July 22, 2015
No Possible Title for Today
It is impossible to come up with a snappy title for today’s adventures. We boarded a ferry but needed to get off and get back on facing a different direction after the first part of the ferry ride. Good thing they speak English well. I was totally confused. We also had 50 or so bicyclists on board in spiffy outfits that did not seem suitable for the rain and cold. We would encounter them again later.
We disembarked in Vangnes and drove to the appropriately named village of Vik. Our initial target was our last stave church for the trip. The Hopperstad church was built shortly after the Urnes church. It was refurbished in the late 19th Century to its 12th Century appearance. That means no pews or windows. What you see is a close approximation of what the Viking parishioners experienced. The interior is stunning despite being lit by only tiny portholes up high on the wall.
I kind of focused on the medieval elements like the doorways that were high and round on the bottom. It was believed that Satan had no knees to bow down before God. Therefore the doors were designed for only people who could bend their knees and climb in. It came to me that the dragon motif is carried well beyond ends of the eaves. The wooden shingles appear to me to be dragon scales. On the bell tower the scales are on round supports that look like a Viking dragon. Maybe I have been in Norway too long.
We then returned to downtown Vik to taste some cheese from the Viking era. The recipe and process are ancient but the cheese ages rapidly and continues to age unless frozen. It was nutty and delicious. It is too bad that Gamalost cheese will be imported because of the short aging. There were locals buying big chunks of it. I guess there were Viking feasts in town. We didn’t see them as we needed to head over the mountains.
We made one more church stop at the oldest stone church in Norway that is also in Vik. Made of soapstone, it was easy to make rounded, week fitted stones in the 12th Century. The texture is uniquely soapstone. The structure was basic Romanesque but well done. We enjoyed the dragon holding the incense burners and the fine carvings.
We finally headed uphill and encountered the bike riders who were evidently in some kind of race. There were around 200 or so sharing the narrow road with the shep and oncoming traffic. As we neared the top we found ourself in the snow covered Norwegian wilds. Water is everywhere with astounding waterfalls and rivers gushing from the snow banks.
We dropped down to a valley and found our 100 year old hotel. It has been remodeled a few times but shows its age. We asked about meals and were told that they serve only Chinese. We deferred. More on that later.
Since it was only noon we headed for Flam at the head of the Sognefjord that we had just left. After a quick picnic in the sun we drove on. We quickly reached a highway alternative that promised a great view. This was an extreme understatement. The drive up was easy. Suddenly we were looking down a Yosemite like setting that would lead to a fjord. The entire area is UNESCO protected. We would soon understand why.
The signs warned us about a steep road. The descent down a Norwegian Lombard St. That was 10 times the length of our San Francisco Lombard St was exhilarating to say the least. And since waterfalls are crashing down all around you, it is kind of like drivng down Nevada Falls in Yosemite. Peggy could t click the camera fast enough. Thankfully it was too much for even the most intrepid tour bus.
We continued down the narrow canyon with waterfalls to the right and left. Dozens of them cascaded down the cliffs. They were huge. Gigantic sprays or flumes surrounded us. It was amazing to paraphrase Huell Hauser. After five miles of this we reached the end of Naerefjord at Gudvangen. There was a giant collection of tour buses and a cute Viking tourist village. We took photos and left. Our goal was ahead. It required driving through a 6 mile and a 3 mile tunnel. Peggy made it.
Emerging from the tunnels, we were confronted with a monstrous cruise ship. It was one of those 4000 passenger monsters crowded into the port at Flam. I was curious. My curiosity was satisfied in about 10 minutes. Now I also use cruise ships in my travels. I understand the business. But it was if we had been backpacking in the Sierras and landed on the Yosemite Valley floor. It was a shock. I am sure that the souvenir business is great for the Norwegian economy. Peggy did her part.
Our next goal was to drive up to a scenic overlook about 10 miles away. We made it up about two thirds of the way before stopping and letting our heart rates calm down. It was a one land road with wide spots for cooperative drivers to let on coming traffic squeeze by. It worked but narrowly. After our pictures we retreated. The pictures taken are the ones that make the monstrous cruise ships look like white dots. The trip down was easier although we watched a tour bus cream a small car.
The return to our hotel in Vinje was less dramatic. We found the local market and had the manager microwave our pizza for us. I explained that we were hapless Americans. she took pity on us. As we returned to our hotel we found a tour bus. I guessed that they would be Chinese. Evidently our clever hotel owner is Chinese and offers good home cooking to Chinese tour groups and is very smart. We ate our pizza, tomatoes and nectarines and were happy.
The Chinese ate their meal in about the same time as we consumed our pizza. By the time we reached the room, they were packing up and leaving. Within a minute another tour bus pulled up and out popped forty more Chinese. These were eating the hotel specialty and spending the night.
Peggy is amazed that our bathroom of 3 ft by 4 ft includes a sink, toilet and shower. Maybe we should add a shower to our powder room.
The plan is to head for Bergen in the morning after our Chinese breakfast.