Norway, First Impressions

The day started in Ireland with a three hour drive on the left side of the road, followed by several hours of flying, and ended in Aurland with a five hour drive on the right side of the road. Actually, it didn’t quite end there. Thankfully.

Aurland

We arrived in Aurland well after 11PM, equal parts enamoured and annoyed with the sunshine at this hour. We climbed into bed and did the old t-shirt-over-the-face trick to block out the light. Which worked. The trouble is, the light wasn’t the thing keeping us awake — it was the sound. Driving into Aurland, we thought we’d descended upon a tiny out-of-the-way dot on the Sognefjord, and indeed we had, just not this weekend. This weekend the festival was in town. Not quite sure which festival — I still can’t read Norwegian — but the festival was here. There was shouting and singing and beer swilling and music and all sorts of other noise happening right outside our window. It was all the sounds of merriment, but merriment wasn’t quite what we were seeking in Aurland after traveling for nearly 20 hours. At 1:30 in the morning I heard Meg roll over and sigh, “I guess we should go and see what all the fuss is about.” So we got dressed and headed down to a sectioned-off car park area near the water’s edge, avoided the 300 kroner ($50) per person entry fee by walking in the exit aisle like we owned the place, and, to our delight, found a beer garden — which was providing the fuel for this:


It was like being in a different world — music we’d never heard before in a language unfamiliar, under bright midnight skies, well-oiled people in a mass do-si-do singing along in beery tones that carried far out over the fjord and seemed to echo off the distant hills. It felt bizarre to us, though of course standing there dazed at the spectacle of it all, we soon realized we were the odd ones out, we were the bizarre spectacle. And then Meg said the second thing that make me like her rather a lot that night: “OK, well, I guess if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” And so this happened until the Aurland Festival ended:

[side note: if anyone knows who this band is, or even what they’re saying, please let me know — I’d love to give them credit here for getting us out of bed and into the groove on our first night in Norway.]

By the time we finally got to bed, some time after 3AM, the sunrise had begun, or some clouds had cleared; either way it was brighter outside than when we’d arrived! T-shirt back on the face, it was finally time to try to get a few hours’ sleep. Whatever fatigue lingered the next morning was barely noticeable though; we had woken up to this:

IMG_7784The village of Aurland, on the Sognefjord

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IMG_0035To give some perspective on the enormity of the hills towering over the fjords, that’s someone’s cottage in a grassy clearing to the right of the waterfall.

IMG_7826Worth a try

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The Road to Laerdal

There’s a road that creeps up behind the village of Aurland — the ‘mountain road’ the locals call it (to distinguish it from the low-lying ‘fjord road’) — a narrow road, closed in winter, that twists and turns and cuts its way sharply back around hairpin bends on a single-lane ribbon of asphalt, which took us up, up, ear-poppingly high to look out over the longest and deepest fjord Norway has to offer, and gave us one of the most memorable days of the entire trip so far.

IMG_1824From the edge: a plate of glass, a void, and Aurland far below

On its own, the viewpoint, a glass-ended wooden platform jutting out from the mountain, is worth a visit to the area. It is, in a quite literal way, breathtaking. To stand at the edge, inches away from a drop down into the treetops and beyond, leaves you inhaling shortly and sharply before remembering the calming ‘focus on the horizon’ mantra. Most people seem to make the viewpoint their destination, turning back after reaching it. Which is fair play — the road is hair-raising, the driver can’t see anything of the view on the way up for having to concentrate so hard on the road — on shouldering without tumbling down the mountainside as oncoming cars vie for road space — and the view, once you make it to the viewpoint, is utterly arresting; there’s a sense of accomplishment in getting here safely. But for those who carry on, heading farther up into the vast and treeless plateaus atop the mountains, and then begin the descent on the other side towards Laerdal, a different galaxy of amazement awaits.

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As the vegetation thinned out to scrub and the rocks changed colour — or at least became more visible — we came upon a patch of snow. In the middle of July. In our shorts and t-shirts. It was unavoidable.

IMG_8033Barefoot too

Driving onward, the road flattened out, and up in the crisp air, more snow awaited, in wide fields aside crystal clear mountain lakes and streams, melting into waterfalls that tumble down gullies into the fjords. Figuring we had driven far enough for one day, and given that it was approaching 8PM, we stopped at one of the lakes and had dinner — a picnic on the cold grass in the evening sun, all alone up here in the Norwegian sky.

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In short, our first impressions of Norway were like none other — we knew Norway was going to be beautiful, but we were still surprised, happily shocked, to find that no pictures, no text could have prepared us for the real thing. After three long, gloriously sunny, full days of hiking, driving, and the odd bit of fishing, it was time to leave the Sogn area and head south, for Eidfjord.



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