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Articles Blog

Filtering by Tag: Norway

Hardangerfjord and Eidfjord, Norway

Karyn Planett

“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. 

Alta, Norway

Karyn Planett

Go North, Young Man, Far North

Well, you can’t get much further north than Alta and enjoy a somewhat civilized lifestyle. In fact, the locals claim they live in the world’s northernmost city that boasts a population in excess of 10,000 inhabitants. The 2012 estimate put the total number of people at more than 18,000. 

Alta’s found in an area of Norway called Finnmark with its total population of some 72,000. Strikingly beautiful, others might live here as well if it weren’t just a wee bit cold, especially in winter. In fact, Alta is on about the same latitude as Siberia but it is a titch warmer than neighboring Finland and Russia thanks mightily to the blessed Gulf Stream that washes past. 

Evelyn Waugh, that lauded English author of novels, biographies and travel books, said of this part of the world, “The scenery becomes more Arthurian as we get further north … the mountains on the starboard bow like a Doré engraving.” You might just agree if you sidle over to that side of the ship. 

The Sami People of Sápmi 

The 80,000* indigenous people of the far north are called Sami and their traditional homeland of approximately 150,000 square miles, called Sápmi, stretches across the more familiar contemporary borders of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. These people tend large herds of reindeer, fish and hunt, raise other livestock and many continue to live in traditional settlement areas even today. Of course, Sami are important contributors to modern society, as well. And, yes, it is possible to visit their communities, even see them in their regional garb. Called Gakti, these garments include knitted jackets with frilled skirts, fringed shawls, fur hats, pearl or tin embroidery, and decorative capes with appliqué, beads or ribbons, even scrimshawed antler buttons. They also have their own national anthem and flag bearing the traditional colors of red, yellow, green and blue. For the record, they were formerly known as Laplanders. 

The Hand Of Man 

In the nearby area known as Hjemmeluft there’s a significant collection of prehistoric petroglyphs. Scientist estimate there are thousands of rock carvings of animals and fertility symbols covering more than one mile. Though experts disagree as to their age, they do agree that this area was once an important place for exchanges and trade between the regional hunters and gatherers. Many of these carvings can be viewed at the Alta Museum, named Europe’s Museum of the Year in 1993. Hjemmeluft is also considered to be the largest of the countless World Heritage Sites. Professor Knut Helskog, from the Tromsø Museum, believes these rock carvings scan a period from 4200 B.C. to 200 A.D. Jan Magne Gjerds, from the Tromsø University, believes they are even older, dating back to 5200 B.C. Let’s just agree they’re quite old.  

The Heavy Hand Of War

A dark chapter of World War II was played out across Norway. At one point in the war, Germany established one of its largest naval bases in the city you now visit, Alta. Our story concerns the German ship Tirpitz. Unlike her sister ship, the Bismarck, the Tirpitz saw little action. She was anchored in Alta for approximately two years during which time her mission was to prevent Allied shipments reaching Russia. Several bombing missions and directs hits failed to damage the Tirpitz until Sir Barnes Wallis developed a specific bomb, the 12,000-pound “Tallboy”, that was able to penetrate this vessel’s double layer of armor plate some 12.5 inches thick. At one point, the Tirpitz left Alta. Then, on November 12, 1944, the Tirpitz was bombed with “blockbuster” bombs while in Tromsø and capsized. This chapter of WWII history is told at the Tirpitz Museum at Kåfjord and worthy of a visit. 

But on a cheerier note, Alta is a wonderful city for a stroll. Alta Church, found in the Bossekop area, dates back to 1858 and is noted for its timber interior and neo-Gothic design. You can also visit the city’s other important districts of Elvabakken and Bukta. But you might want to take a break from all this walking about and sample some Norwegian fare like grilled fresh arctic salmon. Fish is a staple in the Norwegian diet and just know they’ll prepare it as you wish – poached, baked, fried, or cured, even in a chowder. The famous bacalao is made with salted and dried fish and prepared a million different ways, depending on whim and Mama’s recipes. Cod is considered the “beef of the sea” and there is plenty to go around. 

And, speaking of going around, all too soon the clock’s hands will indicate it’s time to bid farewell to this delightful city of the north. As night falls, keep an eye out for the Northern Lights that just might give you a proper send-off.