Friday, October 16, 2015

Europe 2015 - Cruising into Flam Norway

Another night of gliding through the Norway fjords brought us to village of Flam located at the end of the scenic Aurlandsfjorden, which in turn is a tributary of the Sognefjorden. This would be the smallest population centre we would visit on the cruise but it by no means was less spectacular than our other ports of call.

Vivid green grass and rushing waterfalls hinted that Winter wasn't too long gone from these parts. And as we would see later in the day, that Winter was still hanging around not far from town..

The highlight of the visit to Flam is to catch a ride on the portion of the Flamm railway that runs from the port of Flam 12 miles up into the mountains to a small rail stop that connects the railway onto other parts of Norway. This portion of the railway is one of the steepest in the world, at a rate of 1 in 18.

Here's good tip for those pondering this train ride.....the train does not just go to Myrdal station and then come back, at least not per se.
As this is a working national railway, people can buy a ticket to Myrdal and beyond by transferring trains at Myrdal and continuing. Be can buy a ticket up to Myrdal, but as there are people coming towards Flam the other way, you may not be able to catch a return train as the coaches may be sold out.  Here's the trick....once you get of your boat "run" to the train station in town (a couple of minutes from the boat) and get in line first to book your round trip tickets.

We weren't that experienced yet, so we stood in a long line up and had to book tickets for later in the day. All good, except we had to "kill" time for a few hours.

Click on the pictures to see them full'll marvel at the beauty

 We opted to catch the tourist tram that went around the village and puttered up the beginnings of the mountain valley to older areas of the village.This let us A) keep out of the rain for a while, and B) get a slow closeup view of parts of the village we might not have seen.

  We noticed areas where the river had overflown its banks and scoured away bridges and parts of the roadway. Large backhoes signaled the restoration process was still ongoing.

The quaintness of the older sections of the area were enhanced by the dreary day, the greens and browns some how more vivid to the eye. This was the side of Norway we wanted to see....strong and vital life set against a backdrop of soaring mountains and wild rivers.

After touring the village by the "pretend" train, we sauntered over to the old railway station which was now the Flam Train Museum housing all sorts and manner of transportation, mostly revolving around train life. The museum also hosted many "live" exhibits telling the story of the making of the Flam railway.

  Most people had a summer and winter with wheels for the summer and one with slide rails for the winter. In the mountains of Norway they have real winters folks, not just a couple of snow flakes now and then.

If you were lucky you could hitch a ride on the motorcycles converted into sled cars.

It was almost embarrassing to look across the inlet to know how we had arrived, all the while complaining about the rain. We are surely spoiled compared to even just a generation ago.

ALL ABOARD ! We're on our way  !!

Small settlements took advantage of level land where it could be found in the mountain valley. Each new bend in the tracks brought either a new vista or a new settlement, or both.

Low laying clouds weren't actually that low, were were just climbing that high that quickly. Wouldn't be surprised if we seen snow....locals said there was still a bit of snow at the top.

One track up, once track down, and only one place on the mountain with enough space to make a "passing" zone for the oncoming train.

And right on queue, here are the remnants of the previous winter hanging tough into May. The road in the picture was the old road used while the railway was being built. Now that's a crazy drive.

Scenic stop both on the way up and on the way down is this rugged mountain waterfall fueled by the melting snow. And yes it was cold up here compared to down in Flam.....bring your big coats.

Pretty well all the train riders took advantage of the the scenic viewpoint to snap pictures and wonder about the hard life living high in the mountains isolated in a place like this.

Enhancing the experience is a Forest Spirit that comes alive and runs about the ruins while it sings its siren song to attract weak men under its spell. Might have worked on me if there was indoor plumbing at that place!

Our coach stopped in one of the tunnels along the line when the train stopped at the was a bit different walking along a train tunnel as, since we were kids, we were warned to "stay out of tunnels"!

Continuing on and nearly at the top we go past an alpine hotel..and do you see how much snow is still here! There is 3 feet still on the ground - can you imagine how much there was during winter?

End of the line - it's the small train station located at Myrdahl.The train waits for 10 minutes, then reverses and heads back down to water's edge at Flam. We had just gotten back on the train a few minutes earlier after stopping at the waterfall....many parts of our bodies were still cold so most opted to stay on board and just enjoy the view before we started back down the tracks to Flam.

This was definitely a highlight...beautiful mountain vistas, a touch of winter to augment the vivid greens, and a ethereal fog to lend a bit of mystery for our trip both up and down the mountain.

The full set of pictures from Flam may bee seen here on my Flickr site...go see them, the area is beautiful 

Back on the ship we scurried to our cabins to warm up and we were all delighted to see yet another creature waiting for us. Wasn't too hard to see why the dinosaurs went extinct....they couldn't handle the Norwegian winters.

