Today’s blog will focus on the second half of our Norway trip through the fjords of western Norway. Warning: this is a long post. Make sure to get comfy before you read it!
The second half of our Norway vacation started as we flew from Tromso to Oslo. We had planned nine days to explore the fjords in western Norway. Our itinerary was finally back on track after our unexpected changes in Svalbard and the Lofoten Islands. We were looking forward to following our itinerary instead of calling new audibles each day. Even though we flew through Oslo’s airport multiple times, we did not build any time into our itinerary to actually go to Oslo. When planning our itinerary, Oslo kept getting pushed later and later in our plans until it was not on the itinerary at all!
The first thing that we did after landing at Oslo airport was pick up our new rental car. We had originally looked at driving from Tromso to Oslo instead of having two car rentals for our trip. However, the only way to do a one-way car rental was by paying a large premium! The majority of car rental companies are individually owned. If we did a one-way trip, we would have to pay for the cost of them to transport the car back to the original location. The cost to relocate the car was more expensive than the actual car rental.
The car rental company did not have the size car we rented in stock and upgraded us to a larger car. We were going to enjoy driving a station wagon for the week! Jordan turned the car on and the check engine light lit up. We immediately knew this would not work for us. There were plenty of remote places we would be driving through. Having our car break down was not an option. I do not think there is any AAA to call in Norway! Jordan ran back to the car rental desk to exchange cars. The company exchanged the car keys without any issues. We were given the keys to another station wagon, which was very spacious for our trip. This one had seat heaters, so it was worth the hassle!
We hit the road and drove away from Oslo toward Drøbak. This unique town in Norway is known as the birthplace of Santa. Drøbak is located right on the water and was bustling with people enjoying the Summer day. You would never believe that Santa is from here! The town actually has Santa Crossing signs and a year-round Christmas store named Tregaarden’s Julehus. We love collecting Christmas ornaments from places that we travel and hoped we would find one here to remember our Norway trip.
The Christmas store itself was disappointing, and we left empty-handed without an ornament. The ornaments were all things that you could find at a Michaels or Hobby Lobby. The ornaments looked cheap and were not locally made.
In the store, we saw cards handwritten by children for Santa. The cards arrived from all over the world. Drøbak receives hundreds of cards from children each year. There is someone in the town that responds to every letter received for Santa. My hand hurts after writing one letter; I can not imagine handwriting thousands of letters! Maybe Santa has a printer he can use instead… or his elves.
After a quick lunch in Drobak, we headed towards our destination for the night, Stavanger. We spent the majority of the afternoon in the car and stopped in a small fishing town of Kristiansand for dinner. This is not to be confused with Kristiansund, another small fishing town in Norway.
I was searching for restaurants to eat at in Kristiansand, but quickly became disappointed. All the restaurants served klippfisk, cod that has been salted and dried. I told Jordan that our only option was to go to an Irish pub because they served something different. Jordan seemed skeptical of my recommendation. He told me that klippfisk was only in northern Norway and to check again. Sure enough, I had looked for restaurants in Kristiansund, the wrong one! Luckily, we found a great restaurant right on the water in the real Kristiansand to help break up the drive.
After arriving in Stavanger late at night, we planned to explore the city in the morning. Our hotel was located right in the city center. The itinerary had time built in for us to explore Stavanger, but somehow we ran out of time. We left Stavanger without actually seeing it at all!
On our way out of Stavanger, we made a quick stop to visit a monument. Sverd i fjell is a large monument that literally translates to mean sword in rock. It is a massive monument located right along the water with three swords soaring high in the sky. This monument is over 10 meters (32 feet high), and the three Viking swords symbolize freedom, peace, and unity. The swords are located on the spot of a history-altering battle. The battled helped to unite Norway as one country back in the late 800s.
After visiting the Sverd i fjell monument, we drove to the trailhead for the Preikestolen hike, also known as the Pulpit Rock hike. This hike is very famous in Norway and is one of the most popular hikes. The rock has a flat cliff with a steep drop off. It is 604 meters (1981 feet) high above the fjord! Pulpit Rock has been the set for a few movie scenes. You may recognize it from Mission: Impossible – Fallout with Tom Cruise. Visitors could not access the Pulpit Rock hike while filming took place. We heard Tom Cruise was traveling back to Norway, but luckily not while we were there!
There were two parking lots available, but the main lot was already full. We drove up to the second parking lot, and we got one of the last spots! The trail was going to be very crowded based on the number of cars in the parking lot. The parking lot had attendants working there directing cars where to park. To top it off, we also had to pay around $20 to park! This was not your typical trailhead; this was a tourist destination.
