July 14, 2009

As we drove along the fjord we passed lots of waterfalls of various shapes, sizes and volumes of water.  We stopped at the Voringfossen Falls, the largest of the falls along this particular route. 

Our destination today was the fjord side city of Bergen - which also happens to be the 2nd largest city in Norway.  We headed towards the port area, after first stopping at the main library to take advantage of their free internet access.  The port is filled with an ever rotating number of large cruise ships disgorging thousands of tourists for the day.  Although parking is always at a premium in cities, we were lucky and found a free parking lot a short distance beyond the port area.  With our bicycles, this made for an excellent camp just five or ten minute ride from the center of town.  Oh and what a great day, sunny without a cloud in the sky (until evening when it started to rain again).

Bergen has two main draws, the daily fish market on the main square, Torget, and the old market area of Bryggen.  The harborside rows of 18th and 19th century timber and stone building that line the wharf date and look like they could fall over at any time.  There are also small alleys with overhanging balconies and cobblestone streets.  It was fun to walk around, but the experience was definitely tempered by the fact that we were sharing the area with the passengers from TWO cruise ships, some 4500 day trippers.

We did have some business to attend to, mainly doing some laundry at a self service laundry that we found.  So we rode back to our camp, loaded up our laundry and rode back into town to the laundromat.  While we waited for our clothes, we strolled over to a cafe and had some drinks.  As expensive as our wash was, about $12us for just one large load, our two drinks at the cafe were even more expensive.  We talked with the laundry owner who confirmed our thoughts, about the high cost of living here.  The cost of living is so high because the wages are so high, minimum wages are close to $14us an hour, plus medical, vacation and more.  So if everyone has more money to spend then the cost of things goes up.  So our question remains, if you make more money but everything costs more, do you really have a higher standard of living or does the higher wages just gave a false sense of living better?

July 15, 2009

We moved on again today, this time to the fjord town of Flam.  Let me digress for a moment.  This Expedition will be emphasizing the environment and natural features more than on the culture.  Our journal north through Denmark, Sweden and now into Norway have shown us that the Scandinavian culture is getting more and more homogeneous to that of the balance of Western Europe and of North America.  It is difficult to tell the people apart from even our friends back home in Arizona.  They dress similarly, act, similarly and everyone seems to be talking on their cell phones!

OK, to be honest the people do have their national identities and they do have a lot in common with their immediate neighbors, so much that they once were combined in a federation as a joint entity, and yes they do have the Vikings as their ancestors.  We will be visiting the homeland of the region's indigenous people, the Sami, who live in the far north of Norway, Finland and Sweden in the area known as Lapland.  Yet what really stands out is the natural features, the land above the tree line, the fjords, the glaciers and their Unesco sites.  These are the things that we will be focusing on.

So, we arrived in Flam late in day after passing through so many tunnels and seeing so many waterfalls that we lost count of them all - and when we move on from here we still have the world's longest road tunnel to drive through.   We've already made one decision - Norway has more waterfalls than anywhere else we have explored. We decided to set up camp in the town campground since we are considering spending the day exploring the neighboring valley and its many waterfalls.

July 16, 2009

We finally decided that we wanted to take the Flamsbana train up to Myrdal and ride our bikes back down.  We did our coffee walk to the train station and were absolutely shocked at the scene before us.  As opposed to last night when all was quiet, this morning there were thousands of people (mostly off the Crown Princess cruise ship, population 3,000), all waiting to buy tickets for the train.  Unable to get any information inside the station, we went outside and found a helpful train employee who explained that yes, the line was long, but there were always tickets reserved for one-way passengers and that we should be able to get on the 12:20 train that we wanted to take.

Not wanting to wait in that horrendous line any longer than necessary, we returned to the truck, had breakfast and then Kim returned to buy the train tickets and Don got the bicycles ready.  There was still a long line, but after an hours wait, Kim finally returned, tickets in hand.

We then made our way back to the station, got our bikes loaded on the train and got in line with everyone else.  Finally the train was ready and we set off.  The views from the train were spectacular, even stopping at one point over a waterfall where everyone could get out to take photos.

We finally arrived at the top (where, of course, it was raining) and unloaded the bicycles.  Since it was raining, we decided to eat some of our picnic lunch and see if it let up.  It did, so we set out.  We really didn't know what to expect, but the extreme steepness and rocky trail at the beginning, kind of threw us for a loop.  The first three kilometers (or so) we alternated between riding and walking the bikes over extremely rough terrain.  This part of the trail follows the old road, the Navvies Road, built to supply the workers who were building the train line.  We finally reached the easier trail and even though it was still steep, we could continuously ride.  And the scenery was spectacular.  Waterfalls, rivers, mountains, you name it, we saw it all.  After a train ride of one hour, it took us about three hours to get back down, but it was a wonderful, exhausting day.

End of the line - Myrdal

Our route down the Navvies road

July 17, 2009

We left Flam rather late today, since we were in no hurry and actually saw the sun come out from behind the clouds, yeah!  The sun stayed out all day and the views from our drive were beautiful.  Within a short distance, the highway plunged into the mountain and we were traveling through the longest road tunnel in the world, 24.6 km (15.25 miles)!  The tunnel is so long that there are pull outs every 6 kilometers.  Here's a view from inside of the tunnel.

At the end of tunnel we detoured back towards Oslo so that we could visit one of the best preserved stave churches in the country - Borgund stave church.  Its exterior is covered by shingles and the roof line is decorated with ends in the shape of dragons as well as crosses.  It was stunning.

Crossing another fjord

Late in the afternoon we turned off on a side road and headed toward the Nigardsbreen Glacier.  We traveled for about thirty miles along a glacial melt river which was the color of milky turquoise.  It was gorgeous.  We arrived at the glacier visitor center around 5:00, and the view was spectacular and since it was still sunny, we decided to take advantage and ride our bicycles up to the glacier (and bypassing the car toll on the road).  We rode - uphill - the five kilometers to the glacier and hung out for a while enjoying the view.  This glacier is another receding one, having moved back 50% of the length of the lake in front of it.  We also made a quick stop at a self-service, honor pay strawberry stand where we bought a box of fabulous, freshly picked berries.

Soon it was time to head back and we returned to a campground from which we still had a great view of the glacier.

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