog head. The green part is a tangy, chewy almost candy like frosting. The inside is a thick pink cake. Yummy! We bid adieu to Harald and start our journey back to Oslo.
The rainy weather sticks with us back in Oslo, though it is light and sporatic. Our plan is to head over to the Nobel Prize Museum and see what that has to offer. We leave from Oslo S train station and start to get a bus but after looking at the schedule it looks like it’ll take as much time to wait as it would to walk so we walk. Along the way we take some roads less traveled by tourists as evident by a couple “ladies of the early afternoon.” We even see a Volvo pull up to one punk rocker type girl. Apparently the terms of the “date” are unacceptable because we see the car drive off with the girl still on the corner.
Finally we reach the harbor/plaza for the museum. Though once there Chrystal decides she’d rather see the Rådhus, which is the Olso City Hall. It is where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. The others are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, at a building which I saw when I visited Jason Hill back in 2001. The building is a large utilitarian looking brick structure with two signature towers. Apparently it is an arcitectual landmark in Oslo, but looks rather Communist to me. Inside however the cavernous lobby makes up for the bleak exterior. The main walls are decorated with vibrant modern frescoes. The sides are pained with interesting geometric patterns. The rooms on the second floor are part art gallery, part administrative. Many of the rooms have works from famous modern artists. One room has every inch of the walls and ceiling painted with images of giant insects and cows being enslaved. Kind of weird.
Following City Hall we visit the Akershus Fortress and Castle. This is the military headquarters of Norway. It is clear, based on the size of the place, that Norway does not meddle with foreign affairs much. This is certainly not the Pentagon. It is a renaissance castle that originally was built in the late 1200’s. The grounds are largely empty as we wander around. Since this was the last day of the trip we were a little tired of seeing ballrooms and royal apartments so we opted not to buy admission to the interior.
We get our fill of the fortress and check out the happenings down in the plaza/harbor. Here the equivalent of the Beef Association is having a seafood awareness event. Different seafood vendors are providing information about the health benefits of fish. While this doesn’t very exciting at first they do have seafood for sale. Chrystal and I, even though we aren’t hungry get a big plate of mussels cooked in a buttery, garlicy sauce. They also have more whale meat samples available, which Chrystal tries. They even have some raw whale meat sashimi that we tried. The raw whale meat is so dark red it looks purple.
Heading back to the train station to hitch a ride to the airport, our hostel reservation is near the airport, we walk back down the street that we did before with the street walkers on it. There is a nice little park that we pass through. Sitting down to rest on one of the benches we spy a most interesting statue, especially given the business being conducted in the area. The statue of a naked woman, which by itself isn’t all that noteworthy since many paintings and statues we’ve seen have been naked. What sets this statue apart is the enormous endowment that the sculptor gave her. The anatomy is quite correct upstairs and downstairs it is closer to sex-ed class than your sister’s Barbie. Chrystal and I laugh at the irony, or perhaps the planning at which the ladies across the street and this statue.
Before making our way to the hostel for the night we pick up something to drink. Not wanting to pay a lot for water we shop around the 7-Eleven and find that milk costs 17 NOK/liter and water costs 21 NOK/liter. Naturally we buy the milk.
Day 16 – June 13 – Oslo
The hostel near the airport is quite nice, basically a hotel room rather than a hostel. Boarding the plane we wave good by to Norway. After a couple hours layover in London we arrive home in Newark. Going through the first round of customs we wait at the baggage claim. After about 40 minutes all the bags look like they are out. Chrystal has hers but mine isn’t there. I checked mine at the same time as hers so why isn’t it here? The baggage claim people track the bag back to London. Apparently it never got on the plane, sigh. Luckily this problem cropped up on the return trip, otherwise it would have been disasterous.
Getting the car, again the Mercury version of the Crown Victoria, we head back to Connecticut. The baggage problem caused us to leave later than planned so we hit traffic going through New York. After a tiring drive we finally make it to Chrystal’s house. While I had planned to return back to New Haven, exhaustion had set in and I couldn’t drive. I stay in West Hartford and then go to work the next day. Not even going home first. I wear the same clothes I wore the day I left. They had been in the car.
This trip is the longest vacation I’ve taken and fortunately it coincided with the most beautiful. Unfortunately it was in the most expensive as well. I highly recommend visiting, just save up beforehand!