We completed the hike with everyone else in Norway. It was the weekend, so we may have picked one of the busiest days to go. The hike welcomed us with clear blue skies and fantastic weather! The trail was steep in many places. At times, it felt like we were climbing up an endless set of stairs. We climbed over 350 meters (1150 feet) to the summit to experience the views from the steep drop off into the fjord below.
No guard rails or fences were stopping us from falling off the side. It was just the flat cliff and a long day down if you were to fall. We made sure not to get too close to the edge! I sat down and scooted close to the edge, but not too close. Neither of us is afraid of heights, but Jordan still felt uneasy when he took photos at the top. He said he did not trust the people behind him! I do not blame him; many people were running around and yelling, “2020!” which was so distracting.
After we finished the Pulpit Rock hike, we drove to Bergen and spent the evening and next day exploring the town. Our hotel was right next to Bryggen, the historic and iconic Hanseatic buildings lined up all along the water in Bergen. Up close, you can see how crooked the windows and doors are on the buildings. Many of the buildings were undergoing a lot of restoration while we were there.
In between the buildings are a series of alleyways that lead to shops owned by local artists. The alleyways feel like streets in Venice, closely packed with tourists. On this day, the alleyway was empty, and we were only a few people around.
We love collecting local art when we visit new places. Local art can be hard to find, but we thought that this area would be our best chance. First, we stopped in a large tourist shop. I found a print I liked and turned it over to find out the name of the artist. I searched for the artist online and found that she had a shop just down the street. We decided to go to her store directly instead of buying from the tourist shop. And we are glad we did! The large tourist shop had largely inflated their prices.
We made conversation with the shop owner, Katrine, and found out she also used to live in Lyon like us. She told us about how business had completely tanked this summer without American tourists. Without much business, she was considering working on a passion project and creating an art exhibit. It was a good reminder for us to try and shop locally whenever we can!
Bergen has the Fløibanen, a funicular that goes to the top of a hill high above the town and provides stunning panoramic views. We walked up to the base of the funicular right as it opened. The funicular was only allowing a certain number of people on each trip, but there was not a line. When we arrived at the top, we were one of the only few people there. We enjoyed a few peaceful moments; by the time we were leaving, the area was crowded with people. There were numerous hiking trails and a lake to enjoy in addition to the beautiful views!
After our trip on the funicular, we explored Bergen by bike. We used a bike rental service, Bysykkel, that allowed us to pick up and drop off our bikes at various spots around the town. We used plenty of hand sanitizer before getting on the bikes. It was easy to bike around Bergen and we were thankful that the base of the town was flat.
It was time to leave Bergen, and we said our goodbyes to the beautiful town after eating lunch along the water. We would be in the car for a few hours that afternoon, but not without stopping to see waterfalls along the way. We visited two of Norway’s iconic waterfalls: Steinsdalsfossen and Vøringsfossen.
The Steinsdalsfossen waterfall creation is considered a happy accident. The water originally flowed a different direction, but the river became blocked off due to heavy snow. The river blockage forced the water over the cliff! This change created the waterfall that is well-known today. It is a major tourist destination in Norway with a paved parking lot and a couple of shops to grab snacks. We were able to walk up a path and walk behind the waterfall for a really cool vantage point. As Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride would say, “Look! It’s the backside of water!”
The Vøringsfossen waterfall is one of the most famous waterfalls in Norway now but was relatively unknown before the 1820s. An astronomer named Christopher Hansteen was in the area to make astronomical observations. Two mountain men from the area were helping carry his equipment and showed Hansteen the waterfall. He decided to measure the height of the waterfall while he was there. The waterfall was first estimated to be a 280 meter (920 feet) drop. To calculate the height, a man threw a rock off the edge and measured the time it took for the rock to reach the bottom (with a pocket watch, of course). If you can believe it, this was not the best way to calculate the height!
The waterfall was measured again seventy years later using a tape measure (way more precise than a pocket watch). Officials found the height to be much shorter at 163 meters (530 feet). Hansteen was only 400 feet off! I guess for an astronomer, that would be considered a pretty good margin of error. The waterfall is currently an impressive 182 meters (600 feet) today.
