Posted by: Ryan | September 29, 2007

Norway-Iceland, Day 4

I woke up at 2 a.m. the next morning and took the picture below from our balcony. The previous day was the longest day of the year, and even though the sun had already officially set at this latitude below the arctic circle, the “night” at 2 a.m. was still not much darker than a blue-tinted twilight.

Midnight Twilight

Our goal today was the Nærøyfjord, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site — a natural or cultural site worthy of preservation for the common heritage of humanity. Lofty praise indeed. There’s no direct boat route to the Nærøyfjord from Balestrand, so we had to take the expressboat all the way back along the Sognefjord to Flåm. Between Balestrand and Leikanger, we passed this beautiful waterfall (below) named Kvinafossen that ducks under a highway bridge before emptying into the Sognefjord.

Kvinnafossen

Just south of the mountain Beitelen, we could see the farm of Stigen high above us to the south. Its white farmhouse is perched on a ledge of the cliffs above the fjord, and its green pastures are interspersed with the exposed rock of the mountainside. A book on the Nærøyfjord that we bought in Myrdal featured a wonderful photograph taken from the kitchen of the white farmhouse of Stigen: Blue and white ceramic plates, with potatoes and pork chops set on an old wooden table, and looking out the square kitchen window is a view of the fjord, seemingly and almost dizzyingly straight below.

Stigen

And now a wide view of Stigen so you can see how high it is on the mountainside. The Stigen farm is the white dot on top of the ledge on the left.

Stigen's perched

Our boat took us back to the docks at Aurland, where I got a nice picture of this quaint town with a breathtaking waterfall in the background. It is remarkable how much natural beauty there is here, visible from nowhere more exotic than the middle of town.

Living Next to a Waterfall

The boat took us eventually back to Flåm, where we simply stayed onboard as it picked up new passengers and turned around. We stopped again at Aurland (for the second of four times this day) and headed back out of the Aurlandsfjord, eventually making a left turn by the green shoulders of Beitelen and getting a tantalizing glimpse of the beauty of the Nærøyfjord (below).

Tantalizing

Our first stop along the Nærøyfjord was a multi-tiered waterfall near the entrance to the narrow fjord. Surprisingly, the boat headed straight for it, the pilot slowly guiding the bow up to the bottom of the waterfall. Those of us who weren’t too proud to act like goofy tourists ran up to the front of the boat to feel the genuine Norwegian waterfall spray on our faces.

Eyewitness

We left the waterfall and continued down the Nærøyfjord. There were almost too many waterfalls to count. The fjord really is quite narrow (only 250 meters wide at its narrowest point), with sheer rock mountainsides rising on both sides, covered with tenacious green vegetation wherever the rock gave it something to hang on to. A beautiful example (below) was the little “town” of Styvi (permanent population: 2), with verdant hillsides and crashing waterfalls all around.

Styvi

A game that Kim and I played on our cruise along the Nærøyfjord was “which waterfall is your favorite?” With so many unbelievable choices, it was difficult to choose. What’s your type? Narrow, high, and ribbonlike, or wide and tumbling? Crashing over exposed cliff, or plunging between deep forested ravines? When we passed the one below, we both claimed a winner. It’s not the highest, but with its tiers of cascades, wide stream, a plunge throwing up mist, surrounded by forests, moss-covered rocks, and a clear green meadow by the shore… It’s simply hard to beat that one. I feel envious for the native Nærøyfjorder who can picnic here (by kayak, of course) on a warm and sunny day, and hike up to the rocks in the mist between the falls.

Paradise

These steep mountainsides, with glaciers on the high plateau above, often yielded wild avalanches that crashed down the cliffs into the fjord below in the spring. Largely because of this, electricity and telephone services were provided not by landlines, but by underwater cables snaking along the bottom of the fjord. Another reminder that, despite the beauty of these hidden outposts of humanity, it still was difficult back in the old days to carve a civilized society out of the unforgiving rocks and ice; and how the narrow fjord itself served as the only lifeline between these nearby, but still isolated, villages.

Below is the town of Bakka (permanent population: 13), the narrowest point of the fjord.

Bakka

This white church in Bakka was built in 1859. Before then, residents of Nærøyfjord lacked easy access to Christian services, and baptisms and weddings had to be carried at the church in distant Undredal, and funerals in even more distant Aurland.

Bakka Kyrkje

Your success counting the waterfalls on the Nærøyfjord largely depends upon your definition of “waterfall” (What if it branches? What if it’s merely a trickle?), and your ability to turn your head quickly left and right and left and right again (while madly taking pictures, of course).

Bountiful

More waterfalls.

Nearing Gudvangen

We reached the head of the fjord at Gudvangen and turned around again, this time putting the camera down more and relaxing in a deck chair looking up at the magnificent view.

We're in Gudvangen!

As we passed Beitelen again, turning right into the Aurlandsfjord, the weather turned foul, and we can see rain ahead.

And Suddenly the Sky Turns Dark

We passed the small village of Undredal as the rain hit, and I took a picture from the boat at the height of the downpour. Then, it’s back to Aurland and Flåm, and then turn around to Aurland and finally to Balestrand again. It was our last night in Balestrand, and we fell asleep with the sound of rain outside.

Through Misty Lenses

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

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