Something that’s hard to get used to in a Northern European summer is the serious shortage of darkness. I mean, it was still light that night after midnight – and I took the best sunset photo ever at 1:15am, no kidding!
By John Cooney
If you’re ever out on a Sunday afternoon and you find yourself in the North Sea, take a right turn once you’ve gone past England and Scotland, and you should end up in Norway. You probably won’t see any Vikings, because no Vikings have been seen on Sunday afternoons for almost 1000 years. But you probably will see some of the most mouth-wateringly gorgeous landscapes in the world …
The Norwegian fjords are quite simply sensational. These huge clefts in the coastline were created by glacial action a squillion years before tourists showed up, when the whole of Scandinavia was buried under ice. Like water-filled wedges, they stretch inland for hundreds of kilometres – in some places emerald green-and-serene, in other places misty wet-and-wild … here edged by pocket-sized farms and fishing villages, there framed by teetering cliffs and plunging waterfalls.
And if you prefer your beauty clean, unspoiled and natural, well, this region has it by the truckload! It’s a World Heritage Site, and was voted No.1 in a National Geographic survey of the top environmentally-attractive destinations. They don’t come better than that!
There are some roads in this wilderness, and more than a few float-planes and helicopters. But we chose to do our sightseeing hanging over the deck-rails of a cruise-ship – drifting through the deep reflecting stillness and oohing-&-aahing on cue.
I’m told that it rains 300 days a years in these mountainous parts. And our first day here (in the long, skinny Sognefjord) was one of those – so it was on with raincoats as we were ferried ashore to the tiny village of Flam. We rode a historic train up-up-uphill past snowy peaks … then, following a hearty Norwegian smorgasbord lunch, we rode a coach down-down-downhill around 13 hairpin bends, to another tiny village called Gudvangen!
Something that’s hard to get used to in a Northern European summer is the serious shortage of darkness. I mean, it was still light that night after midnight – and I took the best sunset photo ever at 1:15am, no kidding! (The flipside, of course, is that in mid-winter, when these fjords freeze over, they get just three or four hours of daylight. Which wouldn’t be so much fun, I reckon.)
Anyway, our week in Norway was quickly becoming a pile-up of photo-ops. In colourful Kristiansund we learned about ‘klippfish’ … and the town’s early beginnings as a cod processing centre. In Aalesund, a larger town with fairytale turrets and spires, we drove through some of the world’s longest undersea tunnels … climbed to the top of an ancient wooden lighthouse … and met Gangerolv, a Viking King who conquered Normandy in 911 (then became the ancestor of William the Conqueror, sire to the English royal family).
In Hellesylt, surrounded by waterfally cliffs, we eyeballed small hilly farms (one of them only accessible from the water, by way of a flimsy rope ladder) … marvelled at colourful rural dwellings with grass growing thickly on the roofs (good insulation, apparently) … and motored to the alpine town of Stryn (pronounced ‘Streen’), where we lunched on freshly-caught salmon and freshly-picked cloud-berries.
By this stage, we were 1000 metres above sea level, in the middle of a summer ski field, with blinding white snow all around us. Ignoring my wife’s protests (“What on earth will you do with THAT?”) I bought myself a Viking helmet (“Just call me Olaf the Magnificent!”). Then, after skirting the shores of a magnificent glacial lake, we were driven up this steep, zig-zagging, heart-stopping road to the summit of Mt Dalsnibba, now 1500 metres above sea level.
Neither words nor photos can describe the bowl-you-over beauty that awaited us up there on top of the world. We were quite simply gob-smacked by a 360-degree panorama of endless dazzling peaks dropping down to miniature lakes and farms and roads and streams far, far below us.
Our floating hotel was waiting for us way, way, way down there – a tiny toy ship on the spectacular Geirangerfjord. And as we up-anchored that evening and cruised out through the mirror-like waters, I couldn’t help thinking …
Take your breath away? Absolutely! And one fabulous week I won’t ever forget …
JOIN JOHN & ROBYN COONEY IN MAY/JUNE NEXT YEAR WHEN THEY CRUISE THE BALTIC & THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS. PHONE GLEN (HOUSE OF TRAVEL, ELLERSLIE) FOR DETAILS: 0800 323 333 – OR EMAIL: MIDLIFEMADNESSTOURS@HOT.CO.NZ