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Norway

Geirangerfjord - Houses on the approach to the fjord. Copyright © Safari the Globe

Oslo

August 5, 2013
The Modern Capital

Oslo's airport is one of the most well signed airports in the world as it is incredibly easy to navigate. Unfortunately, it was here that we came to the realization that Oslo is one of the world's most expensive cities as a one way ticket into town on the express train cost about $32 per person each way. But Cindy & I are on our honeymoon so let's splurge! Ok, that was difficult to write... for most of today I calculated how much everything cost in U.S. dollars then made some sort of shocked statement and commiserated with my bank account, which is not so slowly leaving me.

The trip into town was smooth and everything looks so modern; very unlike the stereotypical Europe, which most Americans imagine is so old it can hardly stand. Our hotel was next to the main train station so it didn't take long to get checked in and hit the city. We started off at the Monk Museum, which is dedicated to Edvard Monk, Norway's most famous painter. The highlight was obviously one of the four versions of "The Scream."

After the museum we got on another modern amenity, the efficient and, mostly, clean metro, which didn't seem to have any check system to guarantee anyone actually pays. From our stop near the train station we wandered to the Oslo Opera House, which is a post-modern building that seems to be rising out of the water like an iceberg, in today's case, a warm sunny summer day, the iceberg would have melted.

The streets were quiet today, of course it was the middle of the day on a Monday. We found an even quieter street and slowly meandered to the Oslo City Hall, which is where the Noble Peace Prize is annually handed out. The large boxy building wasn't as interesting as the walk along the street, Radhusgate, to the building.

After a short ferry trip to Bygdoy Cindy & I walked to the Viking Ship Museum only to see dozens of buses and no good food options so we headed around the corner for some grub. Oddly, our first meal in Norway wasn't seafood; it was a club sandwich with a light pesto sauce, which was quite good, especially the hardy bread. After our pleasant lunch surprise we headed back to the Viking Ship Museum to find most buses had left and navigating the place was quite manageable.

The museum is home to three Viking ships, with the Oseberg being the most famous surviving Viking ship in the world. The vastness of the ship was impressive for a moment, but when the realization that people traveled on boats like this across the North Atlantic Ocean to North America, it seemed small and an impossible task. Additionally, the details of the ship and uniform design must have taken years to complete. The other ships and exhibits were impressive, but the Oseberg was without a doubt the highlight as I stood mesmerized, not sure if I should take dozens of pictures or just enjoy it... we did a little of both.

At some point shortly after the Viking Ship Museum jet lag and the lack of sleep began to hit hard; the rest of the day became more of a game to stay awake that it was a sightseeing expedition. This blurry journey began at the Royal Palace, which was quickly bypassed as we enjoyed the landscape.

The streets from the Royal Palace to Parliament are pleasant as some areas are pedestrian and it seems people are out relaxing, shopping, or just getting through the area as quickly as possible to get to their destination. We took our time, checking out the $42 t-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe before shaking our heads and moving on without a gift for my brother. We also briefly stopped by the ice bar before deciding a drink would put us to sleep (although the cold may have woken us up). We spent about an hour along this stretch of street before arriving to the Oslo Cathedral, only to realize we had no energy left.

Sogndal

August 6, 2013
Life on the Fjord & Urnes Stave Church

Our flight from Oslo this morning landed in Sogndal without a problem, Cindy's bag did not. There are few buses from the airport so we reported the missing bag then quickly jumped on the bus headed to Sogndal. This sleepy little village has little to offer other than tranquility. The tourist sites in the town are non-existent as the town is truly just for relaxing, but it also makes a good hub for travel to nearby stave churches and fjords.

After settling in we hit the town, finding a grocery store and a little Italian restaurant, where we ate. The chef and server were both ethnic Italian and the food reflected this; the food was excellent. Again we haven't yet had seafood in Norway, an odd decision, but in Sogndal there were few seafood restaurants, only a few cafes, all of which served Italian food.

After dinner we checked out the bus schedule for the next day, hit the grocery store for snacks, and called it an early night.

August 7, 2013

After a free, and less than appetizing Norwegian breakfast in our hotel we took the bus to the village of Solvorn, a trip of about a half hour that took us along the fjord then into the mountains before climbing down narrow streets to the waterfront.

