Yes, we are now in the land of fjords. Get all your parrot jokes out of the system now.
Unless you’re on a cruise going towards Lapland, or have arranged some other way of transport, chances are that Bergen is the furthest north you’ll get in Norway, as this is where the ferry from mainland Europe stops. Bergen loomed heavy on our previous journeys to the North of Britain; as the capital and main port of medieval Norway, it had a major connection to the island earldoms of Orkney, Shetlands and Hebrides; as such, it was a place we always yearned to visit.
The city was not very welcoming. Bergen is famously wet, and the rain with which we struggled was at times apocalyptic. Between this, and the narrow, winding streets of the old town, lined with tiny wooden houses bathed in flowers, we got lost for a good hour before finding the Bryggen.
The old Bryggen was Hansa’s Nordic headquarters, and the colorful warehouses that line its waterfront belong now – rightly so – to the UNESCO list, and while they present a very pleasant front to the main street, their true stunning beauty lies inside, in the dark, narrow wooden alleys which resemble the creaky passages on the old merchant ships.
The fish market across the harbour is a jewel – set in a modern building, but positioned on the spot of the old market, it very much resembles the great consumer-oriented fish markets of Japan, even having many of the same fare: the giant crabs which had reached Norway from the eastern seas through Arctic, and – rather shockingly – whale meat.
In the harbour we spotted a familiar shape of a three-masted barque we’d already seen twice on two different occasions: once in Kirkwall, and then years later in Lerwick. It was the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, the 100-years old training ship that seems to follow us around Europe!
From Bergen we headed inland; it wasn’t a pleasant journey – the rain got even worse, reducing the visibility and worsening driving conditions; the road became a succession of dark, narrow tunnels, and some really evil truckers – Danes, again! – tried to bully us out of their way. The destination, however, made up for all the trouble: we reached Voss, the gateway to Hordaland’s mountain and skiing region.
Snow was something we didn’t really expect to see in June… but it was on all surrounding mountaintops, melting into mighty waterfalls. We didn’t quite realize how tall Norway’s mountains were, even this close to the sea. From the map we’ve learned that what we were actually looking at were the edges and tongues of snow seeping from one of Norway’s largest glaciers.
The weather cleared the next morning, and we spent the next three days driving through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, up and down an arduous, but stunning road along the Hardargen and Sor fjords. Norway’s roads are in constant process of improvement, and for a country with a population of mere 5 million, the number of high-tech tunnels and mighty bridges strikes a bit as showing off. We get it, Norway, you’re rich 🙂
From Voss to Eidfjord, a gem of a town at the head of Hardargenfjord; the population of this tiny hamlet fluctuates daily, depending on the size of the ships that moor at its miniature pier. In the morning, a floating hotel dwarfed the town – Costa Mediterranea, the sister ship of the infamous Costa Concordia – bringing with it a horde of tourists who stood by the railings, waiting to descend upon the sleepy village like a thousands-strong army of zombies.
We managed to get away just in time; the road along the Sorfjord is like nothing we’ve seen before, and it will remain a definite highlight of all our travels. Another thing we didn’t expect from Norway were the waterfalls. They were all immense, some of them 500, 600 meters tall, so mighty and powerful that their roar carried from across the fjord, drowning out the noise of the passing cars. Two of them pass right along the motorway, so close that you need to switch on the wipers as you drive through; alternatively, you can stand on the roadside, awash in their thunderous spit. It’s an unforgettable experience. I stood under a large waterfall in Iceland before, but these were a whole magnitude greater and more majestic.
The final day’s journey through Hordaland was less exciting, though by no means unattractive; the road was at times precariously perched high above the fjords below, and at times passing through a wooded lowland no different to that of Sweden or Finland. We entered the oil region, the first sign of which was a massive shipyard for building and repairing oil platforms… and a Polish cafe in the town, reflecting mass migration of Polish ship-builders into the area.
We got back to the North Sea coast at Haugesund, a place steeped in Norway’s medieval history, but not particularly impressive in itself. It does make for a nice hour-long walk from the campsite through the leafy, affluent suburbs to the restaurants on the waterfront, but that’s about it.
We don’t get much sleep – the northern night wreaks havoc with our biological clocks. The civil night around here – the time when you need artificial light to perform everyday actions – lasts about two hours in June!