Whether it´s in the shape of ancient national parks, medieval churches and cities or great Jugendstil architecture, this part of our trip seems like a hop-on, hop-off through different stops of a time machine.
This chapter starts as we follow the Rondane scenic route. Our trip is magnificently escorted by big mountains and smallish lakes on the sides. The slopes majestically carpeted by lichens, rocks and now and then some trees.
There’s also a chance to visit an old saw mill, where you can see how the use the strength of the water to move the timber.
We make a little detour to visit an even older timber church, the Sollia Kirke, that dates from 1738. Very lovely, even if it´s closed, so we miss the interior.
Then we head towards the somehow disappointing Peer Gynt Vegen, which is an unpaved toll road with a length of 60 Km, which is supposed to be magical and wonderful, full of myth and mystery, maybe even trolls. Yes, it is a nice road, but we get a bit discouraged by the potholes, after the almost 10 Euro toll and our inability to find the trolls or the magic. Apparently to others, it inspired to write great plays, e.g. Henrik Ibsen wrote a 5 act play named Peer Gynt, and great music, e.g. Edvard Grieg wrote the famous music to the same play.
We sort of make a u-turn and head towards the Dovrefjell – Sunndalsfjella National Park, which is a matter of rough beauty and one of the biggest protected areas in the country. The landscapes are quite varied and the weather extremely moody, nevertheless we do 3 different hikes.
The first one, at the edge of sunset, through an area of forests and marshlands, looking for the elusive moose. We are lucky to find a friendly couple of Austrians, Michael and Katrin, that are carrying a pair of binoculars, which proof to be very handy and we manage to spot six moose. I’m told that this is an absolute record for an evening, even though four of them are really far, one of them only far and the last one, relatively close. But we are all happy and excited.
The second is a short, but steep hike up to the Snohetta view point. It is so windy that we sometimes feel the wind is going to push us down to the ground. It´s quite rewarding to enter the building to get warm again. The building itself is beautiful and it´s quite zen to look at the mountains through the glass.
Our third hike is up the mountains, walking on carpets of lichens, berry bushes and mushrooms, partially the terrain is very wet, even marshy on the flatter parts, so we put our feet in the water a few times. This time looking for the musk ox. Weird animal really. It looks like some sort of hairy bull, but it is more closely related to sheep and goats than to oxen. Anyway we find one eating and chilling next to a river. It´s quite big, but quite friendly. We anyway keep our distance, not only because of the scary horns, but also not to scare him away.
We head west towards the Trollstigen, the Troll ladder, a road that is pure thrill and magic in equal proportions, as narrow as it gets, with 11 hairpin bends, an inclination of 12%, zigzagging through forests half hidden in the mist and carpeted by ferns and moss. The views from above into the valley are nothing short of spectacular, even if they come and go, surrendered to the whims of the fog.
They have built some metal platforms and passageways so that everybody can enjoy from the views safely, but sometimes you just feel like suspended on a cloud. Luckily we finally meet a troll and Christian gets pretty friendly with him.
This takes us to Alesund, which is a pleasant little city. Our time machine is pointing to year 1904, when after a devastating fire, the city was rebuilt in beautiful Jugendstil architecture. Beautiful elegant buildings that have also build a symbiotic relationship with the water to adorn days and nights with pleasant reflections. The town has also an old harbour, with traditional buildings and traditional sailing ships, which is equally beautiful.
And if you are hungry or thirsty, do not despair, there’s a lot on offer in terms of restaurants, cafes and bars. We try Invit (http://www.invit.no/default.aspx?menu=626), a stylish espresso bar that also serves small dishes. I strongly recommend the fish soup. And if you are lucky to be there in a sunny day, go back and sit on the terrace on the water.
To view it all from the top you just need to climb 418 steps up the Aksla hill to the Kniven view point.
We continue time travelling and stop at 1070 when the oldest stave church in Norway was built. We are in Urnes, we have got there taking the ferry from the little pleasant village of Solvorn. The church guide really brings its history to life. He explain how it was built to create the right effects of light and sound that would startle the congregation and enhance their faith. Quite impressive. One cannot avoid thinking about how early religion found creative ways to influence people’s believes. Architecturally the results are amazing and the church is a small wooden masterpiece.
1702 is our next stop in our particular time tunnel. This was the year when another fire burnt down the old city of Bergen and they had to rebuild it in the shape that it has kept pretty much till today. This is at least the old neighbourhood by the pier, the Bryggen, which is a fascinating labyrinth of wooden houses and narrow alleys that keeps its full medieval flavour, minus the smells I guess, plus the artists ateliers, the souvenir shops and the tourists. Enchanting nevertheless. After the visit of the first day, I feel so enchanted by the ghosts of the past that I convince Christian to take a guided tour to learn more about the history of that place. The guide is quite good and I thoroughly enjoy the stories about the Hanseatic traders, first time ever I heard about them, by the way. If you are like me, they were a confederation of merchants guilds, originated in Northern Germany that expanded through key trade cities across the North Sea and the Baltic. Bergen qualified as one of those, since it was the center of the country for the trade of dried cod. The tour also takes us to the inside of one of the merchant houses, quite enlightening.
But over the centuries, Bergen has expanded beyond this original neighbourhood and has lots of other pretty corners, whether of white wooden houses climbing up the hills, Jugendstil buildings in the city center or a busy recreational harbour. And the best to contemplate it all is to take the Floibanen Funicular that takes you up to 320 meters and gives spectacular views of the city.