6:00am came early, but surprisingly, we were not sore from our mountain hike. I cooked up a pile of bacon and a mess of scrambled eggs for breakfast, which is really hard to do quietly in a stainless steel kitchen. Knowing it would be breezy on the boat, we layered up and headed to the port. Flam was bustling! A couple of busses had dropped off a huge group of Chinese tourists. There were 5 other Anglo couples on the boat, which was cheerfully referenced by a member of the Chinese group. “Welcome to Shanghai!” he shouted at us through a big grin. Pizza girls boarded the boat and a weird pair of Japanese girls who were dressed to the nines and taking oddly posed pictures all over the ship. They looked like they were 13 years old, but they seemed to be traveling without escorts. Their creepy posing reminded me of the Precious Face photo-booth in Copenhagen.
The boat pushed away from the port and our fjord journey began. It was like sailing through a postcard, the water was a mirror and the cliffs rose high above us. We just stared and stared, trying to take all 360 degrees at the same time.
We learned something else about the Chinese during the 2.5 hour tour…they don’t have seagulls, or possibly birds at all in China. This the only explanation for the behavior we witnessed. As you and I may know, where there is water and boats, there are usually gulls. Yes, if you don’t usually spend time by the water, they hold a slightly exotic feel for the first minute. Then, reality comes crashing in and you realize that they are essentially water pigeons…and they are actually bloody big buggers, with bloody big pointy beaks and they shit all over the place in great quantities and in every direction…constantly. The Chinese tour group were absolutely fascinated with them. More SD cards were filled with bird pictures than landscapes that day. Then they started feeding them.
Having recently been on the receiving end of a goat-gang attack, I was aware of the imminent melee, and we hastily moved our belongings to the other side of the boat and donned an outer layer for the inevitable shit-shorm we were about to endure. There were gulls everywhere…getting in the way of the views…fighting over bananas and sandwiches which were being held out by tiny giggling women. Every now and again, a shriek would crest over the squawking of gulls, which meant either a bird had shit on someone’s camera or had taken something directly from and outstretched hand. This went on for a whole hour. At this point, John dispensed some great wisdom: “I don’t care how awesome something is…how mind-blowingly cool it is…when shit starts flying through the air, the cool-factor drops dramatically and I am outta there.” Words to live by. Meanwhile, there was stunning vista after stunning vista passing them by.
Waterfalls, tiny picturesque villages propped on the shore, seemingly endless miles of mirror-like water. Pretty soon, a stiff breeze picked up and we dropped into the shadow of a cliff. A few intrepid bird-lovers stayed outside, but most people went into the cafe. John and I bundled up some more and stayed outside until we reached Gudvangen about 1.5 hours later.
There were two busses waiting for the Chinese group, so we once again found ourselves in relative silence again. The bus trip to Voss included a butt-clenching trip down a very steep and winding hill with 12 hairpin turns and spectacular views all the way down to our next stop.
According to the bus driver, Voss is the Norse capital of extreme outdoor sports and ‘may’ host the biggest extreme sports competition in the world (not-fact checked…I am sure the X-games might have some words for him.) Voss sits on a fjord and is surrounded by snow capped mountains.
Paragliding is extremely popular here, so we laid back on the grass, ate our lunch and watched groups of people run off the side of a mountain and get carried far up in the air. They were up there for a long time, just gliding like birds…really high up in some cases. At one point, there were over 30 gliders above us.
The sun was very warm and the grass dry and comfortable, it was the most relaxed I have felt on the entire trip. We alternated between calling out shapes in clouds and watching the gliders swirl. Occasionally, one of them would land on either side of us.
Bergen is the ‘Capital of the Fjords’ and is much more appealing than Oslo…and it knows it. We were staying in a shabby hostel/YMCA which was starkly different than our mountain paradise the night before. Not to be disheartened, we dumped out bags and headed out to the sun-soaked streets. The sun was about 4 hours from setting and had bathed everything in that slow, golden light.
It was about time we really searched for some authentic Norwegian food. Following the hostel’s recommendation, we chose Penvingen (Penguin), which promised a selection of local food, including reindeer and whale meat. We walked in and clapped eyes on Mr. and Mrs. Peoria, who were waving frantically at us from across the restaurant. The bartender, mistaking their familiarity with friendship, sat us at the end of the bar closest to them. “We haven’t seen any Americans all day!” he exclaimed. He prodded his wife, the volume of his voice rising “Didn’t you say we wouldn’t see any AMERICANS here…I told you we would meet some AMERICANS eventually.” The piano player stopped playing and the closed the lid. The card players slowly put down their hands and the only sound was the creak of the saloon doors as they swung open…closed…open…closed… At least, that’s what it felt like. For days, people had been mistaking us for locals, jabbering at us in Norwegian and Swedish until they saw our blank glares. It was cringeworthy to be called out in a hip, crowded restaurant by one of your own kind. Now, I know one of the things we Americans don’t realize is that no-one really gives a crap about Americans…they really don’t care and they don’t give you a moments thought. So , even though I felt like someone turned a spotlight on us, business carried on as usual. We managed a grin each, made some small talk until a table opened up at the other end of the bar. “See you around!” (fingers crossed)
Unfortunately/fortunately, Penvingen was not serving any majorly controversial meat, so I settled for Norwegian dumplings with bacon, lamb shank and lamb sausage. John boldly selected the horse tenderloin. Both dishes were delicious, the horse tenderloin tasted like an incredible steak and made us wonder if we could get horse in Nashville. I also enjoyed a wee beerlet.
After dinner we wandered nowhere in particular, up and down the streets, around the fish market and out towards the castle.
At a particularly scenic point, we paused to take a picture of Lincoln and Penny. As John reached into the bag, his face turned sour and frowny, then sort of pukey and he pulled back his hand…it was covered in slime. “What is that?!” I asked. Grimly, John said, “I don’t know, there’s something in Angus.” He reached back in, grimaced and pulled out the remains of a banana which had been lurking in the bottom of the pack. Now, it has been days since we have had bananas…I am not sure how it got down there or how long it had been festering…but it had turned black and exploded in the main pocket of Angus (henceforth known as the Banana Pouch) coating everything with slime. John was not amused.
We returned to the hostel, ready for bed. As luck would have it, we shared our room with a super-whispery French couple who were planning their dinner at 11pm at night. “whisper, whisper, croissant, whisper, dijon whisper”…le sigh…”whisper, Pierre baguette whisper whisper” Their murmurings lulled me to sleep.