July 21, 2015
Really Old Churuch and Ferry Rides
Enjoyed a filling breakfast with hard-boiled eggs at our waterfall side camp ground. A quick ride took us to the site of the Urnes stave church – the oldest wooden church in the world. But first we needed to manage a 20 mile drive along an impossibly narrow road. It was necessary to stop and backup to a wider spot several times. The unlighted tunnels were the scariest. We survived.
We arrived in time to walk up the half mile from the parking lot and got permission to take pictures outside before the ferry tourists arrived. The carvings from the pre 1130 church are still Viking. The church that stands today is the fourth rendition on the same site. The others were built in the previous 100 years. Some parts were reused like the carvings on the portals outside. The rest was constructed and stands with some strange modifications as the oldest wooden church in the world as recognized by UNESCO.
The basic construction is the same as in Lom with planks or staves planted in the sill and ceiling beams. The guide was excellent and described the process used by the builders 900 years ago. The trees selected for the structural posts were girdled and left to stand for 10 years before cutting them down. This allowed for natural drying with the result that there was no checking or splitting. The Vikings used the same process for their masts. I guess you don’t mess with something that works.
He described the acoustics and lighting techniques to achieve the atmosphere desired for the service. The old Bishop’s chair dates from the time the church was constructed. We couldn’t try it out. Like in Lom, the pews were added during the Reformation. We liked the touch of adding hearts for the woman’s side. The men got crowns on their pews. I guess there is a message there.
From Urnes we got the ferry to Solholm. We walked around the cute harbor before hitting the road. A short drive got us to another ferry. We stopped for a picnic while it wasn’t sprinkling. Showers were on and off but didn’t slow us down. Arrived in Balestrand around 2 and checked in. The place met Peggy’s standards. We spent the afternoon seeing everything in the town.
I guess the highlight was the gallery where we found a watercolor reproduction that almost meets the standard for our ideal Norwegian farm picture. Now to get it home safely. The old Victorian hotel was impressive from the harbor. Less impressive was the Best Western style modern addition that destroys the quaint village look. The hotel’s most famous guest was Kaiser Wilhelm who arrived in grand style on a specially built staircase with his naval entourage. The squadron returned with him every summer for years. The hotel became a must see and stay. We didn’t manage a stay but we did wander the public rooms unmolested. I have to admit that the Norwegian Romantic style was a carving masterpiece.
The St. Olaf’s English church was built to satisfy the bequest of an Englishwoman who had adopted Balestrand as her home. It is quite nice in the stave church style. Anglican services are held several times a week under the auspices of the Diocese of London. Quite quaint.
We picked up an easy meal to prepare at the Coop. This works well as most hotels have guest kitchens. The option of a $20 bowl of reindeer “troll” stew is unappealing. A big breakfast is part of the deal so combined with a picnic lunch, eating is affordable. We can manage a beer or two with our traveler’s budget. Actually we could afford more restaurants but the meals are pretty prosaic for the kind of money they want. It is about the only complaint that I have about Scandinavia.
On our hotel deck waiting for the porpoises to swim by in the fjord. Orcas are rare. Just a few fishing boats tonight.