Once we’d reached the town of Gudvangen a couple of days ago, we’d essentially reached a dead end. Gudvangen is connected to the town of Flam by a particularly long, bike-free tunnel, leaving us stranded in the valley until we could catch a boat or bus over to the next town.
Since the ferry boat is one of the few ways to get out on the water in the Naeroyfjord (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) we decided that the ferry probably ought to be part our route. The bad news was that the only ferry is a “tourist ferry,” sporting extra special tourist prices, as well as ridiculous fees for our bicycles. With a little budget conscious hesitation, we decided to go for it anyway. We may never be back this way again.
At the ferry port, we waited a while for the boat, noting that the Viking Market that we’d seen a couple of days ago seemed to be sort of up and running. We poked around for a few minutes, witnessing a whole bunch of people in period clothing sitting around fires, sewing, and carrying shields around for no apparent reason. No entrance fee was charged and no signs denoted what was happening. A little bewildered, we just took some pictures and then headed to the boat.
When I’d checked at the boat yesterday about prices, I had met a couple of helpful guys who had informed me that neither of them ever charged people to put bikes on the ferry. I was particularly hopeful that I’d meet them again today, and sure enough as we pulled up, there they were. Not only did they wave the bikes on for free, but we discovered that an unadvertised half price student discount was in effect, making the whole trip roughly a third what we expected to pay. All smiles, we bungeed the bikes to the railing and got cozy on the top deck, ready to watch the world go by. Or, at least as cozy as you can get wearing dreadfully soggy shoes from hiking, and still sporting ever layer of clothing we’ve got.
We’d been a little worried that the rain would persist into our ferry ride, making the whole experience a wet, (cold) foggy mess, but just as we boarded, the storm began breaking up, leaving us with dramatic light flashing on the hills and an occasional bit of blue sky taunting us from above. We were ecstatic about our timing.
Our guidebook promised, “as you sail down the Naeroyfjord, camera-clicking tourists scurry around the drool-stained deck like nervous roosters, scratching fitfully for a photo that will capture the magic.” Frankly, that’s exactly how it all went down, and we were right there with them, practically running from front to back, side to side, unable to capture the whole vista in all its glory.
It is rare that we find a really touristy event to be really, really compelling, but our boat ride did the trick. It is hard to sum up the majesty of these mountains, the wild clouds dancing around them, the blue water rippling below. Tiny houses and villages clung to the sides, some accessible only by ladder. Goats grazed on what looked to me like an impassible bit of grassy cliff. Gulls followed the boat, diving and flipping to catch bits of bread lobbed their way right out of the air.
We’d thought we’d really seen the Naeroyfjord this morning on our hike, and though we’d seen some lovely views, to be out on the water gave us a whole new perspective on the glacier cut cliffs, the ribbons of waterfalls and the sheer magnitude of all of it. Cold and seasick though I was, the ride was spectacular.
Arriving in Flam, however, was an entirely different story. This wind made Gudvangen’s wind from the previous night (so strong that we were unable to use our kickstands because the bikes would blow over) look like child’s play. A couple of blocks away, we checked into the local campground. Ben deemed the place “industrialized camping” with lines and lines of motor homes and backpackers, all lined up to camp in terraced rows by category. Tents with cars, tents without cars, big campers, camper vans, etc. It was busy and expensive and the wind just kept on howling.
We headed up the hill to pitch on what I dubbed, “aisle 4” but the spot was terrible. Wind from the sea came at us from one direction, while a competing gale racing down the canyon which nearly collapsed our tent from the other side. Other tents nearby had blown completely over, rolling toward neighboring pitches. We began setting up as I fumed. I hate wind, and I was not happy about being forced to sleep in the windiest location in the whole campground.
Tents with cars, assigned to the bottom row, were only lightly bothered by the weather as the wind was broken up by buildings, walls and hedges long before it had a chance to blow over tents. Indignant, I marched down to reception and politely told the lady that I needed to be reassigned to a spot at the bottom of the camp near the cement wall and the hedges. She tried to tell me that it was equally windy everywhere, but I’d just been over there and I wasn’t buying it. There was no way I was spending the night trying to keep my tent poles from snapping when there was a perfectly reasonable solution to be had. Finally, she conceded that we could join the “tents with cars” section, and we packed up and remade camp between two enormous tents and next to a tall hedge, providing us adequate shelter from the persistent wind.
Satisfied that our little home would survive the night, I headed into town for groceries, hopeful that this “real” town would yield me more food options than the gas station mini-mart that had been feeding us for the past two days. To my surprise, the aisles looked like a natural disaster was pending. The bread and produce were all but completely out of stock – except for onions. I couldn’t find anything that even vaguely resembled what we normally eat. Twenty minutes of wandering around the store with dozens of other lost customers and I’d secured a container of yogurt, some ramen, and an onion.
Gratefully, by the time I got back to camp, the wind had chilled out a little bit. With my wind phobia quieted, I cobbled together some bowls of noodles before we crawled into the tent to warm up and get some work done.