I’m at Gatwick Airport in London, days after our drive to the Oslo airport, which turned out to be longer and more scenic than expected from Solvern. Most of it was on two lane roads past fjords, mountains, bucolic countryside. It took about six hours, in part due to traffic (This is prime vacation time for Norwegians.) and some bad road marking nearer to the airport, which led to a few wrong turns. About midway, we stopped at a gas station (in Hemsedal?) and discovered a surprisingly hygge cafe across the street where we had a great coffee and pastry and chatted with a Norwegian guy (he had three dogs in tow.) Found out we were in a popular ski area. He went to the U of Utah on a skiing scholarship and met his American wife there. They lived in the states for awhile. Now raising their kids in Norway.
We drove our new friends Christine and Alain to Sogndal this morning where we visited the local pharmacy to pick up some pain pills for my arm from a kind pharmacist and had a last coffee togegether. We really enjoyed hanging out with them and hearing about their interesting lives in faraway places. They invited us to their old stone house in Provence and I have a feeling we will visit.
One of the many great things about Eplet bed and Apple, our hostel/guesthouse in Solvorn, is that the young owners go out of their way to suggest things to do (bike, hike, kayak, glacier walk) and places to see. We followed one of their recommended drives and it was spectacular. We walked around the quiet village of Fjaerland/Mundal, known as the book town for its many antiquarian book shops and the larger tourist town of Balestrand which was quieter than Flam and Aurland, thankfully. The loop took us way back into the mountains and was even more dramatic than the Snow Road, with thin waterfalls streaming down high peaks, old red isolated farm houses, and yet again an unexpected dash of modern design – in thus case a series of viewing platforms made of poured concrete and wood jutting upward like ships prows.
Back at Eplet, we met some new guests, a mother and daughter from Brooklyn and turns out the mom grew up in Des Moines and we had a friend in common. We took a photo together and emailed it to our friend. Fun!
Daytrips with car (from Eplet)
This map shows some of the recommended daytrips by car from Eplet. They are described in more detail further down the page:
# 1 – Glacier Museum & remote Gaularfjell
Solvorn – Sogndal 17 km. R55
Sogndal – Fjærland 35 km. R5
Fjærland – Skei 28 km. R5
Skei – Moskog 32 km. E39
Moskog – Dragsvik 83 km. R13
Dragsvik – Balestrand 9 km. R55
Balestrand – Dragsvik 9 km. R55
Ferry Dragsvik – Hella
Hella – Sogndal 36 km. R55
Sogndal – Solvorn 17 km. R55
Fjærland Glacier Museum
Fjærland Mundal Book Town
Bøyabreen Glacier View
Gaularfjellet mountain pass
Driving: 5,5 hours
Ferry: 30 minutes
* The glacier museum in Fjærland has excellent exhibitions and a 3D movie from the top of the Jostedalsbreen ice cap. While in Fjærland you can also visit the Norwegian book town in Mundal. When you continue on the road you will after a few kilometers have a spectacular view of Bøyabreen glacier straight ahead, high above you.
* Gaularfjellet is a national tourist road. It is a small mountain road, without much traffic. The road follows a picturesque river and gradually rises to 745 masl. After crossing the top you come to a resting point with an amazing view where you are looking down at one arm of Sognefjord which is deeply cutting its way through the landscape.
* Balestrand was a meeting point for tourists coming to Norway in the beginning of the 20th century. It has art galleries, a small aquarium and a travellers museum. The ferry between Dragsvik and Hella runs approximately every 45 minutes.
We tiptoed into the far more touristed area of the fjords than where we are — the area around Flam. I can see why it draws so many people – the scenery is more dramatic than Solvorn, with higher, tighter mountains lining the fjords. There also are lots of tourist amenities including the “Norway in a nutshell” train, buses and cruise ships. But I never found a place I wanted to stay more than pretty and relatively placid Solvorn, so that was good.
Cruising the Nærøyfjord
We did see some great scenery by taking the ferry cruise from Kaupanger to Gudvagen, a slow moving boat that glided along the sognefyord, the grand daddy of fjords here, and the Nærøyfjord, the particularly narrow and scenic fjord around Flam. We showed up at 8:30 a.m for the 9 am ferry, without a reservation and easily got on the ferry. Good to know, although I am told with later ferries its wise to book ahead. After the ferry, we drove to the remote village of Undredal, which was as lovely and unspoiled as we’d heard. Situated in a dramatic spot along the Nærøyfjord, the little village has a handful of businesses including one shop selling its famous goat cheese and goat sausage, which we ate for lunch at one of several handy picknic spots by the fjord and the one place to stay in
We passed quickly through Flam and Aurland, lots of people and tour buses. next stop, the spectacular Snow Road from Aurland to Lærdal, the highest road in Norway, we’re told, and not for the faint of heart. WE drove up and around and around the mountains, with one astonishing fjord view after another, and fortunately not too much oncoming traffic, since the road is basically one lane with some wide spots for passing. I was also relieved that there were guardrails. We stopped at the stegastein platform that stretches out over the mountain, which was packed with selfie-stick clad tourists but most of them did not continue on as we did to the really high and barren stretch of the Snow Road, which felt very lunar with occasional pools of ice water and stretches of deep snow. We stopped at one overlook and walked into a strange cave -looking entrance that we thought might be a toilet.Turned out to be an art installation — a fake bear sleeping atop a pile of random stuff. That was a surprise.
