2000 - Norway

(after Denmark and Sweden on our Scandinavian Tour)

Sunday 30th July 2000

We woke at about 7.45 a.m. to more extremely good weather.  After breakfast we packed and left at 10.15 enroute for Norway.  After some way we had to take a local road to Oxberg and Sälen.  Early on we were slowed by speed signs to a ridiculous 20 km per hour.  Then we saw why – we had been over narrow bridges before, but never one that is a railway bridge!  Yes, this was a single track railway bridge over a river that was also used by road vehicles in both directions and with no traffic control system.  By the time we reached the other side, someone else was wanting to use it the other way – fortunately with a car and not a train!  A unique and rather scary experience.

We stopped for lunch by a wide river north of Sälen. It was a beautiful wide mountain river with some white water.  A canoeist was nearby eating his lunch and we felt he too would have preferred to be truly alone in this beautiful, quiet spot.  We were on our way again by 12.45 and crossed into Norway at about 1.00 p.m.

The speed limit changed from 90 to 80 and the line down the centre of the road became yellow instead of white.  It also started to rain almost immediately!  Apart from this, and a few incomprehensible signs, there was nothing to mark the change of country.  Perhaps some 20 km later there were signs about customs and a border point but it was all closed up, so they don’t yet know that we have sneaked in!

After a while, the weather improved and the sun came out again.  However, the road surface did not improve and was definitely inferior to that in Sweden.  We decided that this must reflect a stronger economy prevailing in Sweden.

We were just entering Elverum when my mobile rang.  It was Simon’s mum – not knowing that we were in Norway!  She had found that someone from our home number had rung her and wondered whether it was Simon as he returned home from Israel yesterday, I explained that we didn’t know if he was at our house and then texted Keren to tell her.

We looked at our guidebook and liked the sound of an open air museum at Elverum so decided to take a break there.  There were two adjacent museums in fact – one majoring on forestry and the other on old Norwegian buildings.  We had a drink and a dessert at the restaurant first of all and then made our way over two bridges to the buildings museum.  Adie went to get a brochure so that we would have more of an idea about each building whilst I rang home and had a chat with Keren.  We looked around some more before it began to rain and we left just as it was settling in extremely heavily at 4.30 p.m.  However this did not last for very long.

We recommenced our journey to Lillehammer and had some considerable difficulty finding our hotel which turned out to be a Radisson.  We watched BBC Pride and a BBC World TV channel presumably aimed at ex-pats and then enjoyed a buffet meal.  We went to bed at about 10.45 having watched Top Gear.


Monday 31st July 2000

Finished the breakfast, which was extremely good here, and returned to our room at 9.40 to collect our cases. I wasn’t feeling terribly well so we decided not to visit another old house museum that we had considered.  We took the mountain road to Dokka – encountering a sleepy group of four sheep right in the middle of our lane.  They refused to move so we had to drive around them!  A lot of the road was being repaired and / or widened and was in various stages of roughness, potholes etc.

On our journey we could see distant mountains covered in snow.  We stopped in Leira at a Spar Supermarket and after much difficulty managed to find something that would do for our lunch.  We then carried on up the mountain road (complete with mountain weather) with magnificent views down to the valley below.

We stopped for lunch beside a fast moving river before moving on again.

The scenery gradually became more mountainous and we had clearly gained considerable height.  Whilst never more than sparsely populated, there was a constant flow of traffic in the sense that it was rare not to have a vehicle in sight and we never went more than one or two minutes without oncoming traffic.  Similarly there seemed to be a fair number of little settlements.  The hills are not dissimilar to some mountain areas of Britain but less rugged and always tree covered.  There are no towering mountains so far.

At Torpa Adie saw a sign indicating that there might be a stave church nearby but we ad passed the turning before we realised.  We turned around and went to find it.  On the door was a sign saying that if guided tours were required they should be applied for in the little house nearby.  We duly did so and a Norwegian lady came to unlock with an enormous key.  She told us a lot about the church which was built in about 1190 and we bought a guide book which gives further complete details.  There were amazing original paintings on the ceiling which have never been restored and yet the colours are still vibrant.

Then Geilo – a small ski-ing centre with a station and one or two hotels.  Ours was a large white wood and red pantile hotel built by Dr Holms as a place of health to combat respiratory diseases.  It was built in 1909 when the railway from Bergen opened and has been extended quite a bit since.

Poor Jillie still felt exhausted and under the weather, so I went for a swim in the indoor pool and then walked up about 750 feet to the top of the hill at the back of the hotel which has a given height of over 4000 feet.

