“The Norwegians are like their landscape, rather vertical.”
So said John Gunther’s friend as reported in his 1938 edition of Inside Europe. Well that can’t be all bad, can it? In fact, when you think of it, this is a whopping huge compliment. What’s not to like about the landscape, especially in the fjords. The cliffs all soar from the coastline like alters. And the ribbons of waterfalls cascade to the sea like a young girl’s ringlets. Norway is a land of superlatives and you’re soon to sail right into its vortex.
Fiddling Along Hardangerfjord
Here are two facts you can dazzle your friends back home with. First, Hardangerfjord is Norway’s second largest fjord with depths of 3,000 feet. AND, this magnificent body of water lent its name to the nation’s important musical instrument, the ever-popular Hardanger fiddle. Celebrated artists including composer Edvard Grieg and musician Ole Bull rambled this countryside on foot and horseback drinking in its magic, which later inspired their musical contributions. They certainly must have paused at Skykkjedalsfossen, the nation’s highest (at 1000 feet) waterfall that tumbles with a deafening roar as it rips down the craggy cliffs. Or stood in the spray of Voringfossen, the region’s other famous waterfall noted for its numbing beauty. One can imagine that they stopped to sample other delicacies on their journey like fruit, particularly cherries, from this region’s 500,000 fruit trees. Sated, Grieg passed the days writing Opus 66 in nearby Fossli Hotel, an establishment that has welcomed travelers since 1891. Tourism was in its fledgling stage at that time with guests arriving by steamer from Bergen with few options for accommodations. Many came to simply amble about the countryside, picnicking as they went. Before the hotel’s construction, Grieg spent afternoons at a tiny hytte (hut), complete with writing table and piano, clinging to the fjord’s shore in the hamlet of Ullensvang. This cottage is today part of Ullensvang Hotel’s lovely gardens.
The region’s natural history comes to life at the Hardangervidda Nature Center perched atop the great mountain plateau that looms 4,500 feet above sea level. Did you know that 15,000 wild reindeer, give or take, call the Hardangervidda area home? That’s half of Europe’s entire herd. In the past, they were used much like cattle or horses to haul logs or pull sledges. This and other bits of history come to life at the Center.
Crystal’s First Call In Eidfjord
Long anticipated, our Captain sets his compass for Eidfjord for Crystal’s maiden call, the jumping off point for destinations already mentioned… and more. This tiny tucked-up-into-the-ends-of-the-earth village is postcard perfect. Superlative-laced.
The view encompasses Onen Peak standing a mighty 5,319 feet tall and dusted in snow. The hamlet of Eidfjord is welcoming though small on a world-traveler’s scale. Many visitors quickly make their way to the sights further afield.
Some scramble the footpaths along the Eio River, a rich waterway that once served as a lure for fishermen bent on filling their creels with prize-winning salmon. A smoked salmon sandwich might be your reward before reaching the next destination.
It’s no mystery that hearty souls set down their roots in this countryside. And, have done so since the Iron Age. In other parts of today’s Norway, early man appeared 10,000 years ago slogging along in the sludge of melting glaciers at the end of the Ice Age. Though many of their stories are lost to modern man, the Viking burial mounds live on as testimony to their presence. It was during a particularly restless period that clans migrated from the seas to these rugged interiors and began to farm. They lived… and died here. Found on the Haereid Plateau just outside Eidfjord, some 350 graves dating back to 500 AD remain to this day. Visitors to these hallowed grounds can almost feel their presence and hear the sagas of those long departed.
Norwegian Souvenirs and Traditions
Souvenir hunters might add to their wardrobe while in Norway with the purchase of a traditional bunad, that “double-shuttle woven wool” embroidered ankle-length dress each Norwegian woman owns. Handed-down-from-generation-to-generation adornments include silver buckles, buttons, brooches and more. For the men, the garb includes black knickers, a bright vest with silver buttons, contrasting waistband, and a blousy white shirt. Garments worn by the Sami in the north are quite different with woven caps, red fringed shawls, embroidered short skirts over long boots and embroidered reindeer-skin coats to cover it all during the cruel winter months.
Troll figures are other souvenirs that find their way into many suitcases. These extraordinarily unattractive characters are claimed to have power over mortal men though they are easily tricked.
Other traditions focus on meals. Norwegians love fish including cod (torsk) and haddock (hyse) as well as cheeses and berries fresh from the deep forest. Multer berries, what we call cloudberries, are a summertime favorite. Norwegian brown cheese is surprisingly quite delicious. Gudbrandsdalsost is made with goat and cow milk and cream. Ekte Geltost is from only goat milk and cream. They’re both wonderful on crisp bread, eggs, and just about anything that isn’t moving. And at the end of the day, Akevitt, the water of life, makes an appearance. Brewed from distilled potatoes, it’s flavored with everything from herbs and spices and packs a distinct whollop.
At day’s end, when the ship’s whistle blows, throw your rucksack over your shoulder and set sail for a new horizon. Eidfjord in all its glory is now another chapter in your travel journal.