For the past few weeks, I’ve been surrounded by news of violence, past, present and future. The Israel – Palestine conflict in Gaza is escalating with inhuman consequences, while Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine last week killing all the 283 passengers on board. Two days back, on July 22, it was the third anniversary of the Breivik terror attack and mass murder here in Norway. And today, I woke up to the news of warnings that Norway might be the target of a terrorist attack in the next few days. There are times I’m not sure how to make sense of all this violence. So I’m writing for peace.
This poem is for all the people who have lost loved ones to violence, who have suffered or are suffering in violent conflicts all over the world. My heart and prayers go out to you.
We hide from the dark,
So we hide from the light.
If one is too deep,
The other is too bright.
The perfect world, where is it now?
Look around you,
This one we have, it still has life.
Arms we bear,
But what do we fight?
A thin line separates,
Justice from pride.
Right is wrong,
When innocence is lost.
Whatever the cause,
Does every life matter not?
Oh, the wretched irony,
Wielding violence for peace.
All that it leaves are,
Shattered lives with hopeless dreams,
Broken bonds buried in bloody memories.
Who is to blame,
We ask again and again,
The answer is plain,
Humans kill each other,
We just give it different names.
We hold our own,
Within fences and walls,
Their only fault,
They walk tall,
When we want them to crawl.
Divided we are,
By who owns what,
The land we won is already lost,
With rotten flesh and congealed blood it’s clogged.
Story so far: We travelled from Oslo to Myrdal through Finse, the highest station on the Norwegian rail network. From Myrdal, we boarded the Flåmsbana. Read Part 1 – 1222m Above Sea Level. The Flåmsbana took us through the most idyllic scenery that resembled Tolkien’s Rivendell – they even had gelato! And I had to resist the urge to move to Flåm 🙂 Read Part 2 – Finding my Rivendell on the Flåmsbana.
Part 3 – Through the Waters of Sognefjord and Back
“Bad, or good, as it happens to be, that is what it is to exist! . . . It is as though I have been silent and fuddled with sleep all my life. In spite of all, I know now that at least it is better to go always towards the summer, towards those burning seas of light; to sit at night in the forecastle lost in an unfamiliar dream, when the spirit becomes filled with stars, instead of wounds, and good and compassionate and tender. To sail into an unknown spring, or receive one’s baptism on storm’s promontory, where the solitary albatross heels over in the gale, and at last come to land. To know the earth under one’s foot and go, in wild delight, ways where there is water.” ― Malcolm Lowry, Ultramarine
At Flåm, we queued up for the Express Boat to Bergen. It was supposed to leave at 15.30 but we were still on land. Soon people boarded the boat and within minutes we were off on our five-hour boat ride through the magnificent waters of Sognefjord.
Our Express Boat, called Vingtor, was divided into two levels. The lower level had two sections of seats in the front and the back and a little café with snacks and drinks. The upper level had lesser number of seats. But it more than made up for it with a large open deck at the back, which quickly filled up with photo hungry travellers.
The boat spewed tonnes of foamy water in it’s wake as we left behind the emerald slopes and distant ice-covered peaks in Flåm. The Norwegian flag on the deck danced in the wind, proud of the beauty it represented. The sun reflected in the waters with such brilliance, we had to run in and fetch our sunglasses. After a photo frenzy, we settled in for the long ride ahead.
We realised that Flåm is close to a number of other scenic locations. Right next to it, is Aurland. The Aurland Shoe Factory there has been producing their distinct kind of loafers since the 1930s. It’s about a one and a half hour bus journey from Flåm. If you would rather bask in the glory of nature, then not too far from there is the Stegastein Viewpoint, a viewing platform about 650 m above sea level. The platform is 4 m wide and 30 m long and it’s made of laminated wood and steel. It extends 30m out from the mountains with spectacular views of the Aurlandfjord. You can reach it through Aurlandsvegen, a scenic mountain road that runs between Lærdal and Aurland. It’s also known as the snow road – it has snow along the road most of summer. Along with bus trips and various tours, there are plenty of hiking, cycling and adventure sports options available in this area to explore the Aurlandsdalen valley. We even saw some paragliders swooping over the mountains near Aurlandsvangen.
