A spectacular road trip through the fjord lands of Southern Norway
Author: Lois Olive Gray
Photos: Kay Ellen GIlmour
MICKI, DAN, KAY & LOIS June 22 to July 4, 2018 Self-Driving by Dan
C ONTENTS INTRODUCTION ...........................................................................................................................3 ROUTE MAP ..................................................................................................................................4 FIRST STOP: STAVERN - THE WASSILIOFF HOTEL......................................................................5 SECOND STOP: FEVIK—THE STRAND HOTEL (JUNE 24 & 25) ............................................... 11 THIRD STOP: EGERSUND—GRAND HOTEL (JUNE 26)............................................................ 19 FOURTH STOP: HAUGESUND —SCANDIC MARITIM (JUNE 27 & 28) .................................... 23 FIFTH STOP: EIDFJORD - QUALITY HOTEL VORINGFOSS (JUNE 29 & 30) ............................. 29 SIXTH STOP: DALEN—DALEN HOTEL (JULY 1) ........................................................................ 38
We four friends like to take at least one trip together each year and we enjoy being on our own with a car so we can wander as we please. Since all of us had visited Oslo, Bergen and points north up to Nord Cap at the top, we wanted to explore just the south. Some preplanning was required for this wonderful circuit around Southern Norway. We rented a Volvo touring car to be picked up and returned to Oslo airport. The car was small than a tradition SUV but bigger than a sedan. Perfect for us and our luggage (though one more piece would not have fit at all)! Micki did excellent research and booked us into several historic and happily situated hotels in the towns we wanted to visit. This exploration proved to be totally wonderful as we drove through magnificent Norwegian scenery, ate fabulous (& ultra-expensive) foods, took in history, nature, and ultramodern Norway itself! Driver Dan took us from Oslo, going in a counter-clockwise circle until we got back to Oslo. Very enjoyable and beautiful visit to the amazing country which had just been voted the world’s happiest nation. Since we were there in summer and temperatures were mild, we could see why those people are so happy. All those hours of daylight (it never really grew completely dark) gave us so much time to explore and enjoy the outdoors. Winter, when it’s really cold and dark so much of the time, might not seem so attractive to us Sunbelt residents.
FIRST STOP: STAVERN - THE WASSILIOFF HOTEL
Before we reached Stavern, however, we marveled at the amazing infrastructure Norway has in place. The highways and byways are beautifully maintained and engineered, no matter how curvy they have to be to facilitate travel between fjord arms and mountains. And we realized that we seemed to be spending more time underground than above. The tunnels are real feats of civil engineering as they carry traffic beneath lakes & fjords and through granite mountains! Some of these tunnels actually kept us underground for many miles (I think 11 miles was the longest single tunnel we traversed). Some of the tunnels use two lanes and others four or more. Most amazing of all were the roundabouts inside the tunnels. These roundabouts allowed traffic to divert to highways going in several different directions. For example, a sign would say “Take first exit from roundabout to reach Highway 61 to Bergen.” Another would say, “Take 2 nd exit to Route 44 for Oslo.” And if either of those cities were your destination, you would just peel off as directed and still be underground until the chosen route brought you into the light of day again. Absolutely fascinating! The most amazing tunnel we entered did all that and our exit took us onto a long bridge over a fjord. Some of the roundabouts sported a tall column in their middles with a mushroom shaped top encircled in blue lights—made us all think of a spaceship like the one in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Just mindboggling really! Another feature of their highway system is the Moose bridges over the highways. Norwegians are passionate about saving their moose populations and avoiding car/moose collisions ending in human and animal injuries and deaths. So they build bridges at intervals and cover them with trees and vines so they look like the woods the moose live in. Incidentally, their moose is the same species as ours in the US; they are just not quite as large as our formidable ones. This system has been in place around 20 years and it has certainly worked to a certain degree with far less accidents every year. Our drive to Stavern was certainly magnificent in every way! The scenery is spectacular with deep blue fjords reflecting the craggy granite mountains around them, torrential waterfalls tumbling down steep mountain slopes, neat and colorful villages and farms
along the roads. Blue skies and cool temps made the drive times so comfortable. And Norwegian drivers are courteous and safe; we never heard horns blow in anger or desperation. No wonder these people are so happy—they inhabit a rich country that sees itself as a large community where everyone cares about the well-being of everyone who lives here. The whole country is half the size of Texas and has a population 3,353,363 at last census. Living wages are paid to everyone regardless of their particular job or profession. Example: tipping is not needed or wanted because business owners pay their people good salaries. Free health care for all ages and free education for all citizens are provided. What a paradise: but very expensive for tourists: in fact, the most expensive country in the world to visit! Before we reached Stavern, we stopped in the small town of Horten to visit the Norwegian Naval Museum and to find a bite of lunch. The museum was huge and arranged by historic periods.
