Well, I did what I set out to do, and have officially toured the fjords of three different continents. (Ok, so no, I didnæt set out to do it exactly, but I realized early on that I would be doing it, and the name "Tour de Fjord" as a subheading for my trip was too good to pass up. Hee. Fjord is a fun word.)
The short version is that I love fjord landscapes - I think it is probably the prettiest scenery I've ever seen. It's so dramatic that it's gorgeous in sleeting rain (thank you, Milford Sound!) or on a pretty, pretty day like I had yesterday.
I went on what is apparently the most popular day trip in the country, called "Norway in a Nutshell" (cute), so it was me, tons of senior citizens, Germans and Japanese tour groups. In some respects, as day trips go, this was just the right kind - it's mostly packaging up existing trains and buses to see things and get you back to where you want to be. There's no guide, they just give you a ticket and a timetable and send you off, so that was right up my alley.
The train part I'd done before, getting to Bergen in the first place. Then we switched to a bus to go down the mountain to the water - down the steepest road in Norway, apparently, at an 18-20% grade the whole time. I kept thinking how fun that would be to go (down) on my bike, but considering I am lousy at cornering, the constant switchbacks would have gotten me into trouble. Anyway, there were pretty valley views, waterfalls right by the road, really pretty.
Then was the two-hour fjord tour on a boat. It was the kind of day that brings out postcard photographers to convince people this is the way fjords always look - blue sky, white fluffy clouds, smooth clear water that reflects like glass. We cruised by wee waterside "villages," most with only a handful of structures and no road access. I can't even imagine it - I mean, it's pretty, but can you imagine the winters? And there's something tragic about living THAT remotely, and having your tranquility broken twice a day by tourists swinging by to take pictures.
Speaking of, man did I take pictures. I need to go through them, because it was all so pretty that I am sure I took like 7 of everything because I couldn't believe it. But I just couldn't get enough of the overlapping mountains plunging into the glassy water of the mountaintop snowpacks that gave way to lovely waterfalls.
Unfortunately, that was pretty much the highlight of the day. The boat left us off in Flåm, which is touted as a picturesque fjordside village, but which is, in fact, a really remote truckstop with overpriced tourist cafes and overpriced, mediocre souvenir shops. I thought the Flåm railway would make up for it - it's called Flåmsbana, come on! It's supposed to be this incredible feat of engineering, climbing huge mountains with relatively little distance, and I 'm sure it IS impressive, but it never felt like we were climbing. It felt like we were on the Roaring Camp Thunder Mountain Railway. And we even had to stop right next to an (admittedly impressive) waterfall to watch a random costume musical number by two women who I THINK were supposed to be some old Norwegian folk legend or Ren Faire participants or something. And the scenery was better on the Bergen line to boot.
So, you know, if planning a trip to Norway's fjordland, now you know.
Today I am spending in Bergen itself, until my night train (oh, yes, I'm leavin' on a midnight train to Oslo). Unfortunately, I don't like Bergen. I didn't like it on sight, but I tried to reserve judgement. Turns out I was totally right. It's a drop-dead stunning town, maybe one of the prettiest I've been in, but it combines all the worst stuff from big cities and tiny towns. It's weirdly sprawling and big and hard to navigate, so the expensive and slow bus system is actually a necessity to getting placed, and the people are brusque and impersonal and probably tired of tourists. But at the same time, everything shuts down early, and even when it is all open, it's so small that once you're done ogling the scenery, there isn't much to do but go visit hugely expensive one-room museums or go souvenir shopping. It's also strange, but I find the short 3 hours of nighttime more disorienting here than I did in Oslo, even, for some reason.
It's pleasant enough, I guess, so I am spending the day wandering, but inside I am stamping my foot and saying "I wanna go to Paris!"