We stayed at the Fossli Hotel right at the top of the waterfall, which first opened over 100 years ago and has been family owned for four generations. Our hotel had a balcony that overlooked the valley and was so peaceful to relax on. There is so much history in the hotel, and we loved seeing old cash registers, photos, and a famous piano. We walked through the large gathering rooms and had fun imagining what it looked like full with visitors after the first opening. The hotel was not at capacity and we were one of only a few guests staying the night. We asked how business was doing, and the man behind the desk told us they can only look forward. This type of optimism is so important and is a daily reminder for me.
The next morning, we continued on our western Norway adventure to the town of Flåm. But not without stopping to see two more famous waterfalls first! These waterfalls were located right off the road and were easy to access.
When we arrived in Flåm, we took the iconic Flåmsbana for an adventure. The Flåmsbana is a train ride that boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Until 1944, all trains of the Flåm railway were pulled by steam engines. A hydroelectric plant was commissioned that same year. Three years later in 1947, all trains on the Flåm railway have been electric. The majority of the hydroelectric plant’s output is used to operate the railway.
A video recording tells you the history of the valley and points out notable sights on both sides of the train. We are lucky that the train cars were not full as it allowed us to go from one side of the other to take in all the views! One of the planned stops was at Kjosfossen, a waterfall over 213 meters (700 feet) high. This is where we experienced the Norwegian mountain spirit, a Huldra, that I mentioned last week.
The train goes through the mountains and ends at Myrdal. We did not research beforehand and planned to spend a few hours exploring Myrdal. When the train arrived at the stop, we realized that is all it was; a train stop. There was no town, no shops, and nothing to do. These are the funny things that happen when you only have two weeks to plan a trip!
We decided not to go back down to Flåm immediately and got off the train. There was plenty of time to kill! The train was far from full, but the majority of people on the train were either biking back down to Flåm or going by zip line. Again, this was a miss on our part! We stood at an overlook for the zip line and watched people go down the mountain. There were plenty of trails, but we had not dressed appropriately for hiking. We leisurely walked down one of the marked trails before making our way back to the train stop.
Not many people were going down to Flåm, and we had an entire car almost to ourselves. The train had the same video message on the way down, so we learned about the valley twice! But we had double the opportunity for photos.
We spent the evening in Flåm, and the next day continued on our trip throughout the fjords of western Norway. Our first stop in the morning was the Stegastein viewpoint, 650 meters (2130 feet) above the Aurlandsfjord! We were one of the only ones there and got to take in panoramic views of the fjord with snow-capped mountains peeking out in the distance.
To get to the viewpoint, we drove up a winding road with hairpin turns that many times was only wide enough for one car. We are thankful that there were not many cars on the road that morning. Many of the roads in Norway are similar; I fully expected us to collide head-on with a car at some point on the trip.
Next on our trip through the fjords of Norway were quick stops in little towns. First, there was our visit to the Borgund Stave Church. The church is over 800 years old and still standing today. Some of its iconic markings are of dragon heads on the roof. It is one of the most iconic and recognizable stave churches in Norway today. Even though the church is old, many of the tombstones were not. Some were even from recent years!
We arrived early in the morning before the tourism office was open, but still got to appreciate the church from the outside. In front of the church was a mirrored sphere. I could not figure out the purpose of the globe but had fun trying to get creative shots with it.
Next up on the list for the day was visiting Gamle Lærdalsøyri, a tiny town with colorful homes that are over 300 years. I had seen beautiful pictures of the homes reflecting on the water. The reality of the place was much less exciting. I would not recommend going out of your way to see it! The water was murky and brown. Whereas the reflection was non-existent as ducks occupied the pond. However, the old homes were pretty to see, but we were in and out of the town within 15 minutes!
Our third stop of the day was Mundal, a tiny town in a valley surrounded by mountains against teal water. The town of Mundal is primarily known for its many secondhand book shops. The majority of the stores (albeit not many) were book stores. Along the main road, we found a few bookshelves filled with all different types of books. We parked the car to stretch our legs and see the types of books available. Jordan’s not an avid reader and I do not often have time to read. Nothing immediately caught our eye and we returned to the car after a quick walk through town.
We were starting to get hungry as we drove to Bøyabreen glacier, our next destination for the day. Luckily, a restaurant was located right near the glacier. We placed our order for deer burgers (one of the many we ate on this trip!) and chose a seat outside on the patio. It had perfect views of the glacier. And I will admit it, the burger was great.
After finishing lunch, we walked on the short trail towards the glacier get a closer view. The glacier was massive and had a clear, blue lake at the base of it. We could see the carvings in the rock from where the glacier had moved over the years. An information post displayed an old photo of the glacier from 100 years ago. The glacier in the photo was full and grand and overflowed into the lake; it was nothing like it looked today. It was clear how much the glacier had receded over time.
