I came to Norway to meet my pen-pal from 16 years past (read about this amazing experience HERE!), and after a beautiful few days together, I set off to explore just a little of Norway before heading East to Sweden to visit another dear friend. After hugs and frantic waves goodbyes and endless thanks, I boarded my night bus and I was off, on the road yet again. It was so warming, so rejuvenating to spend some quality time with such a loving family, it felt like food for my soul. I snuggled in on the bus as best I could and tried to catch a few hours sleep while I headed Northwest to Ålesund, a coastal town near Geiranger, the fjord I was interested in seeing. I had daylight the last two hours of my bus ride and stared wide eyed out the window at the stunning landscapes we were driving through. We were near the coast and curving through winding roads, and under the ocean in tunnels.The mountains towered above us and I felt the excitement bubbling up in me.
Ålesund is a beautiful sea port town with picturesque coloured buildings. It all burned down in the early 1900’s, as most towns back then were entirely wood – in one tragic night. The King sent supplies to rebuild the city, this time all in stone. It reminded me of old town in Yellowknife, the way it perched on an outcropping of land into the ocean (though at home it’s into a huge lake). I dropped my bags at my hostel, but wasn’t allowed to check in and after nearly no sleep yet again on my night bus, I was feeling exhausted. There was no common room either so I couldn’t even pass out on a couch for an hour or two. I dropped my things, and hit the town to wander around and see the pretty buildings and streets. I arrived at 9am and check in wasn’t until 4pm, so I had some serious time to kill. After my little tour, I grabbed my yoga mat, book and jacket and headed across the street to a grassy hill and laid down to read and snooze in the afternoon sun. I caught a few minutes here and there, but felt very strange sleeping in public for some reason, like I was a homeless person and the police would come and shoo me away!
After I was checked in I went to the grocery store and grabbed food for the next two days to cook in the kitchen as eating out in Norway just wasn’t an option; it was so expensive!!! Before dinner I climbed up the hill to the look out that gave a fabulous view of the entire city and the surrounding ocean and coastlines. I met at girl at our hostel named Herr and found out we were both heading on the same adventure tomorrow- we wanted to see the Geiranger Fjord! So we made plans to head out together. It was about a three hour journey- first by bus, then a little layover in a tiny almost ghost town ( I did eventually see one old man come slowly shuffling down a path), before hopping on the ferry that would take us on an hour ride through the magnificent fjord to the town of Geiranger.
The bus ride was beautiful and the little town was picturesque. But the Fjord? There are no words. There is no way to describe the sheer magnitude of the mountain walls that soared like towers into the heavens. The steep walls were nearly vertical, spotted with green vegetation clinging to the rock in the most unlikely places. Towering lanky waterfalls tumbled down the vertical inclines up to 2000 meters high, to spill into the ocean waters that plunged nearly 700 metres deep. Geiranger is a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s easy to see why. This place will take your breath away at every bend of the fjord. It was terribly chilly on the ferry cruiser, but luckily you could head inside to grab a hot (and very expensive!) tea and warm up. But it was hard to stay inside; looking at those vistas through windows just wasn’t the same! I rushed back outside to the upper deck and walked around the boat taking in the views from every angle, letting my jaw remain hanging open in awe as I stared in near disbelief at the beauty around me. Words can do no justice and the pictures can’t even come close to capturing the enormity of these mammoth mountains.
We deboarded the ferry and took to the town. We asked about a certain lookout that was pictured on a postcard and were told it was about an hour hike uphill. We had three hours, so figured we had plenty of time to get up and back down in time. We began our march up hill and realized we had spent a little more time in the tourist shop than anticipated and felt like we might be tight on time. We figured the best option would be to hitch hike the rest of the way up. We were after all in a really safe country, and a tiny little isolated tourist town to boot. I stuck out my thumb and the first car to pass us pulled over – low and behold it was a fellow Canadian! She was heading to see a waterfall up ahead and so drove us a good deal of the way, saving us easily 45 minutes! We hopped out and thanked her and walked the rest of the way up. We found a beautiful lookout, but not quite what we were looking for. I think we saw the lookout we wanted, but it looked to be fenced off and inaccessible.
Unfortunately tourists die each year in Norway from attempting to get pictures in dangerous areas – the things people do for selfies! So the country has had to take measures to try and make these areas a little more safe. We were still afforded utterly spectacular views of the town below and the fjord. We met a lovely couple from the UK who offered to drive us back down as they were heading to the hotel where our bus was picking us up in a half hour. They asked us each our travel stories, I told them how I had just met my pen-pal from childhood and they were warmed and amazed at the story.
We took the bus back instead of the ferry so we could get a different route and see some more scenery. It was another three hour journey to get home and we had to climb a twisting maze of switchbacks to get up and over that first mountain. Luckily the bus stopped at the top and let us all out for 15 minutes so we could take some pictures of the spectacular view below. I was frustrated that the pictures just couldn’t encapsulate the monumental size of this place. I took a picture and noticed far below there was a motor boat in the middle of the fjord, hardly visible from so high. Can you spot it? It’s the only thing I could find to give the slightest bit of perspective.
That night, I was catching a 1am cruiser to head down the coast to Bergen, my first time on an overnight ship, how exciting! I packed up my heavy bags and made the 15 minute march to the docks as I watched the cruiser expertly glide in and dock. I boarded, got my ID pass and headed to my own little cabin. I was so excited! I couldn’t help but bust out my phone and make a little Titanic parody video as I walked down the totally empty halls towards my cabin. I crawled into bed right away, exhausted, but I had a hard time sleeping because I was a little thrown off by the whole experience of trying to sleep on a huge ship and the vibrations of the massive engines when we pulled into other ports to stop were distracting. But eventually I drifted off and snuggled into my three pillows.
