Day 165 Flam, Norway.

This is probably one of the busiest campsites that we have stayed on to date – a sign of things to come now we have moved into holiday season. It is also close to many local attractions, which makes it even more popular no doubt.

Last night, just as we were getting ready for bed, a Transit conversion pulled up next to us to set up camp. Having no inside seating area, they then proceeded to put out table and chairs and cook their tea – at 11 o’clock at night! As we went to bed, I could hear every word they said through the upstairs canvas. Needless to say, when Howard fell quickly asleep and started snoring, I took some small pleasure from the awful din he was making, and unusually for me, didn’t give him a nudge in the side to silence him. Does that make me a bad person?!! 

This morning, after their late night session, they were still fast asleep as we ate our breakfast and got ready for the day. We walked the short distance down to the train station, and boarded the Flamsbana train, to take the trip up the mountain and back. The Flam railway opened in 1940, and linked those living along the Sognefjord to Bergen and Oslo, via the Bergen Railway. Today, it serves as the premier tourist attraction in Norway, and carries over a million passengers per year. It travels a distance of just over 20km, taking about an hour. It passes through twenty tunnels, and at it’s steepest point, climbs an incline of 55%, making it the steepest standard gauge railway in Northern Europe. 

It certainly travels through some spectacular scenery, although yet again, the weather was being unkind, with a light drizzle for most of the morning.

The journey outward was relatively quiet, with just a handful of other tourists in our carriage. At one point, the train stops by a spectacular waterfall, and allows passengers to disembark to take a photo. As you are stood there admiring the view, some stirring eerie music starts up, and on the rock by the waterfall appears a dancing lady, dressed in red. She is supposed to represent the ‘Huldra’, an underground spirit that captivates travellers with her enchanting song, and tries to lure men into the mountains! All a bit odd, but dutifully everyone took photos. Thankfully, Howard wasn’t lured into the mountain, and we all got back on the train. 

When we reached the terminus at Myrdal, there were hoards waiting on the platform, and our return journey was much busier. I gained a new travelling companion, a gorgeous Golden Retriever, who sat at my feet, and was just adorable. On my other side, I gained an Asian lady, in sunglasses despite the gloom, who spent the entire journey taking selfies of herself with the view out of the train window. 

Back at the waterfall on the way down, the same poor lady in the red dress leapt out from behind the rock, and started her strange gyrating dance again. It was still raining, and I couldn’t help but feel that this must be one of the worst jobs out, sitting perched up on a mountainside, in the rain, hiding behind a large boulder by a waterfall, waiting for the train to pass every half an hour. Seems a bummer to me! It turns out, though, that these are students from the Norwegian Ballet School, and it is apparently a very coveted gig to get to do the little ‘Huldra’ Dance.

As we approached the final part of our journey back into Flam, I watched my neighbour scroll through her iPhone photos – I counted fifteen selfies! I bet her Facebook page is interesting!

Back at the campsite, our Austrian Big White neighbour had been replaced by a Belgian Big White, even closer than the Austrian had parked. The Transit has been replaced by a German Big White, with similar personal space issues. We sat and watched England beat Panama 6 – 1 in the World Cup – hoorah! (Stop booing, you Scots!!). Then to celebrate that the rain had finally stopped, we went for a walk along to Old Flam, to take a look at the church that we had spied from the train. It is a charming old wooden church, dating back to 1667, simply decorated with paintings of animals, vines and landscapes in the ‘naive style’. In 1870, the minister had the wall decorations painted over because he felt his congregation too busy looking at the pictures on the wall, and were not concentrating on his sermon! Thankfully, they were restored finally in 1967.

We are now sat outside Oscar, cooking tea, and playing Ed Sheeran as loud as we dare, just to make our point to our incredibly close neighbours. In truth, they probably can’t even hear it, but our little protest is making us feel better!

Tomorrow a night in a hotel beckons – and not a moment too soon!

Still no photos – we’re in an internet desert here!

Day 164 Bergen to Flam, Norway.