Unfortunately for us, the lengthy descriptions for the displays were uniformly in Norwegian. Unlike the Norwegians who speak perfect English, we Americans do not speak very many foreign languages and certainly not Norwegian. Still, most of the exhibits were fairly self-explanatory and centered on Norwegian military history: lots of guns, swords, weaponry, battleships, , cannons, uniforms, caissons, and even aircraft in more modern history.
There was a real submarine on the grounds for guests to visit. Really scary to be confined to such a space particularly with other men trying to sink you into the depths.
We found a little mall in downtown Horten and went up to a café for a light lunch (still pricy). Next door was a shop having a sale and we went there to look for some sort of jacket/fleece because we were realizing that the temps, though moderate for Norwegians, were a bit too chilly for us. We found down jackets on sale for less than a third of what we had seen at REI at home. Sold! (Probably the only inexpensive item we found in Norway!) And they were perfect for our 12 day self-drive trip. 3,000 people call Stavern, a seaside town, their permanent home and a pretty little city it is. Norwegians particularly love to take their vacations here, so the population does swell in the summer time.
The historic Hotel Wassilioff dates from 1844 and it is perfectly located near town center and yet only a few steps from the sea. It was originally a Russian property and it has not lost its period charm. The small cozy rooms are decorated with old-fashioned accents conveying the historic ambience reminiscent of Victorian England style: lots of chintz, pictures of upper class ladies in their finery, heavy and dark draperies.
The three-star Michelin Guide restaurant in the hotel is excellent and the service was attentive but not overbearing. However, prices are also quite elevated.
An ironic note: Kay & I rarely upgrade our rooms from the lowest priced ones (my sister always accuses us of staying in “broom closets”). On this occasion, she was right—our room was actually teeny-tiny and our single window looked out on the garbage collection area where feral cats congregated and squalled during the one night we stayed there. Micki and Dan had a much bigger room on an upper floor with a balcony overlooking the street, the bay and a city park. However, they got less sleep than we did because the bar was directly under their room with really bad Karaoke singing by a group of Asians until 2 a.m. So cats or Karaoke —what a choice. We all walked around the hotel area and saw how friendly the people are and how much they were enjoying the fine weather. The waterfront was lovely and lively and some special ceremony with a huge bonfire to be built later in the evening was going on in the park (we never did get a straight answer as to what the occasion really was) but we could
see the folks moving in that direction as the day wore on. Kay & I climbed a little hill above the bay for a larger view of the city and saw that it is colorful and attractive.
The bay is an arm of the North “ea, so there were expensive boats on the water and in the town’s convenient marina. As we walked along the bay front, we talked to folks with their kids playing around them, other tourists—even some from the USA), and anyone with a friendly smile.
All things considered, our first night of the trip was comfortable, interesting and quite enjoyable, despite bad singing and caterwauling cats!