About fifty years ago, a plane crashed into the glacier. Snow covered up the plane, embedding it into the glacier. Researchers predict that the plane will move slowly with the glacier, and will one day reappear at the top of the Bøyabreen glacier. That would be a spooky sight!
After visiting the glacier, we still had a ways to go in our drive. Our destination for the night was Geiranger, located in one of the most beautiful UNESCO protected fjords of Norway. The last car ferry for the day going to Geiranger left at 6:30 pm. We made reservations for the car ferry to secure our spot. If we did not arrive on time for this ferry, we would be stuck for the night! We were on a time crunch and did not have much more time to lollygag around. The rest of our drive included seeing lots of cows, sheep, and goats all along the road. The animals were confident the cars would stop, just for them!
We made it to the car ferry with an hour to spare. There was not much more than a gas station and a couple of shops in the town, but we explored it anyway. We walked to the beach area and found a blue Sherlock Holmes crossing sign on the way. The sign seemed very out of place in Norway! We also found a small but powerful waterfall rushing through the town. This was a surprise waterfall; Jordan had researched all waterfalls in Norway but had not read anything about it. Another happy accident! We spent the rest of our time taking photos of the waterfall before it was time for the car ferry to depart.
Jordan drove the car onto the ferry and parked the car. The trip was about an hour, so we got out of the car and walked towards the top deck. The car ferry doubled as a sunset cruise, and Jordan had read that we should sit on the left-hand side of the boat for the best views. We learned about the history of the fjord along the way from a voice over the loudspeaker. The tour was in three languages: Norwegian, English, and German. We found this to be typical of most tours that we went on.
The tour told us all about the fjord and its rich history. Farmers used to occupy the vast hillside. Parents tethered their children to ropes, but not for any inhumane reasons. It was so that the children would not fall off the steep hillside! At many farms, there was no fresh water available for themselves or their livestock. The farmers had to leave their farm every day to fetch fresh water. If you can imagine, all the upkeep became cost-prohibitive. Owners soon abandoned their farms. One family only abandoned their farm due to an ominous rock that was going to fall on their house. One hundred years later, the ominous rock is still in the same place!
Also in the fjord are magnificent waterfalls rushing down all along the hillside. There is the famous Seven Sisters waterfall, seven thin waterfalls all next to each other. On our trip through the Geirangerfjord, some of the sisters were missing. I think we had four sisters; the other three must have been on vacation! Across from the Seven Sisters waterfall was a singular waterfall whose water flow created an outline of a large bottle. As the legend goes, the seven sisters were cursed and could never find a suitor to marry them. The man tried to woo each of the sisters without success. He now drinks himself to sleep each night with the bottle.
After finishing our car ferry cruise, we arrived in Geiranger for the night. Before checking in to the hotel, we drove up another narrow and winding road to a lookout point to take photos. The road criss crossed back and forth against the hillside. There were many sheep along the hillside, and some were close to the edge. I thought one was going to fall off the hill and land on top of our car! The lookout point provided gorgeous views for the Geirangerfjord, and we stopped to take photos before going into town.
The next day, we planned to go on a glacier hike. Unfortunately, the guide canceled our trip. It was a rainy morning, but the trip was not canceled due to weather conditions. Not enough people had signed up for the excursion! The lack of tourists in Norway traveling through the fjords was impacting everyone. We tried to find other activities to do, but the weather prohibited many outdoor activities.
That morning, we went to the local museum in Geiranger. The museum was interactive and taught us about the history of the fjords and the people who lived there. It was difficult for residents to live there! Snow accumulated over the winter and covered the roads. It took months for the residents to carve out the road for the summer. To help melt the snow, workers would spread dirt where the road should be. The dirt helped speed up the melting process. Then, the process was repeated. Workers spent countless hours digging the road out from the snow. As I read about all the hard work they put into clearing the road each year, I could not help but be thankful that it is no longer that difficult for the residents. Year after year, the workers wasted so much of their time!
After visiting the museum, we drove towards our next destination, Ålesund. Ålesund is a cute, colorful town located right on the water. The town was named Aalesund originally but was renamed when ‘Å’ officially replaced ‘Aa’. In 1904, a fire burnt down over 850 homes. Unemployment was high in Norway during this time, and many people came to Ålesund to help rebuild the town. Over the next three years, fifty Norwegian architects worked on designing new buildings. Today, Ålesund is a concentrated example of the Art Nouveau architectural style.