When Adie came back I needed to get him to evacuate an enormous black beetle waving the longest antennae that either of us had ever seen.  It had been crawling over the ceiling in his absence and had now taken refuge between the curtains and the window.  Adie fearlessly grabbed a chair to attack it with; stood on the chair and scooped the beetle up in his swimming trunks before flinging it into the outside world!

I went to the shops to see if there was any antiseptic to deal with Jill’s blister but without success.

Dinner was a fairly good buffet with salmon, mackerel and the inevitable ham and cheese.  This evening we were provided with “live” piano music and a fairly young dark haired pianist with an earring in his left ear as he sat playing a white piano.

There was a sudden influx of Germans which rather restricted our choice and quantity.  A similar intervention occurred in the dessert queue when the “Apfel Tarte” arrived part way through our self serving – but bruised and bloodied we acquitted ourselves adequately and had some pleasant desserts.

After dinner, Adie went to get a needle which we sterilised in the flame of the candle on our table.  Retiring to our room, he lanced the enormous blister on my toe and then covered it with a plaster.  We then had a pleasant read followed by the delight of current news in English (Sky) interrupted only by the trains that still run here.

We had a text message from Zo to say that she has a house in High Wycombe and is doing a demonstration Phono-Graphix lesson tomorrow so I phoned her back and had a chat for a few minutes.  Went to bed at about 11


Tuesday 1st August 2000

Adie woke up with his sore throat still (he says he didn’t wake up – he hadn’t been to sleep!)  He therefore got up earlier than usual and was showered and dressed by 7.30 a.m.  I added some extra details to the entry about yesterday before also getting up.  We had finished breakfast and were back in our room by 9.00  Having packed and taken our things to the car, it was about 9.30.  Adie’s throat was still looking very red and in need of antibiotics so he went to try to get some at the doctors’ surgery in Geilo.  This is in the “Legesenter” so we parked in a nearby car park by some very old, grass-roofed buildings in “Geilojordet”.  He left at 9.45 and returned five minutes later since they could not fit him in until 1.00.  We set off over the mountains (which certainly were towering by now) encountering the odd cow complete with cow bell that wanted to share our road.  We were to drive across the spectacular Hardangervidda Plateau and down through the MåbØ Valley.  There was quite a lot of snow to either side of us and often we were higher than the snowline.  There were also magnificent views over the lakes below us and we stopped to take some photographs.  We could hear distant cow-bells and the sound of a mountain river.  The poles marking the edges of the roads became taller and taller – there is obviously a lot of snow here in winter.

When we turned a corner, there was a particularly spectacular vista with a lake surrounded by snow covered mountains which were reflected in the clear blue waters.  We stopped the car and stayed for a while to take photographs and to enjoy the views, the warmth and the peace.  Four sheep (the largest with a bell) came right up close to us to make our acquaintance and were not at all timid.  We decided to move on when several other cars invaded our layby.  We continued on, stopping from time to time for varying periods.

After a while we passed crowds of people outside a restaurant and souvenir shop and wondered whether there was some attraction that we’d missed.  There was!  As we drove on we could see that there was a waterfall cascading down the rocks above the valley.  This was Vöringfoss.  We drove on until we found somewhere to park and then walked back along what was the original road.  We had some way to go but it was worth it.

When we arrived at the restaurant area we walked over rocks and boulders to a vantage point.  There was a pronounced rainbow as two separate falls joined in a common plunge pool.

We then walked back to the souvenir shop and bought a cake slice with a reindeer horn handle and cheese slices for each of the girls.  We got Nathan a bottle opener which was similar.  Then we went to have lunch in the café / restaurant before continuing on our way.  The path (old road) had its own tunnels and was relatively narrow for a road.  We had seen a road-train on its way up our route before we entered a tunnel and wondered if we would be clear of the tunnel before it arrive.  I was, just, and Jill was by a quick few last steps!

We had many hairpin bends to negotiate and several extremely long tunnels to travel through.  Eventually we came to the ferry terminus across the fjord.  We had only a short while to wait and then about a ten minute crossing before journeying on to Ulvik.  We saw a hotel right on the water’s edge which we hoped might be ours.  It was!  What was more, we had an extremely pleasant room overlooking the fjord – complete with a balcony: an extremely good place to stay for two nights!

At 4.30 we took a boat trip down the fjord for an hour.  We saw a spectacular waterfall which was much photographed.  The Irish couple had coincidently booked to go on the same voyage.  When we came back we had a look in the hotel shop and purchased a book of photographs of Norway. It was reduced in a sale and cost about £4.00 which we thought was good value.

