And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Okay, so when I last left you, we had just settled in for the night (if you can call it that with the sun blazing high overhead) in Bergen. And so we return to the land of vikings, trolls, herring, and RIDICULOUSLY expensive beer - Norway...
Day 3: FJORDS!!!!!!!
Knowing that we had an 8:40 train and not really knowing where the train station was, we got up at 7 AM this day and were out the door by 7:30. We rolled into the station around 8 or so, at which point we got some coffee (not from a 7-Eleven this time, which are, by the way, EVERYWHERE IN NORWAY - Oh thank Heaven...) and a donut and caught the train to Voss, the first stop in our "Norway in a Nutshell" whirlwind tour of this fine Nordic country.
We arrived Voss in time to:
1. Scamper to the men's room before the door closed (saving me the $2 charge to pee!)
2. Hold the door open in the men's room so that Jenny could use my same stall (again - that's another $2 savings)
3. Show the same trick to a couple of German ladies (we're VERY cultured - look at us being such good ambassadors)
4. Scamper onto a bus bound for a tiny, TINY town called Gudvagen.
Once at Gudvagen, I ordered a slice of pizza with some "salad" (read: shaved bits of frozen lettuce covered in Thousand Island dressing) before boarding our boat to cross off one of life's "bucket list" items: sailing the Fjords of Norway.
Our sail was 2 hours through the narrowest and second longest fjord in the world, and it was simply GORGEOUS. We saw the fjords sunny, overcast, and WINDY, depending on which corner we rounded, and it was truly AMAZING. We even commandeered the whole front of the boat ourselves, and it was like our own private cruise from Gudvagen to Flam, where we arrived at 1:40 PM that day.
Mum - the best way to describe Flam is "a small Skagway." I know, I know - it's THAT teeny. However, Jenny and I have now pretty much decided that Flam is the GREATEST CITY ON THE PLANET...but we'll get to all that soon enough.
First things first, we wandered over to the hotel. Now, as I'd mentioned earlier, Jenny deserves ALL the credit for planning this trip. I did nothing but say "I'd like to go to Norway." She handled the rest. Consequently, she wasn't sure which hotel was ours. Imagine our excitement, then, when we realized we were staying in "the Opryland Hotel of Norway." Seriously - the Freitheim hotel - AMAZING. And best of all - look at this view from out our window! That's the main fjord!
We dropped out gear and walked over to the supermarket, where, rather than drop another 16 BILLION dollars on food, we bought 2 rolls, a pack of salami, a pack of cheese, and 2 beers. Given the prices, in Norway it's completely acceptable to just rip a six pack open and take a single beer should that be all you need. JT and I then walked around the corner to the park, made our sandwiches, and sat at the base of the fjord, admiring one of THE BEST lunch spots we'd ever picked.
We then went for a hike, making the 2-3 mile trek to Brekkenfoss, a beautiful waterfall in the Flam valley. The weather was perfect, and we spent some time chillin' by the falls, watching the water cascade down to the valley floor, breaking against the rocks. It was a SERIOUS climb up, and I was regretting that beer on the walk. However, once I'd sweated out most of the toxins, I was fine and dandy - the picture of relaxation in fact.
We climbed back down, changed clothes, and then went to the hotel bar, where I tried a Ringnes (most popular beer in Norway) and Jenny had a Nogne O Pale Ale (micro-brewery in the south of the country). We climbed 4 floors up a spiral staircase, arriving at a completely glass-walled crow's nest at the top of the hotel overlooking the harbor. There we took in the scenery, enjoyed our beer, and contemplated just how perfect life was at that moment. Then, stomach's growling, we trekked across the town to the featured event of the evening - the Aegir Brewery!
So back story - we tried one of these beers in Bergen, but we didn't know where the brewery was. And then, when we rolled into Flam, we saw the pub and restaurant right across the water - WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!!!!
Simply put, this place was AWESOME. It is set up like an old Viking Hall, complete with only wood furniture, a fire pit, high throne chairs, and furs as cushions. And best of all - THIS BEER WAS AMAZING. We are talking THE BEST beer I've EVER had on the continent. And the best part? There was a sampler tray that was a GREAT deal. Consequently, I got 2 of those...
Add in some pints, some GREAT burgers (covered in sun dried tomato or blueberry sauce - both very good), and a night of AMAZING conversation, and it was just perfect. In truth, I had one too many, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, "All I have to do is kayak 4 hours tomorrow - how hard can that be?" Oh, so naive...
We passed out around 11 and slept like logs. Normally I'd be a bit unnerved by the fact that our floor to ceiling window was WIDE OPEN and we were sleeping on the ground floor, but as this place is pretty much inaccessible and EVERYONE is a tourist, I didn't worry a bit.
Day 4: Perfection is spelled F-L-A-M...
When you look back on your life and think about the best days EVER, I think some obvious ones come to mind for folks: wedding day, birth of children, graduation, a big promotion, etc. For Jenny and I, we will ALWAYS remember Saturday, 17 July, 2010, as one of those 15-20 best days. If you had to draw up the quintessencial Norway experience, I honestly think this day would have been it.
