Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pining for the fjords

Yesterday afternoon we arrived home after a lovely week cruising to Norway and back. We called in at a couple of the fjords a few years ago and loved the scenery and the welcoming people so much we vowed to go back - and this was the return trip.

We cruised with P&O on one of their new super-ships, Ventura. Unlike most passengers the ship is a means to an end for us - a lazy, idiot-proof way of seeing some wonderful areas of the world without having to make too much effort. There's a certain amount of 'institionalisation' involved, but it does make for a very relaxing holiday which is important for two workaholics!

Our first port of call was Bergen, Norway's second city and a beautiful mixture of old and new with an eleventh-century wooden 'old town' and some very swanky shops, bars and restaurants, all surrounding the harbour. Its main claim to fame is as the wettest city in Europe (apparently it rains 300 days of the year) and last time we went it fully lived up to its reputation and we got soaked. Twice. This time, the weather was just perfect - warm and sunny without being too hot - and it was lovely to wander around and take photos without having to wipe the camera lens every two minutes.

Second on the list was Flam (pronounced Flaam, or even Flom, according to the locals), which is a tiny village on an arm of Sognefjord, Norway's longest fjord. This was completely new to us and utterly stunning - a tiny, quiet backwater surrounded by some of the wildest and most beautiful mountain scenery we'd ever seen. Huge waterfalls pounded hundreds of feet down sheer cliffs, rocks the size of houses had tumbled down off the mountainsides, and there was still snow on all the higher peaks, even in mid-June. We strolled up the valley alongside a racing river, and found a tiny watermill that the mill-owner had built himself three years ago, using ancient Viking designs, to grind wheat and barley for the local people. He makes his own beer using the end product and let us try a little - and it was delicious! Far more fragrant than bottled varieties.

After that it was on to Olden, at the head of Nordfjord, for yet more stunning mountain scenery, this time looking distinctly Alpine with summer meadows, snow-capped mountains and glacial lakes. The main reason for stopping here is to see the fast-vanishing Briksdal glacier, but all the trips were hideously expensive so once again we set off to explore along the river and up the hillsides by ourselves. The village of Olden isn't quite as attractive as Flam and some of the passengers were very disappointed that there was nowhere to have a cup of tea. You can't seperate British people from their cuppas for long...

Finally we called in at Stavanger, another attractive city which owes much of its wealth to the oil and gas business. We'd seen it once before so rather than plod round the same streets and shops we set off for the Archaeology Museum (fascinating) and then the Oil and Gas Museum (also fascinating, surprisngly so for me). Stavanger shared the European City of Culture with Liverpool a couple of years back and one result is the largest selection of museums I've seen anywhere outside London. We could just as easily have gone to the Printing Museum, the Canning Museum, the main city museum, the Telecom Museum, the Guards Museum, the Fire Museum, or the Maritime Museum... but we'll save those for next time.

Now all we have to do is unpack, wash pretty much everything we own, and settle back into real life. It feels rather strange at the moment.

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