Solvorn seemed pleasant, but we got dropped off at the ferry dock and a boat was leaving for the village of Ornes 10 minutes later so we stuck around and jumped on board to see the Urnes Stave Church. The sun broke the clouds on this brief ferry journey and the Lustrafjord (an arm of the Sognefjord) lit up, revealing a sort of dark blue water twirled with a touch of green, perhaps only a reflection of the many evergreens that cover the fjords. To add to this mystical atmosphere a sea lion rose out of the water almost on cue.

As we approached Ornes, the village seemed smaller than anticipated, but that was primarily in comparison to the enormity of the rock walls climbing up into the heavens. The longer the boat trip took, the slower we seemed to move as details become more apparent and the small wooden boat houses along the water came into focus.

The town of Ornes clings to the mountainous landscape and to reach the Urnes Stave Church it takes a kilometer walk up a gently sloping hill. After about 10 minutes we decided to stop for a snack at an overlook to enjoy the views of the fjord as the rest of our boat companions rushed to the church.

Once back on the trail to the church, we saw more people rushing down the hill to catch the next ferry than we saw heading in our direction. Breaking the walk up into two segments seemed to help as we made it into the church with plenty of energy and fewer crowds. A free tour guide in the church offered a short history of the church and explained all the engineering mistakes that have been made, which is no short list. None-the-less, the church still stands today and the construction, flawed or not, almost brings the church alive as its builders were likely local towns people who had no knowledge on how to build such a large structure.

Outside the church is the old church entrance, which consists of incredible carved wood, which seems to be in stark contrast to the interior's engineering blunders. The grounds are also home to a cemetery and stone wall. After walking around the grounds for some time, mostly mesmerized, we headed to a nearby hill to get a view of the church, the landscape, and the fjord in the distance. From this perspective the church seems perfectly situated nearly a thousand years ago as it provides views of the entire region, a view that is almost religious in and of itself.

After seeing the church we slowly made our way back to the water, then over to Solvorn via ferry. Solvorn is a picturesque little village that consists of about two streets before climbing quickly into the mountains. Having little motivation, we explored only these two streets before sitting on the beach to relax before our next bus came. When we first sat down on the grass near the water we had our long-sleeved shirts on and felt somewhat cool, but the sun was so warm we shed a layer and warmed up compliments to the sun. The locals also seemed to be here as kids and families arrived in droves to enjoy the cool water.

Along the shore many girls were sunbathing, in the water young boys were swimming to a raft, and on the grass families picnicked. Time slowly disappeared in this place, nothing there but the sound of people laughing and having a good time; on occasion a bird could be heard or the many nearby waterfalls demanded my focus, but little else was heard as any sort of technology seemed miles away.

Sognefjord

August 8, 2013
Rural Norway

We awoke early in Sogndal and slowly made our way to the pier for our boat trip to Bergen; a five hour journey through the Sognefjord. Along the journey the sky flirted with sunshine and most of us on board flirted with a nap, all sides winning at some point during the trip.

The boat took us from village to village along the fjord, starting in Sogndal then making stops in Leikanger, Vangsnes, Balestrand, Vik, Nordeide, Lavik, Rysjedalsvika, and a few additional stops on Norway's west coast before arriving to Bergen. As the boat approached each town every smoker on board rushed out for a cigarette and I rushed out to take photos, mostly while holding my breath.

Every village seemed the same in the sense that each was nestled between the mountains and water and each was small. Yet they offered an intrigue I get when I know something is impossible to see at the moment. So quiet and so small, yet I felt something behind that front row of boat houses in each town calling me. Perhaps there is little each offers, but it seemed Solvorn offered nothing either, but that small stretch of water provided so much more than expected and I wanted to see what each of these villages could give. From the boat they each drew me in, in Balestrand it was the impressive Kvikne's Hotel, in Vik the waterfall falling from the clouds, and in some unknown village it was the nothingness, just quiet and peace; no town, just a road, a red barn, and a bright white building standing in stark contrast to the green mountains, the deep blue waters, and the bright blue sky, which lit up with the sun sneaking a peak for a few minutes.

Each village in Sognefjord seems to offer mystery, so much to experience, yet so little to see or do. It seems to me that this is where Norway lives, not in large numbers, but in culture. Each village separated from civilization, yet completely in touch with it. An incredible reliance on the land and sea, but just a short boat ride, flight, or bus ride from Bergen.