Today we headed out of Bergen, and off to explore the Western Fjords. Although not far as the crow flies, the route was pretty tortuous, winding it’s way alongside fjords, and through so many long tunnels that I lost count. We stopped briefly in Voss for coffee, a town renowned for adventure sports. As we arrived one guy was down at the fjord’s edge with a sky-diving parachute, presumably having already done his dive.

We then headed on to Flam, stopping briefly at the end of Naeroyfjord, the narrowest fjord in Europe. It is a branch of the larger Sojnefjord, and at it’s narrowest point is only 250 metres across, framed by towering 1200 metre cliffs on either side. We arrived at our campsite in Flam shortly after three, when campervans were arriving thick and fast. In fact, the terraced campsite was so busy, that one of the employees was cycling around on his bicycle, directing people to their pitches. We were positioned rather closer than I would have chosen to a Big White, but at least the view made up for it – towering mountains and the end of the Aurlandsfjord.

Having arrived in good time, we opted to take a boat trip along Aurlandsfjord and down the narrow Naeroyfjord to Gudvangen, and then return by shuttle bus. Unbeknown to us, this is part of the ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ trip, so rather than have a quiet afternoon’s cruise along the fjord, we were suddenly joined by hoards of tourist groups. I tried my hardest to enjoy the scenery – which was sublime – but it became increasingly hard to blot out the constant flow of people pushing me out of the way to take the nth selfie of themselves, or to avoid the decibel breaking cackle of three American women, who spent so much time chatting, that I don’t think they barely looked up to absorb the wonderful view. Sat opposite us, was an elderly Japanese couple, who like us, tried their utmost to ignore the general rabble – but I could see that they were also disappointed with their crew mates. Individually, I’m sure all these people are charming, but once they get together in large groups, their behaviour seems to change. I’m quite sure that the Brits en masse are no better, and I am well aware that I am  a tourist also, but I am becoming increasingly intolerant of large organised groups. Howard says I must just chill, and stop taking photos of people taking selfies, just for my own amusement, but I can’t help how I feel. I suspected this may happen, having had Europe virtually to ourselves for the first three months of our trip. We had become spoilt  – we even wandered through the streets of Pompeii alone!

Back in Flam, down by the fjord-side, a large group of locals were having a mid-summer’s celebration. A local brass band were gathered, and family groups were enjoying a drink and a hot dog, listening to the music, whilst a huge bonfire was lit at the water’s edge. We watched for a while, then wandered back to the campsite.

After tea, we treated ourselves to a chocolate and banana crepe, on sale in the little garden cafe by the campsite – yummy! Tomorrow we plan to take the Flamsbana train up the mountain. For now, I have turned my angst from large groups of tourists to large groups of biting insects, and am waging war on them with my new electric shock bat. I suspect I may be losing the plot!

Once more, no photos have downloaded from the cloud – I will add them when the internet signal is better.

Day 163 Bergen, Norway.

After a rather damp start, the day slowly picked up as we made our way into Bergen. We parked up Oscar on the top level of a huge multi-storey, and walked the short distance into the old town and harbour. 

Bergen is a very good looking city – in fact it is stunningly beautiful. It’s geographical situation helps considerably – the natural harbour sitting at the end of a fjord, with seven hills rising up behind. By nature, therefore, that makes Bergen pretty compact, and easy to negotiate. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Bergen was the capital of Norway, and a significant trading port. The focus of trade was Vagan Harbour, with it’s UNESCO listed Bryggen Wharf sited on it’s north side. Bryggen was once home to German merchants from the Hanseatic League, and although many of the original warehouses have long since burnt down, they were replaced in the early 1900s with colourful wooden buildings bordering the harbour. Tiny alleyways lead up the hillside from Bryggen have become home to many artists and craftspeople, and a labyrinth of bijou shops are housed in the attractive wooden buildings.

After a statutory coffee, our first port of call was the Fish Market down by the harbour. The main speciality here seemed to be shrimp and King Crabs. Many restaurants were serving up seafood, some of which could be selected live, straight from large tanks, and then cooked. Not for me!

We then headed the short distance to the Floibanen Funicular railway, which travels up to the top of Mount Floyen, giving spectacular views over the city. By now, the sun had appeared, and at the top we watched a huge P & O cruise ship negotiate the narrow passage out of the harbour. The summit of Mount Floyen is forested, with many walking paths, so we took a wander around the top, before catching the funicular back down to the town.

