06.08.2015 - 10.08.2015 14 °C
We arrived in Flåm on the scenic railway via Flamsbana which is a spectacular train journey offering panoramic views of the Norwegian fjord landscape.
Flamsbana is one of the steepest train lines in the world on normal tracks, where almost 80% of the journey has a gradient of 5.5%
The train journey runs through steep mountains, waterfalls and about 20 tunnels. In the span of an hour, the train takes you from the snow capped mountaintop at Myrdal station on Hardangervidda, 863 meters above sea level to ocean level at the Sognefjord in Flam.
Myrdal is also a station on the Bergen railway, which means that Flamsbana corresponds with the trains on the Oslo - Bergen line so we caught a train from Bergen to Myrdal but the changeover was total chaos.
People all cramming on to one carriage with heaps of luggage and attendants not advising patrons where the seating was available, meanwhile the train is honking and the station attendant is whistling. We had luggage on the train but we were out of it trying to find a carriage we could fit on....more honking, more whistling and we basically just jumped on a carriage like hobos as we couldn't afford to be separated from our luggage. 10 minutes later we found a carriage with three people on it up the front!
National Geographic Traveler Magazine has named the Flam Railway as one of the top 10 train journeys in Europe and Lonely Planet named it the best train journey in the world in 2014.
The fjords offer waterfalls bloody everywhere. At least three in every view, dropping at least 800m, that eventually you just take for granted. Any "waterfall" in Australia is generally marked as a tourist attraction, found on postcards and travellers are advised to drop by. Waterfalls that may have a 20m drop and are about 5 - 10m wide are must see attractions. We don't even pull a camera out when on the fjords unless it is 800m. Truly spectacular stuff.
We stayed in a great hotel on the water in Flåm, and about 150m from where our 3 day kayak trip departs.
We got there at 9:30 for introductions and set up, with a weird fog sitting a couple of meters above the water. There were 6 pairs of kayakers in double kayaks and three guides in singles.
Water temperature we are told is10C. Recovery practice was freezing. After practicing on land, we fall out of our kayak, then rip off spray skirt, retrieve paddle, brace kayak, Louisa tries to get in while I stabilise the kayak, Louisa eventually gets in and puts on a paddle float, I then climb in, pump water out, hand the pump to Louisa while I put the paddle float on my paddle and away you go. All the time wet and cold. Got certification though. You should certified for doing this!
Packing the kayaks was interesting. They give you a number of dry sacks to put your gear into. 1 for stuff that you will only need at camp, one for gear that you may need at lunch break, and one for accessible items like sunscreen etc.
You just get into a frame of mind that it will all fit, when they give you your tent and the food that you need to pack into your kayak! Where the hell is this stuff going to fit??? You have two small storage compartments at each end of the boat, and a little room under or between your legs. I had the rudder pedals so these needed to be unobstructed otherwise we would be spending 3 days doing circles around the boathouse.
They teach you about packing fundamentals such as dismantling the tent so that you can stuff it into corners and compressing your waterproof stuff bags and sleeping bags. You also have to stuff your sleeping bags and mattresses into thick garbage bags before putting them in their sacks. Believe it or not it all fits....just.
We had lunch and then off we went to our first campsite, up the Aurlandfjorden for approximately 10 km. There was still some fog around but the water was still and we had heaps of waterfalls spitting at us. Didn't take long for shoulders, wrists, elbows and hands to start feeling sore....which is a bit of a worry 30 minutes into a three day paddle!
We had been told the correct technique for paddling that involves torso rotation, pushing the paddle with one hand and pulling with the other, but what would they know? The symptoms that come with incorrect technique involve, sore biceps, sore wrists, sore elbows, ......OK so maybe there is something to this technique thing.
We are called to form a raft by a guide roughly every 45 minutes or so to get the group back together, check our maps and confirm next section which may include a crossing of the fjord to avoid shipping lanes. We would also take the opportunity to share snacks around and the guides would tell some stories or history relevant to where we were in the fjord.
Often the stories would involve Trolls in some way or another. These poor old Trolls seem to get blamed for everything. One mountain formation was apparently formed by a Troll's angry butt as she got pissed off with the things and tried to pull the mountain down but slipped and fell into the mountain across the fjord!
A troll is a supernatural being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In origin, troll may have been a negative synonym for a jötunn (plural jötnar). In Old Norse sources, beings described as trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings.
Later, in Scandinavian folklore, trolls became beings in their own right, where they live far from human habitation, are not Christianized, and are considered dangerous to human beings. Depending on the region from which accounts of trolls stem, their appearance varies greatly; trolls may be ugly and slow-witted, or look and behave exactly like human beings, with no particularly grotesque characteristic about them.
Trolls are sometimes associated with particular landmarks, which at times may be explained as formed from a troll exposed to sunlight (e.g., Risin og Kellingin). One of the most famous elements of Scandinavian folklore, trolls are depicted in a variety of media in modern popular culture.