Bergen

August 8, 2013
The Hanseatic City

The sun was out to stay by the time we arrived to Bergen at about noon, getting in from Sognefjord. After hitting our hotel, which sits in the heart of the wharf in the Bryggen district, we got ourselves a Bergen Card, which provides free admission to some museums as well as discounts at a number of other sights.

Visiting a leprosy museum may seem like bad idea, but when you have free admission it seems like an opportunity that can't be missed so sadly it was our first stop. After much confusion, and a newly engrained fear of everything, we departed the museum and headed back into the heart of the city, the fish market.

Despite the nearby road, all we could hear at the fish market were people walking, talking, buying, and eating. Dozens of stands offered the morning's catch on ice, which attracted the locals, while each also offered a grilled dish of salmon or lobster and huge pots cooking fish soup or clams. It was for this reason most of the tourists made their way here, us included, as we grabbed lunch; Cindy had the lobster and I grabbed the salmon.

We slowly made our way back to Bryggen to see a couple more museums that offered free admission with our Bergen Cards, sadly one of these, the Bryggen Museum, had a temporary exhibit featuring shoes. I don't know if me rolling my eyes, constantly looking at my watch, and talking about how ridiculous many of the shoes were counts as a fight, but if so it was the first fight my wife and I had as a married couple. I stood in shock, especially in the section where you could try the shoes on, as she stood in awe.

We finally got out of the shoe exhibit (it wasn't actually that long or painful) and relaxed a bit before having a nice dinner. We had little motivation to do anything so grabbed dinner in Bryggen, which was quite good, but we are in Norway and a nice sit down meal means expensive. We knew what we were getting into, but bit the bullet none-the-less. Since we were splurging already, Cindy grabbed a glass of wine and I tried the local specialty, aquavit, specifically "Bergens Aquavit 1818." It was similar to a lightly flavored potato vodka and reminded me of something that would fit in with the many vodkas offered in Poland.

After dinner we strolled along the waterfront, just enjoying the scene, before hitting the hotel for the night.

August 9, 2013

We slept in a bit today as our schedule was fairly open and all we really had to do was catch a boat by day's end. So we started the day near our hotel at the Rosenkrantz Tower and the Royal Residence, or Haakon's Hall, which is next door. Neither was particularly busy at the time we arrived so we had time to wander around the two historic buildings at our own pace.

The narrow doorways and small windows on Rosenkrantz Tower helped us pretend to be soldiers from hundreds of years ago, but the simple signs and basic exhibits reminded us we were just in a museum. The exhibits gave a little insight into the history of the building, but the building itself was the highlight as were the views from the roof.

Haakon's Hall is little more than a hall. Thanks to some construction though, the entrance was tough to locate so we were the only people in the hall after finding the door. Cindy danced around the massive room like an airplane and I got blackmail photos!

We slowly moved from Haakon's Hall through the Bryggen district, then up the funicular to the top of Floyen Mountain, which watches over the city below. There is little to do at the top of the mountain other than buy overpriced snacks and souvenirs. However, doing nothing is exactly what you're supposed to do here; just do nothing, but sit and enjoy the view, which is incredible, especially on a sunny day like we had today.

After spending an hour or two at the top of the mountain, we made our way back to the Bryggen district to see the narrow passageways between the buildings. The narrow pathways seemed almost dangerous as the buildings only appear to remain standing by leaning into each other and walking through these tunnels only helped us see how crocked the buildings are. But here the paint on the buildings was gone and only the wooden structures remained, making them feel much more real. There was no hiding the structural flaws as the wood beams hardly held up the buildings and the old cranes used to haul stuff up to the top floors of each building hung over the top, almost leaning over the top of us.

After much time strolling these small walkways we checked our watched and decided to grab a local beer called Hansa in front of some of these old wooden buildings. Here we ate a bit and drank, just watching the people pass by, more with each stopping boat. After some time relaxing we grabbed our bags from our hotel and headed off to catch our boat.

On the way to our boat, which was a bit of a distance away, we strolled along the Fish Market one last time then passed through the Torgallmenningen, where people were playing chess and checkers, some on huge boards, Jenga, Legos, and other games, all just sitting around for anyone to enjoy. We didn't play, but we definitely slowed down to watch for some time.

Eventually, we made it to the port for the Hurtigruten Coastal Ferry, only to notice we were about the only ones who showed up with our hair and without a walker or wheelchair... okay, it wasn't that bad, but we were definitely on the younger end of the spectrum. Once on board we explored the ship quickly, then settled into a little lounge where we enjoyed the scenery as we left Bergen behind.

