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|Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2004|
|The Land of the Midnight Sun - Part 3|
Sognefjord is Norway's longest fjord, extending over 100 miles inland. Several small fjords branch off the main fjord, including Aurlandsfjord which leads to Flam. Flam is a small village, with just two hotels, three souvenir shops, and a cafe. It was very quiet in the early morning as Captain Heath carefully and slowly reversed QE2 into her mooring.
There are no tugs at Flam, and QE2 is too large to turn at the end of the fjord but the waters at the end of the fiord are always quiet and her tiny bow thruster allowed a slow but majestic turn and reverse to a few metres off the quay where a number of dock workers were waiting to collect our ropes. They had a small dinghy with which to run them out ahead and behind the quay. We were pursued into Flam by a smaller cruise ship, Insignia, which had to anchor and use tenders. She stayed only for the morning. We took all the available mooring space, leaving just enough clearance for the ferries to get in and out.
We had decided to be independent today. Our priority had always been to see the fjords, not take extensive and expensive day trips by coach. However, we had noticed that one trip included the famous Flamsbana, the electric train that leads from Flam to Myrdal some 12 miles into the mountains. So as soon as we were able to go ashore we went and purchased return tickets, just 250 NOK each (about 20 pounds). Constructed in 1909, the train journey takes about 55 minutes to travel the 12 miles, ascending 2838 feet with a gradient of 1 in 18. The track runs through impressive tunnels which spiral in and out of the mountainside. The track is generally single width although there is one passing place, at Berekvam, where we waited for the other train to pass. Passengers can get on and off at other small villages, for hiking, but this has to be arranged with the guard. We also stopped to admire the waterfall at Kjosfossen, where a female Troll in a red dress danced to recorded music for the tourists.
We were advised at Flam there there was nothing to see at Myrdal, and that it was best to stay on the train for its return journey. This we did; it meant we could move to a seat by a window which opened, and on the side of the train with the spectacular views, so we took lots of photos. On the way down many people got off, intending to walk the final few kilometres down to Flam. We did not realise how good the walking tracks were, and another time we would do the same. From Berekvam to Flam is only 11 kilometres, and other stations are obviously closer. Leaving Flam at 9.45 we were back there at 11.50.
We bought a few postcards, some CDs (Grieg and the local singer Sissel) and a small reindeer carpet before heading back to QE2 for lunch. Shops in Flam had a lot of nice souvenirs, and were doing well with the mixture of cruise ship passengers and day trippers off the train.
After lunch we walked along the road towards Aurland, as far as a waterfall we had noticed on the entry to Flam. The view of the waterfall was not very good from directly below, but it did give good views back of QE2 and her mooring.
Our mooring in the centre of Stavanger was delightful, but the views of the old houses along the waterfront were marred by a series of large temporary sandy areas for the international World Tour Beach volley ball competition. We explored the waterfront, eventually arriving in front of the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. The building was an attraction in itself, resembling oil installations out at sea. Entrance was expensive, 75 NOK each, and we hesitated whether to go in. We are glad we did; the history of offshore exploration was interesting and Stavanger is the centre for coordinating offshore drilling. Following the decline of the fishing and fish canning industries, Stavanger's economy was rescued by the oil industry and oil company investment. We had not appreciated the scale of the vessels and modern installations, which dwarf the QE2. There were scenes from work and leisure on an oil platform, and an escape chute which Pete sampled. The reception keep a good set of sticking plasters for grazed elbows.
Stavanger has a pretty pedestrianised town centre, through which we ambled. We met other passengers who said about the good views from the Valberg Tower, so we turned in that direction. The Watchman's Tower Museum was inside the Valberg Tower, and at 20 NOK it was not good value, but it did give good views. The Tower was built between 1850 and 1853 as a observation post for the town's watchmen. It is octagonal, and almost 27 metres high. We continued to the 12th century cathedral, modernised in the 1600s, then down past the market square to the fish market.
The Stavanger Maritime Museum was situated on the quayside. We found that the entry ticket of 40 NOK gave entry to this and also the Stavanger Museum, the Canning Museum, the Ledaal Royal Residence and the Breidablikk Manor House - exceptional value. Exhibitions in the preserved harbourside warehouses show the development of shipping, harbour traffic, commerce and shipbuilding over 200 years. There is a sail loft, ship owner's office, general store and merchant's apartment. One room was dedicated to the restoration of the historic sailing vessel "Wyvern" which belongs to the museum, but was away at the time of our visit. It was built in 1897, had a varied history before being purchased at the end of the 1970s and gifted to the museum on completion in 1984.
The Norwegian Canning Museum is just a few minutes walk up the hill. It is a living museum within the old canning factory. We were shown the complete process, from fresh fish through their smoking, packing into tins which are boiled and then final labelled. We bought one tin, expensive at 15 NOK, as a souvenir. There is a worker's cottage next door which is set up with rooms typical of 1920 and 1960, with a modern kitchen which provides light teas.