I paid a little extra for the breakfast buffet and headed up around 9am after my shower to fill my tummy with the usual Norwegian breakfast foods- sliced salami, bread, cheese (Brunost!), jams, cereal, eggs and they even had bacon and sausage to cater to their tourists! Belly full, I headed off to find a chair in one of the lobby areas with a view out the window. The weather was unfortunately terrible and overcast with a heavy fog, obscuring much of the view, yet I have no doubt the views would have been spectacular had the fog lifted. Eventually it abated somewhat, but the heavy overcast clouds kept sun away and left everything blanketed in grey. I decided to pound out as much as I could on my blog as I was still desperately behind. I wrote for hours and before I knew it we were pulling into the Bergen Port.
Bergen had a totally different vibe than Ålesund; it felt like a young, hip artsy place. Right away I was faced with amazing graffiti covering the walls of building and fences. I liked it already! I made my way, lugging my heavy bags the 2km walk to my bus station. The hostel I found was a ways from the center, but was the only somewhat affordable one. I went through the money in my pockets and saw I had a $200 bill and $49.50 in change. I figured there was no way the bus would cost $50 Krona (that’s the equivalent of nearly $9 Canadian dollars). Well I was wrong. Remember when I said Norway is insanely expensive? It was $50 Krona to ride the bus for 15 minutes through the town! I felt my pockets burning as I paid the bus. I found my hostel and gratefully dumped my bags. I was disheartened; with prices like that I didn’t even want to head back into town, but I was 7km from the center, that’s a long walk! That night, I decided to just stay in and made dinner, as it was raining badly anyhow.
The next day I connected with Herr who had taken the bus to Bergen, and we made plans to meet at the fish market and tackle Bergen together. We met around 11am and, swaddled in our rain coats, we began our own tour. First we rode up the funicular to Mt. Fløyen. Being overcast, the views were no doubt muted, but at least it had stopped raining. We decided to grab an ice cream and then hike around some of the little trails up there and look for some trolls. We sure weren’t disappointed, they were everywhere! We headed back down and walked along Byrggen, the old wharf, to admire the old quaint buildings and wander through them. To get ourselves out of the rain, we explored two museums. We learned the history of runes in one of the exhibits, and we both learned how to write our names in runes, so cool! Next we headed over to Håkonshallen, an old royal residence and banquet hall from 750 years ago. The hall is simply breathtaking, and I felt transported back to the days of kings and queens in court, in high dress with huge feasts. It’s incredibly idyllic and brings to mind fairy tale weddings.
We ended our day touring Bergen with the most unNorwegian food stop ever – pizza. Okay, that’s not entirely true. There is a brand of pizza called Grandiosa in Norway that everyone absolutely loves and is a staple in modern diets. So bizzare! So technically pizza is a very Norwegian food! We saw the sign, and couldn’t resist, and I have to tell you, Dolly’s Dimples makes a mean Thai pizza and a mean Jamaican jerk pizza! They were so delicious (and expensive!), but at least they were huge! I bid Herr goodbye and we both headed back to our hostels as evening was wearing on. I was leaving in the morning on the train to head back to Oslo where I had a three hour layover before catching my night bus over to Helsingborg, Sweden!
Snorre, my pen-pal, was sweet enough to come to the train station to meet me for my layover and brought along little Adrian. It was nice to chat again and tell him what I did and saw in Norway since we parted, and was so nice to have that company on my layover. I bid them yet another sad goodbye, not knowing when we would see each other again, knowing only that it would surely be several years and that little Adrian would be all grown up by then! Minutes after they left I was scrambling around for my cell phone. It was in my purse and now it was not. Oh god. Not again! I was in the safest country ever, how could I get robbed in Norway?! When you’re robbed, it’s never your fault, I have to keep telling myself this – you are a victim, and someone took advantage of you and did you wrong. You did nothing wrong. But I couldn’t help but kick myself for not having zipped up my purse. My phone was sitting right on top, a bright pink target. And now it was gone.
Snorre had warned me that this train station was without a doubt the most dangerous and awful place in all of Norway – which made me laugh because this place was a 5 star luxury mall compared to most of the bus stations I spent time in while I was in Latin America! But alas, public transit hubs tend to be a breeding ground for pick pocketers, and I fell victim to it and had my phone snatched from under my nose. I was devastated, but there was nothing much to be done. I went to the security to report it and left contact information in case a good soul turned it in. I told Snorre what happened and was so incredibly accommodating and offered to come help me look for it, and to loan me an old phone of his. So sweet! I thanked him kindly and just got on my bus with one less electronic piece to my name.
Even though my time in Norway ended on a sour note with the phone, I didn’t let it damage my idea of the country, nor put a damper on my time spent here. While it was a short visit, just a week, I feel like I was able to see a touch of what Norway has to offer and it’s breath taking. It’s the kind of country you want to take car and drive around yourself, stopping wherever you like, camping and hiking through some of the beautiful terrain. While the beauty of the country struck me, it is without a doubt that what touched me the most in Norway was my time spent with Snorre and his beautiful family. Those three days will remain etched in my memory as a highlight of my trip around the world. It’s those connections you make with people all over the globe that stick with you long after the pretty mountains and waterfalls fade from memory. It’s the warm feeling you got that late night eating cheesies and laughing over Home Improvement while snuggled up on the couch you remember, not the way the sunset looked over the fjord. It’s sitting on the floor playing cars with a three year old while he babbles to you in Norwegian and you agree enthusiastically to his ramblings, that you remember, not the pretty forest in the mountains. Norway is a beautiful country, but the people are what made it the most beautiful for me 🙂
Oh, and I found the trolls… lots of them!