Geirangerfjord

August 10, 2013
A Couple Days in Rainy Geiranger & Alesund

We got up early on our boat to see the city of Alesund from the ship. The town looks beautiful and the rising sun made the brightly colored buildings jump out. However, we didn't disembark since the ship was only in port for 30 minutes. Instead we stood on the deck watching a fisherman below, as well as a huge number of jellyfish floating through the waters.

Once back on the water, the boat trip into Geirangerfjord moved from one gorgeous scene to the next. In many ways there was little change as the entire trip was strikingly beautiful (including the picture above), but what did change was the weather as the clouds slowly came in. By the time we got to the town of Geiranger the clouds were overhead, but the rains remained at bay.

After getting off our boat, we started off to our hotel; Cindy thought the hotel was close enough to walk; that tone changed 20 minutes later as we tried to trek up the narrow winding roads that climb the mountain walls surrounding the fjord. We eventually called a taxi, which got us to our hotel in short order. Our room was nice, but the incredible view made the trek, taxi, and money worth the price. Of course the view only encouraged us to not move for some time as we just stared out the window.

As the day moved on we got hungry so headed into the town of Geiranger itself to grab some food and groceries. The town is small, but lively as a camp ground is near the town and there are only a few places to get out to when it comes to food and entertainment, making the lone street a social hub of sorts. After dinner we grabbed some groceries then got a taxi back to our hotel for the night.

August 11, 2013

We declared today a day with no plans, or "do nothing day." However, I get bored fairly easily and after a few hours of doing nothing I needed to get out. Breakfast and Angry Birds can only last so long, so in the early afternoon I pointed to a spot out our window and said "I want to go there" and soon we were on our way.

The day was gloomy as the clouds hung low, covering the tops of the mountains and feeling like we were in a giant enclosed space. None-the-less, the rains were nowhere to be seen and the fresh air made it feel quite freeing. We began our hike with rain gear on and enough food and water to take a few breaks along our trek.

Our trek took us to Vesteras Farm, which was a fairly smooth hike from our hotel, since were at about the same elevation as the farm. There was little here to spark our interests other than the many hiking trails, many of which moved straight through enclosed fields filled with sheep. In fact many gates into these fields had signs that said "please close the gate behind you" to prevent the animals from escaping. The enclosed spaces were huge and how anyone would find their sheep in these massive fields is a mystery to me.

We found a sign to Storsæterfossen or Storsæter Waterfall, which has a walkway behind the falls themselves so you can actually walk behind the falling water. We headed up to the falls, regularly stopping along the way to grab food and water. The rains didn't strike on the way up, but it was misty from time to time and the views were somewhat obstructed due to the thick air. We made our way to the falls easily as the signs are well marked, but the hiking length times were a bit optimistic, or set for a mountain runner. None-the-less, the trek was well worth the experience as the waterfall was relatively empty so we had it all to ourselves.

After finishing most of our snacks above the waterfall, we began our trek back to the hotel; along the way the rains started, but came down very lightly for most of the walk. Fortunately, we moved quickly since the path took us downhill.

Back in our hotel we continued "do nothing day" with a meal of store bought foods and a couple glasses of wine. Everywhere in Norway we have found massive raspberries and in the shop yesterday we found raspberry jam. Although generally not a fan of jam, Cindy convinced me to try it and it was incredibly good. Between this and the wine, our evening meal was simple, but tasty. In the bar of our hotel it became clear everyone had the same idea as us; the bar was busy (for a 30 room hotel), the board games for guests were being played, and the views out the window had vanished. Shortly after we returned to our hotel the clouds had fallen further and there was no longer a view of the fjord.

August 12, 2013

After a quick breakfast, I spent too much time just staring at a massive cruise ship turning around in the small fjord; the whole process took over half an hour and it helped put the small fjord's size into perspective. The cruise ship was also about the only thing to look at since today was more of the same: low clouds and rains. Despite this lousy weather, what we soon realized was that the waterfalls were gushing unlike they have since we arrived.

After making our way down to the harbor to catch our afternoon boat we simply sat in the town of Geiranger people watching and staring at the impressive waterfalls, which we didn't see just a couple days earlier. The wait here was slow as the town offers little, other than a hamburger stand, which was oddly good. During this time we also noticed how significant this port is as the cruise ship let off people from dozens of countries; all of whom rushed around to see what they could before getting back on their ship to return on their voyage. This helped me realize what we had all to ourselves (or at least with less people) as the cruise ship more than quadrupled the small population in this town. Overnighting gave us an opportunity to see and experience the fjord and mountains at our own pace and without fighting any crowds.

