Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Our second half started pretty well when we landed in Heathrow about a half an hour early, at 5:30am. We searched the airport bookshops for a copy of Harry Potter IV, which supposedly had been released in England, but were told that the release date wasn't until July 8 - strange, since we had seen reviews on Amazon from people who had already read it. Whatever.
We had an uneventful flight to Oslo, and went through immigration and customs with fantastic efficiency - we love civilized countries! With some help from the information desk, we got a reservation at the Hotel Stefan (this service cost us, but it was paid for by the discount on the hotel rate). We also bought a ticket on the train to Oslo, which is a bit more expensive than the bus, but a lot quicker and smoother. The airport was beautiful, and the train even nicer, modern and sleek.
By the time we reached Oslo, we were starving, so we stopped at the McDonalds in the station for a quick bite. Sticker shock hit us hard here - Norway is by far the most expensive country we've been in, rivalling (and often surpassing) the US. While still at the station, we called about 6 hotels in Trondheim to get a reservation, and bought our train ticket for the tomorrow. Then we wheeled our cool new backpacks the 10 blocks to the hotel.
We were exhausted from jet lag and lack of sleep, so we crashed hard for about an hour and a half - the kind of sleep where waking up takes a conscious act of will and at least 15 minutes. We motivated, however, and went out to find a phone and an internet cafe.
We walked along the tram tracks to Grunerlokka, an up and coming neighborhood with cool restaurants. We tried the popular Kafe Sult, but the two hour wait deterred us. The waitress recommended nearby Helt Ratt. There we had expensive but pretty good entrees, as well as a limited sushi selection.
Fading fast, we rode back to the hotel on the tram, journaled a little, and crashed hard. At 11pm, we had to draw the curtains against the sunlight - we are pretty close to the longest day of the year, and further north now (59 deg) than we were south in Ushuaia (55 deg), so there's more sun.
We slept like the dead and felt great when we woke up at 9 am. And we thought that we might not sleep through the night due to jet lag.
The hotel served up an decent breakfast buffet with lots of cereal and breads. This fueled us up to head out into the pouring rain. Fortunately the hotel provides each guest with an umbrella which ended up making a huge difference to the enjoyment of the day.
First stop was the shoe/luggage repair shop. We dropped off Tom's brand new Eagle Creek bag that did not make it through its first flight. The man said it did not look too bad and he could fix it, which was quite a relief.
Then we tackled the Oslo bus system. This is made more difficult than it should since neither the bus nor the tram maps show city streets, just the routes. We succeeded after slight confusion, and began our day of culture.
Per Tom's request, first stop was the Viking Ship museum. It contains three fairly well preserved viking ships and their contents. They came from Viking burial sites. The ships are smaller than we expected, about 70 feet long and no more than 20 feet wide, if that. Also amazing was the lack of protection and storage space on the ships. They seemed more like giant canoes than seaworthy ships. We enjoyed learning more about the Vikings and life in the Northern coastal areas during the era which ran from about 800 to 1000 AD.
Just a few minutes walk along the road was the Norwegian Folk Museum, which amazed us. All the books say you can't miss this museum, and they're right. They have moved and rebuilt many Nordic buildings that date back to at least 1200AD. Each cluster contains a domestic dwelling, barn and perhaps a church. The effect is of walking through villages of different eras, and it gives a true sensation of how the people lived.
Even with the pouring rain, we spent hours walking around the grounds. We stopped in at the pottery shop with beautiful traditional Norwegian pottery. We even gave in to the temptation to buy!
We ended the museum with its few indoor exhibits. The folk art display is amazingly robust, with goods from the middle ages through the present. It includes thorough desciptions that describe how folk art developed throughout the centuries.
Final stop was the Sophia's World exhibit. This is based on what seems to be an interesting novel, turned movie of the same name. The multimedia exhibit is designed to challenge one's sense of reality. The exhibit is interspersed with computers for personal interaction. However the installation was designed, each one fascinated us. We read one quote that resounded with us and we decided to write it down:
Man is condemned to be free. From the moment he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does. - Jean-Paul Sartre 1905-1980
Across from the folk museum was a stand with great fruit, bread and nuts. Loaded with goodies, we hopped back on the bus to the center of Oslo. We picked up the fixed suitcase and headed to the food court in the Piacett shopping arcade. We dined on delicious pizza and pasta in the fanciest food court we have seen.
