Why has it taken me this long to visit? I’ve always wanted to come here. I lived in London about a decade ago and during my six year stint in the English capital I visited over seventy percent of the countries in Europe. Surprisingly I haven’t been here yet. I ask myself…‘Why?’
The three day break was a birthday gift to my partner. She had three choices based on her destination shortlist: to lay on a beach in Santorini or Malta or to visit the fjords of Norway. In my early twenties, like most other twenty somethings, my quest was to seek out hedonistic city breaks at the beach. Sun, music, parties; all in excess. A self-satisfying goal at the time. The squeaky sand and crystal-clear water would invoke a fleeting appreciation although still a distraction from my rum and coke. The scenery here makes you stand-up and notice. She chose the fjords. ‘Really… the fjords?’ I repeat.
Bergen is considered ‘the gateway to the fjords’. Our journey began in Bergen. We woke refreshed; a smart decision to arrive the day before. We still however are in a rush. Our express boat is scheduled to leave at 8:00 A.M. The nearby, well-known Torget fish market is only starting to stir. We locate our docked boat five minutes before departure time relegating us to the middle row. Although windowless we were strategically positioned on the second floor with easy access to the open-air, rear deck. As the boat slowly glided out of the harbour we were treated to a view of Bergen from the sea. Firstly a wide-angle view of the coloured façade of Bryggen, the famous, historic wharf, then as we reach the mouth of the harbour a landscape view of the seven mountains that huddle around the city centre. The brisk air and commencing drizzle finally won out. Passengers retreated inside. The rain increased. Are my eyes deceiving me? Is it raining sideways?
The express boat is heading to Flåm a five-and-a-half hour journey from Bergen. Flåm is conveniently nestled into one of the branches of the Sognefjord. Each branch has a name. Flåm is at the end of the Aurlandsfjord. The boat skimmed swiftly along the glassy-smooth sea however entry into the Sognefjord is still an hour away. We waited. Unlike the plethora of beaches world-wide, fjords can only be found in a handful of countries. Norway has been blessed with over a thousand fjords bolstering its reputation as the ‘land of fjords’. The word fjord is synonymous with Norway. Not because of the number of fjords or the Norwegian origin of the word. Norway has the most dramatic, awe-inspiring fjord scenery. The Sognefjord is considered the longest fjord in the world on a technicality: it’s the longest, at 204 km, not covered by ice.
‘We enter the Sognefjord,’ broadcasted the captain over the loudspeakers. The still, reflective surface is disrupted by our boat’s progress. Slowly we noticed the change in landscape. The wide sea-filled valley is hemmed either side by an alpine habitat. Upstream from the mouth, these mountains grow in stature. Fjords are created over several ice-ages where glaciers scrape a valley in the bedrock centimetres at a time and when the glacier melts the sea inundates the void. The mountain peaks along the route can typically indicate the valley depth below water. The Sognefjord is 1308 m deep; the second deepest fjord in the world. The mountain peaks lining this fjord can reach over 1700 m in height. Conifer forests skirt the lower edge while at mid-mountain patches of ice cling onto bare rock. Higher still larger ice formations seem to dangle from the mountain top. Glacier remnants waiting for the onset of winter to climb down from their perch. Numerous waterfalls tumbled down cliff faces and scree littered the mountainside and in some instances reached the water’s edge. As we entered the Aurlandsfjord branch the express boat journey is coming to an end. Flåm lies picturesquely at the head of the fjord with mountains guarding its location.
We had been sat on a boat for a majority of the day however undiscouraged we took another ferry to explore the Nӕrøyfjord. The Irish tourist bureau officer excitedly stated, ‘It has been described by National Geographic as one of the world’s number one natural heritage sites and without a doubt you need to see it’. Spurred on by his enthusiasm we hopped onto the frequently occurring shuttle bus to the nearby town of Gudvangen. The journey through long stretches of road tunnel took under twenty minutes. The return, two-hour, ferry journey from Gudvangen to Flåm toured two branches of the Sognefjord: the Nӕrøyfjord, and the Aurlandsfjord (again, for us).
Jackets removed we sat outside basking in the warmth of the sunlight. Several wooden, rectangular tables edged by wooden benches provide ample outdoor seating. It felt warmer than the reported 20 degrees Celsius. Gudvangen sat peacefully at the end of the Nӕrøyfjord. Steep surrounding cliff faces extended beyond the fjord horizon hinting at what was to come. The serenity occasionally disrupted by the whir of a helicopter transporting paragliders to the eastern cliff face. The ferry arrived on time and we eagerly boarded with our discreetly hidden, duty-free bottle of bubbly. We chugged out into the fjord only to return and re-dock: maintenance issues. We caught a glimpse of what may be and now we may not see it at all. We hung onto the hope that the next ferry would come and returned to our wooden benches sipping the remaining prosecco.
