Grandpa Wasn’t Lying

Grandpa wasn’t lying. Norway is the most beautiful country in the world.

Two weeks ago, I returned from a truly magical trip to Norway. I booked my spot on the Norway DIScovery trip last fall, before even choosing the classes I would be taking at DIS. Going to Norway was, by far, #1 on my study abroad bucket list. On the agenda for the trip would be hiking, biking, and kayaking throughout Flåm and Bergen.

Flåm:

  • Human population: 350
  • Troll population: 1 billion

On Wednesday, May 22nd, we arrived in Flåm, a Norwegian village with a population of 350 people, one grocery store, two restaurants, and three tourist shops (which were home to thousands of troll figurines).

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After checking into our hostel, our group of 25 DIS students walked down to the water to bundle up for our fjord “safari”. We were all required to put on bulky down jumpsuits, goggles, gloves, and hats that were provided for us. Mind you, I was already wearing a long sleeved shirt, a thick wool Norwegian sweater, and my very, very, heavy winter coat. Despite my expert layering, I was told I needed it all, if not more.

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The fjord safari took us out on Aurlandsfjord, an 18 mile fjord that branches off Songefjorden (Norway’s longest fjord). We were all in awe, gazing at snow capped mountains and flowing waterfalls as our boats glided across the still water. Our tour guides stopped to point out wildlife, waterfalls, and little villages such as Undredal Brygge, the village that inspired the movie Frozen. We even passed a village whose population was one person. It was only our first day in Norway, but all of us were in love with the beautiful country.

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Each morning we woke up to the sound of baby goats

On Thursday morning, we set out for our journey on the Flåmsbana railway, a train ride known to be one of the most beautiful in the world. The train took us from Flåm all the way up to Myrdal. The ride gave us a panoramic view of some of the most magnificent nature in the Norwegian landscape. When we reached Myrdal, the sky and the mountains were blindingly white. The snow in Myrdal was too deep for us to hike through, so we rode the train back in the direction of Flåm for a few stops before getting off and beginning our hike back to Flåm. We enjoyed a leisurely 10 mile hike (mostly flat) along the bottom of the mountains, on the way back into town. On the hike we passed dozens of waterfalls and animals, and I was constantly blown away by the beautiful scenery. A little dog named Ingby even joined me and my friend Kelsey for part of our walk.

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After our hike, we ate lunch in the Fretheim cultural park that overlooks Flåm. In the evening, our group went down by the fjord to have a bonfire with s’mores–if only the backyard bonfires my friends and I have during the summer looked like this.

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Friday: Kayaking.

Let me tell you, wetsuits…not comfortable. After about an hour of preparation and training, Kelsey and I partnered up to begin our morning of kayaking on Aurlandsfjord. Although neither of us had any kayaking experience, we were fairly confident that we would be good at it. We were wrong. Honestly, it was almost as bad as our family white water rafting trip circa 2001. No matter how much or how hard we paddled, our kayak would not stop spinning in circles. After multiple failed attempts to straighten our kayak and paddle toward our destination, our sympathetic tour guides decided to tie our kayak to their boat and they pulled us in.

After eating lunch next to some viking burial grounds (casual), it was time to try kayaking again. One of our guides suggested that we switch positions in the boat. This time I would be in the back steering while Kelsey was in the front.

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Viking burial grounds

I think we should have been given a most improved kayakers award. On the way back we paddled with ease and didn’t spin in one circle. We were the first kayak to make it back to Flåm, and we were proud of it.

After finally making it out of our wetsuits (hallelujah) our group went to the Flåm tourist center and picked up our bikes. A group of us decided to bike to Brekkefossen, a steep hike up to a waterfall in Flåm. This was a real hike. Although it only took 20-30 minutes to hike, it was a vertical climb. We felt very accomplished and sweaty once we made it to the overlook next to the waterfall. After hanging out and enjoying the panoramic view of Flåm, some of us decided to head back down the mountain. On the way down, we heard a loud cracking noise. We looked to our right and realized we were witnessing an avalanche! We stared at snow pouring over the edge of the mountain for more than fifteen minutes before finally ungluing our eyes and continuing down the mountain.

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Saturday was remarkable. We began our morning with a 3 to 4 mile bike ride to the base of a mountain in between Flåm and the nearby town of Aurland. We hiked (while pushing our bikes) straight up for about half a mile, up to Otternes Bygdetun, one of the only remaining traditional Norwegian farms.

Our lovely host, Laila, encouraged us to make it to the top by yodeling as we struggled to push our bikes the few last meters. After we had a chance to catch our breath, we walked around the farm, looking at the many historic relics and visiting with the farm animals. Otternes was once composed of four farms, so the entire area is home to a collection of 27 buildings.

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The views from the farm were breathtaking. The greatest part of the afternoon was when we went into one of the farm buildings and made traditional Norwegian brown cheese (gjetost). Laila informed us about the history of the farm, told us some Norwegian folktales, and tried to get to know each one of us. She left our group in charge of the cheese, so it was up to us to make sure it had the perfect caramelized flavor.

After our hard work we were served a feast prepared by Laila and several other women at the farm. We were served homemade sausages, broccoli soup, salads, cheeses (including brown cheese), and freshly made bread with homemade butter. For dessert we had pancakes with homemade raspberry jam and cream. I felt like I was in a dream, and when it was time to go, I didn’t want to leave Otternes.

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Our group had a final dinner at Flåm’s local brewery before going to bed early, in preparation for our day in Bergen on Sunday.

We experienced every kind of weather in Bergen: rain, hail, and sunshine all in one afternoon. Once we arrived we immediately took the Fløibanen (funicular) up to for an panoramic view of the city. After getting a good look at Bergen, the city in which my grandpa grew up, it was time to go explore the city. A few girls and I decided to hike down from the top of Mount Fløyen through the wooded park.

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Once we made it to the bottom, we headed for Bryggen, the picturesque strip of colorful Hanseatic commercial buildings lining the eastern side of the fjord. Bryggen has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979 (I’m starting to realize I’ve been to a lot of these sites). As we walked through the narrow alleyways, I tried to imagine myself being back in the 14th century.

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After spending a lot of time walking through Bryggen, we headed toward the Bergenhus fortress where we went inside Håkon’s Hall, a royal residence and banqueting hall from the 13th century.

Unfortunately, since it was Sunday, a lot of the shops in Bergen were closed. We were able to take a look inside the fish market, walk around the city, and get some ice cream before settling into a cafe for a few hours and heading to the airport. While I would have preferred to visit Bergen on a different day of the week, I still did get the impression that it’s a nice place to live.  It reminded me of the perfect mixture of Copenhagen and Stockholm (but a lot smaller)!

To sum things up: I love Norway.

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