Only one day left on our cruise and the big town of Bergen awaits stop Bergen, an outpost of the Hanseatic League from the 1340s.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

Europe 2015 - Cruising into Alesund Norway

Alesund is on Norway's rugged west coast where the high peaks of the Sunnmore Alps drop suddenly in the steep fjords of the Norwegian Sea. This was to be our all "norwegian" portion of our European holiday; we were onboard the Norwegian Star operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines sailing the Norwegian Sea on the west coast of Norway...that's a lot of Norwegian !.....or should I say "det er mye av Norsk" !
(The Norwegians in the audience will appreciate that).  :)

As I stated before in previous posts, sometimes the damp Spring weather hangs around a little longer in Northern Europe. This is the view we had when we woke up and peeked out our port hole window to see what the city looked like. Oh well, grab the umbrellas and the overcoats, we'll need them for the day.

We, the visitors from British Columbia on the the west coast of Canada, were amazed at how similar the the topography and the colours of the area were to the rugged West Coast of BC. Looking at the above picture, I can tell you I've visited a dozen coast cities and villages in B.C. that look just like the shores of Alesund. This picture could have been taken on Vancouver Island or further north at Prince Rupert on the BC coast.

The difference being of course the architecture and the structure of the cities is different in the downtown area but not so dissimilar in the suburbs.

  Like all good tourists we know the best thing to do is grab the Hop On - Hop Off bus for a tour of the highlights of the city. So that's just what we did....

First stop was a viewpoint on Mt. Aksla, a small mountain peak within the city limits, from here you are provided a great view of the surrounding city. Alesund has approx 48,000 residents spread out over seven islands some of which are connected by undersea tunnels, one of which is close to two miles long


The city clings to the edge of the mountains when land is sparse and takes full advantage of any flay land it can find. *** Click on the pictures to see them full size....the one above is absolutely gorgeous in full screen mode.  ***

One of the tourist areas we visited was the Sunnmore Museum just outside of town; here they have collected over 50 traditional buildings and arranged them in such a way so that a self-guided walking tour starts you with the oldest buildings, from 400 years ago, to the latest ones from 100 years ago that don't look so different than some of the ones we would see on our cruise of the fjords.

As Norway is a traditional sea going country it stands to reason that many of the early structures revolved around fishing. The building in the picture above is typical of a fisherman's house at the edge of the water. The inlet seen in the background is the location of the original settlement of Alesund where commercial trading vessels in the year 1,000 AD would come to port to trade with the residents of the area. Even before then, Viking ships plied these waters. Older than the Vikings are the remnants of buildings from the Medieval Age of the this thriving port city Archaeological excavations are happening on these ancient building sites and the public is welcome to come and visit the excavations as part of the museum's out reach to the city's residents.

Here is an adoring fact about building construction in the old days......houses were built on rock platforms and wooden stilts so that the large Norway rats could not get into the buildings.housing the food stores. Norway rats are large and cannot jump like other species, so the stairs leading up to the door always had a large gap between the top step and the door sill. The rock leg supports were topped with a large flat rock that the rats could not climb up and around to enter from the support legs.

After the tour we returned to the city and had time to walk around the harbour part of town. Most of the town was burnt to the ground in a 1904 - the town was rebuilt in the art noveau style of the time and remains as one of Scandinavia's most complete and harmonious towns.

Trolls are big in Norway, we never did get a clear answer on why that is, perhaps we will have to go back and find out.  :)  You see them in every city, they come in sizes small, large, extra small and extra large! They are also one of the main items on the shelf in the tourist shops.

Alesund is one of Norway's main cod fishing centres but when oil was discovered in the Norwegian Sea in the 1970s many enterprising fisherman changed their ships to be supply vessels for the lucrative oil business. Even though the city seems to be an outpost on the far shores of Norway, there is money here and you can see it in the buildings and the vehicles on the streets and the expensive pleasure craft in the harbour.

 The day went fast and soon it was time to walk back to our ship passing the Alesund Church on the way. This Medieval looking church was also destroyed in the 1904 fire and rebuilt to look like it belongs in the 11th century.

We sailed out of the inner harbour at dinner time, past new houses perched on rocky coves that brought images of a typical Cape Breton scene...except we were several thousand miles away to the east and a whole bunch of latitude degrees to the north. Other than that it was exactly the same !  LOL

One of the local fire boats came out to provide a nautical send off and wish a bon voyage. The water cannons performed a water ballet reminiscent of something right out of a Las Vegas hotel night time display. This small act of class was appreciated by the guests on board and even the crew appreciated the showing as it was an honour for a departing ship to receive this kind of send off. We played the decadent tourists and dined on shrimp, steak, and tasty side dishes as we watched the changing scenery float past the dining room windows.

After dinner we went back to the room to freshen up and found tonight's creation waiting for us on the bed......he was so cute! At least I know now where my sunglasses went.

Personally, I thought this one was a lot cuter!  Hope they are not talking about me behind my back....

Tomorrow is Geiranger, a small town at the head of the Geiranger Fjord. It's a spectacular sight, one which makes you appreciate the sheer size of nature and the smallness of yourself.

You may see all of the Alesund pictures here on my Flickr site... 
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