We got up at 8:30, had our breakfast (hot and cold buffet at the hotel - SO GUUUUUUUUUUUD) before wandering over to "the beach" for the morning's featured activity - kayaking in a fjord. The weather had started gray, but by 10 AM it was BLISTERING sunshine, HOT weather, and flat sea. Bottom line - THIS is how you want to see a fjord, especially if you're gonna be on it.
After a brief safety presentation from our guide (and Englishman named Ben), Puffin, me, Ben, and 3 Japanese cats hopped into our dual kayaks and began the journey into the fjord. Words fail me here other than STUNNING. You feel SO SMALL when cruising beside mountains that are 3,000 feet high and water that plunges to a depth of almost 4,000 below you. And it was just GORGEOUS all around.
We passed by 1200 year old farms (that's NOT a typo - TWELVE HUNDRED YEARS OLD), stunning cliff faces, and past rugged peaks before arriving at our turnaround point. Once there, we make a small trek to the lunch spot, which happened to have a swimming hole. I wanted SO BAD to go in, but that water was about NEGATIVE 528,000 degrees. Consequently, I was about to chicken out. That's when Ben took off his shirt, climbed out to a rock, and jumped in.
Tait - this was one of those moments where I thought, "time to atone for my sins. I either live forever in fear of another Taylor's ledge moment, or I jump and purge the fear." Granted, this was A LOT closer to the ground, but it was still a jump, and it was still some COOOOOLD water.
Consequently, I took off my shirt, walked to that ledge, waved at my wife for what could have been the last time, and jumped. How best to describe it....
Wait for it....
Wait for it.....
HOLY SHIT THAT WATER WAS FREEZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Seriously - picture diving into a bucket of ice water that's been placed in a freezer and pulled out JUST before it solidifies. This was mountain water in Norway that was COMPLETELY shaded through the summer. Oh man, what a rush. Such a rush, in fact, that I did it twice. WOW.
We then hiked over to another waterfall, and we took 5-10 minutes to take it in whilst the the mist covered over us. It was just PERFECT. We then turned around and walked back to the kayaks, where we made the return journey home under perfect conditions. There was a nice breeze, the water was a bit choppier, the spray was kicking back in my face, the sun was beating down on us, and all I could think about was "Remember this moment, as it's one of the best of your life."
Once back on land we headed back to the hotel for part 2 of the adventurer's tour of Flam - bike riding! We rented a pair of bikes and headed off to Aurland, another town along the water. The bike over was AMAZING - we hugged the fjord the whole time, coasting along the water and seeing some CUTE houses along the way. Arriving in Aurland, we spent some time at the stone church and then down by the harbor, where we met a nice couple from Stockholm and chatted with them for a bit.
We then headed home, where I feared that given all the coasting we'd done on the way over, the ride back would be TERRIBLE. However, as fate would have it, when you've actually got a nice bike, every inch isn't pure torture! This bikes were AMAZING! Shimano gears for crying out loud! I am now ADDICTED to renting bikes - we are DEFINITELY doing it again with the upcoming trips.
We biked back to the Brekkenfoss waterfall before finally turning the bikes in and heading - where else - back to the Aegir Brewery. There I had ANOTHER sampler of beer before settling on a few pints to go with our - you guessed it - burgers. Again, a PERFECT night and a PERFECT ending to THE PERFECT day.
Day 5: Even the transit is an activity...
We slept in on Sunday, EXHAUSTED by the previous day's activities. However, a MASSIVE breakfast fueled us to the train station, where we caught the Flambana railway, a feat of engineering that connects Flam to the Bergen Railway via an ascent of 864 meters across a scant 12 mile stretch. That means that, for every 18 meters traveled, the train climbs a meter. Yeah - NUTSO.
We arrived in Myrdal station to TERRIBLE weather but our train waiting for us. The train, I should add, was THE MOST COMFORTABLE TRAIN WE'VE EVER RIDDEN ON. We're talking TONS of leg room, big windows, and even foot rests for the journey. Consequently, we rolled through the fjords in style, cruising along the valley floors and looking out the window like we were extras in "The Bourne Identity." SO awesome.
Finally we arrived back in Bergen, where we had a final treat courtesy of our Scandinavian brethren - VANILLA COKE!!!! I was so excited - it was like Christmas morning all over again. Perfect Pumpkin had a Diet Cherry Coke, ALSO a rare treat in this day and age.
We caught the bus back to the airport, where we were told that we'd arrived "too early" to check in. HOW CAN A PERSON ARRIVE TOO EARLY? It's not like we showed up for a flight in October - WE HAD LESS THAN 3 HOURS! Details...
Anyhoo, we caught the flight, got home, caught the Express, and we were seated at - where else - the Doot by 9 PM, in time for some FLAMIN' hot curry. JT's curry was actually about 14 BILLION degrees hotter than mine, so we were breathing FIRE by the end of the night. But at least the staff kept bringing us free beer, so that kept the flames at bay.
And that's it - Norway in a nutshell (insert Old School Cool saying - "No baby, this is me in a nutshell" - don't worry, man - I was gonna work it in at some point). Truly an AMAZING place, and I would tell EVERYONE who loves nature to visit. Just make sure you are prepared to not look at ANY prices whilst you're there. Otherwise, it is a somewhat painful proposition.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Thor and Helga...I mean Sam and Jenny