Sunday 17 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 3 - Opining on the fiords

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos coming later, when the wifi is faster
So today was the start of the great test. Regular readers 😄 will remember that on my Azamara cruise from Wellington to Sydney last year, when we got to Fiordland, the Norwegian captain was disparaging of what we Kiwis consider some of NZ’s most spectacular scenery. “We have this in Norway,” he said, “but the colourful little towns in our fiords make it prettier.” New Zealand’s fiords have no colourful little towns. We just have untouched nature. It’s what we do.

Yes, it stung, I admit it. So, here, and now, I get to see the Norwegian version for the first time. We woke this morning on the final approaches to the town of Flåm, permanent population 450, at the end of an offshoot of Norway’s longest fiord. Fjord, I suppose I should be writing, since they gave us the word.

And yes, it was pretty: little pointy-roofed red and white houses along the edge of the water, surrounded by birch trees and tucked below soaring, sheer, rocky cliffs topped with Indian snow. Being June, there’s lots of green: mown hayfields, wildflowers, fruit trees, pines. Our first obligation was to take the Flåm Railway, which passes through 20 hand-dug tunnels to climb the steepest track in the world, criss-crossing the tumbling Flåm River into which a succession of high-as waterfalls feed. Yes, ‘spectacular’ covers it.

We got off at one point to look at and try to photograph a roaring waterfall that instantly spat spray all over everyone’s lenses, while a woman in red on a cliff top beside it swayed and gyrated to music for about five minutes, pretending to be some sort of waterfall nymph. Just the twelve times a day, through the summer, if you’re wondering. Then we got to Myrdal at the top, where we went into the hotel and ate waffles with jam and cream (which I had written about from research for a story a few months ago, so it was closure for me) and then I went for a wander to look at the lake and the waterfalls before we took the train back down again.

Flåm has a permanent population of 450, but a huge volume of annual visitors, mostly from cruise ships like ours, although today there was also a long line of coaches disgorging what mostly seemed to be Chinese tourists, as well as an assortment of nationalities from Bergen on the train. So tourism is now the main industry, and there are lots of souvenir shops (heavy on trolls, reindeer skins and cold-weather clothing), cafés, bakeries and accommodation. There’s also a good (free!) little museum about the building of the railway line and what looks like a vertical zigzag road up the side of the fjord. Also, some nifty-looking home-made vehicles for using on the railway line, some developed from motorbikes, others just bicycles.

Then, with a bit of a sigh of obligation, I set off on foot back up the valley towards the next village but one, where I’d spotted a pretty church from the train. It was 3.5km there, gradually uphill, on feet already complaining from cobbles and unsuitable shoes, but I was compensated by the tumbling, turquoise, gloriously clear river, the pretty wildflowers growing along its banks, the cute houses with their neat gardens and orchards, the peace and quiet and, most impressively, the sheer cleanliness of it all. NOT ONE BIT OF LITTER at all! So very commendable.

So I got to the church where, being Sunday, there was a service taking place, sat briefly in the graveyard, and then route-marched back down to Flåm, sore of foot but pleased to have had the exercise, fresh air, sunshine, and taste of nature - although still reserving judgement on the fiord/fjord issue. A soak in a Jacuzzi on deck back on Silver Shadow helped with the barking dogs; and then there was the sailaway on a golden sunny evening, along the fjord with its waterfalls, little villages by the shore, and mysteriously random houses perched high on perilously steep hillsides. There was pizza on the deck as it all slid past; then work in the library high above the bow with great visibility but deeply regrettable jazz musak, which was, later on, mitigated by a tenor singing Nessun Dorma and other gratifyingly populist (and tuneful) songs in the theatre before bedtime.

Highpoint today was being asked by Steve McCurry to take photos of him on deck with his wife and baby daughter, on his huge and heavy Nikon. Slightly diluted by his clearly not remembering me from our half-hour interview the day before yesterday; but probably payback for my having described him in that post as ‘physically forgettable’.

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