As the turquoise water and forest green mountains rolled beside us, the boat took us through a number of stops along the way. Cabins and houses were little specks on the mountain slopes. The deeper we ventured into the fjord, the terrain changed with the sun. The places where sunlight were hard to come by, the rugged mountain surface jutted out looking all craggy. But when the greenery reappeared, it was the brightest shade of green, nature’s very own golf course. Faraway ice peaks returned to keep us company. Wind howled on the boat deck. Waterfalls peeked out from jagged rocks often. It was amazing to look at the broad views as the boat travelled through the fjord. There were layers and layers of mountains, each a different shade of green and brown, all bound by the shimmering water. We made stops at places such as Lærdal, Balestrand and Gudvangen. The Magical White Caves near Gudvangen sounded magical. The Jostedalsbreen National Park, which is close to Balestrand, has tours to walk on a glacier! But alas, we had to leave them to another trip.
After some time, as the boat stopped and introduced me to little villages tucked away from anything remotely frantic, the photo monster in me calmed down. I still took many pictures, but it became more about spending time with the fjord in silence. I saw hills on islands that reminded me of the Shire that Tolkien described. The undulating greens were just the right size and shape for hobbits to live on. I almost expected to see Bilbo and Frodo’s round little door peeking out from behind a lush green hill. That’s when I realised that throughout the trip, I’ve been making references to Lord of the Rings. Other than being a proof of my geekiness, it sums up how fantastical the trip was. Luckily, every time I mentioned something Lord Of The Rings related, my husband understood exactly what I meant 🙂
Though the sun was far from setting – it’s not in vain that Norway is called the Land of the Midnight Sun – the wind became chilly and we soon had to wear our thick jackets. We decided to venture into the front of the boat. Well, it was so windy that standing in a single spot was impossible and I was worried I might fly away with the wind along with the hood on my jacket, which refused to stay on. Oh, and did I mention that when your hair is as curly as mine and gale-force winds hit you on your face, the sensible thing to do is run back through that door that you thought might be fun to open and explore just because it leads to the front of the boat!
I must confess when I started writing this post, there was a moment when I thought my words would never be able to do justice to the beauty I witnessed on that boat. I could use adjective after adjective to describe them and run out of them. To truly understand it, you have to experience it. The boat roared through the waters, it was full of people. But all I could hear was the calm of nature. Philosophers advice that inner peace is only the peace that truly lasts. But for most of us, it takes a lifetime to achieve. But the journey through Sognefjord is one of the best ways to experience the peace nature provides.
After five hours on that boat, we reached Bergen, also known as the Gateway to the Fjords of Norway. We spent the night in Bergen and caught the train back to Oslo the next afternoon. Bergen deserves to have an entire blog post of its own and that’ll be my next endeavour 🙂 By the time we reached Oslo late at night around 22.45, I knew I would have to find a way to go back to see the fjords again soon.
But next time, we’d prefer to walk/hike/ cycle through the mountains and perhaps drive down to the nature trails. Though we enjoyed the trains and boats, what I saw made me want to get a closer look, to walk through those ancient mountains, touch the icy waters, and experience the breath-taking views from some rock high up above the fjords. I would like to say I want to ski through the snow there, which, considering I’m yet to learn to ski, is highly ambitious. Hmm, I think I’ll go work on a plan to do that right now!
Story so far: We travelled from Oslo to Myrdal through Finse, the highest station on the Norwegian rail network. From Myrdal, we boarded the Flåmsbana. Read Part 1 – 1222m Above Sea Level
Part 2 – Finding my Rivendell on the Flåmsbana
“He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
The moment the Flåmsbana pulled into the platform at Myrdal, I was transported to another world. The train and all its interiors had an old world feel to it. The roof was curved with wooden panels. The lighting was soft. The only thing that made the vermillion seats modern were their ability to fold up when no one was sitting on them. There was a video screen near the exit on each end of the carriage. It showed the route the train takes and gave us updates on where we were on the route. It also gave details of every village or stop we passed by.
