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Nomad's Norway

by Nomad Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 01:55:09 PM EST

From the journals

Day 1

Night scenes. In between Germany and Denmark, the ferry lifting anchor out of Puttgarden. My girlfriend dozing besides me, tucked on a row of uncomfortable seats. Air-conditioning and small children clamouring prevent any attempt to sleep. A knife that clatters to the ground, the smell of coffee drifting, the cafeteria closing down. A couple of seats behind me, loud conversation in a language that sounds Slavic. The ship rocks like a lullaby, and no one sleeps.

On the move. Thoughts tumble from nooks in my brain long left unvisited; it whets my appetite to write. The mind buzzes in low gear, sleep-drunk. Perhaps S. also felt it, yet different: she felt an abandon, bordering on melancholy, while the German motorways slipped away underneath us.

Where to? Where to now? Looking back is what we do too much; it's the easy thing. Staring into the future, the whats of maybe, makes uncomfortable, clamours for answers like young children on a midnight ferry. Answers are tiresome. Ah, too tired for the future. Future is blind and the past is what we can always see, repaint, reminisce about, glorify, relive and turn melancholic about. A place and a hard rock. So live in the now.

Embrace the formulas of forget.

Day 2
Drizzle in Oslo. Traffic shuffles along pretty houses looking out across the Oslo fjord. Crossed into Norway a few hours ago. Of course our car got picked out at customs. The female officer was such a stunning beauty that I began stuttering when she looked me straight in the eyes; S. giggled for half an hour. At least the officer dismissed us and didn't look underneath our seats at our collection of wine-bottles... At least I still got that innocent look.

The harbour is recognizable by gargantuan cruise ships. We planned to pitch the tent on an island in the fjord, but can't find the ferry. We ask directions from a passing dockworker with steel blue eyes and a tattoo of barbed wire spiralling around his right arm. After some initial confusion, his face lights up and he shakes his head, "No you look nice. You shouldn't go there." Why not? A wavering moment of hesitation crosses his features. "It's a, eh, narcotic island. You know? I don't like it." Anyway, the ferry doesn't take cars. We end up on the Ekeberg, a forested hillside beautifully overlooking Oslo. It's a city camping, hence meant for the masses, and it shows. Nothing cosy about this one. I need cosy. Too weary to care. Fall asleep in tent after dinner to wake up in my clothes at half past one. Oslo lights twinkle underneath. Where is that midnight sun?

Day 3
Rain on the tent. Again. The forecast predicts 5 days of consecutive rain and it is all so depressing.  We're moving north, and to the fjords.

Day 4
The bet is paying off. Already before Lillehammer a blue gauze shimmers behind clouds. When a sudden brilliant sun hits our windows, I swerve the car onto a parking stop, brake and run around maniacally without shirt. Too engrossed with my sun-dance, I don't notice my prancing wakes up a couple sleeping in the car in front of us - something I've seen Nordic people do before, sleeping in their car on parking spaces but I forgot about it. S. shakes her head sleepily and walks to the public toilet. That immediately sobers her up. She isn't used to a simple toilet with a hole in the bench, and she has one of the finest noses I've come across. It's my turn to giggle for half an hour.

We leave the route to the North Cape at Dombas, a ramshackle cluster of houses stuck around a junction. Now there's a place for melancholy. What lies ahead, however, is not. The road first slices through a scenic valley, splotched with farms and villages. But next the landscape begins to merge into something more dramatic and foreboding. The valley narrows. Ranges of hills are promoted to mountain flanks of black rock soaring into sky. Patches of white snow cling to precipices; wispy tendrils of waterfalls crisscross down from them. Blown in from the coast, confused clouds with their bellies black, brush up against the sides and decide to look grim. Now the road snakes daringly through the valley, tracing a roaring riverbed, ripping through narrow tunnels hacked out of the rock. A driver's thrill.

We find cosy, and sun, on a campsite at a fjord where blond Norwegian boys are catching crabs in a bucket at the harbour's dock and stoic men gaze at their fishing lines. A boat glides by and the sun doesn't fade. We hear our Norwegian neighbours chat long after midnight. Wake up at half past two; we've lost the dark of the night. The sky still glows with indigo. I'm further north than I have ever been. Curiously, I dream of canaries.

