Day 40 (July 22, 2019 – Flam, Norway): “Norway In A Nutshell”
It was 5:55am when I awoke. And I happened to awake to see the sun for the first time since we’ve been in Skjolden on this trip!
Funny how history repeats itself like that.
With the nice weather, we finally got a chance to drive up the famous Sognefjellsvegen Road towards Sognefjellet. This was in the heart of the Jotunheimen Mountains, which were said to be the highest in Norway.
And this would also provide a chance for Julie and Tahia to finally experience the same mountain roads that I had been driving yesterday to get all the way to Utladalen though the detour to Sognefjellet would all be new to us.
Julie was now assuming the role of “shotgun photographer” since I was busy concentrating on the road while she got to take my DSLR and try to take pictures of the scenery as I was driving. It seemed like this was the only way to capture some of the beauty we were seeing considering how few and suboptimal the pullouts tended to be throughout Norway.
After getting up the same switchbacks on the Rv55 while passing slower-moving RVs when we had the chance (which Julie always made just nervous by telling me “Don’t Pass!”), we then made it up to the main part of the Sognefjellsvegen Road.
Here, we could see bluish glaciers still pressing down on the highest of Norway’s mountains as well as attractive alpine tarns and lakes in the foreground.
We tried to get that famous view of the Rv55 road leading straight to the largest of the glaciers near the Sognefjellshytta, but there were still some stubborn clouds concealing the glaciers as of this morning at around 9:45am near the Mefjellet Lookout.
We figured that we mind as well keep driving on the Rv55 just to see what else this road featured before coming back when hopefully the clouds would have cleared by then.
By around 10am, we stopped for an attractive pair of twin waterfalls that were coming down side-by-side in a manner similar to Latefossen. However, we were looking against the sun that had still yet to breach the cliffs supporting these falls.
That was kind of a dick move, but what were we going to do?
We just documented what we could and then continued on with the drive. I guess these were the kinds of behaviors that tended to become more commonplace (including slower drivers not using the pullouts, which forced people to make daring passing maneuvers with blind turns on mountain roads) that were part of the high season experience.
Speaking of the refusal of slow drivers (especially of the RVs) to use the few pullouts available to them, I had this idea that I bounced off Julie about how the authorities could easily enforce this rule in much the same way I’d imagine they would enforce speeding with the speed cameras.
And that is that they could cite such vehicles causing long caravans of cars simply by capturing their registration numbers as they passed traffic cams.
Then, if you see that the following traffic cam and other traffic cams thereafter showing the same registration number and long line of cars, then you know such a driver was not using pullouts and causing a potentially hazardous situation with forcing other drivers to make a dangerous pass so as to avoid or mitigate being forced into an unnecessary delay.
I doubt that they’re doing this now, but it seemed like a sensible way to curb the effects of clogging the mountain roads without using the resources available to them to get out of the way of everyone else.
Anyways, by the time we made it well past what seemed to be the most dramatic of the scenery, we decided that it wasn’t necessary to keep driving all the way to Lom. Indeed, the features of the drive seemed to be more ordinary the further northeast that we went.
So at 10:15am, we turned around and headed back the way we came.
Now, we were experiencing the scenery once again but this time hopefully with better circumstances concerning the clouds.
Already we could see that the twin waterfalls we had stopped for earlier was having terrible lighting as the sun was definitely right against the viewing angle from the pullout. So we didn’t bother trying to document this experience again.
By around 11am or so, we then returned to the Sognefjellshytta, which was very busy. At least as we were looking back towards the largest of the glaciers along the Sognefjellsvegen, we could finally see that the clouds had at least lifted enough for us to see the attractive blue glaciers there.
So our exercise in patience paid off!
With time getting short as we still had a ways to go with still activities to do on this day, we didn’t do the 1.1km loop hike that we saw a bunch of other people do.
Instead, we were just content with the views of the tarns and glaciers here, and by 11:15am, we were back in the car.
As we were heading back towards Turtagro, we stopped a few more times for the pullouts (including the Mefjellet Lookout) where we got those leading lines views of the road leading the eyes towards the glaciers of Sognefjellet.
It was only after around 11:45am, when we were finally gaining momentum in driving towards Laerdalsoyri and beyond via Ovre Ardal.
So yes, we had to go back over the 90 NOK toll road between Turtago and Ovre Ardal, and so Julie could see for herself the scary single-lane switchbacking road leading down to the industrial town below.
Once that was done, we then took the Rv53 past several tunnels on the way to Laerdalsoyri. We then made a brief stop in Laerdalsoyri at about 1:30pm where Julie was hoping to have a lunch stop.
But it turned out that Julie only managed to buy some cherries and some other groceries for our apartment in Flam later on. I managed to use this shopping time to explore the Old Town, which kind of reminded me of the line of wooden houses and buildings that Stavanger’s old town had.