After a brief stop at the hotel to pick up our luggage, we trammed to the train station for our trip to Trondheim. The train, as well as the local transportation, runs with amazing precision. The train has been outfitted recently with new seats and is fairly comfortable. The countryside is beautiful. The green fields and forests are dotted with an occasional house or farm, very picturesque.
John tried to meet us at the train, but we were early. He found us at the hotel and took us out on the town. Trondheim is quaint with cobblestone streets and traditional buildings. It was strange to walk along the street full of natural light as if it were dusk yet have the discos and bars filled since it was 11:30pm.
John took us to a local pub near their apartment along the river. The three of us chatted over beers until after 1:00. It is strange to night get tired since it is light!
We slept well, again, after John let usreturn to the hotel at 1:30. Our hotel room provides a wonderful view of Trondhiem through the wall of windows and ceiling of skylights. However, with a sky that never dims darker than dusk, we were curious as to how this would affect our sleep. No problem!
Breakfast included the unidentifiable Norwegian selection of fish, smoked, pickled, gelatined and sauced. Today we were more experimental after John's encouragement last night. They were better tasting than we expected.
After breakfast we headed out to a few sporting good/camping stores, but with no luck. The only internet cafe in town was closed, but we spied a copy shop with computers and asked. After surfing for 20 minutes we asked what we owed, and the man waved us away. It turns out that they did not offer public internet access, he just let us because we asked!
The Nidaros Cathedral compound filled our afternoon. The crown jewels were on display when we arrived. The size of the precious stones and the craftmanship were phenomenal.
We pondered the security of the jewels. They were located in a small nook in the cathedral with only a curtain to pull across the opening. Later, we looked in and discovered an empty nook. John informed us that they raise and lower the crown jewels out of the floor. Amazing!
We walked through the archbishops palace, the history museum and the special midieval glass exhibition. These proved mildly interesting.
A bride and groom were having their pictures taken at various locations around the grounds. For some reason brides, grooms and weddings seem to catch our eye.
Every day at 1:00pm the organist plays a brief concert in the cathedral. We walked in just at 1:00 and the music had begun, filling the cathedral. We recorded some of the music on our picture of cathedral's impressive facade. We enjoyed being in such a massive and magnificent structure with robust music filling the space.
John, Signe and the Francines attended the concert as well and we caught up with each other after the concert. John and Signe knew much of the history of the cathedral and proved to be magnificent tour guides, showing us wonderful details and sharing interesting stories about St. Olaf and the building.
Afterwards, they invited us over to their apartment for lunch. Their place is great - top floor with lots of windows and skylights and recently renovated. Their apartment looks out on to the river. Being waterside is fantastic!
They pulled together a delicious typical Norwegian lunch which we devoured. Conversation was flowing and fun. We almost spent the entire day sitting on their couches. However, we left to figure out travel logistics.
The bus/train information counter provided lots fo information. But, we realized that our destinations are not easily reached from each other and that the public transportation could not get us between them quickly nor easily. We called about flights, which proved to be an option, and finally called to reserve a rental car. John confirmed the latter as a great decision since the countryside is beautiful.
We returned to John and Signe's for dinner. Signe cooked amazing fresh salmon, shrimp salad and asparagus. The meal was divine! Stories entertained all of us for hours. It is great to be in the company of family.
Signe and John walked back to our hotel with us to check out our funky room. It is fun how conversation seems to constantly roll off of our tongues.
Finally we made it to bed at 1am. This constant light is quite deceiving.
We were still a little jet lagged, so we got up around 9 ate some breakfast. We had decided last night to rent a car, so we dropped by Budget to reserve one - no cars available. Since Avis was closed, we went to meet Signe and John and her parents for a trip to the Music museum.
We got our bearings, and then walked around the cool botanical gardens for a while. There were awesome flowers and little areas where they had gathered similar plants from around the world. Very interesting, and well labelled.
We then visited the "Museum in the Barn" for some musical exhibits. This was a more traditional museum, with instruments in glass cases and placards in Norwegian and English. We saw a neato violin-in-a-cane, trumpets made from human bones, a piano-harp (which we heard a recording of), violas with 7 strings, and lots of other cool and random instruments.