We went back to our room and sat and read until it was time for dinner.  The Irish couple (coincidentally or not) were in fact in the next door room.

The evening meal was a buffet again and was served from 7.00 p.m.  It was noticeable how many English and American guests were staying at the hotel.  We had not heard so much English spoken anywhere else during our stay in Scandinavia.  The buffets are very good but tend to become a little samey.  Another pianist tonight which was pleasant as we sat in the conservatory drinking coffee and looking at the fjord.  We then went to our room – read and watched a little television – and then went to bed at about 10.30 p.m.

Wednesday 2nd August 2000

We returned to our room after breakfast shortly after 10.00 having sat in the lounge for a little while.  We couldn’t make an early start to the day since Adie had arranged a doctor’s appointment for 11.30 via the front desk.  This was the only time he was offered so we felt we had to accept it.

As we had rather a long while to wait, we went into the tourist information centre in Ulvik to see whether it was possible to get to Utne fairly easily where there is an open-air Hardanger Folk Museum.  The girl there is half English and was extremely helpful.  She even took us to the Doctors’ Surgery and asked them which doctor Adie was to see.  We returned to the tourist centre with her and asked about “Norway in a Nutshell” which Gretchen had recommended/ This seemed very feasible to do tomorrow.  After that, we went to look around Ulvik – it is an extremely small place with hardly any shops.   We visited one and Adie bought a stainless steel thermos flask for when he goes mountain walking.  He then went to the doctor’s and I remained at the hotel.  He was in fact back by 1140 with no antibiotics but something to gargle with.  He had also booked the Norway in a Nutshell trip for tomorrow.

We left Ulvik at about 1150 and set off for Kvanndal from where we were to get the ferry across to Utne.  The road was narrow and wound its way through extremely beautiful areas where lakes and fjords lay below.  We boarded a ferry that left at 1.00 p.m. and sat up on deck for the voyage across the fjord.  When we arrive at Utne we saw that the Open Air Folk Museum was sign-posted immediately and was just a moment’s drive away up a small hill.  The main reason for its proximity is that Utne is minute and perches on the narrow strip of land between the steep side and the water of the fjord.  We paid about £3.00 each entrance fee and went to look around the various old buildings – many of which were furnished appropriate to the period.  As with the other places we had visited a number of the buildings were locked up which was a pity.  The school house had been built in the 1880’s and used til 1965.  Jillie looked lovingly at the rows of desks.  It had clearly been built with her in mind as the schoolmaster had a room next to the single classroom and that was his home!

We then went inside the museum and looked at the various displays and exhibitions including one about hardanger embroidery which reminded me of the tablecloth I had made when I was at college using that technique.  We bought some coffee and some waffles at the museum and took our refreshments at ornate period furniture.

By now it had begun to rain and we decided not to spend further time in Utne since there did not seem to be much to do in inclement weather.  A ferry was about to leave and we were able to get on it with no wait at all.

Once across the fjord, we thought it would be a good idea to go to Voss to see how long the journey would take and to find the station – from which the “Norway in a Nutshell” coach leaves tomorrow.  With a phone call to the tourist office and an enquiry at the station, all was sorted.

We went through a tunnel that was almost 5 miles long and only saw 2 other vehicles whilst we were in it – both coming towards us.  This is because the vast majority of traffic comes from the ferry.  The heavy rain since lunch gradually eased and had stopped by the time we arrived back in Ulvic.  The journey in fact took about 45 minutes and we were back at our hotel in Ulvik by 5.15.  Dinner, at 7.00 was yet another buffet.  We were beginning to tire of them just a little!

After dinner, we organised our things so that we could make an early departure after breakfast.  I worked out how to use the Psion as an alarm clock and we were in bed by 10.30 ish.

Thursday 3rd August 2000

The alarm sounded as planned at 6.50 and Night Clock had worked well during the hours of darkness.

We were out of breakfast and backing our room by 7.55/  We had woken to pouring rain and grey skies with low cloud hanging ominously over the mountains.  Throughout breakfast I had been saying that it was looking brighter and by 8.00 it was most definitely so – there was even a little blue sky.  We checked out and set off at 8.20.

“Norway in a Nutshell” can be tackled in various way.  Because of our need to get to Bergen in time for an evening meal, we were to take the first “leg” on the coach to Gudvangen leaving Voss railway station at 10.00 a.m.  There were many different nationalities represented amongst the passengers.