We spent the afternoon and next morning exploring in Ålesund. We walked around to see all the different colorful buildings in the area, many intricately painted with designs! The colorful buildings really popped against the cloudy, gray sky. In the water, we saw vacant cruise ships waiting to go on expeditions again. Many shops, including tourist shops, were closed during our visit. We ate fresh fish and chips along the water for dinner and watched as the youth plastered tiny colored post-it notes throughout the town. I am not sure what they were doing, but they were creating a lot of litter. And that thought is how I know I am an adult!
We drove up to the vantage point to see Ålesund from above. Due to the low clouds in the sky in the evening, we were not able to have a picture-perfect day. The fog hid many mountains across the water from visibility. It still lingered in the morning, and we had to scrap our plans to go on a hike near Ålesund due to low visibility.
After packing the car, we drove towards Trollstigen, and the weather started to finally clear up. There was blue sky poking out behind the clouds! The weather was looking up as we drove through one of the most iconic roads in Norway. However, right before arriving at Trollstigen, a thick fog came out of nowhere as we turned a corner! It blocked all of the mountains in the area, and we were not able to see anything beyond the fog. We waited for a little bit to see if the fog would lift, but were 0/2 on the itinerary.
At this point, we looked at our itinerary to see what could be reshuffled. We decided to move our Trollkirka hike to this afternoon since the weather the next day looked iffy, at best. The Trollkirka hike led us to beautiful marble and limestone caves. Remember, the one where the troll’s played a trick on me?
We were exhausted, muddy, and ready to shower after the longer than expected Trollkirka hike. I had not researched any meal options as we had not planned on having dinner in the area. As I checked the nearby towns for restaurants, I realized we did not have any dinner options available. It seemed like we would be eating granola bars for dinner. We went straight to the hotel to check-in since there were not any restaurants to stop at. The hotel had a restaurant on-site but had already finished serving dinner for the night. The hotel also required reservations for dinner, which we had not made. It was not looking good!
We asked the front desk if there were any restaurants in the area, and there were not. Then we checked if pizza could be delivered from somewhere, and there was not. So we finally asked if there was any way we could eat dinner at the restaurant on-site, expecting the answer to be no. I think the receptionist felt sorry for us, but he said yes! There were no fish available, only the beef. We did not waste time asking questions about dinner. It was not the time to be picky! We immediately said yes without hesitation.
This dinner was one of the best meals we had in Norway. I am so thankful we did not have to eat granola bars for dinner. We enjoyed a warm meal, a glass of wine (beer for Jordan), and a beautiful sunset at the hotel. The hotel itself was quintessential Norway in one photo. Red siding, turf roof, late-night sunset, and along the Atlantic coast. To say we slept well that night is an understatement!
The next morning, we headed to a town that I had seen amazing pictures of, Bud. Bud was a bust. We did not see any way to view Bud at the same vantage points we had seen online. We found a building with my name on it, which I had never seen before. At one point, a woman in the town pointed at our car and started yelling something. Who knows what she said, but as she got more people to come outside as she pointed her finger, we decided to leave quickly. If you are thinking about visiting Bud on your Norway trip through the fjords, skip it!
After leaving Bud, we drove on the scenic Atlantic Coast road in Norway to our last stop on the trip, Trondheim. As soon as we arrived in the town, we saw people everywhere wearing toga outfits. What was going on!? All across the town, we found people dressed in white toga costumes on our day there. We are a little disappointed we did not get the invite, but we think the event was for students starting back to school.
We will always remember Trondheim as the place with the toga outfits. Trondheim is an adorable town with colorful houses along the river. It felt very similar to Bergen and Ålesund. Are you sensing a theme for Norway’s towns? Colorful homes + water = a winning combination.
We went on a self-guided walking tour through Trondheim to visit all the highlights of the town. There was a bridge in the town center that we were most excited to see. However, it had been covered as they were renovating it. Just our luck! We did not make reservations for dinner and ended up at an English pub. You read that right. We ate at an English pub on our last night in Norway. We enjoyed delicious fish and chips as we watched our new hometown team of Lyon play in the soccer semi-finals.
If there is anything we learned from our Norway trip, it is to be flexible. I would recommend having a backup plan each day, just in case. We loved Norway and absolutely want to visit again! Maybe next time our itinerary will actually take us to Oslo.
P.S. I did not think I was going to finish this post. I spent all week writing it over probably 20 hours and it says I’ve made over 100 revisions. If you made it this far, thank you!
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