Postcard 3 from Norway – Voss

Oslo and Voss

Today is a culture day with more use of city bikes to explore places that I don’t think I would have found. I didn’t plan the routes but found some excellent parks and finally got an outline of the city, the jetties, the centrum and how to get to the main railway station quickly. The latter will become important tomorrow when I use the 6:25 train to Voss.

I need to drop my rucksack off at the new hotel and ring them to see if it’s possible. During the conversation, the lady asks me where I am and I look around for a sign on the platform, “Utgang”, says I. There’s a short pause followed by some Norwegian being shared with a colleague followed by more laughter. She asks me to look around the platform for other signs, what I’d just read out means “Exit”.

Now travelling light I make my way to the landing stages to seek the special little ferry that loops around the three sites that are built on spits of land at different parts of the fjord all within 10 minutes of the jetties and offering wonderful views of the city as a bonus.

I’d encourage you to do this trip for the views and the quality of the Kon-Tiki Museum. I bought the ticket for all three but only managed two and I would have paid the money just for Kon-Tiki, marvellous.

I make my way back for a meal at Salt. This is getting to be a habit but the quality of the food is first rate and many countries are represented so tonight it’s Mexico without the cheese and it’s excellent.

So it’s ‘early to bed early to rise’ and that’s what I do. It’s an unexpected pleasure to walk the warm streets of a city at five in the morning. The actual process of getting up is a challenge but once washed and dressed I’m ready for the world which is just as well as that’s what I’ve got in my rucksack, it’s on my back and I’ve got a jaunty step that represents my current demeanour well as I walk through the park.

I arrive with lots of time for a lengthy discussion about the likelihood of the filled baguettes having butter or any kind of melk [sic] in them and chose a bacon salad which turned out to be tasty and devoid of lactose – result.

The journey to Voss is about five hours and goes by very quickly as one astonishing view follows another. All of the texts seem to conclude that this is one of the best non-specialist train journeys there is and I agree. I had read that sitting on the right would give the best views but having done it I can say categorically that, going from Oslo to Bergen, the better views are on the left. That said, you’re not going to be disappointed on whichever side you sit.

Voss it a lovely place with lots of specified walks that give some of the most spectacular vistas of the fjord and mountains. I leave my rucksack at the hotel and spend the afternoon on the Blue Walk which takes me into the woods on the side of the mountain where various orchid-like flowers grow with the lichen and ubiquitous daffodils – it tests my stamina but I still get a thrill from doing this ‘at my age’.

/*StartWobblyScene

When I was young at school we thought the millennium was an eternity away and wondered if we’d get there. We also concluded that 65, the old retirement age, would be a struggle to achieve and the people already 65 were fragile and never seemed to live long after they retired.

I’m 73 now and living a bit of an adventure. Sometimes my heart aches for Linda, my dear wife, especially on days that are idyllic like today and her words ring in my ears, “Get on with it and enjoy, this is not a rehearsal”. She was right so I smile and ‘get on with it’.

We both had good jobs and decided early on that when we could generate the funds we’d avoid the big-house-thing in favour of travel, and that’s what we did! We did it with our lovely family so they got to see the world too and the real bonus, although we weren’t to know it, was that we saw it together. Many couples put off the ‘together’ bit until they retire but that wouldn’t have worked for us.

To help you understand the above you need to know that Linda gently faded in my arms ten years ago after a two-year fight with cancer and, to a degree, my life stopped too. For two years I was just numb with grief but then, with help from dear friends, I started walking in the countryside and mountains again. Mostly over the Pennines and on the North York Moors but then Cecilia introduced me to the Camino* and I began to explore more adventuresome places. At times on these trips, it feels like Linda is with me. Today, she’s here on the mountainside and I’m embraced with love as the sun picks me out for special attention. I sit on the soft moss of a fallen trunk and surrender to the joyful glow. Something flutters past my eye and is gone, was it a butterfly?

…if you know, you know. I wipe my eyes…

*/EndWobblyScene

It’s warm sunshine but at this height the temperature is suppressed and this is definitely a good thing, especially on some of the more extreme slopes.

Now I’m in shade and I’m guessing it stays that way as I start to make giant steps through the snow. I’m not at the snow line, nowhere near it, but this mini gorge that’s permanently in the shade has its own climate and I follow the compacted track that others have made with their footsteps before me.

Now, I’m out in the sun again, it’s a clearing in the true sense of the word. The trees have been harvested and the ground prepared, and then allowed to naturalise before new trees are planted.

This part of the track is a delight as I variously, slide, scramble and walk my way back down into Voss with the sun behind me. It’s the biggest super trooper in the world and it lights up the fjord casting long shadows as we enter the golden hour. But you don’t have to be a photographer to utilise this precious time, it’s there in golden glory even without a camera so I put my phone back in my pocket and complete the walk without taking any photographs. Arriving back in the town square. It’s evening and there’s a small market with ‘street food’, so it’s time for a change and Thai wins.

It’s a joy watching the families meet up in the square in the late sunshine and the thing that stands out is what a melting pot this country is. The kids are playing the usual ball games and the boys are climbing anything that’s static but what stands out is that they’re bi-lingual. They chatter and shout in Norwegian but drift into English when talking to others. It’s like it’s one language and for the second time today, I’m lost in amazement and thought.

I’m loving this adventure.

Today was for Linda. Enjoy the snaps. (Some are taken through glass) Love G x


Postcard 4 from Norway – Voss, Bergen and back to Oslo

The hotel is advertised as a hostel and I suppose it could be if it was populated with large groups but it’s not. We’re largely single like me or couples and the demographic is well mixed.