At noon we took a guided tour of the museum proper,which used to be a manor house. The rooms were much like they were originally furnished, but each one contained mostly keyboard instruments from a particular time period. We visited them in date order from the 1700s to present. The absolute hightlight was the tour guide, who played nearly every different keyboard instrument beautifully - it was unbelievable. This museum is highly recommended,if you like music, especially music history.
We said goodbye, and went back to the hotel to find a car. Our last hope was Avis at the airport, and they came through for us. We grabbed lunch, spent an hour at the internet cafe setting up Egypt, Jordan, and Israel for next month, then got our bags for the 1hr bus ride to the airport.
The airport isn't in Hell, but you can see it from there. Really. We were in Hell for quite a while, and took a few pictures, too. Hell isn't such a bad place, actually. Mind you, we wouldn't want to live there, but it wasn't nearly as bad as some of the rumors you hear. (Sorry!)
We stopped briefly in Oopdal for dinner, and called the kayak place to confirm our trip for this week. About our arrival time, David the kayak man said "You can start as late as you want - it won't get dark until September."
We drove a couple more hours, then found a motel in Otta for the night. Alas, separate beds - we couldn't even push them together.
After a mediocre breakfast at the Grand Gjestegard hotel in Otta, we began the drive to the Styrn Summer Ski Center (sommerskisenter). Unfortunately, it was grey and rainy which doused our spirits a bit. The low speed limits on the Norwegian roads slowed our drive time, so we enjoyed the scenery. The beautiful countryside dotted with farmhouses and red barns continued throughout today's drive as well.
We turned off the main road for a scenic route along the old post road to the ski center. Tom drove us along the one lane winding road dodging the occasional car that came along in the other direction. His long distance vision of the road was limited due to the 10 to 15 foot snow banks that lined the road.
Driving through snow drifts on June 26th amused us to no end. Unfortunately, the weather matched the winter feeling with gray skies, spitting rain and a chilly breeze. A surprising number of hardy skiers and boarders criss-crossed the mountainside on their rides down. Even though we had the best intentions to hit the slopes, the winterish weather deterred us. We had pictured blue sunny skies to warm us during our ski day.
We continued south descending the 3500 feet rapidly in a series of switchbacks, catching glimpses of spectacular waterfalls in the river that was making the descent next to us. The town of Stryn was the largest that we had seen all day, but would be categorized as a small town on any US standard. The tourist office was full of helpful information which we greedily gathered.
Out of the dozen businesses in town, two were camping/sporting good shops where we found some great purchases. Our waitress at Cafe Bacchus helped us find the internet at the local library. However, on arrival we discovered that all slots for the day were full. We have been surprised at the lack of publicly available internet access compared to South America - that's what happens when everyone has it at home.
Tom drove us further south to Olden where we found some adorable cabins, complete with kitchen and washing machine! Bummer that we did most of ours in the sink last night.
The Norwegian supermarkets baffled us. All products were only in Norwegian (haven't they heard of multi-lingual packaging?). We missed American products and selection.
The first market offered an incredibly limited number of products that did not include chicken, eggs or brownie mix. In fact,the butcher shop had hardly any meat products at all, and those were primarily sausages of various types.
We stopped in Olden's second market which did have slightly more products, still no brownie mix. Tom found chocalate cake mix of some sort and pre made shelf-stored chocolate pudding (think Parmalat).
Back in our cottage we hit domestic mode which felt great. First we conquered the laundry machine. It is a dial-by-letter machine with key words in Norwegian. We chose "D" and hoped for the best.
In the kitchen we started our chocolate brownie experiment (remember the directions were in Norwegian) which resulted in batter that tasted reminiscent of Duncan Hines.
Having a kitchen created an at-home feeling which we reveled in while cooking dinner and lazing on the couch.
We awoke in our cabin and remembered that we had too cook breakfast, so we took turns at the stove. There were no major disasters, although Tom did set off the smoke alarm with the bacon. Stuffed with eggs, toast, bacon, and leftover chocolate cake, we packed up and left the dishes. We had prepaid for the room, so we just headed straight out.
We were trying to make it up to the Briksdal glacier before 10, because we had a brochure from the tourist office describing a cool glacier trek that started at 10. We arrived at 10:01, and the guide at the parking lot suggested that we could go on the next trip at 11. We asked if we could catch up with the 10am group, since there was a 2km hike up to the bottom of the glacier. He radioed up, and gave us the OK. We hurried up the hill, only to find that we were the first of the 7 people there.