We then hit the tourist trail, and explored Bryggen, browsing in a few shops in the alleyways, and admiring the beautiful sailing boats moored up in the harbour. We watched as one of these huge vessels left port. A small tug actually drew up alongside, and literally pushed the vessel around 180 degrees, so that it could negotiate itself into the fjord.

By now it was time for an early tea, so we picked a restaurant on the quayside, and ate our supper, watching the world go by. We had opted to sit outside, lured there by the brief sunshine. However, thick clouds once again rolled in, and it became decidedly chilly once more. However, we should count ourselves lucky, because Bergen has rainfall for an average of 260 days per year, and in its wettest year, it rained on 300 days. It also meant that Howard didn’t have a chance to wear his new hat, for which I was grateful!

There was plenty we didn’t have time to see. Bergen was also home to Edvard Greig, and houses a museum in his honour. We did however pass by his statue in the park. We chuckled as a large pigeon sat on top of his hat, and rather tragically, the entirety of his face was covered in bird excrement. A rather unfortunate memorial to such a great composer!

In all, we thoroughly enjoyed our day in this wonderful city. They call it the ‘Gateway to the Fjords’, so in the next few days, we hope to explore some of these. Rather disturbingly though, at the top of the funicular we saw a sign, that showed distances to various places. It turns out that we are closer to London (1,049 km) and Iceland (1,462 km), than to Nordcapp, where we are headed in the far north of Norway – a staggering 1,508 kilometres! Maybe time for a re-think!!

Day 162 Forsand to Bergen, Norway.

Today has been full of adventure. Inexplicably, we seem to have lost our map of Norway. Although this seems unlikely in a van of our size, we cannot find it anywhere. So, despite having two satnavs on board, we have felt incredibly lost without it.

After packing up this morning, we set both Boris and Natasha for Bergen. Inevitably, in the first five minutes, they disagreed. Within the first four miles of our journey, we found ourselves taking a ferry. This was not unexpected, since to reach Lyseford from either direction, a ferry is required. It was just a short hop across the water, back towards Stavanger, and most people didn’t even bother to get out of their cars.

As we approached Stavanger, the tension mounted. The problem with both our satnavs, is that although they indicate that we will be crossing water, they don’t make it clear whether this is by tunnel or ferry. So to our surprise, from Stavanger, we entered a long tunnel. 

The weather by now was clearing a little, having been greeted by yet more rain first thing this morning, and the fjords around Stavanger were looking splendid. Shortly after the tunnel, we suddenly reached another ferry terminal. The ferries along the Norwegian coast operate a similar service to the Caledonian McBrae ferries in Scotland. They are peppered along the coast, and as well as serving the local communities, in the case of our route northwards today, are the only sensible means of getting any distance behind you, since otherwise you would be covering huge mileages zig-zagging in and out of fjords.

The ferries are very frequent, and very efficient. No sooner have they have arrived, you are loaded, and they are off again.

This second ferry was slightly longer, crossing Stavanger Fjord, giving us enough time to get out and grab a coffee, but only just. We continued to meander our way up along the coast. Offshore there was an archipelago of many small rocky islands, mostly uninhabited. The further north we drove, the more beautiful the scenery seemed to become, although we couldn’t help notice that everywhere looked very green – no doubt due to the frequent rainfall!

An hour and a half later we are approaching another stretch of water on the satnav. We start to take bets – is this another tunnel or a ferry? Turns out both – first an 8km long tunnel (I quickly pulled in to let Howard drive that one!), followed just a mile or so later by our third ferry of the day. We sat in the queue next to a rather good looking grey and white two-tone VW California, with a ‘Just Married’ sign in the back window. We stood admiring the colours for a while until the ferry arrived – rather swish. This ferry was the longest – about forty minutes, and it brought us to within spitting distance of Bergen. It had taken us the best part of the day to get here – three ferries, about ten tunnels and several bridges.

