Wednesday 6 May 2015

The Prettiest Place in the World

During the night we had the Changing of - no, not the guards (although this springs to mind immediately as most of our guests are British) - Fjord.
Although Hardangerfjord is huge, it is clearly beaten by the Sognefjord, the second largest in the world. No less than 204 kilometers it cuts into the land, through very hard rock. Gives you a fairly good idea about the power of ice.
Not only it is the longest, it has also some of the prettiest branches of them all. Several times this area has been declared the most attractive travel destination of the planet by the National Geographic Magazine. They should know.
Today is dedicated to two of them. The morning finds us hovering in front of Undredal, the “lower dale”. Funnily enough the word could also be translated into the “valley of miracles” (undre = to wonder). And in fact, something marvelous happened here, when a French lady married her Norwegian husband, moved to this place and applied all the knowledge of her country into the production of goat cheese, which already was a local speciality. So now the best of two worlds meet here in this tiny village; it is probably the best cheese money can buy in Norway.
Undredal is also the departure point for one of the most spectacular train rides in the world, the Flåmbana.
Who would think of building a train station at the very end of a deep, steep fjord…?! Well, it worked out so far, assuming you are able to make your track climb by nearly 900 meters over a mere 20 kilometers, resulting in a slope 1:18.
The construction was a smart move, as the very important Sognefjord region got connected with the Oslo-Bergen railway that stops at the top station of the Flåm rail, Myrdal. So today we let the valleys glide by the big windows, take some good images at Kjøsfossen, the waterfall that will be strong and mighty as soon as the enormous amounts of snow have melted, and wonder about the contrast between the thick snow cover up in Myrdal and the blossoming flowers down in Flåm.
While the train riders are firing their cameras non-stop, FRAM takes a gentle left turn into probably the most scenic fjord of Norway, the Nærøyfjord. 1600 meters of looming rock walls on either side, sometimes as narrow as 250 only, this is a breathtaking sight.
Although totally remote and beautifully forlorn, this place played an important role in the past, when Norwegian mail was a thing of hand-to-hand delivery, horses, carriages, and a lot of patience.
Along the southern shore of the fjord lay the Royal Post Road, a system which involved the local farmers and finally brought the mail all the way to Bergen. Not many people could read or write, and the fee was very expensive, so there was not overly much mail to be transported, but as the fjord was one of the rare ice-free spots beyond the farm of Styvi it was of grand importance.
A group of hikers is getting dropped right there at this farm, in order to take the six kilometer long walk on the Royal Road. No postcards are delivered, but a lot of sighs are heaved at the overwhelming beauty of the hike. There’s even a little surprise, as we come around the corner towards the end of it: Our chef Eirik has prepared a little campfire for us and is frying hot dogs for everyone. Good man!
Later on we all meet in Gudvangen, swap stories and images, buy souvenirs, and suddenly notice how hungry we are. And here comes the best part: In this overwhelming scenario we have a BBQ on deck, right under the waterfalls of the Nærøyfjord. Mindboggling! What’s left of the day we spend relaxing in the panorama lounge with the gentle music of our pianist Bjorn.
Another day in paradise.