The train left Myrdal station at 13.27. As it picked up speed and began its downhill descent, so did our cameras. Snow covered mountain-tops stretched into the clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds and they followed us throughout our journey. The large windows in the train could be lowered from the top, which really helped when we wanted to take pictures. I had my face near the window and as wind brushed my face, I began to understand why dogs feel so happy sticking their face out of the car window 🙂
Flåmsbana is one of the steepest train lines in the world. The maximum gradient on the journey is 5.5%. It takes you from Myrdal, at 863m above sea level, to Flåm, which is at sea level. It’s a branch of the Bergen train line that connects Sognefjord with the mainline and goes through the picturesque valley of Flåmsdalen. The train runs along the Flåmselvi river down to the Flåm valley. As the train tracks turned and twisted over the mountains, we got a glimpse of the old carriages rattling along the rugged terrain. Though we went through 20 tunnels along the route, the greenery and the mountains never stopped. Bright red cabins stood out among the fresh green trees. We saw rivulets and waterfalls flowing down the mountains at every turn, the melting glaciers still at work, sculpting every surface they touch. Deep valleys and sheer cliffs surrounded us.
We made a stop at Kjosfossen, a waterfall with a free fall of 305 ft. The thundering waterfall from green moss-covered mountainsides frothed and created turquoise hues as it flowed beneath the bridge we stood on. While we took pictures there, a haunting melody echoed through the area. As mist from the water covered our eyes and lenses, a woman in red appeared among the ruins of a stone structure beside the waterfall, dancing to the music . When she disappeared, another woman emerged from the wet rocks further below, dancing close to the water. The music gave us a feel of the bygone times and people who might have lived there.
As the river winded around the floor of the valley, so did the train. We kept close to it. The water was so clear, we could see the bottom of the river from the train. The colour of water changed by the minute in the warm sun. Only nature could mix those shades of green and blue to such perfection. Water, like thin threads of confetti, poured from the peaks at every turn. Water seemed to live in every nook and corner of that valley. A few red cabins were scattered around the valley. We even found a group of campers with their tents set up by the river bank and they waved to us as the train passed them.
I felt lulled by the serenity around. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the train came around a bend and there it was, the Flåm village, with the river flowing through it with little white ripples. The village was a collection of colourful houses and a little bridge across the river. The video pointed out the village church which has been around since 1670. In fact, it was built there to replace an older church that existed on the same sight before it was destroyed in 1670. There were roads and farms. Grassy river bank, with clusters of trees and bushes. The sun shined so bright on the valley, the only darkness and shadows were high up on the mountains. It was so picture perfect, I wished I could jump out and walk through that idyllic village. If I ever thought that the world of Elves that Tolkien wrote about could exist on Earth, then that valley and the village would be my Rivendell. But we were on a train and it had to keep moving. We followed the river to the railway station at Flåm and to the end of our train journey for the day.
The station was right next to the harbour. We had some time before we took the boat through the waters of Sognefjord to Bergen. So we walked around the area. No words could do justice to the views there. When I saw cabins line the mountains around the harbour, the writer in me wanted to move there. I imagined a beautiful cabin, waking up to those views everyday, and writing among such natural beauty – what more could I possibly want? What more could anyone possibly want? I started pointing out cabins that I could see myself living in. My practical husband – thank god one of us is – quickly reminded me about the lack of jobs and grocery stores. Where is that portable food replicator when you need one?
I think my husband was prepared for it. The last time we were around water and mountains, we were in North Wales among the tall peaks of Snowdonia. We had travelled to Wales by car. On our way back, just as we crossed into England and the plains became flatter and less green and I couldn’t see anymore woolly little sheep, I told him we should move to Wales. Even now, everything and anything from Wales makes me go all dreamy-eyed and I sigh wistfully. I’ll soon have to write a separate post about that trip and revel in all things Welsh.