Our campsite is a few miles out of Bergen besides a lake. We managed to grab one of the last lakeside pitches, largely due to the fact that our hook in cable is very long, and so offers us more choice than most. Who should pull up a few minutes later? The Honeymoon couple in their Cali. They are a young German couple, who bought themselves the van as a wedding present. We offered our congratulations. As it happens, parked up next to them is an enormous Winnebago, also with ‘Just Married’ on the back – this time with their names and the date they were married (two weeks ago) actually painted onto the bodywork. Perhaps this is a new craze? Gone are the days of saving a deposit for a house, the new ‘must have’ wedding gift seems to be a camper van! Let’s hope Thomas and Katy don’t go getting any ideas – ‘cos they’re not having ours!

Having just parked up, the sun has eventually peeped out from behind the dark looming clouds, giving us a lovely vista to have a drink and eat our tea.

Tomorrow we plan to visit Bergen. I will need to buy a new map, since I’m suspecting we have plenty more ferries to take before reaching the top of Norway. I’m also hoping for better weather – the thought of walking around town all day with Howard wearing the sou’wester is a step too far!

Day 161 Forsand, Norway.

Some facts about Norway. It has a population of just over 5 million, and a surface area of 386,000 square kilometres, half of which is mountain, and a further third forest, lake and river. It has a constitutional monarchy, the King being Harald V, who came to the throne in 1991. It is not a member of the EU, but has signed up to the EEA free-trade deal and the Schengen Agreement. Think seafood would be their national dish? Wrong – it is frozen pizza – the Norwegians consume 20 million of them each year. A bit like Chicken Tikka Masala being the Brits favourite go-to meal. The other fact, which Howard read out yesterday, is that Norway is the wettest country in Europe – something which we can certainly concur with. Probably Karma for being rude about people who take cruises!

When checking the Norwegian meteorological website last night, it looked like the rain might subside by mid afternoon, and so we took a chance and booked the Lysefjord ferry for the return trip down to Lyseboten at the far end of the fjord and back. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was wrong, but stoically, we did the trip anyway.

Lysefjord is a stunning narrow fjord, 42 kilometres long, known for it’s steep cliffs, amazing rock formations and blue-black colour. Many visitors come to Lysefjord to hike to it’s most famous rock formation, the Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock – a 25 metre square table of rock, that projects into the fjord and sits 600 metres above the water. Remarkably, despite all the hundreds of visitors who flock there to stand and have their photo taken, none yet have fallen off, although with no safety rail, I’m sure with the current ‘selfie’ craze, this will only be a matter of time.

We boarded the ferry after lunch as foot passengers, although many people take their vehicles along to Lyseboten, to drive the famous 27 hair-pin bend, hideously steep road at the head of the fjord. We chickened out of this one, particularly in view of the poor weather, instead opting to see the fjord from the boat. I must admit, it was a pretty damp trip in the main, having to constantly wipe my camera lens, and dry the camera with a towel. Some might say it was atmospheric, and I guess it was. The towering black cliffs and low lying cloud certainly gave the fjord quite a forboding feel today, rather like our trip to Doubtful Sound in New Zealand. The difference being, eventually the sun broke through in Doubtful, offering us a wonderful contrast between the moody greyness and the wonderful light that then followed. Today, we had no such luck. Dark leaden clouds hung around all afternoon, and although the rain eased a little, it was not ideal. The commentary was very interesting though, as we slowly chugged our way along. On passing one farm dwelling clinging to the cliff edge, we were told that the farmer’s wife used to tie her children with rope when they went outside to play, so as not to fall down the cliff. A novel form of parenting, but I guess very practical. Pulpit Rock was a bit of an anti-climax, I’m sure better viewed from above, rather than at fjord level, but we could just spy the pinhead sized people peering over the edge – rather them than me! We also watched daredevils para-ascending down the steepest part of the cliff edge onto a tiny patch of grass. It appeared that a helicopter was depositing them at the top, and a speed boat collecting them at the bottom. Again, rather them, than me!

Sod’s Law, just as we stepped off the ferry this evening, the sun broke through and we saw the first patch of blue sky we had seen all day. This seems to be a pattern in the weather here, with much brighter weather last thing at night and into the early hours.

