Posted by: Ryan | September 29, 2007

Norway-Iceland, Day 3

I woke up early and was welcomed by this view of the Sognefjord from our balcony. What a great way to start your day.

Morning on the Fjord

We took a walk down to central Balestrand, stopping en route to take pictures of the beautiful and historic Kviknes Hotel, one of the most famous destination hotels in Europe (we stayed down the street in the less historic, but probably friendlier Balestrand Hotel, whose exterior probably isn’t worth a picture, but whose smiles and service certainly was worth a big ‘Thank You’). Meanwhile the Kviknes Hotel, originally purchased by the Kvikne family in 1877, has seen various movie stars, artists, prime ministers, and kings pass through its doors over the years. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany stayed here quite often, and donated several local monuments to Balestrand and nearby Vangsnes.

Kvikne's Hotel

Here (below) is central Balestrand, with the beautiful glacier-capped mountain in the background. It made me want to live there permanently (at least in the summers).

Backdrop

Below is a pretty shot of a cute red building on the Kviknes Hotel grounds.

Colors of the Day

And a look at “uptown” Balestrand from the Kviknes grounds, which juts out into the fjord a bit.

Balestrand

We had so far enjoyed a brilliantly sunny trip, but this morning was the first with encroaching clouds. We purchased tickets from the local TI (tourist information center) for the day-long glacier tours in Fjærlandsfjord (not as cool as it sounds, but still pretty nice). We hopped on the ferry, found some seats on the back of the top deck, closed our jackets in the wind, and enjoyed the view. We cruised out of Balestrand, past a little lighthouse on the point near Dragsvík, and turned the corner up the scenic Fjærlandsfjord.

Behold!

The scenery almost couldn’t be described with words (something I could say again and again on this trip). Steep forested hills rose on both sides of the ever-narrowing fjord, countless waterfalls crashing and tumbling down through the timbered slopes.

Watertumble

Once in a while we passed isolated cabins on the shoreline, whose sole source of ingress must surely have been by boat. When we passed one particular cabin (below) tucked between the thick forest and a small green yard, surrounded on each side by cascading white waterfalls, Kim and I remarked that it was the most perfect place to live in the world.

The Most Idyllic Place to Live on Earth?

And as we progressed further up the Fjærlandsfjord, I caught this fantastic picture of the green mountains shining in the patchy sunshine, reflected nearly perfectly in the water.

Postcard Fjord

The ferry eventually reached Mundal, the small town at the head of the Fjærlandsfjord. Here we disembarked and hopped on a tour bus that took us to the Norwegian Glacier Museum (Norsk Bremuseum) up the road in Fjærland. Here we watched a short movie about the massive Jostadalsbreen glacier that sits atop the mountains north of the Sognefjord, and is the largest glacier in continental Europe (we will see the largest glacier in non-continental Europe when we drive by Vatnajökull in Iceland later in the trip). The museum also has all kind of hands-on experiments that let you play with glacier ice in your hands to demonstrate several interesting properties (such as squeezing high-pressure ice through a spaghetti-maker, and a model of how glacier sediment falls out of water during winters and summers). We bought some postcards (if you received a postcard from Norway from us, it came from here), ate a really quick (!) lunch, and caught the bus as it left for the first glacier.

Glacier Tour

The first stop (above) was Supphellebreen (“breen” is Norwegian for glacier; i.e., Supphelle Glacier), up the road from Fjærland. The tour bus stopped and unloaded its largely foreign and camera-burdened occupants for 15-20 minutes of frantic picture-taking and “oooh”ing and “aaah”ing at the hanging glacier at the top of the mountain above and the snowfield at the bottom of the cliff.

Kim & Supphelledalen

Back in the bus, we turned to the other side of the valley and took the road up to Bøyabreen. Here, the hanging mountain-top glacier was more impressive, and at its base was a pretty little glacier lake (Brevatnet, “glacier lake”), surrounded on three sides by high cliffs and more dancing waterfalls.

Bøyabreen

Kim had looked absolutely happy all day long as we passed by cliffs and glaciers and waterfalls and cute little cabins by the water. I had brought the engagement ring with me all trip long, in a ring box at the bottom of my camera bag (which went with me e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e). It wasn’t entirely a surprise — she’d picked out the ring a few months before, after all. But she didn’t know exactly when, or where, the question would come.

And, neither did I. I wanted to do it while on vacation, but also wanted to wait for whatever time was right — the setting, the mood, the scenery, everything befitting a day we’d remember forever. So when I saw the beauty of Bøyabreen and Brevatnet, and the smile on her face as we lazily watched the water dripping from the cliffs above, I thought this would be as perfect a day as any.

Brevatnet

After ten or fifteen minutes, the tour group that had flocked to the edge of Brevatnet had disappeared, likely to the lodge/restaurant near the parking lot. With the crowd thinned out, we walked along the edge of the lake through tangles of high grass and low brush, until we found a fairly secluded area by the lake (about in the center of the picture above). I reached into my camera bag when Kim’s back was turned, and brought out the ring box, and opened it, and when she turned around…. well, I asked her. I was nervous and my mouth was dry and I was probably stuttering a little bit. Not because I was unsure of her answer, but just because… well, how often do you get to do this? I’m nervous at anything I haven’t practiced at, and this was no exception. She said, yes. And yes, again. I didn’t get down on one knee like I thought I would do, because it didn’t feel right in the moment; instead I gave her a great big hug and a smile.

“And they lived happily ever after…”

Well, how does one segue from the happiest moment of one’s life, back to a travelogue of one’s Scandinavian vacation? No better way than just jump back into it. We spent as long as we could gazing up at the beautiful world around us until we were forced to get back on the bus for the journey back to Mundal. Once there, we had more than an hour to wait for the ferry, so we wandered around the tiny town.

Silence. Stillness.

Mundal is known as Book Town, as the residents are famously well-read and the town is littered with second-hand book shops featuring Norwegian- and English-language tomes. We took a quick look inside a couple of shops but decided not to buy. The town seemed deserted except for the tourists. The book stores were filled only with browsing shoppers, and the sales seemed to often be conducted on the honor system (pick up a book, place some kroner in the box, thank you have a nice day).

Kim Alone

Kim and I instead found a nice park and sat on a bench in the rare sunshine and took (gasp!) even more pictures of this pretty little town, the green hills across the fjord, and the ferry finally arriving at the dock.

Green

And the pictures continue. This (below) is the Mundal Valley from the ferry as we’re leaving.

Mundalsdalen

And this (below) a tiny town called Berge on the eastern side of the Fjærlandsfjord.

Berge

The ferry ride back to Balestrand gave us one final look at the wonders of the Fjærlandsfjord, and its forests and waterfalls and fjord-side towns. It had been a long day, and one we plan to remember as long as we can. We settled down into our hotel room in Balestrand and slept soundly. An end to a wonderful day.

Bye Bye Fjærlandsfjord!

More pictures here (Ryan) and here (Kim)!

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Responses

  1. Stunning photographs.


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