Our first stop was at the Stalheim hotel where there was a quite spectacular panoramic view.  It was possible to buy refreshments there also.  Our coach then had to negotiate a series of hairpin bends on a narrow road leading to the valley below.  First of all we thought it was a single track one-way road but we were wrong as we found when several cars were making their way up the mountain side and needed to pass us.

We arrived at Gudvangen in time to catch the ferry leaving at 11.30  Unfortunately it was pouring with rain at this stage and everyone had to crowd together in the areas of the boat that were under cover.  We got talking with people from Australia, England and the States.  The rain only lasted for a short while however, and we were able to spend virtually the whole voyage on deck.  We sailed down very narrow fjords up to 3000 feet deep where tiny communities of people live – notable one range from 1 to 50 houses.  One was said to be the smallest postal district in Norway and an elderly lady was waiting for what the ferry brought her – complete with her ducks and her cat!  Many hamlets have no access other than y water and our ship brought them mail and supplies.  The mountains bordering the fjords are up to 5000 feet high.  Many were festooned with low clouds and hosted numerous waterfalls.  The voyage was just over two hours long and finished at Flåm where we had virtually an hour before getting on the train for Myrdal.  We had something to eat in the Station café at Flåm and then boarded the Flåmbana train which left at 2.40.  The line has the steepest gradient of a standard gauge railway of any in the world.  We passed a waterfall wit a free fall of 140 metres.  The train stopped at another very impressive waterfall: Kjosfossen – with a fall of 93m.  The loudspeaker commentary had spoken of the local legends about fairy women who appeared by the falls.  The train stopped and everyone could get off to take photos.  Sure enough, there was then “fairy” piped music and a figure clad in red appeared on the rocks in the midst of the falls!

When we arrived at Myrdal we had a short wait until the final link in our circular journey – the express train bound for Voss and Bergen.  We had reserved seats in the last carriage which unfortunately was extremely smoky.  Things improved after a while, however, as there was a window open which brought in a draught of fresh air.  The journey last about 40 minutes and brought us back to Voss at about 4.30 p.m.  We thoroughly enjoyed this tour and saw some spectacular scenery which we would not have seen from the car.

Having returned to Voss, we immediately set off to drive the 99 km to Bergen for our final two night stop.  Before entering Bergen itself, we had to travel through numerous tunnels and finally pay a 10K toll.  This time the directions to the hotel were quite comprehensive and we found it without too much difficulty.  It was the Grand Hotel Terminus and we arrived at about 6.15.  Sadly things took a downturn from then onwards:  they had no booking in our name but managed to find us a room scarcely bigger than a cupboard with a bathroom to match.  We can change this for a “proper” room tomorrow.  Neither was there room in the hotel car park for us, so we had to park in a nearby public one which took us two attempts and much frustration to find.  We then walked back to the hotel.

We had been told that we would be given a free meal as compensation for the mistake and repercussions (we’d actually thought that we were having dinner included in our booking anyway – but apparently not!)  The consolation prize turned out to be the booby one since it was yet another buffet – with the menu written to the identical formula that we had become over-familiar and very bored with.  We did not seek to have coffee with it since the room was extremely noisy with lots of Italian tourists in it.  We went to sit in a nearby lounge therefore and ordered coffee there which was somewhat better.  Whilst we were drinking it, we rang Nath to see how he was and had a brief chat.  Apparently someone has taken an aerial photograph of our house and have left their card in case we want to buy one.  Nath did not know how much it was but the sand school is evidently very dominant and the photograph only extends to the ponds.

After our coffee, we went for an extremely short walk outside but bumped straight into the Irish couple who had been in Bergen since 12.00 o’clock and were just returning to the hotel at half past eight.

We went to bed relatively early and not particularly happy!

Friday 4th August 2000

We had the inevitable cheese and ham breakfast and then packed everything into our suitcases because they were to be moved into our new rooms during the day.

We set off, walking, to various areas of Bergen and spent a fair amount of time exploring the Bryggen which is an old area that was built immediately after the Great Fire of 1702.  There are many quaint alleys and there is an upper as well as a lower storey.  We also went to the Bryggen Museum because it was raining a little and we needed to find somewhere in the dry.  We spent some time tagging on to a group who were being given an English running commentary and then made our way around by ourselves, finishing our tour by looking at a Norwegian attempt to create something that resembled the Bayeux Tapestry.  It was based on a Norse saga and was appliquéd rather than embroidered.