We headed back to the campsite for tea. Arriving back, some cheeky Germans had taken our hook up lead, which we left lying by our pitch, signifying that we were coming back. They only looked mildly apologetic as Howard asked for it back. The campsite itself is sited on an ancient archeological site, which has been inhabited for over 3,500 years. To signify this, they have built mock ups of Bronze Age and Iron Age dwellings around the site – so as I sit typing, I am looking out on a turf-roofed long-house – different, at least!

Tomorrow we will head northwards towards Bergen, which has the honour of being Europe’s wettest city.

Howard had been positively gloating abut his new purchase of the sou’wester – it has hardly been off his head since he bought it. I feel like I’m married to Captain BirdsEye! Could have been worse though – at least I stood my ground, and refused to let him buy the bright orange one! 

 

Day 160 Stavanger to Forsand, Rogaland, Norway.

Today our plans changed due to the weather. We had hoped to take a boat trip from Stavanger to the beautiful Lysefjord, and it’s famous Pulpit Rock. However, the weather was so grim this morning, that we saw no point in a boat trip in the pouring rain, and instead opted to explore Stavanger.

Stavanger is a Norwegian coastal town with a population of over 210,000, and has shown much enterprise over the years. It used to be the centre of the herring industry in Norway, and led the way in the canning of sardines. Then, when the fishing declined, it diversified into ship building. More recently it has become the centre of rig production for the offshore Oil Industry. It is also an important ferry hub for many local ferry services, as well as ferries from Denmark.

Also, as we discovered to our detriment this morning, Stavanger is also a regular port of call for the huge cruise liners that travel up the western coast of Norway. Today, three such liners had just come in to dock, depositing 6,000 passengers into this modest town. They sat at the dockside, completely towering over the town. Now, I know I‘ve had a rant about this before, and I know I will yet again offend my friends who go cruising – but frankly, they were an eyesore. Any why three at at time? The gorgeous town of Stavanger was suddenly swamped with so many people, many of whom had numbers stuck on their lapels, signifying which tour group they were with, and following behind a guide with said number of her flag or stick. I really do loathe this type of mass tourism. It shows no effort or initiative. ‘Today we did Norway, tomorrow we’re doing Finland’. How such large groups of people can ever get a real feel for the place is beyond me. They must think that these places are permanently heaving. The locals, although admitting that they are good for the economy, generally loathe them too. The guy in the coffee shop just raised his eyebrows as he announced to us that the cruise ships were in town today, apologetically.

No matter, I thought. I had a plan that I thought would be foolproof. I announced to Howard over coffee that we would be visiting the ‘Sardine Canning Factory’ – no-one else would possibly want to go there. Wrong! As we arrived and bought our tickets, so did half the cruise ships passengers. I commented to the lady, that I had hoped we would be on our own. She laughed, as she explained that the cruise liners had now put it on their itinerary, as it was such an unusual museum. Yesterday, we would have had it to ourselves, but not today.

By now, we had already purchased the ticket, so thought we’d give it a go, anyway. As it turns out (don’t laugh), sardine canning has a very interesting history, and I was completely fascinated by all the different labels, many of whom bore the name ‘King Oscar’, which I thought was apt. Tuesday happens to be one of the days that they smoke herrings in the museum, so Howard sampled a couple. He also had a go at canning them – turns out he has missed his vocation! He also insisted on purchasing a new hat in the museum shop, prompted by the awful rain outside. So, it’s goodbye ‘Corky’, and hello Mr. Bright Blue Sowester (yet to be given a name!)

Our ticket to this museum, we were then told, entitled us to admission to the other three Stavanger Museums. We hadn’t really planned on any more museums, but just along the road was the Maritime Museum, so we popped in briefly. In the entrance stood an old World War 2 mine. It made me smile as I thought of my Dad. After the war, when he left the navy, he signed up to ‘The Minewatchers’, a group of volunteers, who watched out for mines left over from the war, floating down the Thames. So every Saturday morning, he disappeared off to ‘Minewatchers’! Of course, he never saw one, and clearly it was, for him at least, a chance to meet up with his old navy buddies. I think it was somewhere near Hammersmith Bridge, since once a year he took me along to the Minewatchers hut on the river, to watch the Oxford and Cambridge boat-race from a great vantage point. Upstairs, there were yet more sardine labels on display, this time from the war period. Being neutral in the First World War, the Norwegian canners cleverly adapted their labels according to their market, allowing them to sell to all sides. So there were ‘Kaiser’ labels, ‘Victorious Navy’ labels, as well as a ‘Brittania’ brand for the British market.

