The Fjords are calling and I must go

If it seems like my travels through Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark were rushed, it’s because although I was taking full advantage of my route north, the ultimate destination was clear – Norway! I did the math and I could just fit in 10 days in the land of fjords, glaciers, mountains, waterfalls and coastal cliffs, so I set the course, bought my train tickets and was on my way. It helped immensely that my friend Stephanie lived in Norway for a year and generously connected me with her Norwegian friends who could point me in the right direction and reassure me on logistics questions.

I first took a train up to Jotunheimen National Park to hike one of the most popular walks in the country – Besseggen Ridge. I’d decided on the train ride up that since the weather the next day looked questionable, I’d hike the ridge that afternoon with plenty of time between my drop off and sunset… and by doing so ended up having most of the trail and especially the summit to myself.

I made it back to the hut in plenty of time for the second dinner seating of the night, a dinner of soup, salad, fish, potatoes, bread and custard, all homemade and locally sourced. Norwegian huts do it right! I then had the opportunity to take the early train back down to Oslo, where I spent the day exploring and thereafter met up with Stef’s friend Mats who showed me the local hangouts and introduced me to the delicious Norwegian beer selection (just don’t ask how much it costs). He went on to give me some honest and refreshing insight into Norwegian society and culture – prices are high because the average salary is as well, but the downside of that is that Norwegians are some of the biggest consumers in the world when it comes to commercial products. An interesting side-effect of having expendable income…

But there was more of this beautiful country to see, so I hopped the next train west, getting off in Finse where I would start my 3 day hut to hut trek the next morning. Stef’s friends recommended Hardangervidda national park, and the loop hike I’d found on the incredibly thorough huts and trails website was accessible right from the train. I was thrilled to find a whole library of trail descriptions all over Norway complete with topo maps, trail mileage and elevation gain, and even downloadable gps tracks. An added bonus was that the huts I was visiting were either served full meals or provided a pantry of goods available to “shop” from, meaning I didn’t have to lug much food with me in my pack. The huts also did not require reservations, promising to accommodate anyone that showed up on the doorstep, even if it meant throwing a mattress down on the floor. But by far the most impressive facet of the DNT (Den Norse Turistforening) was their impeccable route marking – at any time if I was unsure where the trail went, all I had to do was stop and look around and within minutes would spot the next red T leading the way. My solo trek started out across the rolling tundra with the wind whipping and persistent rain, but the landscape was so beautiful and the conditions were perfect for a rainbow over my shoulder, so I didn’t mind. I continued along the rocky path, soon accompanied by the Hardangerjokulen Glacier which I’d circumnavigate, gaining an appreciation for its size by hiking 17-20 miles for three days straight. Every turn brought a new view of the glacier spilling out over the mountains above, tumbling into waterfalls, forming mountain lakes and down to the valleys below in rivers. I’ve seen glaciers many times before, but now knowing how quickly they’re melting, I find myself admiring them even more today. I could tell you how stunning the trek was, but instead I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Every soggy step was so worth the effort.

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After three days of hard hiking I gave my legs a rest and took the tourist train up to Flam and hopped on a cruise across some classic Norwegian Fjords. It was quite the departure from being out in glaciated tundra alone, but my surroundings were jaw-dropping nonetheless.

And sometimes your waterfalls are accompanied by song and dance…

The train continued on to Bergen on the Western coast of Norway, and the landscaped transitioned from mountains and lakes to ocean and islands. I took a hike up above the quaint town with a new friend I made on the boat the day before and caught the sunset over the pacific.

My journey continued south via the equivalent of a cruise ship to Stavanger. I arrived to free concerts in the main square and street performers out and about, attending the symphony music festival happening that weekend. I met a couple ex-pats studying at the local university that showed me around town and had me out dancing until the wee hours. That didn’t keep me from hiking Pulpit Rock in the morning, a platform jutting out almost 2000 ft above the blue fjord waters below. That evening I was joined for dinner by a fascinating man I met at my hotel who’s mentored Moby and is currently working with Matt Dillon. An unintended but amazing part of solo travelling is becoming friends with people far outside of your world bubble, opening your eyes to a completely different walk through life. My walk then took me to the train station, where I’d ride the rails down along the south coast of Norway back to Oslo and catch a flight to Paris, my last destination before returning to the US and closing the book on this chapter!

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