We had an interminable time putting on crampons, harnasses, ropes, helmets, ice axes, and gloves. Once we were mostly dressed, a busload of Japanese tourists arrived and all wanted their pictures taken with the "climbers". We smiled and joked about charging $5 a picture as we posed.
Since we were right at the glacier, we were on the ice immediately. We started hiking up a path constructed earlier by other guides, but soon veered off and headed straight up the glacier. The guide went out of his way to make the trip fun for us, going up and over seracs that we could have easily gone around, just for the challenge. Most of the conversation was in Norwegian, although they did explain important stuff in English. Since we were roped together, we didn't have much conversation up and down the line.
One tip for others who might do this - try to get tied to the rope last. We tried to get roped first, because we thought that would put us up close to the guide, but we were wrong - our guide roped people from last to first, so the first guy tied in was last in the line.
This was our first experience being roped together, and it was educational. Keeping proper spacing is harder than it looks, especially when some are going up while others are going down.
After a short break, we did some more ambitious climbing, including front-pointing down a wall belayed by the guide. We also learned how to clip past an ice screw, in such a way that you're never unattached (clip the rope behind you first, then unclip the rope in front). We were lucky that the weather held - it threatened, but never quite rained. All in all, it was an enjoyable outing.
This glacier was not very different from the ones we hiked on in Chile and Argentina. The equipment was better, of course, and the trip seemed safer overall. In our inexperienced opinions, however, being roped together did not enhance our feeling of safety - we spent so much time worrying about the rope we didn't watch where we were placing our feet.
We were promised 2 hours on the ice and were given even more than that, so that by the time we got back down to our car it was 2:30. We jumped in and started towards Fyaerland, where there is a Glacier Museum.
We arrived at the Glacier Museum, and called Avis to find out about returning the car in Sogndal. They were extremely helpful, and upon finding out that we were going to Solvorn, offered to pick up the car there. Fantastic! We got a reservation at a recommended hotel called the Walaker in Solvorn, and went in to see the museum.
True to form, the Glacier Museum is amazing. We learned more than we ever wanted to know about glaciers, and saw a couple of cool short movies. After nearly two hours we dragged ourselves out and pointed the car towards Solvorn. We paid the incredible Nkr135 toll (about $15) and went through several 6+ km tunnels on the way.
In Sogndal we stopped for gas and a bank, then found the Walaker with no trouble - right next to the ferry in Solvorn. Our timing was perfect - the Avis guy was there to pick up the car, and had only been there for a minute or two.
The Walaker has been a hotel run by the same family since 1608. The guy we talked to was the 9th generation. We checked in to a nicely large room in the annex, and then sat for the prix-fixe dinner. The food was quite good, and we had a nice bottle of Spanish wine with it. We lingered over the last couple of glasses, chatted with the manager for a while, and then headed back to the room for bed.
Total driving mileage: 741km
Note: In response to reader feedback, we refrained from taking and posting pictures of the thousands of amazingly beautiful waterfalls throughout Norway. However, the authors want it to be noted that Norway contains an incredible collection.
Note 2: We apologize for butchering Norwegian spelling, but we simply can't enter their 3 other letters easily on this computer.
Hotel Wanaker opened breakfast early for us, so we ate another Norwegian breakfast (although we skipped the picked herring), then walked across the parking lot for the ferry from Solvorn. The launch was so smooth that we did not even know when we started across the fjord. David, the owner of Ventle Kroken, met us at the dock with Noah, our guide, and the kayaks. They drove us along a new one lane road that wound along the edge of a cliff.
We loaded up the brand new tandem kayak with our gear and took off. Rain started as we left the put-in, but it was not heavy and definitely did not dampen our spirits since the beauty was incredible. The distances seem shorter than they are, which makes kayaking a little easier. Noah found a great spot for lunch where we entered the main Sognefjord. As we pulled into the bank, the sun began to shine...perfect!
Noah fed us homemade bread baked the day before, with Norwegian brown cheese and other goodies. After completely feeding our hungry bellies, we turned the corner and enter the main body of the fjord.
