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|Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 2008
The Lands of Fire and Ice - Part 1
We had visited Norway in June, and the weather in Hellesylt and then Geiranger had been grey and wet. It was much better now. QE2 always anchors first off Hellesylt for an hour to allow a number of organised overland full-day tours to depart. These hardy people have to be early risers because they have to report for tenders at 0715.
Then we cruised slowly down Geirangerfjord to Geiranger. We were not alone. It is said that 130 cruise ships visit during the four month tourist season. The weather was perfect for the short journey by water from Hellesylt to Geiranger, sitting in the Queen’s Room and watching the scenery pass by. The Bridal Veil Falls, followed by the Seven Sisters and the Suitor, were all flowing well. The commentary by the Norwegian expert Arne Sagmo meant that we had advance warning and could rush outside with a camera at the key moments. There was one other cruise ship already at anchor below the zigzag bends, the Albatross, and the Grand Voyager was already anchored. There were local ferries as well. It was crowded, but we settled into our familiar position, with the stern rope tied to a concrete bollard near the shore.
The Geirangerfjord is a famous tourist destination and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Geiranger is a very small tourist town, with several hotels and lots of camping sites. It has a few souvenir shops, a very pretty wooden octagon church, and lots of potential for walking. We had a quick early lunch and as soon as the tenders were ready we went ashore. QE2 dominated, facing outwards with her stern rope tied firmly to shore at the head of the fjord. Up the hill from the town there is a scenic viewpoint at Flydalsjuvet, and good views from the top of Mount Dalsnibba. We visited both in 2004. Both are too far to hike on foot, and in the distance we could see all the tour buses at Flydalsjuvet. We had very nice views of QE2 from outside the church, and from the waterfront, but decided to gain some more height and walk up to the Union Hotel.
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 a railway station, marina, two hotels, three souvenir shops, and a cafe. When we visited in 2004 it had been very quiet in the early morning as Captain Heath carefully and slowly reversed QE2 into her mooring. Now it was later, and everyone was on deck to watch Captain Perkins arrive.
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 fjord 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 had decided to be independent today. Our priority had always been to see the fjords, not take extensive and expensive day trips by coach. On our previous cruise to Flam in 2004 we had taken a trip on 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 to purchase train tickets. 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. In 2004 we had easily been able to get a ticket for the first train at 0945; today we found the first few trains were already fully booked, and the next available train was at 1335. We paid for our tickets and went off to explore the shops, take some pictures of QE2, and have an early lunch in the Lido. 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. There were bargains in last seasons Dale woollen hats, but no bargains for the childrens' sizes. We bought several as presents.
When we returned to the station at 1300 there was already a long line waiting to board. The queue worked well and everyone found a seat. The weather was good and the views from the train were spectacular. As is traditional, the train stopped to admire the waterfall at Kjosfossen, where a number of female Trolls danced to recorded music for the tourists.
We were advised at Flam that there was nothing to see at Myrdal, and that it was best to stay on the same train for its return journey. This we did. The views were equally spectacular on the return and we saw the dancing trolls at Kjosfossen again. We had arranged with the train guard that we would get off at Hareina, two stops before Flam, so we could visit the Flam church which is there. We left the train at 1530, and had only 3 kms walk to Flam. All aboard QE2 was not until 1830 so there was plenty of time. The Flam church is old; the main part was built in 1670. Inside is richly decorated. As church art the paintings are said to be unique, but similar decorations have been found in private houses.
We would have missed the turning at Lunden for the footpath to Brekkefossen without our leaflet showing the walks in the Flam area. It was a narrow path, rocky at times, and slippery. The leaflet said it was a category 3 path and we were glad we had decided to wear proper walking boots. Paths ranged from category 1 to 3, so this was a difficult one. Fortunately the path uphill was well marked with the red letter T. When we eventually reached the end, some 45 minutes later, there was no-one else at the waterfall. We took a series of photos and then retraced our steps. It is always harder hiking downhill in difficult conditions.
To our surprise, the shops were still open when we reached the quay, and Pauline had a last quick look in the Flamsbana Museum, before reluctantly leaving. The local brass band was playing at the bottom of the gangway, to wish us Bon Voyage on our last visit to Flam.
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