16 Aug 2007
The final full day at the cottage, and we decided to take a drive to the west of Norway, to see one of the smaller fjords, called Nærøyfjord. It is an arm off Sognefjorden, the longest and deepest fjord in the world.
The drive seemed to go by fairly quickly, as we admired the landscape that passed by outside our windows. To get to the other side of the country we had to drive over mountain passes, and once we reached the top we saw glacier ice and snow just a few meters away. The land itself was barren and harsh-looking and virtually lacking in human activity, except for a few cottages scattered along the way. The water looked absolutely pure and sparkling clean, almost green in colour, and really, really cold. It reminded me of the pictures you see on very expensive bottles of imported water. I suppose the water temperature was close to freezing, seeing as it was mostly run-off from melting glaciers.
As we came down the other side of the mountains, through what seemed like never-ending tunnels, a truly magnificent vista opened itself up to us. Pictures really do not do the landscape any justice, but here's an attempt anyway:
Although this is perhaps not the most beautiful fjord in Norway, it does claim to be the narrowest one, and has been included by UNESCO on the World Heritage List. Thus, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Norway, something we can now vouch for! We arrived at Flåm hoping to take the 1:20 boat to Gudvangen, only to be told that the boat was full. Instead, we were booked on the 3:10 boat.
However, this actually worked out to our advantage, as we decided to have lunch in Flåm instead of on the boat, and proceeded to spend a bit of time exploring this beautiful little village, with a population of 500. I cannot imagine how many tourists it caters to in a typical year, but judging from our experience, I would guess that this is in the hundreds of thousands.
After lunch and a quick stroll back to the car to get extra sweaters for the ferry ride, we leisurely walked towards the docks, only to see that there was already a lineup to get onto the ship. This was only about 40 minutes before departure time, but we had been told by the ticketing agent that this particular cruise was almost empty, and we were therefore surprised at the crowds.
Seeing as we had four children and really wanted to get decent seats for them, we immediately joined the queue. Or so we thought. The line snaked its way up to a souvenir store, and then made a 180 degree turn and down the other way again. To complicate matters further, the line was very skinny to begin with, with people lining up one by one, and fattened out further down, where it was several families thick. It is difficult to describe, as it was a little confusing to say the least. Mike commented that this lack of organization was highly un-Norwegian, and I have to agree. I would have thought the lines to be more "regimented", considering how many times a day cruises take off from the village.
Things got really interesting when a group of...ehem...Asian...tourists picked the middle of the line up as their group meeting point. People started dropping out of the queue to move toward the front entrance of the ferry, where there was still space since the beginning of the line was so skinny. Hae Yung and I began to get a bit concerned, but we continued to stand in line until it became obvious that we were now pretty much the last ones in the official queue. At that point, we left proper line-up culture by the wayside, grabbed our kids by the hand and pushed our way into the throng in front of the ferry.
Never stand between two mothers and their destination, is all I can say, because when all was said and done, the boarding completed and seats found, we pretty much had the best view possible! Top deck, right side, all we had to do was kick back and relax!
The trip itself was scheduled to take 2 hours, and the kids loved every minute of it. They saw huge waterfalls cascading down hundreds of meters. Cute little towns with only 10-12 houses, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Farms up mountain sides that looked so steep, that you might fall right off the land if you tried to work it. Even cottages at the top of mountains, completely solitary and with no obvious way of getting to them. It was a spectacular trip.
Of course, the highlight of the trip for the kids was the cafeteria(!) on the lower deck, which sold hot chocolate, pancakes and other goodies. Samantha and Christopher were down there several times, occasionally joined by Nathan and Benjamin.
Hae Yung and I did not leave our seats, however, as we were quite mesmerized by the beautiful scenery. The only thing drawing our attention away from the landscape passing us by was the constant squeals of delights emanating from our left. As we turned to see where the sound was coming from, we saw a family of...ehem...Asians delightedly throwing bread overboard, to seagulls flying alongside us! That's right! Forget about the scenery, let's feed the birds instead. They were even filming the birds as they swooped down to catch bits of bread. I have to say, their thrill and excitement was quite endearing, and I almost forgave them for the bits of bread that landed in our hair, on the ground around our chairs, and even in poor Christopher's eye. I only wonder why they chose to spend $150 dollars to do this on a fjord cruise, when they could have done just as well from the docks!
Mike had taken this cruise a few years earlier, with the Wades, so he offered to forego the boat ride this time, and drive to meet us in Gudvangen instead. This way, we saved an hour or so because we didn't have to take a bus back to pick up our car. Probably a good thing, as the kids were quite happy to get back to the cottage and hang out a bit before bed time!