You might think it’s crazy to compare Tolkien’s Elf world with a real little village and its surrounding valley. But to me, a Tolkien fan, Rivendell is the best possible description I can give of the beauty I saw before me. The imaginary world became real. And the fact that they had gelato there only made it more appealing.
‘I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy”.’
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
I feel like a hobbit sometimes. Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with my short stature, much as people like to remind me about it. I could easily see myself living the simple quiet life in the countryside. Perhaps it has to do with adapting to the easy pace of life in Oslo. But come summer in Norway, even hobbits would want to go on adventures … em … if we had any hobbits in Norway, of course.
My call to adventure started when my family made plans to visit us in Oslo. We all agreed, ‘It’s summer. Let’s go see the Fjords.’
There are more fjords in Norway than you can count, each breathtakingly beautiful. We researched many of them. The result: I now have a list of fjords to visit and the very thought of visiting each of them makes me skip around my house in joy. Some useful links if you want to get yourself some fjord: Norway In A Nutshell; Visit Norway; Fjord Tours
We discussed how long a trip we wanted to make, what mode of transport to take, which hotel to book, where to book the hotel … As the questions piled up, we were running out of time. Over many Skype calls, emails and exchange of links, we finally decided on our adventure. We were going to Sognefjord for two days!
Sognefjord is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord. It’s 1308 m deep and 204 km long. It’s the second longest fjord in the world and is considered one of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world.
Trivia: The largest fjord system in the world is Scoresby Sund in East Greenland, which is more than 350 km (217 miles) long.
We went back and forth between taking a train and renting a car. Renting a car is a much cheaper option. But we are yet to try driving on the “wrong side” of the road in Norway – driving on the right side of the road here will take some getting used to – and we had to wave goodbye to the idea of a long road trip for now. So we chose the train. We found the Norway in a Nutshell tours helpful. This was going to be our introduction to the fjords and we could not have picked a better way to get introduced, despite the expensive tickets.
A note to those new to Norway: Everything is expensive here. Constant griping about how expensive everything is in Norway is not just expected, it’s rather appreciated. All the locals do that. So just join in. It could earn you some friends.
On a Thursday morning, we boarded the Bergen train from Oslo. We were travelling on it till Myrdal. The train left Oslo S at 08:00 in the morning. The journey from Oslo to Myrdal was a precursor of natural bliss we were to experience on this trip. The weather gods were kind to us. As the train rolled on, so did the lush emerald green hills and shimmering lakes and gurgling streams. Dots of yellow stood out in those green farms, as though they were showing off a pretty polka dress. I took photos after photos, unwilling to miss a single scenery, each a painting waiting to be captured on some artist’s canvas. Soon we saw snow covered mountains at a distance. Tall trees on gentle slopes were replaced by rugged mountains. Yet, we saw a scattering of bright coloured wooden cabins all along the route, houses oblivious to the solitude around them. The water turned aqua green, a lovely contrast to the rocky terrain. Mountain sides garnished with ice against the blue sky with puffy white clouds reminded me of scoops of chocolate sundae in a deep blue bowl.
The train made a few stops during the journey. But the most memorable was the stop at Finse, which gave travellers an opportunity to take in the picturesque sights around the station. Finse is a mountain village that sits at a height of 1222m above sea level, which makes it the highest station on the Norwegian railway network. The mirror-like clear waters of lake Finsevatnet seemed to reflect the soul of those ancient ice-covered mountains. A handful of tiny cabins and lush green grass littered its shores near the station. Despite the ice, the sun warmed me to the core. The train blew its whistle and I had to drag myself away from the lonely village which seemed to bask in its own silence, disrupted only by photo-mad tourists like me.
After Finse, Myrdal wasn’t too far. As the train went downhill, the spectacular sights went past too quickly. Myrdal station, at a height of 863m above sea level, is a junction on the Bergen Line. We got off the train at the station around 12.40 in the afternoon and went into another photo frenzy. We had over an hour to catch our next train, The Flåmsbana. In sixty minutes, the Flåmsbana transported us from Myrdal to Flåm, along with haunting music and mystic dancers, through such panoramic views that certainly made me feel like a hobbit on a quest.