A few ferries crossed the fjord loaded down with cars, busses and trucks. Otherwise, we watched some birds fly overhead. The sun continued to shine and the wind stayed away. We paddled along the glass-like water for hours. A few Nisse whales surfaced and swam along, which was great
We turned the next corner in the fjord and began to look for a campsite. However, the sheer mountain face fell through the water and continued its straight descent. It was incredible. No possible campsite was in sight. Our arms felt weak and backs ached from four hours of paddling. Noah suggested a mid afternoon break, which we greedily agreed to take. A boulder patch formed at one point along the shore where we pulled up our kayaks. Standing up felt great, immediately our backs began to release tension while we ate gorp and drank water.
As we put back in to continue the search for a campsite, a pod of whales surfaced just a few feet offshore - we could clearly hear the distinctive sound of them blowing and inhaling as they broke the surface.
Once on the water, we sooncame upon a waterfall accompanied by a ledge. It looked like a great campsite, if we could get up the15 feet. Fortunately the rocks provided a just wide enough ramp on which we pulled the kayaks and loaded the gear. The latter required one person to stand on the sea level rocks, hand gear to the next person on top of the first rock who handed it to the third at the start of the trail to the campsite. We couid hardly believe that we found an idyllic campsite on the banks of a fjord filled with the sounds of a beautiful waterfall.
Little did we know that during the five day trip we would feast on wonderful food. Noah cooked up delicious vermicelli pasta, a spinach salad (fresh out of the garden) with feta cheese, and garlic bread. We feasted. Afterwards he announced dessert of freshly picked strawberries and concocted homemade whipped cream. Yum!
We could hardly move with our bellies overloaded. We lazed in the grass looking out on the fjord and shared stories. At 8:00 the sun continued to shine, in fact it seemed the brighest as it had been all day.
Great start to an adventure!
Paddle stats: 20km, flat water, no wind, approx 5km/hr
We slept in until almost 9, resulting in about 11 hours of sleep. And we were worried that we wouldn't sleep with the sun in the sky! And boy was it in the sky - with only a few clouds and almost no wind, it was a perfect paddling day.
Noah already had bacon frying, and soon got some great scrambled eggs going. With the remains of the strawberries, we had a great breakfast.
We broke camp and packed the kayaks, which was much easier now that there was less food to pack. All this does take time, however, so we didn't actually push off until after 11am.
We made good time down the fjord, occasionally seeing ferries but mostly alone on the fjord. Noah pointed out each bird we saw and identified it for us, an amazing feat since he had only been in Norway slightly longer than us. We were surprised by power lines that spanned the fjord in huge arcs, from mountain-top to mountain-top. A few places where the cliffs weren't quite so steep we saw picturesque farmhouses We also passed a set of floats near the shore that we couldn't figure out - perhaps a mussel farm?
Around 1:30 we stopped for lunch on a beautiful point at the junction of Sognefjord and Aurlandfjord. The sun was shining and the water was glassy - we couldn't ask for a more perfect day. We also were starting to get the hang of paddling, so our backs and shoulders weren't hurting as much as yesterday.
Once again we were treated to Nisse whales passing quite close to shore as we prepared to put in. We paddled down Aurlandfjord towards Naeroefjord, where we hoped to camp.
On the way, we decided to fill our water bottles, so we kayaked over to one of the many streams running in to the fjord - there's one every few hundred meters or so. This one was falling directly into the water, so we could kayak right up to it, although the current would push us away. Louisa filled the first bottle, while Noah pushed his kayak against ours to keep us close to the water. We then reversed position, so he could fill a few bottles. We probably could have done it faster by getting out of the kayaks, but this was much more fun.
Soon after we stopped for a break on another gorgeous point overlooking the fjord. As we sat on a driftwood tree and gazed at the snow-covered mountains, we agreed that it just doesn't get much better than this.
Another 4km later, we finally rounded the small lighthouse that marked the entrance to the Naeroefjord. Distances are deceiving here - we tried to sprint the last hundred yards and it was more like a kilometer. We then paddled on another 2km to a point that had some nice rocks to cook and camp on, arriving around 7pm.
