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New to Norway

KjeragboltonVisiting Norway felt like going into a reverse universe.  Coming from a Spanish tourist town in a heatwave to the spacious, green, watery land of Norsk was a delightful contrast.  Even to wear full length clothing and have quilts on the beds was a novelty. Our temperature had dropped 20 degrees in a matter of hours. We strolled along cobbled streets in Stavanger with wooden houses brightened with flower boxes in Gamle (the old town) and passed the harbour with its dramatic yard-armed yachts and choked on our cake in coffee shops as we came to terms with the exchange rate.  An afternoon passed in the Petroleum Museum was surprisingly interesting for us all.  The kids tried the escape shoot and played with hands-on gadgets - we learnt a fair bit too.

We left the delights of the appropriately named Comfort Hotel Square; a modern place with wacky wall art and wide-ranging breakfast in central Stavanger, before venturing out into the fjords.  In our hire car we traversed the winding roads past vast expanses of water edged with emerald green and picture-perfect houses, over rock-strewn expanses and on until we reached the carpark 27 curves above Lysbotn.  Here we would begin our hike to Kjeragbolton. 

It is a strenuous uphill stumble with chains to propel you upwards.  The children (7 and 9) never complained as they were fully absorbed in the challenge and my son (who doesn't like to lose at anything) had decided he would reach the top before some Spanish people we were chatting to on the way.  Views down to the fjord and Lysbotn plummeted down an impressive distance to our right.  Eventually we entered a small ravine and the boulder was before us, wedged firmly (we hoped) 1 km above the fjord.  My body tingled with fear just to look at it.  After some debate 3 of the 4 of us each climbed on to the rock for our photo moment, although I wasn't brave enough for a standing shot! It's just a step; in any other location it would be nothing, but its hard to rationalise when perched at that height!

Once down in Lysbotn settled into our fjord-view cabin, with friends made that day, we congratulated each other on our shakey bravery and wondered at the madness of base jumpers who had passed us on our clamber down.  This place is a famous leaping spot for them.  The barman told us someone had died during their attempt that week ... was it Wednesday or Friday ... he said casually, as if talking about a delivery. 

LysebotnThe rain came then and marred the views on our boat trip across Lysefjord the next morning, although the waterfalls tumbling from the towering mountains on either side were dramatic.  There are regular ferry crossings but not all take cars, and the tourist ones (with some commentary) cost a lot more than the transport ones, and take longer.  For the 4 of us with car this trip to Forsand came in around €115.

Once back on land, and having waved our new American friends goodbye, we still needed to cross over a bridge to reach the Preikestolen Mountain Lodge. This is the stepping off point from which you can hike to the flat square precepice towering over the fjord - otherwise known as Pulpit Rock.  We needed a restful day before we climbed again.  The rooms in this modern wood lodge were compact but comfortable.  The children had a ladder to climb to their beds which they were delighted with.  Back gammon and chess challenges commenced, and before dinner we strolled to the lakeside of which the lodge overlooked.  In the same stunning location there is a hostel with dorm beds and shared faciliities too. Although this helps those on a budget, this country can never be described as cheap. A draught beer may be €10, a coke almost €5.  A light lunch could be €10 and dinner way more. Accommodation seemed to cost us around €150 a night in a cabin/lodge. Obviously you can bargain hunt and we supermarket shopped as much as possible but beware - you need to save hard for this trip!

Next morning we took a hike to the top, an easier one than to Kjeragbolton but still needing a basic level of fitness and good shoes (and a raincoat just in case!) Reaching Preikestolen was a wonderful feeling - again those inspiring fjord views yawning before us and tettering near the edge for a good photo. We were back at the lodge by lunchtime but took it easy again - siestas are what make a holiday after all.

Preikestolen Preikestolenus

















Heading north next day for a 5 hour drive we passed the would-be snow fields, distant glacial glimpses and thundering waterfalls.  Without children I would have been very tempted to stop at Odda and hike to Trolltunga (another height-challenging view point) but that takes a good 8-10 hours.  We drove on....to Kinsarvik, a small perfectly formed town that takes its place at the table of Hardangerfjord.  Our pristine cabin allowed us to spread out and feel very at home.  Never were we tempted to turn to the TV and away from that fjord view framed by rainbows, although I can't say the same for the kids!  It was a great stay at the very well-run site at Kinsarvik Camping - I would recommend it.  There were cabins of all standards, laundry facilities, a play ground and, had we come in the 'summer season' (mid-May to mid-Aug), we could have gone to a waterpark and go-kart track nearby too.  But we still found plenty to do...

The 4 waterfall hike is behind Kinsarvik.  To see them all would be at least a 3 hour hike from the base of the first one.  We reached the first 2, feeling like the trail was ours alone. Skipping up green moss stairways to the sound of pounding water. Another day we took the ferry to Utne which is probably the most charming of the fjord-side villages.  It also has the Hardanger Folklore Museum which houses regional costumes, and envelops you in the culture of local dance and folk music traditions.  Outside there is a collection of historic homes. 

Whilst waiting for our return ferry we popped into the Utne Hotel and we were very pleased that we did.  This is almost a museum in itself as it has preserved its history with enormous charm. The hotel has been continuously in business since 1722.  Its furnished with beautiful antiques and the decor, teacups and the building itself capture a time gone by.  Delicious freshly squeezed apple juice too!

There is lots of talk about Eidfjord, but its a bigger town with cruise ships stopping there - we preferred our shyer side of the fjord.












Another ferry ride across to Kvanndal and we were on the home stretch, heading for Bergen. We were booked in at The Hanseatic Hotel, another historic place, a part of the UNESCO Bryggen, the old merchant's quarter, that lines the harbour. These timber buildings have an interesting story and can be dated back around 900 years. Well-situated for a tourist meander, the hotel is also surrounded by the Hanseatic Museum, the fish market and Fløibanen Funicular (a steep tram which takes you to the mountain view point above). If taking the tram and you are with children, do ask for the Treasure Hunt details as it leads you on a lovely trail while they decipher clues and questions - there's even a prize at the end!

The weather, that had dutifully held off its worst until our arrival in Bergen, gave in at this point and the city was covered in a grey and wet cloak - we were grateful for the hotel umbrellas! 













There are great restaurant/bars in Bergen which are part of its appeal.  We highly recommend Pingvinen Bar and Naboen which offer great traditional food, interesting beers and ambience. They are close to the big red church on the hill, Johanneskirken, along with many others.  The city centre feels pretty small and accessible on foot.  And there's plenty of shops too, with clothes (especially children's) priced much better than I had expected.  The thing with Norway is that drink and cigarettes are highly taxed, even fizzy drinks and fast food - the government is trying to guide the people towards a wholesome life. The standard of living is good with oil ensuring wealth for years to come, the recession is barely touching them, and the basic hourly rate clocks in at around €18 an hour.  So, despite high prices, at least Norwegians can afford to have a drink after work!