I’m not good at categorising things but what I can say is that it is comfortable, wonderfully placed on the banks of the fjord with fabulous views and en-suite toilets although in that department they’re not suitable for cat-swinging; however, for oldies like me, it adds an element of security when you’re showering and slip/fall/lose balance/go dizzy/knock the hot tap on full/knock the cold tap on full/underestimate the jet strength of the power shower when rinsing your dangly bits (only applies to men) you can reach out with both arms and wedge yourself before damage is done. Well clearly, the ‘hot tap on full and the power shower to the dangly bits may require an immediate evacuation but being able to claw your way along the walls could facilitate! They also impose a well respected rule of ‘quiet after ten’. Breakfast is equally generous although there is nothing cooked; however, if that is a problem you are allowed to take in your own food and cook it and that goes for lunch (if you’re in) and dinner too. I haven’t described the other hotels becase they’re normal and this one isn’t – in a positive sense.

The trains are a bit special too. The Norwegians have planned their rail system and brought it up to date according to practical needs and there are many. They’re a very socially aware country with family areas and that goes for the trains too. One of the carriages is dedicated to family and children with a soft play area and more room between seats so you can feed the little ones. On the trains that I’ve been on the soft play area is well used and the train manager/ guard ensures that all is well and there are no delinquents causing difficulties. Half of the next carriage is for heavy luggage and bikes followed by a compartment carriage like we used to have before Beecham’s axe and subsequent modernisation. These appear to be purchased by families but there are units with only one person in them. The next carriage is a food kiosk that sells all kinds of things including a limited amount of hot food and the guy running it knows the allergens in most of the food, I know this ‘cos the lady in front is celiac and asked him questions closely followed by me who did likewise and received fulsome and knowledgeable replies.

Bergen

Today I’m going to Bergen, I’m only going to be there for three or four hours and the journey from Voss is as spectacular as the trip over the mountains from Oslo. It takes about fifty minutes and we follow rivers with rapids, waterfalls and smooth lazy meanderings as countryside transforms itself from bleak mountain to forest clad hills to still fjords with small wooden framed cottages painted in a variety of pastel shaded colours. It’s like a child’s illustrated story book captivating and forever changing.

I arrive in Bergen and I’m immediately taken by it. Like all Norwegian stations it is open and has no gates or impediments to flow. I had a long discussion with an off duty train driver and she told me that the accent was on safety so the train guard is an essential element of ‘system’ and it would seem that all journeys have tickets checked. She told me that the astronomical cost of ticket gates was not justified if you have a person walking the length of the train checking tickets and as a by product looking after the security needs of the passengers. I’ll leave that last statement here for your thoughts.

Bergen has a beautiful old town feel and really exceptional wooden area where the buildings have been renovated and painted in various colours and now have artists, artisans, a visitors centre and a pilgrim centre. I spend an hour in the area then spot a sign to the funicular railway.

Well I like a funicular, it gives you another perspective on the city so a ticket is obtained and off I go the top of Mount Fløyen The views are spectacular and I would urge you to do this unless you have an extreme aversion to heights.

On return to sea level I walk through the market and in to a delightful park with a statue of Edward Grieg where families, shop workers and business men and women are lying in the sun and making full use of their lunchtime break. The Norwegian emphasis on mental health and ‘down time’ to relax may be one of the reasons for their current position in the happiness index. (See earlier post).

Cable car

The Pilgrim was here a couple of weeks ago and reported an adventure on a cable car so I’m into Sherlock Holmes mode looking for evidence of it. Bingo, TripAdvisor comes up trumps again and within twenty minutes I’m on the tram and six stops later I’m at a parade that leads me to the bottom cable-car station and almost immediate access to the gondola. This is another must do. It’s a bit higher than the funicular and you are hanging on a wire so again use discretion if you have issues with heights. I did fifteen years ago and became desensitised through the encouragement and help from walking friends and specifically Doreen Malone and George Renwick. Doreen took me on the first one with my arm up my back and George has been a constant source of encouragement over the years when we’ve been at a height on the moors and mountains.

There is a very pleasant cafe at the top and plenty of safe places to appreciate the views with children. There’s also some more rocky areas where you can take the path down. I take advice about the time to get down this way as I need to be back at the station by 1740 and decide it’s worth the risk. It’s zigzag, sometimes steps and sometimes rocky track but always with a view. You’re walking down from about 2000 feet so take any phobias into account. I loved it but you do need to be aware of where you’re putting your feet.

The train back to Voss is already waiting at Bergen station and there are plenty of seats. I sit on the right this time to pick up on what I missed on the way here and it’s well worth it.

Voss is quite busy this evening and I manage to get an outstanding meal at the Japanese restaurant whilst sitting outside in the sun. It’s at this point I realise the time is gone ten and it’s still daylight, it’s full of surprises is Norway.

I’m up at five this morning. It’s light and the sun is making its appearance over the wooded mountain and casting long shadows off anything that has the physical structure to get in its way. A bird dips into the water and several seconds later reappears with some hapless creature in its beak and the circle of ripples is the only evidence of the encounter. I watch as the tiny waves expand far out into what was the flat calm of the water now creating undulating distortions to the reflected mountains that had been perfect mirror images in the water only seconds before.

I’m sad to be leaving Voss on such a perfect day but I’m looking forward to the wonderful train journey back over the snowy mountains with their icy lakes followed by green valleys and raging rivers, there’s never a dull moment on this train – and today, I’m on the right!

Enjoy the snaps G x

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