Once we had unloaded the boats, Noah started cooking dinner, and Louisa and Tom decided to hike to a nearby river to get water. Turns out it was an arduous bushwack through the trees, with plenty of climbing and descending to avoid cliff bands. Nearly an hour later we got there, and discovered that the waterfall was so powerful we couldn't get anywhere near it. We settled for filling the water bag from a trickle nearby, and schlepping back to camp. We had been gone so long that dinner was cooked and Noah was just getting into his kayak to look for us. To mix metaphors, we had bitten off a little more than we bargained for.
Exhausted and hungry, we fell to, and devoured Noah's delicious curry. We followed it up with some cookies, and were well satiated. After a little clean up, we all went straight to bed.
Paddle stats: 24km, flat water, no wind, approx 6km/hr
Paddle stats: 25 km, almost all flat water, average speed 6km/hr
Louisa woke, looked at her watch and could not believe that we had slept until 8:30 again! We felt quite tired, but knew that we should get going, so we broke camp, taking down the tent and packing the sleeping bags. We were surprised that Noah was not awake since he seemed to be an early riser, but he poked his head out of his tent after Louisa screamed at the slug in her boot. At this point, Louisa glanced at her watch again. It said 9:15, but something seemed funny about it. Then she realized it was in stopwatch mode, and that it had been running all night. She hurriedly changed functions to time and discovered that it was 5:15! We had gotten up at 4:30am!
Our tent was down and we were packed, Noah was up and willing, so we cooked breakfast and hit the fjord by 7:30. The sun was already high - it seems never to really go down. During breakfast we saw a white-tailed eagle flying across the fjord, harassed by dozens of gulls.
Once we got out onto the water, we paddled down to the waterfall we had visited last night. We were amazed - it was gorgeous! High and full of water, with multiple steps in different directions, it was the equal of anything in Yosemite.
We kayaked down the Naeroyfjord, and marvelled as the walls got steeper and the fjord narrower. We stopped at a nice beach for water and a snack, and then continued down the fjord. As we turned the corner, we were delighted with a view down to a wonderful snow-filled bowl on top of the mountain at the end of the fjord. We took a few pictures, and then turned around and headed back up the fjord. This point of land had a beautiful farm that seemed abandoned, with sheep grazing in the fields and a beautiful waterfall running through the property. Louisa wanted to buy it, and Tom concurred.
We had lunch on a stone wall just past Styvi, devouring more brown cheese (brunost or gudbrandsdalsost) with jam. We then went to find a farm called Stigen (ladders), located high on a cliff above the fjord, with a steep trail leading up to it. We stopped at a tumble-down boat house just below the house on the cliff, but couldn't find the trail. After a few false starts, we got back in the kayaks and headed further down the fjord, where there was a real boathouse and the trail was obvious.
Tom and Noah did the hike, while Louisa relaxed at the boathouse and read. The trail was indeed steep, but at a steady pace didn't take more than a half hour to climb the 900 vertical feet. We admired the view, especially the amazing location between two high waterfalls. After a few minutes walking around up there, Tom and Noah headed back down and joined Louisa. Tom had picked a bouquet of wildflowers with many different colors, and presented it to Louisa, which earned him a kiss.
We paddled back up Aurlandsfjord to a spot a few km past last night's campsite. On the way, we had a great view of the white-tailed eagle. The campsite was small, but reasonably level, and we made a table out of driftwood for comfortable eating.
We had a traditional Norwegian porridge for dinner, rømmegrøt, which was not bad, although the dried lamb was a bit gamey. We had a short downpour just as dinner was ready, so we ran everything into a tent, but then the rain stopped, so we went back out. We hit the hay early - it was a long, but rewarding, day.
Paddle stats: 33km, headwind during last 10, approximately 6km/hr
Rain came down during the night, but as Tom wished, we woke to clear skies in the morning. We left camp at 9:45 for the return journey to Lusterfjord. A few ferries passed by as we paddled along the Sognefjord. We turned the corner to the main body of the fjord and paddled close to shore near the large, white decorative house and farms that form a small (by American, not Norwegian standards) village. Some people were on the dock and in small motor boats. They represented more humans than we had seen during the previous three days, which we attribut to be weekend traffic. We stopped at the edge of the clearing past the last farm for lunch. Perched on the rocks at the edge of a meadow, we enjoyed a view of the fjord. Remarkably we had made 13km in two hours, no wonder we were ready for lunch!
