Thursday, August 12, 2010

Norway part 2: Fjordin'

     I fell asleep on the ride between Oslo and Dombås, but it was kind of rainy and dull out, and I was tired.  However, having to switch trains from the cross country ho-hum type to the Rauma Rail line woke me up.  The train was much nicer, with large windows and slightly more comfortable seating.  We also only had about 3 minutes to switch trains, so there was a bit of an adrenaline rush.  The Rauma line took us through some spectacular scenery!  Almost immediately we crossed an awesome river with cliffs on either side.  Shortly thereafter we were passing through wonderous valleys and next to the Rauma river.  The weather was what I’ve been told is typical to the area – cloudy with a few breakthroughs of sun and some low hung fog in the valleys.  The train descends rapidly from something like 600m to sea level in a trip that took only an hour or so and wasn’t going very fast.  It crosses at least 30 bridges and goes through two hairpin tunnels.  Yes, hairpin tunnels.  As in the train does a U-turn in the mountain!  The train also passed by the Trollveggen (Troll’s wall), which is the highest cliff face in Europe at something like 1000m.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it due to the low clouds (but we saw it on the way back)..

View from the Rauma Rail 
A view from the Rauma Railway line. 

      We reached Åndalsnes and exited the train to the sound of Norwegian death metal!  Rauma Rock, an annual festival, happened to be occurring while we were there.  Before we went a-Rauma-rockin, we walked the 4km to the campground on the Rauma river.  We set up camp, and although we were tired, felt the rumble of hunger.  So back to the city we walked, to get some food and go Rauma Rockin!  We barely made it in time to get groceries, and with groceries in hand, walked over to the festival.  Unfortunately, they wanted 800 kroner (~$115) to get in!  Luckily, we didn’t have too much interest in actually seeing the performers, and instead grabbed a beer to listen.  At $10/beer, our wallets only allowed us 2 each, and our internal clocks were still partly on California time, so we soon walked back to our camp and crashed.

Rauma River view of the mountains 
This was taken right next to the campground at a small beach area, the morning we went to see the Trollstigen.

       Waking up the next day to somewhat dreary (but picturesque) surroundings, we got up and made breakfast sandwiches, did some emailing, and prepared for our trip to the Geirangerfjord.  The bus left at 8:30, the same time the café at the campground opened which just wouldn’t do.  Coffee was needed!  So a bit before the hour we hoofed it towards town to the gas station on the outskirts of town, and got some of the best gas station coffee I’ve ever had.  I mean, this stuff was excelent!  With epic coffee in hand, we waited at the bus station in front of the gas station and flagged down the bus to Geirangerfjord when it came by.  The bus driver looked pissed, but I think that was just his normal expression because he turned out to be a jolly fat man.  The bus took us back past our campsite, and onwards down the road to the Trollstigen and the fjord.  In my mind the fjord was the main attraction, but that idea was quickly discarded as we approached the Trollstigen.  The road ascends a ridiculous cliff, with many switchback, and a width I hardly thought wide enough for the huge bus we were in!  The jolly fat driver stopped a few time to exlaim ‘fotos!’, where all passengers would stumble out, too intent on looking at the massive cliffs to notice small things like stairs on a bus.  Seriously, two people did this.

The troll sign!
The official sign in Norway for Troll crossing!

The Trollstigen (Troll's Ladder)

      The climb to the top of the Trollstigen was an impressive feat of driving, and the view from the top was amazing.  The fog was hung low in the valley, looking more like a painting than reality.  But it didn’t end there.  The terrain from this point down to the small town of Valldal was equally amazing.  I love the high mountain landscapes!  There are pictures on flickr, but none turned out too well through the windows of the bus. 
Arriving in Valldal, we were surprised to find ourselves boarding a ferry to cross from Valldal to Eidsdal.  Then we climbed back up and over a pass, descended another crazy steep and narrow road, and arrived in Geiranger.  We had a few minutes, which we used to make sandwiches while we waited for the ferry from Geiranger back to Valldal.  Mmm sandwiches.  The ferry arrived, and off we went.  The Geirangerfjord is one of the ‘to do’ fjords of Norway and it was definitely impressive.  The shear scale of it all was just massive. 

Overlook of Geiranger 
A view of Geiranger (and an apparently grumpy me) from near the pass we came over.

       The ferry took us past a few waterfalls, one of which is known as the 7 sisters and looked spectacular in the pictures we saw of it.  But this year has been a bit light on the rainfall and consequentially two of the sisters were on vacation.  It was still an awesome site, as well as the waterfall across from the 5 remaining sisters.
The ferry then went out of the Geirangerfjord and turned toward Valldal.  We passed farms that were situated on cliffs overlooking the fjord.  These farms had all been in use as late as the 1960s, and must have took determined farmers to work them!  There were no roads to them, no electricity, and snow melt streams for water.  They existed at elevations that were high enough to make the climb up strenous, but low enough that the winters were not too harsh on the inhabitants.  One farm was even moved down by 15 meters because they had originally built it too high and the winter was too harsh at that elevation!  Imagine moving your house 15 meters (50 ft) lower and all the sudden the winter is much milder!

A bit cold! 
The 7 (five) Sisters waterfall.

      The fjord widened and branched again as we turned towards Valldal and Eidsdal, and we watched the same ferry that had carried our bus over as it cruised away from Valldal with another bus on board.  This also signaled the end of our ferry ride, so we disembarked and found that we had 2 hours to wait until we could catch the bus back (we had just seen it crossing on the other ferry going the other way).  With time to spare, we bought some beer, made a few sandwiches, and explored Valldal.  There was a small church in town that was kind of cool – Andrew was running around trying to find old gravestones, but none were older than 150yrs.  We then found a little beach to relax on and wait for the bus.  People were swimming and the water was indeed warm, although we had no swim suits, so instead we skipped some stones and ate our sandwiches.  Soon the time had passed and we were boarding the bus again, bound for Åndalsnes with the jolly fat driver at the wheel again.

Valldal Beach 
The beach in Valldal where we had some sandwiches.

      This time the sun was shining, the sky was a deep blue, and the views were just great!  The driver stopped at a roadside stand for strawberries, and although expensive by US standards, they were excellent!  The Valldal area is known in Norway as a huge strawberry area, and it did not disappoint.  The trip back up to the Trollstigen was awesome; we were able to see much more this time around.  Again we stopped for ‘fotos!’ and got some great shots. 
      Arriving back at the campground we were surprisingly tired, so we showered and I went to sleep.  Andrew stayed up and drank beer with himself like a total alco.  I awoke the next day refreshed and spent it internetting and relaxing in Åndalsnes as we waited for the train to Trondheim.