On Monday 5th, we drove from Lillehammer to Geiranger Fjord. It was a lovely sunny day. By lunch time we had reached the little village of Lom where we had a sandwich in the café and a look at the little stave church on the other side of the stream. Stave churches are traditional churches based on a rock foundation with four central poles that support the main structure. They are made entirely from wood and I think that this one was originaly built in about 1200. It had a central nave and a basilca style rounded apose behind the alter. We had a tour of the church after lunch with a fairly droll, but interesting talk from one of the local women. It seems that in the middle ages, when this church was built, the Niorwegians had a very defined class structure. There were specific seats in the church for men and women on opposite sides, with the wealthy sitting in the front. The poor stood at the back and there was even a secluded section at the back for those who were ill.
From Lom we gradually climbed into the mountains until we had reached a height of about 1000 metres. At this altitude there was snow almost covering the entire surface of the ground and some of the lakes were still frozen. At one point, we saw a herd of about a dozen reindeer. We then climbed another 500 metres up a significant series of switchback turns until we reached a lookout at Dalsnibba (1500 metres) from which we could see over the entire Geiranger Fjord – our destination fior the night. Our route today is apparently the number one drive in Norway. It was a very challenging drive up to the summit because as the front wheels of the bus were set well back, it seemed like the front half of the bus was hanging over a sheer drop every time that we turned around a hairpin bend. The road was very narrow and cars coming the other way couold just squeeze past. However the view at the top was fantastic. Two thirds of the way down to the fjord was a flat area that contained small farms, each of which had a cluster of red buildings with black roofs that sat in a defined area of vivid green grass. Below them was the head of the fjord with a small village of Geiranger. The water in the fjord was a deep turquoise colour and sheer mountains over 1 kilometre high rose from each side of the fjord. Two large cruise ships were anchored in the middle of the fjord looking like toy boats from our high view point.
Our rooms at the hotel had a view right across the fjord. They were quite comfortable and the food in the restaurant was pretty good. The only problem with the restaurant was that the meals were all buffet style and positioned in a rather small area considering that there were five tour groups dining at the hotel. It was a bit of a bunfight with even some pushing and shoving required to get to some of the dishes at the buffet. Not a really pleasant experience.
It didn’t get dark until almost midnight and the sun came up again at about four in the morning. After dinner, we went for a walk down to the little church and graveyard down the hill from the hotel and sat on a seat overviewing the granduer of the panorama of the fjord in front of us
On Tuesday, our day started with a cruise on the fjord. We travelled down to the junction of the main fjord of which ours is a branch. We are 85 km from the sea. Every kilometre of so, there was a waterfall cascading down the side of the fjord. These looked like ribbons of white against the green vegetation. At times, there were little farms (sone now abandoned) perched on ledges high above the water level. They would have probably been just big enough tio support a family with a few cows, a dozen goats and perhaps a couple of sheep. Poor economics, but spectacular scenery. I stll can’t work out why people would have set up a farm on a small parcel of flat laand 500 metres above the water level. The only reason that I can conclude is that perhaps the land was free.
After a quick lunch (we made up our own cheese and ham rolls from some things we bought at the little supermnarket) we drove on to a place along the Troll Road a bit over 50 km away and in another valley. Most of this trip was on interesting narrow roads through little villages and past farms. We took one ferry across a fjord and our final section involved a drop of 1000 metres down the sheer wall of a glacial ciirque on a road with 22 hairpin bends.
Our turning point, before hading back to our hotel was at a sheer rock face where 3000 feet of vertical rock rose from the valley floor as part of the fjord wall. This is apparently the largest sheer rock face in Europe. It rivalled many of the places that I had seen in Patagoinia. It was also the site where an Australian BASE jumper died just a few weeks ago when he hit the side of the wall while jumping and fell down the rock face to the valley floor below.
We retraced our steps back up the 22 hairpin bends and across the windy road and ferry crossing back to our hotel in time for a drink befor dinner at 8.30 pm. Drinks for both nights cost me as much as a case of good red wine!
Today, we drove to Flam, the site of the world famous Flam railway. We had spectaular lake and fjord scenery for most of the way. Today was really a day of tunnels. In all, we travelled through over a dozen of them – averaging from 1 km to 6 km in length. The longest was 24.5 km and took us 20 minutes to drive through it. It took six years to build and was only completed six years ago. It makes for a much faster trip and saves a number of slow ferry crossings.
Just at the exit to one tunel, we stoopped for a view of the Bjosabreen galcier, on of the fastest flowing glaciers in Norway. The ice advances at 2metres per day down the steep headed valley from the ice cap above.
We also stopped at another historic stave church at Borgund. This church has remained unaltered since its original construction and looks just like a wedding cake. It is surounded by a pretty little graveyard with some headstones dating back to the early 1800’s.
I am now writing this in broad daylighjt at 8.30 pm in our hotel room overlooking the train station at Flam with all of its tourist shops. A road ferry has just come into the harbour and raised its bow so that all the vehicles can offload. The two liners that were in here on Sognefjord this afterrnoon have left and it seems that until tomorrow morning, the town is left to us bus tourists. I’m sure that the people will be back again tommorrow in timefor us to catch the train.