We have the feeling that we are winding down. Today we lacked the energy to rush off sight-seeing so spent the morning catching up on minor domestic chores and updating items on our computer. Despite not connecting it directly to the internet during our travels it has contracted a couple of minor, irritating viruses through downloading infected emails onto our USB key. Fortunately it is still limping along so we hope it will last until we reach home and can update our antivirus software. The campsite here has wireless access so it was unfortunate that we dare not use it for fear of further trouble that could leave us without a working computer so near the end of our travels.
The sun has been warm and the view across the sea so lovely we sat outside for much of the morning making excuses not to move. After coffee and sandwiches we cycled Hinge and Bracket along the cliff-top track down into town. On the way we stopped to see the renowned local church. It was being restored and decorated so was closed to visitors. It looked like being closed for rather a long time to judge by the amount of hard work the painter was putting in! We almost stepped on him as he slept soundly on the grass, his radio beside him still blasting out Norwegian rap.
Painting the church, Haugesund
In Denmark Jill was allowed to seek out Elvis Presley. Here it was Ian's turn for some excitement as we searched the town for Marilyn Monroe. Apparently her grandparents came from Haugesund and relatives still live here. We found her sitting seductively on the quayside, Haugesund's answer to Copenhagen's little mermaid. She was always referred to as a dumb blonde. We can confirm this; we couldn't get a word out of her.
Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962, Haugesund
Nearby luxury yachts with such names as Husky Dane were moored. This week there is an important Scandinavian film festival taking place in the town and the glitzy and glamorous stars of Norwegian films were looking beautiful on the terrace of the smart conference centre on the banks of the quay. Here they sat with their chilled wine, being interviewed and filmed by critics and reporters. Since the heyday of Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo we were unaware that Scandinavia had any film stars. One sat apart from the rest wearing a lapel badge stating "I vånt to be alone!"
I vånt to be alone, Haugesund
After an otherwise uneventful afternoon we cycled back and went for a walk along the rocky sea shore overlooking the waters of the sound. The sunset this evening has been soft, the horizon suffused with gentle shades of blue grey cloud tinted with rose while the sea has shimmered silver around the many small islands that show black on its tranquil surface.
Two of the images depicted on the town's manhole cover, Haugesund
Sea shore near our campsite, Haugesund
Wednesday 23rd August 2006, Lofthus on the Sørfjorden, Norway
It would be so convenient to say nothing much has happened today. This evening Jill is feeling exhausted and writing this is a real effort, especially with one of the world's most lovely views to be glimpsed through Modestine's back door as I write. It is already late evening and we are camped high above the narrow fjord.
Camping at Lofthus
On the opposite side the mountains rise up, their rounded tops thatched with whisps of white cloud. At their base are scattered hamlets and isolated houses surrounded by fruit orchards and woodland. Higher up, the mountainside is clothed with firs while higher still there is the bare, grey-brown rock. Right at the top, frequently lost in the clouds, are the permanent ice fields, their glaciers looking rather dirty now as the ice at their terminal moraine dissolves into a ribbon of melt water that cascades down the rock face to the clear, deep salt waters of the fjord below.
Permanent ice field above the fjord near Lofthus
At this latitude, which is on a level with the Shetland Islands, it does not really get dark until about 10pm so, as we write at 9.30, there is a dusky haze over the water in the direction of the head of the fjord and, looking like a small toy, a solitary passenger cruise ship, its lights glowing through the gloaming, is slowly travelling away up the centre of the fjord towards Odda.
Dusk over Sørfjorden seen from our campsite, Lofthus
On this side of the fjord we are camping amidst orchards of apples and pears while slightly lower are plums and morello cherries. Certain trees here have yellow ribbons and from these campers can help themselves to free fruit. Down by the water this afternoon we bought containers of both plums and cherries which were left for sale beside the road with an honesty box for payment. Overlooked by glaciers, Norway is not the area one would associate with fruit production but everything we have tasted is really good. The season is so much later here. We were photographing trees of ripe cherries in Hungary a couple of months ago while the height of the season here has just arrived.