After lunch we continued along the Songefjord for the afternoon. We watched planes land and identified the hidden mountain top airport as Sogndal airport. Noah continued to amaze us with his encyclopedic knowledge of birds. After crossing to the next point, we took a break about 3;30. We decided to paddled across to a lighthouse at the entrance to Lusterfjord, which we could see about 6 or 7 km across the fjord. A few raindrops started to fall as we pushed off from shore. Our course was through the center of the bay to the lighthouse to camp. About 2km in to the journey, the skies opened and the rain poured down. After hearing thunder and the fog rolled in, we changed course and paddled toward shore for safety. The tailwind that was pushing us across the fjord turned into a strong headwind, seriously slowing our progress. As we reached the shore, the rain started to abate. As with most of the shorline in the fjords, the edge consisted of sheer cliffs that rise 1000s of feet into the sky, and continue their sharp descent under water. Not good for pulling the kayaks outa nd camping.
We continued on, turned the corner at the next point at a ferry dock and the head wind became more fierce. We hid under the dock for a few minutes, then pulled out of the water when the rain picked up again. We warmed up in the ferry waiting room and filled up our water bottles which were dry.
Noah suggested camping at the farm at the entrance to Lusterfjord, a few more kilometers along. The rain had stopped and the headwind had weakened, but our arms were tired. We were thrilled to reach our camp sight! It was a terrific place. We positioned our tent on a terrace with an amazing view of the fjord and snowcapped mountains.
Noah cooked up an excellent dinner of pesto pasta and garlic bread. We devoured the food and had great conversation. AT 8pm we tried one last time for radio contact with Vetle Kroken, this time with success.
Noah demostrated encyclopedic knowledge of maps, too. We estimated our last day's jorney and anticipated a short day with time to stop at a farm and the famous Urnes stave church.
Louisa turned in, exhausted while Tom and Noah continued to discuss math problems. The lightness continued to deceive our sense of time.
We woke later than we planned, but we were still a bit tired from our long paddle yesterday. Noah made apple pancakes for breakfast, which were excellent, then we packed the dishes without bothering to wash them - an advantage of the last day. We packed the kayaks one last time, and loaded ourselves in.
The weather had broken, and the mist was dissipating across the cliffs, making beautiful low cloud patterns over the fjord. We stretched sore muscles as we paddled across the fjord towards Kvalen. The first hour is always the hardest, and this morning more than any of the others we were sore and tired.
After what seemed like quite a long time, we reached the other side of the fjord, and pulled up to a small waterfall to refill our water bottles. A short time after that, we stopped at a deserted farm at Kvalen, for a bit of lunch. It had only been a couple of hours since breakfast, but we were at a good point, so we broke out the lunch food.
We relaxed and munched for an hour or so, but were soon back in the kayaks. With a slight following wind, we started to make great time towards Skinsedal, where we had put in the first day. About an hour and a half or so after lunch we rounded a point and pulled up at the Urnes ferry landing. We pulled the boats up near the parking lot, and congratulated ourselves on a great 5 days of paddling.
We had plenty of time, so we hiked up the hill to the well-known Urnes stave church, and took the tour. Amazingly, the church was built in 1130, using some carved timbers from an earlier church on the same spot dating from 1050. Many changes had been made over the years, particularly during the Reformation in the 16th century, but it still was well preserved and absolutely beautiful. We enjoyed the visit.
Noah radioed the farm got them to come pick us up, and walked down the hill to meet the trailer. After loading the kayaks onto the trailer (and forgetting the paddles), we headed to the farm. We unloaded the kayaks, and then gratefully headed into the kitchen for much-needed showers. We hopped in the wood-fired hot tub for a quick soak to relax our tired muscles. Then we quickly repacked our gear, and headed to the ferry to catch the last one over to Solvorn. Noah's girlfriend Erin rode with us, and we felt like we knew her even though we had just met, because we had heard about her for 5 days from Noah.
The ferry was packed, because there had been a concert of folk songs at the stave church, but we crammed ourselves on and crossed the fjord. Once in Solvorn, we called a taxi to Sogndal, and asked the driver to take us to a good place to eat near the Sogndal ferry landing. We ended up at a great chinese restaurant, and gorged on some of the best chinese food we've had in a long time. Our timing was perfect - we finished dinner just in time to walk over to the ferry from Sogndal to Flam.
The ferry had almost nobody on it, so we settled into seats at a table and journaled for a while.