We then had a walk around Old Stavanger, known as Gamle Stavanger, with it’s pretty cobbled streets lined with white clapboard houses, many with beautiful floral window-boxes. On the way back to Oscar, we inadvertently wandered into the old Hippy district of Stagen, much quieter than Gamle (the cruise visitors hadn’t ventured this far), but still with beautiful white weather-boarded houses, some with some interesting graffiti.

We then continued on our way, leaving Stavanger by car ferry across the water to Tau, and headed for our campsite at the entrance to Lysefjord. As we drove here, the rain fell in stair-rods, but thankfully it has eased this evening. At least two locals told us today that he have missed the Norwegian summer. Apparently the weather was in the 30s just two weeks ago, the hottest for 47 years, but now we are back to the frequent rain that this part of the coast is renowned for. Nevertheless, we will try and make the most of it. Hopefully tomorrow the mist will clear enough for us to see something of this wonderful fjord.

In the meantime, Howard is causing quite a stir on the campsite with his new headgear!

 

Day 159 Lillesand to Stavanger, Norway.

5B3XxxZFRDm27GLPepw7OQ As forecast, it was a very wet start to the day. We were late rising, having heard the pitter patter of rain outside, and our morning dash to the wash block was exacerbated by having to remember the key number, before we could enter. That said, it was an amazingly clean and upmarket bathroom, easily equivalent to hotel quality. As is often the case, they had music playing. Last night, whilst trying to negotiate the very complex shower system, we had David Cassidy’s ‘Day Dreamer’ playing – I haven’t heard that one for years! Needless to say, we weren’t quick enough in snatching our card out of the shower control unit in time, and when we went to settle up this morning, it turned out we had used two showers worth each time either of us had showered. They turned out to be very expensive showers!

There was another VW California type camper on our site last night, but a conversion. We slyly eyed up their set-up inside, as they did ours. Being Swiss, they were incredibly organised – everything appeared to be packed into plastic boxes, and there was nothing lying round the van at all – rather sterile. Ours, on the other hand, is turning into something out of ‘Homes and Gardens’. Howard says there is no more room for any more soft furnishings, although he does agree that the cushions and rugs do add a homely touch. We have taken to flying the Saltire at the window, along with the flag of the country we are visiting. Generally, people warm to us once they realise that we come from Scotland, and the courtesy of flying our hosts flag I’m sure adds to Anglo-European relations! We very nearly asked the other VW campers if we could have a look in their van, but then had second thoughts, thinking that we couldn’t possibly show them the mess inside ours.

After breakfast, we headed back into Lillesand for a cup of coffee, and a final look around. It really is the most pleasant little town, and we really warmed to it.

It was only over coffee that we decided on our destination for today – Stavanger. We opted to share the driving, and seeing as the forecast was rain for most of the day, we determined we could reach here by early evening. We only stopped the once, at a seaside town of Mandal, really because we needed a wee. It looked pleasant enough, but it was still raining hard, so we didn’t linger.

For most of the route, the road meandered along just inside the coastline, frequently crossing inlets and small fjords over viaducts, and then the road plunging into mountain tunnels. I can’t remember how many tunnels we drove through, but I have definitely developed ‘tunnellitis’. Howard determines that it is 1,500 miles to the top of Norway, so I suspect we have plenty more to come.

It stopped raining just as we drove into Stavanger. We have washing facilities where we are staying, so we have put the washing on, Howard is cooking tea and listening to the football on the radio, whilst I do the blog. The photos have just come down from yesterday, so I will add those of Lillesand to yesterday’s blog. I have barely taken a photo today because of the rain, so I will leave you with a rather amusing board we spied in Gothenburg the other day – well, we laughed anyway!