SECOND STOP: FEVIK—THE STRAND HOTEL (JUNE 24 & 25)
This hotel may not be as “old” as the Wassilioff, but it is a wonderful place to stay with impressive views of the North “ea’s inviting sandy beach right at the foot of the property. Built originally in 1937, it has had some renovations and extensions added in the intervening years. One of its “claims to fame” is that two of its most faithful visitors over 30 years were the author Roald Dahl (famous for “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” and other very successful children’s books) and his wife, Patricia Neal (American Oscar winner for “Hud” and a Tony winner on Broadway for “Another Part of the Forest” by Lillian Hellman.
Our rooms overlooked the grand lawn and the attractive beach and were comfortable and light-filled because of the large array of windows. They were rather spare in a ““candinavian” style; what else should we have expected.
The restaurant which was recovering from a huge reception of some sort the day before nevertheless accommodated us well and the food was good. We enjoyed our two`day stay as this huge white hotel with views of the North “ea, source of Norway’s wealth (undersea oil) though we saw no oil rigs from our vantage point. Our reason for staying Fevik was for the opportunity to explore sights before we reached the small town and to check out other nearby attractions around the area. Our first stop on this long day of driving was a national park called “Verdens Ende” (The World’s End). What a staggeringly marvelous place it is! The park is located at the southernmost tip of Tjome Island in the county of Vestfold. It is composed of islands, rocks and skerries off from the mainland. In some ways, it looks a lot like Peggy’s Cove in
Nova “cotia because of the huge rounded slabs of granite that reach out from shore. Kay’s pictures will do it more justice than my words.
There is a reproduction (dating from 1932) of an old type of bascule lighthouse standing near the water.
It has a basket hanging from its top which was lowered and filled with combustible materials and then lifted up using a counterweight.
The light created was visible far out from shore to warn ships off the coastal rocks.
This type of lighthouse was designed in Denmark as early as 1627. The building itself is made of stones from the beach and its construction recalls the beehive huts on Michael Skellig off the southern Irish coast. In addition to the inviting granite slabs offering chances to walk further and further off the mainland, there were other good hiking trails. The restaurant in the park offered a good view of the whole scene from its hilltop location. And the food was tasty too. I can’t forget to add that our weather was perfect again on this day.
Our outing on the 2 nd day of our Fevik stay called upon our flexibility with planning. We started out heading for a little island community called Lingyor but were distracted by seeing the town of Risor on our way. It is nicknamed “The White City” because there has been a long tradition of using white paint to show off wealth in the really prosperous times of the city’s history when timber was the most exported product. The only edifices not white were the baroque church and the police station which was a mustardy orange—it surely stood out.
We walked about enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and clean setting. We searched out the baroque church from 1647. It is the same church from that date though it was menaced by a huge fire in 1861 which destroyed most of the city except 80 homes (out of 200+) and this church. The townspeople refused to lose their house of worship and gathered together and worked to save it. The miracle is that the church was a wooden structure! It did not look at all baroque from the outside, but we were lucky enough to gain entrance and could see some touches that suggest the opulence of baroque architecture: the ornate pulpit, paintings and tapestries, a huge chandelier, intricate wood carvings on pews and railings. It now has an organ which would not have been present in 1647. Then we drove on toward Lingyor and when we arrived at the ferry station we saw that we had just missed the 12:20 sailing and found that the next one was at 2:30. We did not want to wait so we revised our plans. After reading more about Lingyor) we judged that we were lucky because it might have been very “Disneyfied.” We just kept on driving and admiring the lovely countryside and realized that the mustardy orange color is very popular in these parts. Many houses and public buildings along our way revealed much use of that color. When we were ready for lunch, we looked and found a small fjord with a restaurant on a floating platform at its head. The place was called Derk Huset and it served great pizza. The view was pretty special as well: high rock cliffs behind the few buildings at their feet, beautiful blue water, and lots of pretty boats at the marina (some looked pretty expensive too).