Once there, we checked in to the Heimly Pensjonat, and crashed hard.
Vetle-Kroken review: In a word, wonderful. The proprietor, David, was very responsive, asked good questions, listened to our answers, and designed a great trip for us. The equipment was first class - we happened to have a brand new kayak - and everything worked well. The food was plentiful, varied, and filling - we ate better than we usually do camping.
Our guide, Noah, was truly fantastic. He was above all unfailingly friendly, non-critical, and a pleasure to be around. In addition, he was knowledgable about kayaking, camping, and natural history, and was able and willing to teach us. He was conscientious to a fault, and would have uncomplainingly done every task if we had not pitched in to help. Finally, he was appropriately safety-conscious, and we felt his judgement was very good.
In case you can't tell, we can't say enough good things about David's kayaking operation, and Noah in particular. We got everything we wanted and more out of our trip in the fjords.
The Flam (pronounced Flome) railway is famous for its 20km track that winds through a valley and up a mountainside. We caught the first train out of Flam and enjoyed the magnificent views of mountains, green meadows and waterfalls. At the top we hopped on a train for Oslo. This is most of the Bergen-Oslo line, which is also considered a magnificent ride. This proved to be true! The track continues along the top of the mountains through snow covered fields dotted with lakes. We marvelled at the scenery, as we have throughout our travels in Norway.
We passed through the highest train station at Finse and noticed a gorgeous hotel in Geilo - perhaps next trip.
Upon arrival in Oslo we checked into the Rica Oslo Hotel near the train station which was much nicer than we expected. We split to accomplish errands, Tom updated the web site while Louisa did laundry (the other travelers in the laundromat wondered about this division of labor). Meanwhile, Louisa was trying to get in touch with Halvor, a Deloitte colleague who lives in Oslo.
After many missed connections Halvor found us at the hotel and we met at the pier in Oslo. It was great fun to see Halvor, share stories about our respective weddings, and swap travel stories. At he end of the wonderful evening we packed and went to bed far too late for our early morning wake up call.
The Rica Oslo hotel handed us breakfasts-to-go as we checked out at 5:45am. We caught the express train to the airport and checked into our British Airways flight to London. We had lots of time and went through the easy process of receiving our VAT refund. The flight was uneventful and arrived early at Heathrow.
British passport control took longer than any other country so far this year, which interested us. Then we spent an hour in the airport terminal waiting for El Al to open - for even one employee to turn up. After much frustration, we decided to take off for London. The Heathrow Express shuttled us into the city in a smooth 15 minutes then we tubed it around the city.
Our lunch date was near Piccadily Circus, but we took the scenic route by Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square. Chris Morgan, a fun Deloitte colleague and sassy petunia, selected a swank Indian restaurant for lunch. Since he left San Francisco in February of 1999, our last sighting, he has travelled throughout Europe and his family enlarged with the arrival of his son, Sylvan. We enjoyed a couple of hours of laughter-filled conversation before saying good-bye.
We raced back to Heathrow (with little help from the Tube) and were happy to see that there was no line at El Al. Little did we know why...
El Al greets you with specially trained security personnel before allowing you to check in for your flight. Ours was particularly meticulous. The line of questioning asked from where we came, when we are returning home, and other places that we have traveled recently. Our rather complex itinerary raised almost every red flag with him that it could. We seemed to explain these away and thought we were in the clear when he took a close look at our tickets. This started another interrogation about where the tickets were purchased. We knew little about this, and the mystery caused him to leave us for long periods of time. Without any further details, after 45 minutes he finally let us pass and we received our boarding cards.
We went directly to the gate where we were taken, by the same security guard, to a special room to identify our luggage. He insisted that we open the luggage, and rummage through it to determine that no bombs were in our bags. Finally, we were cleared to board the plane - whew! The flight was packed, but uneventful - however their level of security seems to insure this.
On reflection, we can't recommend the airline. The equipment is old and the staff were not particularly friendly which makes their interrogations especially unpleasant.
We arrived, waited in line quite a while at passport control, collected our luggage and walked through customs. The Eldan Hotel had arranged a car, so we looked for a sign, but found none. After waiting for a while, we asked at the Eldan rent-a-car desk, and happened to encounter the driver. We were tired and cranky, so by the time we got to Jerusalem, we checked in and dropped into bed.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on