This is a little trip I took during my ERASMUS exchange in Sweden back in 2015-2016. This was our first getaway outside of the Swedish borders- a little three-days adventure in the Norwegian Fjords, which turned out to be a big, big one. (october 2015)

Day 1- Cruising on the Sognefjord

4AM. Our destination lies between 4 and 5 hours away from Oslo and it’s half asleep to the sound of the unrelenting rain and muffled conversations that the bus takes us always further North, to the Western part of Norway.

As we gradually cross the country, the landscape progressively begins to change and becomes more and more mountainous, but also more and more colourful despite the gloomy and damp weather lingering with us. Of course, the traditional Scandinavian red and white cabins are there, winking at us from the side of the road, reminding us where we are heading. But they do not consist in the only touch of colour lighting up the grey surroundings, for it appears that autumn is already in full swing here, bursting with tints of yellow, orange and red intertwined with the deep green of the vast Northern forests of fir trees. When no sign of autumn was yet visible in Southern Sweden, we are here again reminded by nature that we are entering a wilder, more remote part of the globe, and that winter will come earlier here.

Indeed, after a few hours drive the bus has now left the main road to take a tinier and more winding one, and as the bus climbs up the mountainside to reach a mountain pass where we find ourselves very surprised by both the scenery and the weather, because it’s now snowing. No more trees or forests here, only a vast, tundra-like landscape topped by snowy peaks wrapped in fog, bringing the Scottish Highlands to mind because of the ground’s flaming autumnal shades. Delighted with this unfamiliar setting calling for adventure, I can feel my heart thumping with excitation, ready for the explorations lying ahead.

Our first destination brings us to Gudvangen, where we quickly embark on a ferry for a tour on the Nærøyfjord, which is is one of the two fjords of Norway in the UNESCO world heritage list, and the narrowest and thus most scenic part of the mighty Sognefjord.

The nearly two hours and a half cruise leaves us speechless and totally lost for words, completely amazed by the majestic landscapes. Sailing smoothly on the still waters, the boat leads us through the tight path, and we find ourselves surrounded by impressive mountains, stunningly covered by layers of thick fog and sumptuously diving 500 meters deep into the fjord.

The surrounding wilderness is almost intimidating, and even the shutter of my camera finds it hard to dare breaking the silence of the place, of those towering misty moutains, its hurtling waterfalls of fresh water untiringly dipping down to join the vast, sleek and calm stretch of water which peacefully reflects and mirrors the scene to make it even more overwhelming and fascinating to the human eye. The sky is white and the air crisp and pure, opening our perception and every single one of our senses to the awe-inspiring landscapes.

The tiny village of Bakka (from the Old Norse “hill” or “on the hill”) and its little wooden 19th century church are built 29 meters above the fjord.

From Gudvangen to Flåm, the two hours ferry cruise on the Nærøyfjord left us amazed, astounded and thirsty for more adventures.

Day 2- Exploring Lærdal

After a night of deep, restful sleep, we prepare ourselves for what will be a more relaxed day, dedicated to exploring the little village (which is in fact quite big for the area) of Lærdal, the place we are staying at for the weekend. The small town is located inside a valley just next to the Sognefjord and surrounded by mountains on all sides, and once we are out in the white, fresh morning, we are immediately reminded of the beauty of the place, and more than ready to set out for a new day of discovery.

We soon find ourselves strolling around the Old Town, “Gamle Lærdalsøyri”, where more than 150 old traditional wooden houses dating back from the 18th and 19th century are lazily waiting to be photographed.

Each of the picturesque and charming little house competes with its neighbour by displaying more and more cute window frames and nicely arranged tiny gardens. The pale yet shimmering shades of the wood has an ancient feel on it, and wandering the streets of the little village almost feels as if we are going back in time with every footstep we take, trying to picture ourselves the look of the place as a busy fishing village in the old days.