This morning we had booked the tour to visit Fantoft and Troldhaugen. Our tour departed at 8.15 so we were up early, just after she docked. One problem with Bergen is that the moorings are some distance from the town centre. There is a free shuttle bus provided but it still takes extra time. Our trip began with a short introduction to Bergen, along Kaigaten to the Torget Market Place then along the Bryggen, passing the Rosenkrantz Tower and the old Haakon's Hall. We turned back, through the tunnel towards Fantoft. The bus parking was 10 minutes walk from the stavechurch which we were to visit. Originally built in 1150 the church was moved to Fantoft in 1883. Then there was a disastrous fire in 1992, and it was destroyed, but it was then rebuilt to the same design using modern timbers. Unfortunately the new wood was less well seasoned and there are large cracks already appearing in the structural pillars. We were unlucky with our weather, and it rained for most of our visit. We were then ahead of schedule, so we had a detour past a viewpoint to look down on the city of Bergen. Unfortunately a number of other coaches had the same idea, and there were several following the same tour. The road was narrow and winding, and only just possible to pass. Sadly the viewpoint had no available parking space, so we could not take photos.
The main highlight of the morning was the visit to Troldhaugen, to visit the home of the famous composer and conductor Edvard Grieg. Troldhaugen is beautifully situated on Nordas Lake, and it is here that Grieg and his wife Nina spent their time between their world travels. Unfortunately many other tourists had decided to pay the same pilgrimage, and as well as 5 coaches from the QE2 there were dozens from other places. We were fortunate in getting quickly to the classical concert in the special purpose-built Concert Hall, played by pianist Auden Kayser. But then we had to wait in line to enter the house itself. The house was built specially for them between 1884-85, and named Troldhaugen "Troll Hill". The house had a kitchen but toilet facilities were in a small separate building. The kitchen is now a momento room. Being with a tour group, we were hurried through the two other ground floor rooms, the dining room and the sitting room, and would have liked to spend more time there. It was not allowed to go upstairs. There were then just 15 minutes left to visit the composer's hut, on the banks of the lake, and to see their tomb. We had to miss the Edvard Grieg Museum itself, with its exhibition and cafe. Judging from the guide book, the museum was not as interesting as the house.
We returned to the ship for lunch and then set off on the shuttle bus to explore the town. Starting from the dropoff at the Hotel Norge, we walked down Ole Bulls Pass to the National Theatre, then to the famous open-air market. There were many interesting stalls, including fish sellers, traditional woollen jumpers and a range of all sorts of local souvenirs. A complete silver fox skin was about 1800 NOK, and other foxes were cheaper. Reindeer skin rugs were from 190 NOK upwards. Bergen is built on 7 hills and we had planned to take the Floibanen funicular to the viewpoint on the top of Mount Floyen, but the weather was too bad. Instead we admired the old Hanseatic merchant houses. In 1350 the German Hanseatic League was established in Bergen and controlled all trade along the coast for more than 200 years. The homes and warehouses were built after the great fire of 1702 which destroyed many buildings, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old wooden houses contained a selection of little shops and businesses. There was an old well in the courtyard. It was difficult to take photos in the narrow alleyways with all the milling tourists trying to do the same.
Further along the waterfront we passed the Rosenkrantztarnet, a 16th century fortified tower named after Erik Rosenkrantz, before visiting Haakons Hall next door. Named after King Haakon Haakonsson, it was built between 1247 and 1261, and was called the Stone Hall, being built of local stone. It is the largest secular medieval building still standing in Norway. It was restored in 1880-1895 and richly decorated in 1910-1916. Unfortunately a German ammunition ship exploded in the harbour just below in 1944, and the resulting fire did extensive damage. It was again restored and is used for concerts and ceremonial occasions. The lower floors are divided into rooms, and furnished with tables and chairs. The Great Hall is a large space, lit by seven large Gothic windows on the side and end gable windows.
Early archaeological remains are in the Bryggen Museum nearby. It is a modern building, opened in 1976, and contains the original foundations of the oldest buildings in Bergen from the 12th century. We went inside especially to see the temporary exhibition of watercolour paintings, to inspire Pauline to do more paintings.
Bergen was the last port, and there was just one more day at sea before arriving back at Southampton. The weather in the North Sea had been kind, and although it was so dismal at the North Cape itself we felt lucky with our overall trip. The last day at sea was very busy, with a watercolour class where Pauline completed a watercolour sketch of Bergen, then the inevitable packing of 4 suitcases. We took advantage of the on-board discount and booked to go on the QE2 again, for 3 weeks in 2005. This trip, of just 14 days, was too short.
Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 15th July, 2004