Trolls, Sea Eagles, Black Churches and The Elixir of the Gods: Norway

28 Aug

I savoured the last sip of Norwegian waterfall like a ten-year-old Laphraoig whiskey, inhaling it and rolling it around my tongue. I’ve been filling my water bottle from waterfalls since we hiked up to the Trolltunga/Troll’s Tongue. I’m addicted to the smokey taste. Melted snow filtered through a thousand metres of peat and granite makes for a delicious drop. Please don’t tell Coca-Cola Amatil or they’ll commoditise it. 

It’s been an active few days since we left MS Finnmarken in Tromso. Four days sitting on our rear ends was way too long. We walked all over Tromso as a warmup for our stay in Tyssedal. The glacier walk I had booked with Flat Earth in Odda just south of Tyssedal was cancelled due to risky conditions on the glacier. The ice started to melt three weeks later than usual causing a water bubble under the ice that can shatter at any time. We took the advice of a waiter in the Voss Bodega and instead hiked to Trolltunga, a 22k hike out and back route with several gruelling vertical kilometres. 

    
    
 1 k straight up! 

    
   
Elixir of the gods. 

    
    
  

An Instagram phenomenon, most people do the Trolltunga hike for five minutes of fame being photographed standing on the ‘tongue’, a sheer drop of 700 metres above the valley floor. A strapping young man we passed on the ascent as he was returning carried a small surfboard and a large backpack. I had to ask why. ‘It was a dare. I’m a surfer so I said I’d wear full wetsuit and stand on my board on Trolltunga.’ ‘Well did you do it?’, I quizzed him. ‘Of course!’, was his confident reply.

 

People took their pet dogs, carried colourful bouquets and large Norwegian flags. I am sure it is a popular spot for marriage proposals.

 

My vertigo is such that I could only peek at their antics through my fingers at a safe distance. It was gusting strongly and about 5 degrees C. Not pleasant. Stuart took the photos. 

    
   
My iPhone photos don’t do it justice but the walk itself is staggeringly beautiful, changing from fir forest to wetland to alpine meadows then stark weathered granite peaks still liberally powdered with snow.

Sad Postscript: On September 5, 2015, just days after our visit, Kristi Kafcaloudis, a 24-year-old Australian exchange student fell to her death off Trolltunga. She misstepped, lost her balance and plummeted 300 metres. A shocking waste of life and traumatising for friends, family and those who witnessed the accident. Hopefully people will now realise the risks inherent in Trolltunga becoming a circus.

   
    
 Next up was our sea kayaking adventure out of Gudvangen with Nordic Ventures. The morning on the River Nid was useful prep. When our guide, a larriken Aussie-Brit called Tom, asked us if we’d kayaked before we could honestly reply in the affirmative!

 

Our group of six, a young French couple and two other Aussies from Geelong, worked well together, loading the kayaks with all the supplies and gear we’d need for two days and one night camping. We set off in rain so the lunch stop was a dry boatshed a couple of hours up the fjord. We refilled water bottles at a thunderous waterfall. Nectar of the gods. 

    
    
 By 4pm we were at the meadow that was to be our campsite and again everyone pulled together to set up camp and get a BBQ dinner going. Our tent had a broken support so Tom nobly gave us his three person tent and took our very wobbly one. 

 left to right Florian, Clara, author, Stuart, Peter and Kerry. 

   

  

  

  

 A badly broken tent.  

   
 A UK V France paddle board comp pre-dinner.

With the sightseeing boats all back in harbour the fjord was eerily quiet, the only sound grazing sheep wearing bells.
  
    
   
We think it’s clothes washing powder but you never know! 

  We ventured further down the fjord next morning past more waterfalls. Suddenly a large sea eagle flew out of trees across the fjord closely followed by its mate. They started hunting far in the distance. A squawking sound drew us to a fir tree across the fjord. Well camouflaged a large brown juvenile sea eagle perched on a branch squawking for its breakfast. It seemed unperturbed by us. Tom said to his knowledge a juvenile had never been spotted previously. 

 Tom survived the wet night in a dodgy tent. 

  

    
    
 The juvenile sea eagle is in that tree on the left half way up….. 

  

Every few minutes someone would spot a seal surfacing. They were curious about us and came within cooee of the kayaks. Once when we were in front I saw four basking seals slip off a rock and dive into the water. 
Mid-morning misty rain that had dogged us since Trolltunga cleared and we had sunshine for the rest of the day. Another sweet meadow served as a pretty lunch spot and by 3pm we had paddled a total of 27k to our destination, a ten house farming village. Since the Gudvangen tunnel was still closed due to a fire two weeks before the owner, Jan, drove a speed boat up and tied our kyaks together and towed them in convoy back to base. We managed to fit the eight of us and all the gear into the speed boat. In 90 minutes we covered what had taken thousands of paddle strokes. For Stuart’s take on the joy of double kayaking with your life partner see his words below*. 