Day 6
Tracing highway 64 north to the Atlanterhavsveien, the Atlantic Road, the much praised piece of road that shackles the mainland to the island of Averøy. We're also tracking down the clear weather - the sky a cool blue ahead and the sun is breaking in flocks of thousand ripples on a single ocean's surface.

Particularly the first, and largest, arch is a gracious architectural feat defying gravity. From a distance it plays tricks with the eyes; the bridge gives the impression the causeway stops halfway in mid-air, brushing up against the blue. The drive along the road is only 8 kilometres, stringing together scoured islets where the surf crashes. I'm reminded of last year's drive with Dagmar and Leon across the Chapman's Peak Drive, which was longer (and if I'm honest, also prettier).

Only a few clicks further a sign indicating a camping. We've only driven a little more than 90 minutes, but it is one of those days not to be wasted inside a car. End up on the northern peninsula of the island, with sight on the Atlantic Road, on a camping run by a fairly typical couple. He doesn't like "East Europeans" - apparently he has caught a few of them camping illegally on his grounds. She chases us out of the communal hut at eleven in the evening.

We brave the ocean's frigid water - for ten seconds. Warm and snooze in endless sun. Bliss.

Day 7
Wake up to the roar of rain on our tent at five in morning (which will last for the next 24 hours). Depressing. Don't understand anything about these abrupt changes in weather. On the move.

Day 9
Out of Ålesund, a city whose old city centre is deliciously built in Art Nouveau style. In contrast, we camped the past days inside a crunky, dilapidated caravan, weathering out the rain. It's seven o'clock in the morning and I regret not having snatched the Norwegian flag from the caravan as a souvenir.

At the junction to the ferry at Magerholm our path is blocked by a large wooden sign on the middle of the road with the word "Ny" painted on it. Looks like "no". No for what? Fortuitously, there's a coach, its engine idling, on the nearby parking lot; we ask the doting driver for help. Brushing his glasses with his woollen sweater, he squints and is quiet for a moment. Then: "It's a joke." It's a sign from the petrol station advertising new ("Ny") car wash facilities, most likely moved onto the road by pranksters who got too bored by the town's sleepiness - it does look like the sort of place where one could get horrendously bored. But not us, hurray! I move the sign back to the petrol station, and with ten minutes we're moving south across our next fjord.

The next stretch brings picture perfect views of Norway, the sort of sights that make fjord country justly famous. The road (freshly tarred and in excellent condition as most roads here) steeply climbs the shoulder of a magnificent queue of hobnobbing mountains, patched with snow,  their bare scalps brushing cloud. Woolly white sheep ambling up as well, and after we skirt across the pass the car zooms down towards a plate-glass Geirangerfjord, doubling our skies. The elongated, friendly valley of Standa seems ringed by these wondrous mountains; the road aims straight for them and only the eye of the tunnel blinks in the massive flank. Punching through rock: 3 kilometres of sparsely lit gloom. Adequate light is not considered a priority around here. A release into the light reunites us with the sight on the breathless Geirangerfjord, the water a pacific blue, shards of mist hovering over the surface. This is how one dreams of fjords. Now I'll pine for them like parrots do.


When the sun joins us, the sense of austerity recedes. The road curls around frigid-blue lakes rimmed with grassy shores whereon cattle casually roams. In the distance glints the white of the ice field, draping as a shroud over the mountains. The Briksdalsbreen glacier is only one of many tongues of the massive Jostedalsbreen glacier, the largest in continental Europe. (If one includes Iceland in the tally Jostedalsbreen is the fifth largest in Europe.) The Briksdalsbreen is one of the more popular destinations to admire these vast tendrils of ice climbing down from the plateau. We try to ignore the bus load of white-socked American tourists cluttering the trail upward.

Pass a churning brook with water so cold that it tightens the skin of our heads when we stick them in. The glacier's tongue, ragged and with the mystic, blue glow underneath the surface, is ahead, poised above the lake's surface. Stick-figures, like miniature LEGO, crawl about at the icy foot - people who approach the ice. We too step across the warning sign and crab up the smooth rock towards the ice's surface. Up close and personal, the ice's hypnotic glow is even a shade more intense. S. caresses her cheek to the ice, which feels dense and ancient; I pose without a shirt against the glacier's wall and we nibble a candy bar, our backs resting on the polished granitoids and the ice hovering behind us.  