The rain had now stopped and we made our way to the Tourist Information Centre to find out about the three hour tour around Bergen in which we were interested.  We took a ticket and settled down to a long wait since ours was 230 and they were currently seeing number 193!  However, after a while we realised that there was a “Quick Queue” which was actually concerned with tour tickets.  We were then served immediately and were able to get rid of some of our remaining Swedish Kroner by way of payment.

Lunch was had in style at Burger King since we didn’t want to run the risk of being late for the tour bus.  This left at 2.00 p.m. and, after a brief tour of Bergen, took us first to a stave church.  This was in fact a reconstruction having been completed only three years ago.  The original, which was 800 years old, had been burnt down deliberately by a Satanist in 1992.  It was possible to take flash photos inside this church since they were anxious to get the wood to turn dark.

After the stave church, the coach took us to Troldhaugen, the house that Edvard Grieg had built for himself an his wife Nina in 1885.  We were able to see all around the ground floor (someone lives upstairs) and also could look at the little “hut” where he did his composing.  There is also a concert hall and a museum and café.  After that, we drove up to a high spot outside Bergen and took photos there.  We then returned to Bergen at just gone 5.00 and went to the Galleriet KjØpesenter.  This was a large indoor shopping centre and we had a meal at the Chinese Restaurant there.

After eating, we walked around the shops in the Galleriet looking for something to take back to the Office and School.  We had no success.  No-one seems to stock the sort of thing we are looking for.  We then had a wet walk back to our hotel where we learnt that we’d been given a new room on the sixth floor.  This was not wonderful but was certainly considerably better than the cupboard of last night!  We were able to spend some time there from about 7.00 p.m. There wasn’t much we wanted to see on Norwegian television even though most of the channels were British (with and without dubbing).  There was a very ancient “Only Fools and Horses”, quite a lot of sport, and some media coverage on CNN of the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday.  Adie read his book and I worked out how to play Montana on the Psion – an extremely difficult game.  We went to bed shortly before 11.00.  There was an errant car alarm sounding our window which wasn’t stopped for about three quarters of an hour.

Saturday 5th August 2000

We did not wake up until about 8.15.  This meant there wasn’t really time to do anything before going to the airport.  This was a pity as I had rather hoped to be able to visit the Leper hospital which we’d heard about on our tour yesterday.

We went down to breakfast at 9.00 and then ensured all our cases were packed before going to redeem the car from the public car park where it had been since our arrival in Bergen.  We found a short cut in the form of a covered way that lead straight to a large shopping complex and to our car park.  A supermarket there actually sold some chocolates and we bought some for the office and school before collecting the car and returning to the hotel for our suitcases and to check out.  We left shortly before 10.30 having been unable to successfully summon a lift that had room for us – so we walked down from the sixth floor with all our cases.

We did not have any problem finding the airport and arrived at the car rental parking area at 11.00 o’clock.  When we finally left the car, we had driven it 3,119 kilometres (1,938 miles) during our 13 day tour of Scandinavia.  It was only 5 days old when we started our journey.  There was no problem over the scratch damage but Adie had to fill in an accident report form.

We had plenty of time at Bergen airport and I bought two extremely useful travel aids – some toothbrush guards and a comprehensive sewing kit.

Our plane to Oslo left at 1.25 and the journey was 35 minutes as opposed to the 6 hours that the train took to get from Bergen to Oslo.  Whilst there are direct flights from Bergen to the U.K. they all seem to go to Stanstead.

We arrived in Oslo ten minutes ahead of schedule and made our way to the gate for catching our onward flight to Heathrow.  On the way, we passed the Duty Free area and Adie took pity on my pleas to purchase the Nordik Salt and Pepper set that I had admired at Bergen Airport.  It was worth the wait as it was some 10K cheaper!  We boarded our flight which left at 3.00 p.m. local time and collected two newspapers which were full of details about the celebrations for the Queen Mother’s birthday yesterday.  This time we were not offered Business Class but one of the seats in our bank of three was not occupied so we benefited from extra space.  The newspapers, together with the onboard meal, helped to make the time pass quickly until we landed at 4.00 p.m. British time but had to wait on the tarmac for nearly half an hour until our gate became free  We collected two of our bags fairly speedily but waited and waited for the third.  Finally I went to ask at the desk and they told me immediately that we should have been tannoyed on the aircraft and told that it missed the flight from Bergen and had been sent on via Copenhagen.  Fortunately we found it, with her help, on another luggage carrousel.  All this meant that we didn’t get into the Arrivals Lounge until shortly after 5.00

The temperature was into the 70s and it was good to be met by Nath who had almost given up on us as we had been so long and, as far as he was concerned, we had landed at 4.00!