After shopping at the bigger grocery store in the bigger town of Sogndal, we happily returned to our sweet little village, took another swim in the frigid fjord and made dinner (grilled cheese for dirck, smoked salmon, snofisk cream cheese and crackers for me…the other guests at Eplet make far
We keep it quick and simple.with fresh strawberries or raspberries at every meal.) Right now, at almost 10 p.m. (and broad daylight) I am writing this from a cozy Danish modern chair in the Eplet common room. An American mother and daughter are sitting nearby and a Scandinavian couple. A French couple with a little girl have moved on. Another couple is drinking beer and quietly playing scrabble. Some American and French kids are playing croquet on the lawn beside the sprinklers shooting water on the garden. New age and Jazz is playing softly. I look up and out the window: Tree covered mountains sloping down to the blue water. Sunshine and shades on the slopes.
Sadly I broke my arm during a great hike in the forest just north of our guesthouse/ hostel. I knew the minute I fell that my arm was the issue…unfortunately the same arm that broke my elbow 9 years ago. We ended up cutting our plans short with our new friends Christine (from southern China) and Alain (from Provence, France) and going first to a little clinic in the small town of Gaupne, where the very courteous and kind Dr then referred me to a small hospital about an hour away in Lærdal that has X-ray capability. The clinic was new and Nordic modern design. The hospital was a little dated in decor but man, what a view from the waiting room — of giant fjords mountains and we had to take a scenic ferry to get there.
The doctor on call arrived in casual clothes, with his walkie talkie and was gruff but kind in his way. I wasn’t surprised or happy to hear that my upper arm has a fracture but relieved that I didn’t need surgery…for now. That would have meant driving two more hours to another hospital.
But now I am stuck with a cast from bicep to wrist on my left arm. It’s heavy and itchy. Painful at times but pain pills are helping and I am trying not to let it get me down. Apparently Norway doesn’t have an opiod issue. My prescription is for dozens of pills. Interestingly, the prescription can be filled anywhere in Norway. I just show up at any pharmacy, show my passport and get. Also, the medical bills came out to about $500/ A bargain compared to the U.S.
The dr mentioned that in July almost all doctors in Norway are on vacation. Not sure why he was available, although he assured me he is a doctor. He specializes in knee replacements which apparently is big biz in the western fjords, due to the many outdoor activities t popular here. He also sees plenty of tourists like me for the same reason.
We returned home (and Eplet Bed & Apple really feels like home) to kindnesses and concern from other guests. Alain and Christine shared their homemade dinner with us, which was greatly appreciated. I met a mom and daughter who live in Brooklyn but the mom grew up in Des Moines. Small world.
The weather is astonishingly gorgeous, considering that it rains most of the days in this lovely city by the sea. We walked ourselves silly today, often uphill on brick streets lined with old pristine white wooden houses. After coffee and a pastry at a little coffee house (that was the name), we took the funicular although with many other tourists as well as young members of a school band, toting their instruments, to the top of Floyet, a wooded mountain top with spectacular views looking out onto the harbor. After the band played a rousing number ( one of our favorites) by The group Portugal The Man, we walked about a mile down and around the mountain, through the sun- dappled woods, with moss-covered tree stumps and then into town.
This afternoon we walked out to another gorgeous neighborhood Nordes and a pretty park. It’s very hilly, with rough brick pavements, and unfortunately my knees and heel are giving me some trouble. But even Dirck was hobbling on the way back.
One issue with It not getting dark outside until midnight is that we can’t seem to stop. We feel like we should keep wandering and exploring this pretty seaside town in Norway. It is colder here but sunny and clear which is very good luck considering that this town fancies itself the rainiest place in Europe. We arrived after a short easy flight from Copenhagen and a short bus ride from the super modern and efficient airport. A lovely young woman who got off the bus with us – a Dane getting her masters degree at the university in Bergen – kindly helped us find the nearby but out of the way spot where our Airbnb is located, up a very narrow alleyway lined with old white-painted wooden houses with flower boxes. We are in the attic room of one such house, in an old area just above the red wood houses of the old Bryggen neighborhood. This is a completely charming place.
Our street in Bergen at 10:45 p.m.
We had a somewhat disappointing dinner at a cool restaurant, Colonialen Litteratyrhuset, we picked the wrong entree, which turned out to be under cooked and skinny white fish on the bone. The server realized this without us mentioning and offered a second fish free, which we declined. We did take up the offer of free dessert. Oh well.
Lunch at Schønnemann
Lunch in Copenhagen at the venerable Schønnemann was much better. A very old world place with classic open faced sandwiches, hardy waitresses, low and timbered ceilings. Totally charming. We were amazed by how much the thin women at the table next to us ate. They had the crab salad sandwich (that filled me up) followed by a steak tartar sandwich. And beer and schnapps.
Before we left our great Airbnb In Nørrebro, our gregarious host Jimmy, a documentary filmmaker and televison news cameraman, insisted on taking our photo (he has compiled an album of his guests from around the world). It was a nice parting souvenir.