After eating a small meal (with a view) in front of the stunning reflection of the cutest row of wooden houses that is the trade mark of Laerdal, our feet continue to take us further into the village, and the feeling of walking into the past is still floating around us as we pass more and more ancient buildings reminiscent of the old days: the old bank, the postmuseum which is dedicated to the local history of the telegraph in the area and an evergrowing number of red, white and yellow wooden houses. As it was already the case in Sweden, the considerable number of Norwegian flags, proudly mounted on high poles in almost every garden, is striking. There is no way to forget that we are walking on a new country’s ground, one we have yet never trodden on. The excitation and the urge to explore more of this unknown land are like fuel to my feet and legs, and I can feel my body yearning for more at every turn.

The main road leads us towards the end of the village, where we bump into the village’s church, Hauge Kyrkje, a tall, yellow and white wooden church which dates back to 1869 and whose colours happen to be surprisingly harmonized with the autumn shades in the background. The two towers which are sitting on either side of the entrance give the little otherwise crooked church an unusual monumental appearance. But despite this the little building still feels small and intimate to me, and holds in itself a very special atmosphere. We even find a cute and fluffy cat friend there, very eager to seek some human contact.

After that we just wander around the end of the fjord near our hostel. The waters are still and calm, the fjords are tall and mighty. It’s funny to see how some trees are still clinging to the lowest part of the mountainside, like yellow dots on an otherwise rugged and sterile rocky wall.

Day 3- Hiking in an autumn wonderland & Borgund Stave Church

On our last morning in Laerdal, we decide to go hiking for the few hours we have left before leaving for Oslo in the afternoon. The day before we had unsuccessfully looked for some hiking trails but finally gave up to just explore the neighbourhood. But this time we took the last chance to make the most of it before leaving and started climbing up in the mountains surrounding Laerdal, looking for a viewpoint. The trail is quite steep but thankfully everything is dry and we have good hiking shoes.

At the beginning it’s just going up and up and up in the pretty autumn forest. The trees are full of golden leaves, especially the birch which are thriving in these Northern latitudes. Little by little the forest of birch and pine trees starts to give way to smaller trees and plants, and bushes, moss, lichen and heather are all around. We can feel that we are gaining in altitude just by looking at the vegetation that surrounds us. The shades of autumn are numerous and feel warmer than the crisp air: it’s all about hues of green, yellow, mustard, orange, copper and more sparingly red.

After a while of climbing the trees and rocks that block the view become rarer, and we stop as we find a good vantage point on both the village of Laerdal and its valley, and the neighbouring fjords.We take a moment to take some pictures and also just simply appreciate the view and the stillness of these vast and giant mountains that surround us. Everything is perfectly silent except for the distant rumble of a waterfall that stays hidden from us by the forest. Everything just feels rugged, bare, wild and calm. We could easily have stayed there for hours if not for the fear of missing our bus back to Oslo, so slowly but unwillingly we start to turn back to our youth hostel.

And then, just like that, it’s time to leave this place of bewilderment and awe-inspiring feelings. Thankfully, the trip is not fully over yet: after half an hour of bus we stop to visit one of Norway’s most popular tourist sights: Borgund stave church. This little crooked church is more than 900 years old and is surprisingly tiny. The wooden structure has been blackened by the years and the tough weather of Norway, the walls and the traditional tiered and shingled roof have shrunk, but the tiny old church is still there, a living proof of centuries of history, curled up and nestled in the golden landscape of the valley, all dressed in its autumn colours. The church offers a strange mixture of Christian and pagan symbols of the Viking era.

There’s a strange feeling about standing near such an ancient, sacred site, and we try to soak in the special atmosphere of the place. The smell of the tarred wood, and the creaking sounds of the wind mishandling the old wooden structure make it easier to think of it as an early medieval place of worship and meeting. While we wander around the fascinating building and the tiny cemetery that surrounds it, the light starts to play with us as it starts to rain a little.

And this is how our trip to the Norwegian fjords ends, after a 4 hour drive back to Oslo and then another bus back to Sweden, my home at the time. I have so many great memories from this trip, and I’m so glad I finally got to share them with you, even a few years (!) after I came home. I hope you enjoyed this detailed account of my journey there, I tried to sink back into my sensations, emotions and perception of things as much as I could to offer you a story as raw and true as possible. Norway has left an unforgettable and irreplaceable trace in my memory and I’ve been dreaming about going back ever since!


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