Thursday, June 09, 2011

Glaciers and rain and flooding!

We got an early start this morning to hike up to the Briksdalsbreen Glacier, which is a small arm of the huge Jostedalbreen glacier, just south of Stryn, where we stayed last night. The hotel was lovely, by the way -- breakfast was a bit meager, but nicely served and I even got to try BaconOst!

I loved the hotel--although I'm sure a lot of people would not like the old house, to be honest. It's a bit faded, and worn, and some of the decor seems right out of the Home Depot (the walls in the hallways are inexplicably paneled with pale wood, in 4 x 8 sheets), but everything is meticulously clean, and the rooms are quirky and interesting. We got the "Bridal Suite", since we were the only couple staying at the hotel; two small balconies, a sitting room off the bedroom, and an enormous bathroom across the hall. Definitely going to give them a good review on Tripadvisor.

I've been trying to do reviews for all the hotels we stay at, and I've got a list of the places we've gone, so i can rate them, too. The reviews on Tripadvisor were invaluable in picking hotels to stay, and prioritizing other things. And you know me, I never pass up an opportunity to share my opinions!

At any rate, we spent breakfast looking at the map and deciding how best to visit one of the many glaciers in the area. We decided on Briksdalsbreen, although we can't quite get up to the glacier face without having to swim, since it's reasonably close and doesn't require us to drive in a giant circle to get to a spot that's only a few miles from where we are -- just across the glacier, but a three to four hour drive. Oy.

We hiked up in the rain ahead of three giant busloads of Japanese tourists, trying very hard to stay out in front and not get engulfed in the horde. It's an easy hike, although by the time we reached the top we were soaked and then it started raining in earnest -- we snapped a few pictures of the blue ice (and unfortunately didn't get as close as we wanted to, since the glacier has retreated and we would have had to wade out into the shallow lake. We surrendered, and slogged our way back down. We were both soaked--my jeans were wet from hip to ankle and my shoes were squelchy. Fortunately we both have good rain coats and waterproof shoes. My shoes were soaked, but my feet were dry. We sat and steamed in the car and watched the continuing rain.

It was an easy decision to not do the fjord cruise up the Naeroyfjord today. It's one of the most scenic (it's the cornerstone of the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which we aren't really doing), but there is enough fog that everything is nearly hidden, and the rain is coming down hard enough to make things miserable. Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit better and we'll try again before we head off to Oslo.

Instead, we drove down along the fjord and a few lovely lakes to Laerdal and the Borgund Stave church. We drove alongside the river in Laerdal nearly the whole way and it's obvious that things are much, much higher than normal. Lots and lots of water, the waterfalls are shooting out from the mountainsides and the river is far over the banks (there's a park bench about 30 feet out into the raging torrent, and trees along the edge are in the water up to their leaves). We discovered that today, in the space of only a couple of hours, they got 44mm of rain--a whole month's worth--and blammo! Flooding. Most farm fields on the riverside hadn't been inundated yet, but there were a couple of places where the road was under a bit of water. It's pretty impressive..

The church is very cool -- Borgund is the best-preserved stave churches in Norway and it's currently wrapped in scaffolding as they replace wood-chip shingles and repair the lead flashing. It's rather jarring to see the bright pine shingles mixed in with the old, tarred ones on the roof. They're making each one by hand, as far as we can tell, so they match exactly the old, damaged shingles that they replace. Inside, it's tiny and dark; I was once again surprised by how small these churches are, and lit only by tiny round windows way up on the wall. Without a light (or flash),you can't see many of the details inside, including the inverted-viking-ship roof. We walked around the outside a bit, looking at the original posts that still hold up this church.

There's an interesting museum across the street from the church that explains how these churches are built, why they are so rare, and what is being done to save the few remaining churches in Norway. In 1650, there were over two thousand of them, two hundred years later, there were two hundred. Now there are 28 that still stand. We're planning on stopping at a few others on the way down to Oslo, just to see some more examples.

We followed the historic route (which was once a goat path!) back to Laerdal, alongside the still-rising river, stopping every few miles to walk out onto a bridge and stand in the spray. But we decided to call it a day and just check in to the hotel, eat at their buffet, and crash. The rain seems to have stopped, which is a good sign for tomorrow, perhaps, but now I've had too much food (and actual vegetables, which have been a bit lacking in our diet for the last week or so) and I'm lumping in the bed, watching tv, and listening to my stomach gurgle. Fun!

Tomorrow? Into Flaam (imagine aa = that a with the o over it) to take the train to Myrdal and, possibly, to cruise on the Naeroyfjord (on the car ferry, most likely, they are slow and easy!) if it doesn't pour down rain. Then, across to Oslo on the Oslo-Bergen road (at least some of the way!)

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