Apple orchard, Lofthus
In the apple orchard, Lofthus
There was a slight conflict of ideas this morning, Jill wanting to take the coastal route up to Bergen, using ferries and tunnels to cross the fjords, Ian wanting us to drive inland to pass up the sides of the fjords, beneath the glaciers. As you see, Ian won, but not without a struggle. As the driver Jill was scared of forcing Modestine up mountains on a narrow road where we might well encounter heavy lorries. She does not handle like a car, being considerably heavier. Besides, the route is at least three times longer, as any road atlas will show. We sought advice from the friendly man at our campsite in Haugesund who assured us it would be okay so long as we used gears rather than brakes. Well, we have coped with mountains in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Spain and Portugal over the year so why not Norway? After all, we have a set of Nordic walking poles to help give her some momentum up the steeper bits so she should manage.
Modestine equipped for Nordic driving
Actually, so far it has been one of the easiest mountaineering jobs we have done. There is only the one road round with a few roads leading off up into the mountains before petering out. There has too, been very little traffic and lots of places to pull off the road to admire the views. So the very worst fear, of driving along with a heavy lorry thundering behind and nowhere to pull off, has not been realised.
The route has been splendiferous all day. We have been in and out of more tunnels than we can remember. Some have been up to eight kilometres long. Although they have been fairly level and have only passed through the solid rock face rather than under water, it is quite awesome to realise you are four kilometres deep into the earth with not another vehicle to be seen ahead or behind. There are lay-bys every couple of kilometres in case of breakdowns but no hard shoulder. Nor could we see signs of ventilation but the air seemed perfectly fresh. The scenery wasn't up to much however so we were always pleased to see the sunshine as we emerged back into a world of waterfalls, lakes and fjords again.
We stopped mid morning for a break by Stordasvatnet, one of the mountain lakes, before continuing steeply down to the fjord below.
The lake at Stordasvatnet
The lake at Stordasvatnet
A family of swans on the lake at Stordasvatnet
Later, at Langfoss, a spectacular waterfall that tumbles down the rocks into the Åkrafjorden, we stopped for a picnic lunch. As our mobile larder has a rather eclectic mix of foodstuffs this seemed the perfect location to heat up a tin of Norwegian meat balls called Kjøttboller. They were horrid, swimming in brine and probably consisting of unmentionable bits of pig with lots of flour and very little else. Afterwards we "enjoyed" Jill's special treat from Ian for doing so much driving today. A whole bag of Skum Biler!! Would you believe kids enjoy eating sweets with a name like that?
Road along beside Åkrafjorden
Åkrafjorden from our picnic spot
We'd been warned at the campsite this morning that despite its magic location at the head of the Sørfjorden, Odda was an industrial town with a history of smelting and not very nice. Compared with British or Polish industrial towns it was spectacularly wonderful!
Remembering the smelting industry at Odda
Buarbreen glacier above Odda
View along the Sørfjorden from Odda
Modestine goes to Norway, Sørfjorden
We stopped for a stroll by the fjord and to read our email in the library before continuing to Lofthus where we knew there was a place to camp. Here we turned off the only route to anywhere, up a small road that climbed steeply up through orchards burdened with ripening apples, past pretty wooden rural houses with flowers around the doors, until the road ended here at this wonderful campsite with plenty of space for everyone to enjoy the fruit trees and stunning views. The facilities are possibly the best we have found in Norway and for this we are paying around £15 a night, which is amongst the cheapest. Compared with flying out from Britain and taking a cruise we reckon we are seeing Norway rather economically, even if we are reduced to eating Skum Biler and wine is hard to come by! (Seriously, we don't really need emergency food parcels flown out to us, as Roy emailed to suggest!)
In Britain back at the end of the 9th century we were forced to pay money to the Vikings to ensure they didn't raid our eastern coasts and carry off our Saxon maidens. This was known as Danegeld. We have now discovered that a similar levy is currently being paid by Norway to ensure that yachts filled with husky Danes do not land at Haugesund and forcefully abduct Marilyn Monroe from the quayside and carry her off to join their little mermaid in Copenhagen. In order to raise this tax, troll booths are stationed at the entrances to several of the tunnels and the more remote stretches of the routes around the fjords. Every driver passing one of these troll booths has to make a payment in Norwegian currency to the aged lady troll, known as a krone, on duty. It is for this reason that Norway has so far been unable to convert to the euro and continues to use the kroner. These krone trolls periodically load the Danegeld kroner onto a trolley bus and transfer it down to Bergen from where it is shipped directly across to Denmark, thus ensuring Marilyn Monroe stays safely on this of the Skagerrak. (The more observant reader may recall we recently bought ourselves a new supply of red wine.)