As I mentioned earlier the scenery is so spectacular that you can take it for granted. Staring up at these 1000m cliffs that shoot up from the water, which is in itself up to 300m deep, is damn spooky. There is snow on the top of most cliffs' and for every cliff there would be at least three waterfalls. The water is crystal clear, and we see seals, porpoises, mountain goats, and an eagle and even saw a weasel. I call it a long skinny rat, but it looks like a mix between, rat, squirrel and ferret.
Camp is great and we quickly unpack our kayaks, get our tents up and get into dry gear. What a comfort dry gear is, along with the added pleasure of being upright on land. The organisation that we are paddling with is all about "Leave no trace" camping. This is all very admirable and something that we always try to do when camping, but this mob takes it a little further.
We have bags for organic and inorganic waste. Not even the organic waste is to go in the fire (we had a very small fire going at one point on the first night but damp surroundings made it difficult to get any real heat going). I thought onion waste would be an eligible item to go in the fire but that too had to go in the bag.
Toothpaste spit has to be spread as if spouting like a humpback whale. At least we didn't have to spit into the organic, or would that be inorganic, bag.
We were woken at 7:30am by our lead guide Marta, singing a Polish hymn. Have to say it is probably the best way to be woken in the morning. She had a great voice and just walked through our camp singing like a bird. Lovely.
When breaking up camp and our tents are packed up, we have to "fluff". Yes, we had to learn how to "fluff". I know some of you may have been engaged to fluff in the past, but it was new to Louisa and I. This involves fluffing the grass that your tent was covering during the night. You bend over and scrape the flat grass with your hands till it is standing more upright and you would have trouble even knowing a tent was there 10 minutes earlier. There you go, "Leave No Trace" camping.
The second day starts in Aurlandfjorden and we turn left into the World Heritage listed Nærøyfjorden. This is a much narrower fjord and is spectacular....again. Whilst I am really happy with our photos, thee is no way that photos can do this place justice. You cannot replicate the size, ruggedness, beauty, and the power that millions of years of glaciers took to carve out these fjords, and expect a photo to convey it appropriately. Happy to have a crack though!
We had several fjord crossings to negotiate, one of which Louisa and I were lead. There is a particular formation that involves left and right flanks, leads and followers. This is all due to keeping us in a tight bunch so that we don't ram too many ferries and cruise liners. I don't like the chances of a 4000 person cruise ship weaving its way around 9 kayaks!
The next camp was in a beautiful spot (you would be hard pressed to find a shitty one) right in between three big waterfalls. The one behind us was particularly angry, and about 30m away. I was told that they get turned off at midnight, but on this evening the guy in charge must have called in sick as it raged all night. Not a bad thing, as whilst it was pretty angry, it was peaceful sleeping so close to it as well.
We went for a short 40 minute walk from camp to a Viking burial mound. Nowadays it is basically a very large pile of rocks but it is confirmed to be an ancient Viking burial mound and Viking artefacts have been removed and taken to a museum in Oslo. A helmet and sword were two such items removed. I was just treading very quietly doing my best not to wake big Erik up. I figure he would be pretty grumpy after 1200 years. He was obviously an important Viking to have such a large mound. Apparently he could ask to have his horse and wife knocked on the head to go into the after life with him...now that is a new meaning to, "for better or worse"!
More Polish hymns in the morning at7:30, then we fluffed and got on our way. We had a relatively short paddling stint of around 6 km and we were all feeling the pinch a bit. This brings you back to paddling technique and there is something to it. Due to the aches and pains I spent a lot of time concentrating on technique and the pains disappeared.
After spending a few minutes sitting back in our kayak making a genuine attempt at just taking in what we were paddling in and through, it was time to bring the kayak to shore. We got into our final destination, Gudvangen, for lunch and packed things up for the 20 minute car back to Flåm. Took us three days to paddle the 30km and we drive back in 20 minutes. Mind you, this involved driving through the 13th longest car tunnel in the world, 11.2 km!
There are tunnels everywhere in this place and very impressive tunnels at that. I suppose we're lucky we have the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Norwegians would build a tunnel to Lorne. There is a tunnel we paddled past that was built to service a small town of 18 people! The government wanted the town to continue and realised that without better access to it, it wouldn't. So they built a bloody tunnel to it. Apparently the contract that this tunnel was built on, was worth the paper it was written on. Imagine that, paying for a tunnel to be built rather than paying for a tunnel not to be built. They're pretty smart over here in Norway. In Melbourne we don't build a tunnel because 18 people don't want it....
Back to our nice hotel in Flåm, this time our balcony was on the other side of the building with lovely views across the small harbour. Hot shower was welcome as Louisa was getting on the nose a bit. Beers with our guides and a few other paddlers in a Viking bar next to our hotel was a great way to finish off an experience that will not be forgotten in a hurry. Bloody fantastic.
Did I say beautiful views from our hotel balcony? Well the next morning Louisa opened the blinds to reveal a little "runabout" berthed about 50m from our bloody balcony. The MSC Splendida, all 333m of it. 66.8m high. 4000 passengers and 1,300 crew. There goes a quiet morning in Flam!
More on these boat people and a couple of Ando theories on them in next instalment!