Heading North - Part 3 - Norway and Sweden
After the intensity of the photographic workshop in Iceland we have returned to tourist mode for the balance of our holiday in Norway and Sweden.
Norway - Pining for the Fiords
Our Norwegian adventure began in the old port city of Bergen, which includes the world heritage listed medieval old town of Bryggen, which is where our hotel was located.
Whilst here we were not searching for the Norwegian Blue as it was last seen nailed to its perch, rather we were just having a good look around the old town and nearby area.
Two nights in Bergen really only gave us a starter on the charms and history of this port city, and it was nice to again be able to find good coffee and experience good weather in a port city. As with Iceland a strong fish culture seemed to dominate local food choices and again we were confronted with Minke Whale being sold at the local fish markets.
Our main travel package found by our wonderful travel agent Brian was to undertake a Norway in a Nutshell package based on the Bergen to Oslo rail trip with a side trip by bus and ferry to the fiords, where we spent two nights at Flåm (pronounced flohm) on the Aurlandfjord - an extension from the main Sognefjord. At Flåm we were over 180km from the "coast" in fiords that were still over 500m deep, with mountains ranging from 500 to 1300m above sea level. The sheer scale of the fiords is mind-blowing. Sognefjord at its deepest is over 1300m deep.
Slartifartbast got it right!
(This is an obscure Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference for those unfamiliar with Douglas Adams' great text).
Our weather in fiordland was mainly overcast and there were comparatively few tourists (apart from the Chinese and Japanese tour coaches) as it was the end of the season. A heritage tour of the fiords gave us a wonderful insight into the original farming communities and their isolation (inspiration for Peer Gynt) - even today there are some farms and hamlets where water transport is the only means of linking to the outside
world. Flåm has a population of around 400 working in tourism or farming but also has its own brewery which produced the best beers that we tasted across Scandinavia.
From Flåm we took Europe's steepest standard gauge rail journey from that rises over 863 metres in less than an hour's journey from sea level at the fiord through 20 tunnels and past some spectacular waterfalls. The journey to Oslo passed through some lovely alpine and farming country along the way and would be recommended to any train buff.
We had an overnight in Oslo where we had time for a quick walk around the shops and gardens to find great coffee and a good meal at a popular chain restaurant near the railway station.
As with Iceland the tourist shops in Norway held high quality souvenirs (especially knitwear) at amazingly reasonable prices - even before the end of season discounts.
Stockholm has taken us back into the big city, lots of traffic, more cosmopolitan and greater architectural variety in a city constantly redeveloping or renovating. The complexity of a city spread across 14 islands with major road, rail and bus networks should not be underestimated.
Our time here was very touristy concentrated on the water and the old town. We started with a visit to an amazing museum featuring a 330 year old wrecked sailing ship - the Vasa. Setting sail in 1628 the battleship whose design was heavily subject to political interference (King & Admiral) - two gun decks, too narrow for the height/weight, insufficient space for ballast and consequently rolled in a slight wind and sank after sailing less than 1000 metres on its maiden voyage. A subsequent inquiry found no-one to blame for the failure.
Salvaged in 1961 the ship has been conserved and re-assembled and is absolutely incredible. as it stands it is still 95% original and lessons learnt from its conservation are being heeded today. Although it is still showing signs of deterioration it remains on public display and is one of the most impressive sights we have seen in a museum.
Other features of our brief time in Stockholm included:
- walking through the old town (buildings from early 1700's remain), although the cheap and tacky souvenir shops did slightly spoil the effect. The old town reminded us of some of our favourite old towns in Italy - a lovely feel with the slight claustrophobia that co-exists with the old time architecture;
- a visit to Fotografiske - a large photographic museum and gallery showing three to four exhibitions at a time;
- a scenic cruise around the 14 islands of Stockholm; and,
- a visit to an outdoor museum that is part theme park, part zoo and part historical re-enactment covering Swedish culture, animals and settlement history.
- Gastronomically Stockholm raised the bar - the best coffee we have had on this trip and in the old town we found good restaurants to excite the palate - with venison carpaccio, elk and reindeer on the menu. The reindeer and elk were milder in taste than venison and the reindeer was especially tender.
Some observations on our travels:
- Best Coffee - Stockholm, worst coffee - Iceland
- Good food - everywhere
- Most gorgeous young persons of either gender, but especially with blonde plaited pony tails - Stockholm just ahead of Norway, Iceland and Copenhagen
- Best scenery (see above)
- Best landscape scenery - Iceland by a glacier and a couple of waterfalls
- Petrol - over $2.00 a litre everywhere
- Most expensive beer - Norway (up to $20 per 500ml bottle/glass)
- Best beer - silly question
- Travelling in autumn was strange with many services/shops closing or closed as the tourist season is very marked the further north we travelled, except in Iceland which was still very full of tourists with seemingly every second farm on the south coast with a hotel or guest house either operational or under development.
Here endeth our holiday and thus this is the end of our travelogue. Thanks for reading and we will be home soon.
Keith & Barb