Thursday 24th August 2006, Bergen, Norway
We arrived on the outskirts of Bergen around 6pm this evening. From the map this campsite looked the most convenient for us to reach the ferry terminal next week without needing to drive through the centre of the city. What the map doesn't show, unfortunately, is that the site is as mediocre and inconvenient as last night's site was sublime. In particular the facilities are dirty and inadequate, we have been unable so far to find anywhere to get fresh water and the kitchen is crowded out with people from eastern Europe boiling up huge pieces of meat to avoid paying to use the electricity on their pitch.
Sorry, we seem to be turning into intolerant grumpy old Brits abroad! There seem to be several English people here and we have been chatting with a couple of school teachers from Doncaster who have the unenviable task of trying to teach teenagers French and German. They have told us we should try to take the train to Oslo before we come home. They have just come down from there and are thrilled with it as a city. We will probably stay here another night as we can catch a bus into Bergen, but then we will move on, hoping to find somewhere more agreeable.
The day has been rather mixed. This morning has been wonderful, starting with waking up to a view of the fjord with cloud-wrapped mountains on the far side. Above the clouds we could see the end of the glacier which today showed as a thick, turquoise sheet of ice as the sunlight passed through it.
View across the Sørfjorden from the campsite
Dragging ourselves away we drove down through the orchards to Lofthus on the shore of the fjord where the seaweed floated and swayed below the clear surface, an underwater garden where fish rather than birds flitted between the fronds. Loftus is a pleasant little hamlet with one wooden building that serves as supermarket, post-office, hardware store, haberdasher and everything else combined. Whether you need medicines, fishing reels, zip fasteners or sealing wax, this is the place to find it. Nearby we discovered a helicopter landing pad. This must provide a necessary lifeline to the outside world in case of illness or accident.
Lofthus on Sørfjorden
Wooden house in Lofthus
We continued along the side of the fjord, the road climbing up and down to negotiate the terrain, every turn opening up new, spectacular views of stunning beauty. Eventually we descended down into the very pleasant little town of Kinsarvik from where the ferry crosses to Kvanndal via Utne. Already we could see the ferry as it returned from its previous trip but there was just time to pop down to the jetty for a look at the fish farm where excited gulls screamed overhead as they tried to reach the fish in the huge underwater nets.
Jetty at Kinsarvik
Fish farm at Kinsarvik
Nearby was a lovely old church, the inside walls displaying some mediaeval frescoes including a particularly delightful pair of Norse devils.
Church at Kinsarvik
Fresco in the church at Kinsarvik
By this time the ferry was unloading and we had to run back to Modestine and drive her on board. The crossing took nearly an hour allowing us ample time to admire the ever changing scenery as we passed out of one fjord and into another. We were able to see the entrance into the famed Hardanger fjord and look back down the Sørfjorden towards last night's campsite, the lowest slopes of the mountains planted with apple orchards. This was the ordinary ferry but would also have made a fantastic fjord boat trip at a very reasonable price. Transporting both of us and Modestine through superb scenery for an hour and depositing us on a shore that cut hours off our journey and avoided a tortuous steep climb up the mountainside cost us about £15 in total!
Modestine crosses the fjord
View with ice fields from the ferry
View from the ferry
Arty photo of ship's wake
Apple orchards on the slopes of the fjord near Utne
Passing the ferry in the opposite direction
View towards the Hardangerfjorden
View up the Eidfjorden
Once disembarked we made coffee by the water's edge and watched the ferry loading and departing before continuing towards Bergen. From here on it was less exciting. We continued to pass through beautiful scenery but after a while the wow factor fades a little. The road was narrow, there were countless tunnels, particularly as we neared Bergen, and many heavy lorries approaching on a twisting road. It was impossible to linger or take our eyes from the road. At Voss we stopped, expecting to find a pleasant little town to spend the night. It seemed a rather uninspiring place, its main claim to fame being that it is a centre for extreme sports. Within half an hour we were participating in extreme boredom so drove on hoping to find a campsite in the hills like last night. We found nothing and eventually ended up here in Bergen. At least the travelling is now behind us but tonight we both feel very tired and rather disappointed with the campsite.
The climb up from Kvanndal