By about 1:45pm, we were back in the car and now headed towards the Borgund Stave Church.
Along the way, we made a brief stop in the back of the town of Laerdalsoyri to check out Stodnafossen but with the lack of signage and infrastructure to better experience this falls, this was really more of a backdrop waterfall for the town.
By about 2:25pm, we finally arrived at the Borgund Stave Church site. We did the lemmings effect and opted to park in the more distant car park thinking that this was where we were supposed to park.
It turned out that we could have parked closer to the visitor center facility.
Regardless, we paid our admission, then checked out the stave church, which was pretty much a self-guided do-it-yourself visit that also allowed us to go inside its humble interior.
While this was one of the few intact standing stave churches in Norway, it definitely lacked the history and appeal of the one in Urnes, which was apparently the only such church in Norway to attain UNESCO World Heritage status.
Still, it was a nice visit where the focus was on capturing the church with the V-shaped valley settings.
There were also other buildings nearby, including a more modern looking church in a red building.
When we were done with our visit, we returned to the visitor center to have ourselves a humble bit of vegetable and beef soup so we’d at least be held over before self-cooking for dinner in our apartment in Flam later today.
After a false stop at Vindhella, we finally found the Sjurhaugfossen at a more official car park on a side road just outside the E16 tunnel at around 3:45pm.
I did see signage for the Store Sokni Waterfall on the map sign and thought we might be able to pursue it, but as we drove back towards Laerdalsoyri, we didn’t see it. So apparently, it was on a part of the Kongevegen that we had to walk, which we just didn’t have the time for.
Now, we were headed back west on the E16. Tahia was actually very excited about going through the Laerdalstunnelen, which was a massive 24.5km tunnel with at least three “ice” or blue-lit sections to keep drivers awake through all that darkness.
I recalled the last time we did this how easy it was to get road fatigue through here, but I was also a bit sleep-deprived back then. This time, even though I was also sleep-deprived, at least our driving stretches were shorter and more manageable (after learning from past mistakes).
Anyways, as we went through the tunnel, Julie was prepared with my DSLR playing shotgun photographer as we got to the interesting parts of the tunnel. And Tahia seemed genuinely excited about pointing out those signature blue sections of the tunnel.
Regardless, the tunnel didn’t feel as long as before, but it was probably because Tahia and Julie’s collective excitement kept things interesting.
By this time, it definitely looked like the weather was turning for the rain that was predicted in this area, and we still wanted to fit in a Flam Railway excursion.
Once we checked in, we were given a choice of which apartment to stay at (by the farm or more central by the rail station), and for the over $300 USD we were paying to stay here, Julie smartly chose to be more centrally located.
It turned out that we showed up just in time for a 5:25pm departure. So we booked the tickets and ran to get onto platform 4 and the train itself.
Unfortunately as we were riding the train, it became very evident that we were sitting on the wrong side. Of course, all the seats on the proper side were already occupied. So that kind of made the experience on this train somewhat a bummer.
We vowed to be more opportunistic about capturing photos from the train on the proper side on the return.
In any case, we did get Tunnshellefossen and its farm from the wrong side of the train.
And we also got out amongst the crowds to experience the hudre dancing before Kjosfossen.
But other than that, the weather was already turning and it was definitely raining as we were riding through the Flam Railway towards Myrdal.
When a lot of the people were getting off at the Myrdal station and we sat there for about 10 minutes, we managed to score a spot closer to the front of the train on the correct side.
Then, when the train took off, we happened to stop for the Kjosfossen once more to experience it once again.
And then, we finally got to enjoy the benefits of sitting on the correct side though now we were contending with mist and low clouds as the valley views looked a lot darker and more obscured than before.
I guess that’s just how fleeting photo ops moments can be in Nature sometimes.
By about 7:30pm, we were back at the Flam Railway station. It was definitely raining by this time and we quickly made our way to the Coop right across from our centrally-located apartment.
We picked up some stuff and then proceeded return to the apartment for a self-cooked dinner.
The dishes turned out to not be clean and the dishwasher didn’t seem to be working. So we had to hand wash everything, including the previous occupants’ mess. That sucked. And although Julie complained about it over Booking.com, I had a feeling that nothing was going to be done about it.
Anyways, with that, at least we were now out of the elements, but the weather forecast for tomorrow didn’t look very good either. So at this point, we were now trying to figure out how we were going to plan around the weather given the circumstances.
At least that was one benefit for all the self-driving that we were doing throughout Norway.
You just never know what Mother Nature throws at you in the fickleness of the Norwegian Fjords and Mountains. But at least we had the flexibility to make adjustments on the fly.
It’s the story of our trips in just about every one of them since we’ve been doing this…