Norway in a Nutshell is the name of the self guided tour we are on from Oslo to Bergen. The first section of the tour found us in Voss yesterday afternoon – you can read about that in the Train to Voss blog posted 25 Oct.
The Fleishers Hotel put on an awesome breakfast and provided for us to make our lunches to take along on with us today – whether or not that was the intention, we’re not too sure, however it did seem to be accepted practice.
After breakfast we strolled into Voss for a coffee before boarding our coach for the day tour around the mountains. We found the best cafe so far, Tre Bror Kafe. The young lady opened up for us, made a perfect flat white and cappuccino. We sat by picture windows in comfy armchairs and as chatted about life in Norway and Voss.
This year Voss has experienced a number of extreme weather events. During the summer they had record temperatures over 40C in June, July and August. As their homes are designed to keep the heat in it was unbearable for many. They spent a lot of time outdoors to escape the heat inside. There is no air conditioning.
During autumn they had early storms which tore up trees that were hundreds of years old, took roofs off houses and caused damage and disruption. The storms also brought heavy rainfall and snow to the peaks higher up. A few weeks later as the temperatures hit 20C the snow melted and rainfall of 100mm in a day came and the town had severe flooding and avalanche. We had noticed a lot of roadwork and other construction going on, and this is the continuing clean up and restoration work that has been needed.
We talked about many things, education system, cost of living, cost of cars etc. It was a really interesting conversation. A few notes of interest below:
• Tertiary education cost 500NOK per year ($85AUD). Students pay for their own books etc, but they are also payed an allowance of 150,000NOK ($25,000AUD) during their studies. At the completion, with a pass, they have to pay back 40% of the allowance and if they don’t pass they pay back the full allowance.
• A woman who is studying and has a baby during this time, receives her full allowance and is not expected to pay it back and can return to her studies after one year.
• Retraining for order students is encouraged and credits are provided for access to courses based on age. The older you are the more credits towards a course.
• As best we could understand, the Norwegian Government have a system set up that shares the dividends of their non-renewable resources to the population. This is in addition to any wages earned during employment. This in effect means that wages are in line with the cost of living. In saying that however, eating out and coffee are still a luxury.
• Norwegians are one of the highest coffee drinking countries in the world, apparently. They will have an espresso only once a week on average due to the expense – about $10AUD per cup, however will have pod/filter and home brew the office and in their homes.
• A second hand – apx 2yrs old – basic model Audi SUV cost our waitress 660,000NOK ($112,000AUD). This is a country where an SUV is essential due to the conditions. Audi being European is not considered a luxury vehicle.
We departed Voss just after 10am for a coach trip to the wharf at Gudvangen where would start a fjord ferry cruise to Flam.
The road followed the river through the valley and ventured along the bottom of a gorge. Driving through here we passed colourful timber homes nestled on foot hills with steep cliffs towering above. Snow capped mountains could be seen through gaps and beyond tracts of open farm. Dotted all the way along were stockpiles of white wrapped hay bales ready for winter and the crossings often featured solid stone arch bridges.
Bus stops, and other riverside shacks were moss covered. We learnt later that the roofs are constructed to hold a layer of dirt and moss/peat on top as insulation. The engineering would need to be pretty good, as the weight would increase even more with a layer of heavy snow on top.
Along the road we came to section of tunnels for 4.2km. There was a short break between tunnels, where we could see a glimpse of long narrow and steep gorge. Once through the tunnels though the road was following close to the river as it cut its way between the steep cliffs. Towering high above there are some fir trees and again the silver birch hanging desperately to their last golden leaves. The green in this landscape comes from bright thick moss that clings to the rocks. High up on the cliffs are strings of water falling towards the valley below. Behind the immediate cliff face were taller snow covered peaks showing through the clouds.
We arrived at the Gudvangen Fjordtell. We had a 1/2 hour or so to wander around and soak in the fresh air and awesome fjord landcape.
The ferry is Electric. When it pulled in it connected to what we now realise is in essence a huge power cord. The ferry is practically silent and doesn’t produce a wake behind it as it moves through the black water.
The Fjord is app 1.5km deep and is a clear green – like tinged old glass – on the edges, but in the middle looks black due to the depth and colour of the dark gray cliff that goes to the depths.
As we set off down the Naeroy Fjord flanked by immense cliffs and the dramatic sheer rock falls. Along the the way on the foot hills of the cliffs were remote groups of the coloured homes. These isolated little communities are occupied by farmers and more popular in the summer as destinations for kayakers and holiday makers.
One little stop is home to one man who lives there all year round. Drydal. 100 years ago it was home to 120 or so people. The man who still lives there is descendant of the earlier occupants and remains all year to keep up the the buildings and maintain the properties. In the summer it is a destination for visitors to come and stay and enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities. He relies on the ferry to bring his post and supplies.
Today we broke out our full thermal gear and we are really glad we did as it was really cold out on deck. We have layers of thermals, merino and wind proof outer shell jackets. With the layers and hood, beanie and thick scarf we managed to stay warm outside to enjoy the magnificent landscape and take dozens of photos. We know that the photos will serve as wonderful reminders, however it would be impossible to convey the feeling of awe at the dominating cliffs and standing out in the bracing wind and experiencing the rugged beauty of nature contrasted with the remote, well cultivated communities and farm areas with their carefully placed stonewalls and colourful houses.
We are approaching the wharf at Flam. What a gorgeous, vibrant township! The Flam railway leaves from here to zig-zag up 980m above sea level to Myrdal. We passed through Myrdal yesterday and from here we will connect with a local train to complete our tour back in Voss.
The Flam Railway was built to connect to the established Oslo – Bergen train route and thereby connecting the small communities with the larger cities for the sale of their farm goods as well as for post and movement of necessities. The construction commenced in 1924 and was completed in 1944. There are 20 tunnels along the journey which were all hand cut out of the rock. There were between 120 and 220 men working on the railway at any one time and were all employees of the railway. There was a school that operated during the summer months and was still running right up until 1980. The length of the railway is 20km. It became known as the ‘Twenty Railway’ due to the number of tunnels, km’s and years it took to built all being 20.
The views needless to say were incredible. Winding through the steep gorge and with views back across the valley below. As we climbed we returned to the snow line which just added to the magic. At one point the train stopped at the Fjosfossen Waterfall where we were able to get out and take in the view and photograph the falls.
One part of the track enters the mountain tunnel and within the tunnel completes a 180deg turn to emerge out the other side. Only 10% of the tunnel structure is concrete. The rest is hand hewn from the solid rock of the mountain. Occasionally the track will skirt the outside of the mountain. Here are built timber covers to protect the track from snow fall. We had seen these from the inside of the train on yesterday’s journey. Now we could observe them from the outside.
From Myrdal it is an hours ride to descend back to our starting point in Voss. This has been an incredible way to view this remarkable landscape, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who might be considering venturing to this part of the world!