This is beginning to sound like a gastronomic trip and in some ways it was. Like this night, we decided we wanted to eat in Grimstad (town next to Fevik) so we asked for suggestions from the front desk. The receptionist told us to go to “mog & Behag” for the best food in town. So we drove there only to find that though the main street of Grimstad was picturesque, that preferred restaurant was closed for the day because of inventory. So we walked further down the street and found a place we could eat outdoors. It seemed their specialty was made to order for us—spaghetti Bolognese! Waiter came to take the order and guess what? All sold out. So we had pizza, hamburgers and nachos. Oh, well, the ambience was great and it was a beautiful evening.
THIRD STOP: EGERSUND—GRAND HOTEL (JUNE 26)
We had a longer drive today: 5 hours including a ferry ride. First half of the drive was lovely and green but then the second half became spectacular! There were huge granite walls rising around us over lakes and fjords and tiny settlements in the valleys. Our route was incredibly curvy and sometimes narrow. But the overviews were so worth the slower driving time. Because we were so awed by the scenery and the road engineering, we just kept on and never stopped for lunch.
We made one stop to visit the Jossingfjord where the Altmark Incident occurred during World War II.
The Altmark was a German tanker traveling in then neutral waters of Norway. The British had learned that the tanker was carrying 300 British prisoners taken in the Southern Atlantic when the General Graf Spee had sunk their ships. British naval forces cornered the Altmark in the fjord and asked the Norwegian navy to board the ship to see if there were prisoners aboard. They Norwegians boarded the Altmark three times between February 16 and 17 and reported that had discovered no prisoners. However, they had failed to investigate the hold of the ship where the men were being held. They took the German avowals that no prisoners were aboard and the Altmark was a commercial vessel.
The Altmark then tried to leave the fjord but the Lord Admiral of the British Navy insisted that their seamen be allowed to inspect the ship first. The Altmark ran aground and the boarding was facilitated. The Norwegians refused to make it a joint effort. The British boarded the Altmark and after some hand- to-hand combat with cutlasses, they went down to the hold shouting “Are there any Englishmen below and the prisoners answered we are all Englishmen. The Captain answered “Well, the Navy’s here!” which became a sort of calling card for the British Navy during the war. Eight German seamen were killed and ten others wounded as were one British & one Norwegian seamen. The destroyer Cossack then aided the British who rescued their fellow countrymen. The Norwegians refused to help in the battle and stood neutral. The impact of this contretemps was that neither the Allies nor the Germans now trusted in Norwegian neutrality and both had contingency plans to invade the country and take control of its important sea lanes. The Germans struck first and invaded Norway starting on April 9, 1940 and ending in success on June10. Though the Altmark Incident was relatively small in itself, it had grave ramifications for the Allies and the Norwegians who remained under German occupation until March 1945. After leaving that beautiful but unhappy fjord, we drove and reached the 140 year old Grand Hotel in Egersund in time for a late lunch of spaghetti Bolognese and it was delicious. Before checking in to our respective rooms, we decided that there was no need to meet for a supper so we would all just “wing it” on our own.
The Grand Hotel is worth a special mention for sure. Through its lengthy history it has gone through several different architectural styles and many renovations and modernizations. Evidently, architecture students and “people in the know” can identify the identify the different styles and appreciate them. It now comprises 10 different buildings demonstrating all the changes. The color is that mustardy orange I have mentioned before and the construction is wood—in uniformity with many of the famous wooden houses on several city blocks. The rooms were comfortable and the location was central to the areas of town we wanted to visit. After unpacking, Kay and I went to find the blocks where the well-preserved and still in use wooden houses are found. It was a short walk of a couple of blocks and we enjoyed seeing them though they were not as colorful as we had expected. Then we went to find the 18th century church but it was closed (wooden and yellowy on the outside). Next we wandered into the town square and it was charming with restaurants, stores, cafes, banks and plenty of public seating for people watching. The harbor was surprisingly smelly but interesting in that we fell into conversation with a fellow form the Faroe Islands who works on the search and rescue service. Its ship was moored in the harbor as we walked by. He told us there are three levels of this service in Norway. The Norwegian Coast Guard (military as well) is responsible for handling problems beyond 80 miles from shore. His professional service (not military but paid a salary) is responsible for complicated problems within the 80 miles from shore. The all-volunteer service tackles small problems with small vessels (unpaid). Most boat people, commercial or private, buy insurance for rescue services because the costs can be very high. The price of the insurance is quite reasonable—equivalent to $100.00 US yearly.
