Visiting Norway on the trail of the Vikings

In a magazine, or on a website, or in a newspaper somewhere, I once saw a picture of the Norwegian fjords. It took my breath away, and in an instant, a desire was born to see these majestic waterways for myself. Thus it came about that I sat on a plane shortly after my third-year exams, descending from the clouds and overlooking the intriguing landscape around Bergen, Norway’s tourist capital. Small areas of rocks protruded from the sea in a jigsaw puzzle fashion, with some of the larger ones connected by quaint stone bridges. The houses situated on some of these rock-islands had only a lonely boat as means of transportation. It was beguiling, and I got more and more excited as the plane came in to land.

The main interest in Bergen lies, of course, in its proximity to the fjords, which makes day trips viable. However, the city has many attractions which make it a pleasure to visit for a day or two before venturing out. The cobbled streets and picturesque buildings form a charming city, with Bryggen, the famous Hanseatic commercial buildings, awash with the bright colours of the traditional Norwegian style. These buildings are a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and have remained standing (at least in part) through numerous fires and the short-sighted plans of over eager developers. These bright yellows and reds were, in the past, significantly cheaper than white, leading to white becoming the signature of the rich. This led to some citizens painting those sides of their houses that were visible to passer-bys white, and the rest in red or yellow!
A trip up to Mount Flöyen, the mountain looming over Bergen, is highly recommended. One can either take the funicular up, or walk the steep path to the top (a doddle, it seems, for fit Norwegians; not so much for the exercise-deprived!). From there the view stretches out for miles on a fine day, with Bergen sprawled below in all its splendour. Of course, the ever-present cruise-liners can also be observed entering and leaving from this vantage point. There are numerous footpaths leading away from the main tourist area on top of Flöyen, which lead to more spectacular views and fewer cameras.
The fish market by the harbour has an impressive array of seafood, including the controversial whale steak. One of the best finds in the area, however, is the shop that sells ice creams of gigantic proportions – good value any day!
The main reason for a trip to Norway will, inevitably, be to visit the fjords. In this respect, FjordTours’ Norway in a Nutshell tour offers a spectacular array of scenery in a single day. It starts with a short train trip from Bergen followed by a bus journey which affords wonderful views of waterfalls and the almost aggressive greenness of the landscape, down a series of hairpin bends that will give you goose bumps. This is followed by a boat journey on the Sognefjord, which is an experience that can only really be fully appreciated by being there. The cliffs tower up from the deep waters, and waterfalls plunge down them into the fjord at short intervals, with a scattering of small villages here and there. The sheer majesty of such a natural wonder is awe-inspiring.

Once docked at the picturesque little village of Flåm, the journey can be continued on the breathtakingly beautiful Flåmsbana, which passes through the valleys and up the hills with incredible scenery around every corner. An overnight stay in little Flåm doesn’t go amiss, however, as once all the boats and cruise-liners depart for the night, the stillness and natural beauty of the village really come into their own. Try putting your feet in the crystal clear river water for more than three seconds without yelping at the cold! Flåm may not offer much in terms of bars or clubs, but it makes up for it with ample hiking and cycling opportunities. A guided kayak tour on the fjord is also a wonderful way of learning more about the local culture, the history of Norway and the folktales of the region.
Norway is a notoriously expensive country to visit, and this is shown in every aspect of a trip there. Remaining within a reasonable budget takes good planning, as even a few bread rolls can set you back a cool £5 if you’re not careful, and a pint can easily cost upwards of that. However, Norway lends itself to large amounts of walking due to the astounding natural beauty, which can easily reduce the size of an already stretched holiday budget. The reason for Norway’s rather inhibiting costs is that it is a country with one of the highest GDPs in the world, largely thanks to its North Sea oil supplies. Tourism also contributes much to the national coffers, which supply well for the people of Norway.

As with most countries, it is the landscape combined with local culture that really give a flavour of life there. This is a country where poor old red-nosed Rudolf is not safe from the nation’s dinner table. The only place in world, presumably, that voluntarily opted for prohibition. This is the home of the long-gone Vikings, of polar bears and the northern lights. Sitting in a kayak on the majestic Aurlandsfjord listening to a guide tell the many folktales of trolls luring in young men from the water and contemplating the stillness of the surroundings, it is easy to imagine just staying there forever. Inevitably we the tourists must return to our hectic lives, but that brief moment on the water, when the world seems simpler, is priceless.


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