Day 10
The final stretch consists of barren rock. Large chunks of boulders stacked as natural riprap, spotted by fluorescent moss, warmed by a glaring sun, raked by a chilling wind that robs the warmth. We both climb at our own pace. I'm tallying the distance by the string of cairns dotting the flank, counting my laboured steps. Our Norwegian companions with whom we set out, hours ago, have long surpassed us; the older couple is already on their way back, waving us on. Somehow, that's encouraging - the peak cannot be very far any more.

Some 50 meters below the peak I stumble, heart hammering in my ears. I pause for air, stuff 2 sweets into my mouth and force my leg into the next step. And suddenly we're there after all, at the circular mountain hut crowning the 1843 meters of the Skala mountain. Not the highest mountain in Norway, but no other mountain in this country has a longer ascent: it's practically 1800 meters all up.

The round hut with its thick, rock walls got built in 1871 by a doctor who used it as a sanatorium for his tuberculosis patients. The story doesn't teach me if the hut was built purely for the wellbeing of the patients, or for keeping them away from the rest of the population. Nor do I understand how such patients got here; it is not exactly a cakewalk. The hut is now run by the DNT, the Norwegian Trekking Association, who has turned it into a cosy self-service hut with a fireplace, a fully equipped kitchen, a cupboard with biscuits and chocolates for sale. It would be a romantic spot to spend the night, if one could ignore the hordes of sweaty, bearded men who arrive to crash for the night.

We drink our soup outside, enjoying the mighty view of the spotless ice of the Jostedalsbreen stretching to the horizon across the valley. Suddenly, there's a distant but violent rumble, protracted by echoes. The sky's too clear for thunder; it must be a stir of the whimsical glacier.

(Indeed it was. The next day we learn that considerable chunks of the Briksdalsbreen glacier tongue, the very one under which we had leisured exactly 24 hours ago, had violently collapsed into the lake. Whoops.)

--to be continued--

of writing about "serious" business.

Part 2 somewhere next week.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 01:56:42 PM EST
always nice to meet a writer in good form.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 03:58:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary, thanks.  I have always wanted to visit Norway and now I see that I really should find the time to go.  I love your photos.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 06:03:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Only a suspicion, but the best writing aspires to encapsulate the feet photo.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 07:05:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice journal and photos. Was this last summer?

Of course, I am prejudiced about the topic; my (late) mother was raised there in fjord country (Sogn). Her mother was a goatherd almost a century ago in the mountains/valleys you passed through.
A few years ago I took my US partner for a 4-day trip there (the fjords); Oslo-Flåm by train, ferry to Balestrand - then fast boat to Bergen and plane back to Oslo:

Then the much gentler south coast at the family cabin:

by ask on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 03:33:20 PM EST
As you may have noticed, the very first picture is actually looking at Balestrand - I took the photo on the dock waiting for the ferry to take us across Sognefjord. The Oslo-Flåm train was high on my list to do, and many people have recommended it, but there wasn't the proper occasion to fit it in.

And yes, this indeed was past summer.

Spectacular weather you got during your visit. And equally spectacular photos.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 02:50:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did recognize Balestrand. My pic was taken from just in front of Kviknes Hotel and eastwards.
On the south coast cabin, we are just at the coast line and often have clear mornings, though as the day progresses the clouds build up inland and it's 50/50 whether we remain in sun or under the clouds. The pic was taken around 5.30 am.
As a kid, I spent every summer in the town next to Balestrand to the west (Høyanger).
by ask on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 03:16:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what beautiful pix, nomad!

you should really have your own blog...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 09:08:24 PM EST
European Tribune - Nomad's Norway
Don't understand anything about these abrupt changes in weather.

It is easy.

It generally blows from west to east. Norway is more or less the western slope of a north-south mountain ridge facing the Atlantic. Water is picked up over the Atlantic and when the clouds are forced upwards to cross the mountains it rains. So if there are clouds it rains. Thus it can hardly be any weathers other then sunshine or pouring rain/snow.

(Of course there are other weathers in Norway also, because this model is very simplified.)

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by A swedish kind of death on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 02:35:56 PM EST
Where are the little wooden boats like they have at Epcot?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 06:04:06 PM EST

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