Norway: Bergen and Austevoll
March and April 2015
What would you know, work took me back to Norway twice for 2015! Both trips coincided with the same times as last year - around March and April. There were some differences this time - one was I actually got to see the sun more than once during the trips. In fact, for the most part the weather was pretty pleasant with only the intermittent days of rain/downpours. Also different was Tor filled in for my boss during one of the trips, so we did a bit of sightseeing in addition to work.
The work part of the trips centered around Austevoll, a chain of island south of Bergen. Austevoll was as if I never left it. Things hadn't changed a whole lot on this island of rock and moss. I did get the opportunity to do some sightseeing with my host around Bergen. He took us to a Norwegian restaurant where the daily specials were traditional cuisines. We went on potato ball night, dense balls made from potato flour that are sometimes stuffed with sausage or other meats. I can't say I'd crave that meal again nor many of the Norwegian traditional meals. With a culture based heavily in salted meats, fish, and starch, I quickly start craving fresh produce once my feet touch Norwegian soil.
While in Bergen we hiked up one of the mountains in the "backyard" of Bergen - up 900 steps straight up to the top of the mountain. It was a brutal climb, but we were rewarded with a cloudy view of the city and a snowstorm... OK, not great timing, but it was entertaining hiking though the mountain snow. And during the infrequent breaks in the clouds, we could glimpse the beautiful surrounding peaks.
On the trip where Tor and I traveled together, we arrived a couple of days early to do sightseeing around the city and to do a Norway in a Nutshell tour. The tour took us by train up to Voss, just where the snow level was. At Voss, we transferred to a bus that took us up into the mountains and down a valley to a small town called Gudvangen on the fjord. At Gudvangen, we took a small ferry through the fjord. The scenery was majestic - tall snowcapped mountains surrounding the deep waters, waterfalls tumbling down the slopes, and small cabins perched on the waters edge or on the mountainsides. It was almost perfect, except for the annoying tourists who insisted on feeding the gulls from the ferry. Feeding the gulls was tolerable for the first couple of minutes, but after 20 mins of the insistent calling by dozens of gulls above your head with the threat of being pooped on, it was definitely taking away from the beauty of the place. I certainly didn't travel that far to have gulls scream in my ears, and those tourists should rethink their travels if the biggest kick they get out of the gorgeous fjord is throwing bread to gulls. I scolded the irksome tourist several times, which at least gave me some periods of time to enjoy the scenery.
The ferry took us to Flåm, also a small town on the edge of the fjord, where we spent one night (thankfully the annoying tourists went on with the tour). We "hiked" around Flåm. The "hike" could be better described as walking on the streets; it just happens that the streets are surrounded on all sides by steep mountains and waterfalls. We followed the river from Flåm to the old church (c. 1600). There was a large flood that wiped out large sections of the rivers edge - houses, streets, and a bridge included. With the reconstruction, we couldn't hike up to the nearby waterfall. We took the path that followed the fjord toward the nearby town. The path ended at recent rockslide (perhaps caused by the same storm that flooded the river) where even traffic was narrowed to an alternating one lane road.
After a night in Flåm, which included some good venison burgers at the local brewery, we boarded the train to Myrdal. The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest and beautiful in Europe, but it shouldn't have been surprising when we quickly hit the snow level and found ourselves in Myrdal buried in 2 meters of snow. Tor had this crazy desire to take the train up over the highest peak along the tracks and back down to Bergen again. The train from Oslo to Bergen is touted to be one of the most scenic journeys... but more likely during the summer months. Our ride up and over the mountains was blinding white snow alternating with dark tunnels. When the wind wasn't blowing snow off the ground (and there was some visibility), we were able to see cabins or what we assumed were cabins as we could only see roofs in a sea of white. Instead of riding all the way to Oslo we got off at Ustaoset, just over the high point where we waited for the train to return to Bergen.
On Austevoll, Tor and I visited places I had been on my previous trips. We went out to Skansen twice - once in a rainstorm and once in the sunshine. The White-tailed Eagles were still numerous at Skansen and we even saw a Northern Gannet flying close to shore. Over the meadows, a Northern Wheatear performed its lofty display flight and Meadow Pipits prowled the heather. We also went to the Steinevik nature reserve, where the wild sheep still roam and the bogs were still wet as ever. One new place we went to was Loddo - a trail through the forest (with sheep) up the hill, through wet bog (again), and to a platform lookout, which offered views of distant mountains, surrounding waters, and the wind farm.
My trips to Norway were once again enjoyable, this time with perhaps a little more in-depth and relaxed view of Bergen and its surrounding areas.