In Norway, the concept of friluftsliv, literally translated as ‘free air life’, is a deeply felt awareness that being outside is good for the spirit, mind, and body. With one of the most stunning landscapes in the world, Norway can boast of truly spectacular mountains plunging into the sea from incredible heights, almost bottomless deep-blue fjords, and thickly wooded forests that make it easy to want to be outside.
Indeed, one of the reasons we decided to spend time in Norway was because of its visually impressive scenery. We had experienced some of the stunning landscape on hikes on two of the seven mountains that surround Bergen, Fløyen and Ulriken. But, having been in Bergen for almost a week, it was time to get further afield and see for ourselves.
We booked a trip using “Norway in a Nutshell,” a service that utilizes public transportation – trains, boats and buses. The train departed early from Bergen, and the journey to Myrdal took about two hours. Making its way through forests and around the edge of several fjords lined with conifers, we passed steep rocky cliffs, lush green meadows and crossed plunging rivers. As we rounded some of the long sweeping curves we caught glimpses of wooden cabins and small farms painted with the distinctive dark-red color common to much of Norway. The railway hugged the stony ledge along the base of the cliffs that rise above the fjords as the scenery became more and more dramatic.
At Myrdal, we merely crossed to the opposite side of the platform to transfer to the scenic Flåmsbana or Flåm rail system, a 20 k (12 mi) spur line that drops spectacularly 853 m (2,800 ft) in 55 minutes to the village of Flåm on an arm of the Sognefjord.
The Flåmsbana passed through an even more breathtaking landscape than we had ever imagined. Along the way, the train traversed river gorges, steep rocky cliffs, 20 tunnels, and stopped briefly at the impressive and famous Kjosfossen waterfall.
The train arrived in the little village of Flåm, and since the ferry to take us to Balestrand would not arrive for a while, we had ample time for a pleasant hike along the Flåmselvi river. Fed by runoff from the Omnsbreen glacier, the milky-watered stream flows briskly through Flåm and into the Aurlandsfjord. We had a delightful walk surrounded by steep mountainsides, cascading waterfalls, and flowered meadows.
Before long it was time to board the boat to Balestrand where we would spend the night. We were taking the M/S Vingtor, a high-speed catamaran express-boat to take us the 61 km (38 mi) trip on the fjord.
Departing Flåm, the boat quickly got up to speed, smoothly flying across the deep-blue waters of the fjord. We were surrounded by steep mountains up to 1,800 m (5,900 ft) tall, while the dark water beneath us reached a depth of about 962 m (3,156 ft). The scale was astonishing.
Waterfalls are everywhere. Like silvery strands of yarn, they cascade, tumble and fall from the tops of the mountains that surround the fjords. All around, at any one moment, you could see multiple ribbons of water, fed by lakes, snow, and glaciers, plunging hundreds of meters down the cliffs to the fjord below.
Though the mountains are massive, rugged and inhospitable, there are occasionally, little farms in some of the small valleys that punctuate the mountains and their sheer stone faces. At the base of some of the cliffs are fishing shacks with their rickety docks set on a tiny ledge of rock.
Arriving in Balestrand in the late afternoon, we walked the 700 m (.43 mi) to the Midtnes Hotel. We were warmly welcomed and our room had an outstanding view. After wandering about this charming, tiny town (so tiny that the police department is closed on weekends), we located a small restaurant where we had a delicious dinner.
We had a nice stroll back to our hotel and turned in with a view of the snow-tipped mountains and Sognefjord glistening in the light of a full moon right outside our window. Tomorrow we will take another boat to the Jostedal Glacier, the largest glacier in continental Europe.
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