Written by Julie Hall
(A highly commended runner-up entry in the Travel and Water Writing Competition.)
From the first moment of my arrival in Bergen, Norway, I had been struck by the sheer beauty of the landscape: the rugged mountains, the network of clean rivers, and the architecture of the Old Harbour area.
Add to this the extreme friendliness of the natives – most of whom spoke impeccable English – and the unseasonably hot October sunshine, and the ingredients for a fantastic mini-break were all set.
Based near the centre of Bergen (‘The Gateway to the Fjords’), an easy stroll from its attractive train station, I quickly booked myself on two day trips to explore further afield. The first of these exceeded all my expectations: a train journey to Flam station where I boarded a steam train that passed alongside a spectacular waterfall, on its way to pick up the boat that would take us to Gudvangen before returning home by bus via Voss. I could not have imagined that anything could surpass that day’s outing – but I was wrong.
Two days later, at 7 am, I again left Bergen station, taking first a train to Voss then a bus to Ulvik, where another boat awaited. I am not at all a ‘boat person’, but I had realised before I even left England that cruising Norway’s magnificent fjords was by far the best way to fully appreciate the country; I am so glad I overcame my queasiness, for it led me to experience one of the best journeys on water of my life.
As the hot sun continued to reflect off the sparkling, dark green waters, the boat set off towards the small town of Eidfjord, where we disembarked for two hours to explore at our leisure. On the eastern shores of Hardanger Fjord, it is famous for the spectacular Voringsfossen Waterfall, the Hardangenvidda National Park, and a 14th Century village church. Stalls along the harbour displayed the area’s renowned apples and fresh, ripe cherries. After indulging in some excellent coffee and apple-cake at a quaint little white weather-boarded café, I strolled back along the water’s edge to the luxury five-star hotel that perched beside the fjord.
Grateful for some welcome shade, I sat on the covered wooden decking area that overlooked the vast expanse of water, and was overcome by the sheer beauty of the place. It reminded me of some of the great Canadian lakes, but with an added quality: there was a majestic, almost ethereal air to the vista that simply invited meditative thoughts; were a poet to visit there, he would no doubt be compelled to write about ‘refreshing the soul’, so deep was the almost tangible sense of peace and pure beauty.
Although reluctant to leave this sanctuary, I eagerly awaited the second half of this glorious journey. Standing at the front of the large boat (the waters thankfully still and calm!) we glided between mountains on one side, fruit farms on the other; the names of the places we passed were, of course, typically Scandinavian: Jondal, Hesthamar, Folgefonna, Utne. Occasionally we would pull in to a tiny landing stage for residents to get on or off what was, for them, their local ferry – lucky people!
One such place literally took my breath away: dotted with mostly white wooden houses and churches, to the left was a small shingle beach on which children played, a dog barked, and families picnicked on this bonus summery day; to say it was an idyllic scene doesn’t do it justice. In the midst of this slice of heaven stood a small cottage, uniquely painted in a bright sunny yellow, and to one side overhung a tiny white porch with a swing seat; in an instant I was smitten with the place, and knew in a heartbeat I could live there!
All the journey back on the water to Norheimsund, to catch our final bus back to Bergen, I thought of that little yellow house: “What if?” I kept asking myself, “What if I had just stepped off the boat onto that landing stage, left my old life behind and started a new one, right there?” Of course, I didn’t do that; I had too many good things to return to back home in England, and that sort of thing only happens in novels. But to this day I have a photo of that yellow house by my writing desk, and whenever I need to escape into a beautiful dream I cast myself back on those Norwegian waters, and imagine that I am back there, once more.
The tour entitled ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ was booked through Fjord Tours.
POSTED 2nd May 2016 by STE Web Editor STEVE HANSON on behalf of JULIE HALL. The photographs were supplied by the author after the competition had been judged.