    
   
Jan telling stories as he and Tom lash the kayaks in a row to tow behind the speedboat. 

    
  The moment of truth. 
Riding like a dream. 

   Back at base.

We stayed in the venerable Stalheim Hotel with its panoramic terrace in a room with a view for the next two nights and that first night both Stuart and I slept ten hours straight. Unheard of. 

    
   
View from room 324. 

   
Next day we drove over the plateau to Vik, a scenic cruise through valleys, and by ski resorts and past the most scarily situated waterfall I have ever seen. The full force of water thunders right by a hairpin bend. This was another rainy day and the black, brooding pitch-covered wooden stave church of the Hopperstad family looked ominous. Built around 1140 a personal tour guide took pity on me trying to locate the runic inscriptions scratched on the wooden church walls by the light of a borrowed torch. She pointed out one for me, and translated it as, ‘My husband has left his axe in the weapon house and come into the church’. Graffiti from the Middle Ages! 

   
Heavy traffic – two tractors. 

   
When I stopped for a photo this sodden sheep came straight to me and stood looking at me as if to ask, ‘Can I come with you?’ He followed me back to the car and stood in front so we had to reverse away. Hard to leave him there in the rain.

    

   
 Vik 

    
 Hopperstad Family Church circa 1140AD

   
    
    
 Hove Family Stone Church 

    
   
By the time we woke today to the weather forecast of another week of rain we were having second thoughts about spending a further five days here. Norway in the sunshine and Norway in rain are different countries. We continued on to Eidefjord through long tunnels with roundabouts (our first tunnel roundabout was in Tromso) in drizzle and walked the side of the fjord to some Viking burial sites but our hearts weren’t in it.
   

 An example of the ubiquitous green roof that adorns Norwegian cabins. 

We’ve changed our bookings and will fly to Edinburgh tomorrow to spend Sunday with Tristan and Jenny before heading up to Pitlochry for a few days. The prediction is for sun on the heather! I shall look to sample waterfalls to see how they compare to Norway’s.
*How to survive a kayaking holiday with one’s wife

Make sure the double kayak is straight, as in not warped, because any deviation from the pre-determined direction (i.e. pre-determined by one’s wife and subject to frequent changes according to the time of day) is entirely the fault of the heavier person in the boat who always occupies the rear seat (sorry that was a bit technical).

 

Make sure the person in front (who is typically one’s wife unless one has made a major mistake) believes she is in control of everything even though there is little she can do to control the direction of the vessel.

 

Always give the impression that one is paddling even if one is not. This is best achieved by making grunting and splashing noises.

 

Never take a rest, unless authorised to do so, because that would mean one is not following instructions.

 

Ensure that the kayak is pointing at the motor boat that has just passed in order to avoid capsizing, even though the waves from said moving vehicle are actually at 45 degrees to the direction of said boat. Do not express any reservation about paddling 200 meters out of one’s way to ensure one is at an appropriate angle to the waves from passing boats even though the less stable solo kayaks continue on their merry way without concern for said motor boats.

 

Feel free to eat as many baked beans as you like for breakfast. The person in the forward compartment will only think how strong you are as the kayak surges irregularly up the fjord.

 

When disembarked from the two-person kayak, with one’s private parts still intact (provided that one has followed the above rules for survival), and when instructed by the guide to haul the boat up the beach, do not suggest to the person who was occupying the forward position that she is straddling the bow and any forward motion of said boat up the beach is liable to render her damaged for an extended period of time. She will not thank you.

 

If you survive the above suggest a renewal of marriage vows……

 

There can be only one thing more challenging to a marriage than double kayaking and that is a cycling holiday. Any cycling mad male who survives the initial suggestion of a cycling holiday with one’s beloved should propose an idyllic, warm and romantic route like cycling round the vineyards of Burgundy. But no that would be too easy. How often have we seen the man powering away towards the top of the mountain all hale and hearty unaware that his partner is swathed in a blue aura of rage, pain and sweat. 

There is something unique about weekend cyclists who have this mad desire to replicate the endeavours of the professionals, defying typical euro mountain conditions of wind, rain and cold pedalling up some bloody mountain they use for killing professional cyclists in the ‘Tour’, or is that the ‘Giro’ or the ‘Vuelta’. All masochism to me. 

 ‘Easy oar Elliott’ 

 We passed this couple going up from Vik. 

 And later going down!

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