When our ship arrived it was only Cindy and I, plus another couple, getting on our ship; once on board we dropped our stuff off and continued our "day of nothing." We sat in a lounge area on the top floor and just enjoyed the scenery; every direction we looked the waterfalls were gushing over the tops of the mountains. Despite the rain and low clouds, the waterfalls were stunning and the clouds were just high enough for us to enjoy the waterfalls, many of which appeared to being falling straight out of the clouds.

Our ship stopped briefly in the town of Alesund where Cindy and I took advantage of the 45 minute stop. Unlike our first stop here, today it was raining, but we had more time so jumped off the boat and headed into the small town. Alesund is known as the Art Nouveau capital of Norway and is one of the best examples of the architectural style anywhere in the world since the city was rebuilt in the style after a fire in 1904. As advertised, the city was stunning, but today it was also very dreary. Thankfully it's also small enough to run through the town's highlights in only 45 minutes.

The rest of the day was spent on the ship, moving from enjoying the scenery in an upper floor lounge to reading or playing games on our kindles.

Trondheim

August 13, 2013
Nidaros Cathedral... and More Rain

We arrived to Trondheim early in the morning and were disappointed to find the rains hadn't let up; in fact I think they may have been coming down even harder. However, we only had a day in this city, the former Viking capital, so had to make the most of it. After finding the train station, where we ditched our bags in a locker, we headed into town to see the city.

Having quite a few hours in the city, we took our time, walking along the river to see the old wooden houses on stilts before finding our way to Nidaros Cathedral. Throughout the walk the rains came and went, but our rain coats pushed us through the storm.

Just as the steady rains turned into a massive downpour we came upon the cathedral, not a moment too soon. We got a ticket for the cathedral, Archbishop's Palace and the Royal Regalia, which includes the former Norwegian coronation crown (the last couple Norwegian kings have not been coronated, but instead have been consecrated). We started off in the cathedral, which had a free English language tour starting just a few minutes after we arrived.

The cathedral is a surprise, even after doing hours and hours of research on Norway, Trondheim, and the cathedral. It is massive, but more importantly, the detail work on it is awe-inspiring. Everyone's heard of Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame, while this Romanesque-Gothic church is relatively unknown, but in many ways was more impressive. The church echoes your footsteps and, although there were dozens of people present, it was large enough to feel empty, but never alone. We spent over an hour in the church, just wandering around aimlessly, then stopping in to listen to the English language tour from time to time. The guide was a good storyteller and we hung on her words, not able to pull ourselves away until each story was complete. Eventually we did pull ourselves away and moved on to the next building, the Archbishop's Palace.

The Archbishop's Palace is truly a museum, but not reflecting that of the Catholic past so much as it pronounced the history and sculptures of Nidaros Cathedral, including many of the original sculptures. We also watched a film here that explained the history of the cathedral; Nidaros Cathedral has been destroyed (to some degree) many times and the present church is mostly a re-construction after a fire in the 1800s. Perhaps this is the reason the cathedral isn't as well-known internationally.

However, the reconstruction is so impressive it's difficult to determine what is original and what is not. The video explained that there is a massive project being undertaken to form molds of every sculpture in or on the church. There are over 6,000 in total and in this way when one is damaged, or needs to be preserved, an imitation can be made and placed in its spot. The models are so accurate they even include the sculptor and mason marks, which in many cases look like little more than a scratch in the stone. In a way, this knowledge takes away from the cathedral, but in another way it adds to its prestige since the reconstruction is so loyal to the original and is nearly impossible to tell what is original and what is not.

After the long video about the cathedral had ended so too was our time; we had spent over an hour in the cathedral and another full hour in the Archbishop's Palace so we rushed off to the Royal Regalia. Not being Norwegian, the royal regalia had little meaning to us, but all pieces were still very impressive.

After stopping in front of the Nidaros Cathedral to stare at the many sculptures on the front face (the rain had finally stopped), we slowly strolled back through town to see Royal Residence (from the outside) and the center of the city before catching a bus to the airport for our late afternoon flight to Oslo, then back home from there.

Goodbye Norway! Thanks for the honeymoon!

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