Half-an-hour had passed, prosecco finished and still no news except that we may need to take the shuttle bus back to Flåm. A disappointing outcome that we were coming to grips with. The ferry captain’s English could not relay his sympathy but he understood we were disappointed. Then he points across the harbour. To another rival company’s boat. Not fully comprehending what he said we instinctively scrambled across the wooden bridge and proceeded to board the boat. They had agreed to take on as many passengers as they could carry. It was the last boat of the day! The disappointment of missing out made us savour the journey ahead of us and it lived up to its expectations.
As a beauty pageant contestant Nӕrøyfjord would vie for Miss World and be known for her eye-catching, slender figure. The fjord is the narrowest and at one point only 250m across. The narrowness of the fjord draws your gaze upwards and you appreciate the towering rock cliff faces on either side. The ferry moves in and out of the mountain shadows with peaks looking down from more than 1400 m high. We cast a look back and the lowering sun paints the sky with a hue of colours. Remote villages and stand-alone houses bravely etch there existence along the length of the fjord. The landscape is dramatic and unique and it is easy to see why the Nӕrøyfjord has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. The 18km journey from Gudvangen, the length of the Nӕrøyfjord, ends with a narrow waterfall cascading the full height of the rock face. Flåm is approximately an hour away from here and we look forward to our Viking-style meal and beer brewed on site at Ægir Brewery.
I never imagined myself sitting on a ferry and just soaking up the scenery. Wouldn’t I get bored after almost eight hours on a boat! Cruising the Sognefjord, especially the Nӕrøyfjord, will leave you with an everlasting moment, different to what a beach holiday could, or any other type of holiday for that matter. I use to say you are either a beach or a mountain person. Now I’ve learnt to appreciate both. For a different kind of holiday explore the fjords .
~ Jesse Gerwien
‘… from a ship you see Valhalla’ – Harald Halfdanson
Footnotes: For what happened the previous day refer to post ‘A Rainy Afternoon In Bergen, The Gateway To The Fjords’  For a different way to explore the fjords read post ‘Experience The Fjords From The Cockpit Of A Kayak’
Sognefjord/ Aurlandsfjord/ Naeroyfjord, Norway
Saturday, 5 September 2015
Arrived in Bergen on 4 September 2015 (see post ‘A Rainy Afternoon In Bergen, The Gateway To The Fjords’ for more information)
Tour Package: ‘Sognefjord in a Nutshell’ (http://www.norwaynutshell.com/en/explore-the-fjords/sognefjord-in-a-nutshell/) supplied by Fjord Tours (http://www.fjordtours.com/). Total cost for 2 people: 1465 x 2 = 2,930 NOK (GBP 225)
Roundtrip starting in Bergen to and from Flåm with one leg by boat and one leg by rail including the Flåmsbana (Flåm Railway). We decided to start with the boat leg. Can request multiple stopovers and stay in multiple villages enroute. We stayed an additional night in Flåm. Flåm is typically used as a base to explore the fjords in this area.
Boat Leg –
Depart 5 September 2015 at 8:00 A.M. from Bergen at Strandkaiterminalen
Bergen – Vardetangen – Skjerjehamn – Sollibotn – <Sognefjord> – Vik – Balestrand – Leikanger – Aurland – Flåm
Arrive 1:25 P.M. in Flåm
Rail Leg –
Depart 6 September 2015 at 2:50 P.M. from Flåm on The Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana) to Myrdal
Depart 6 September 2015 at 3:52 P.M. from Myrdal to Bergen
Arrive 5:58 P.M. in Bergen
Additional Tour Package: ‘Nӕrøyfjord Tour’ purchased at the Flåm Tourist Information Office
Total cost for two people: 330 x 2 = 760 NOK (GBP 60)
Depart 5 September 2015 at 2:30 P.M. from Flåm on shuttle bus to Gudvangen (2 long road tunnels, including one that is 11km)
Proposed departure of boat from Gudvangen at 3:45 P.M. to Flåm via the Nӕrøyfjord and arrive in Flam 5:50 P.M. however original boat broke down due to technical difficulties and had to board another boat at 4:30 P.M. arriving in Flåm at 6:25 P.M.
Stayed in Flåm: Garnes Accommodation, Lunden 3, 5743 Flåm. Private accommodation run and owned by Linda & Sigurd (who use to live in England, Linda is English). Tel: +47 57631313, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Cost per room is 580 NOK/ night (GBP 45/ night)
Dinner: Ægir Bryggeri (Brewery), Flåmsbrygga Hotell AS, Pub Postboks 44, 5742 Flåm. In addition to the craft beer Viking style, large portioned, filling meals; game stew (reindeer) is recommended (http://www.flamsbrygga.no/aegir-bryggeri/)