After that late and satisfying lunch, we skipped supper except for some cookies and soft drinks before turning in for the night in the comfortable room at The Grand.
FOURTH STOP: HAUGESUND —SCANDIC MARITIM (JUNE 27 & 28) On the way from Egersund to the next town, we stopped at “Utstein Kloster,” a monastery which has been in continuous operation since the 1100s.
We were under gray skies but that seemed to fit the somber atmosphere pervading this old cloister. The buildings are impressive made us understand why the Abbey Church and some of the other building are let for weddings, reunions and other celebrations. There are approximately 30-40 monks in residence along with many more lay brothers. The monks are not allowed to do any kind of work because they are dedicated to prayer and contemplation. The lay
brothers do all the work required to keep the monastery running. There are even two refectories because the months and brother cannot eat together. The grounds are lovingly cared for and they are beautiful, allowing excellent views of the fjord and valleys below them. Continuing on our way, we crossed the fjord by ferry with its very efficient service. We were surprised to learn that ferry fees are charged on individuals not on cars or other vehicles. It was short and smooth ride over. The skies cleared and we were again enjoying super weather. We reached Haugesund after a pleasant 3-hour drive. About 40,000 people live in the city and its environs. It has a coastline on the North Sea and was a center of herring fishing. Today, the herring have disappeared with over- fishing and the town is now dependent on the petroleum industry. The waterfront has been prettified with lots of restaurants, shops, hotels and an attractive marina. Our destination for two nights was the Scandic Maritim, a modern and very comfortable hotel with a wonderful outdoor dining area.
We had been searching all over for good fish and chips and found them on any menus. We hit pay-dirt at the “candic’s Café Rene (outside). The dish was delicious; everything we had been hoping for. After lunch, we separated for some walking around the town. Kay and I headed for the downtown and enjoyed passing through some interesting neighborhoods above the sea. Most of the homes were painted white and gleamed under the blue skies. Downtown was a square with a no-name church which we could not enter, a university urban campus focused on obstetrics and gynecology, and the famous (in Norway at least) pink city hall built in the 1930s. It could not be entered either.
There were flowers everywhere, hanging from lamp-posts, planted around the square, sitting in huge pots positioned for their beautiful effect. All the people we met on the streets were friendly and helpful. And even more important to us, the drivers were all patient and courteous!
We met Micki and Dan later and all of us walked along the waterfront to a popular- looking restaurant called “ebastian’s. We decided to give it a chance and we were happy that we did. The dinner was quite tasty and the vanilla milkshakes that were a specialty were fabulous. It turned out to be an enjoyable, if a bit unfocussed, day. But we are all very flexible when traveling. The next day (6/28) proved once again that we can “go with the flow and still have a good time. Last night at supper we had decided to visit a “Viking Village” but M & D read more about it later and decided it would be too much like a theme park to interest very long. So after some more reading and discussing, we decided on a hike with a picnic lunch in a local park—Lake Eivinsvatnet.
The walk took us 6 1/2 miles through lovely forests, to views of the lake, listening for birds, looking for creatures and having our picnic in a beautiful setting, sitting on downed logs. There were many people walking the gravel trails or bushwhacking off-trail. Lots of young mothers with prams with their “whiter than white” babies (the Norwegian are an extremely pale people. The sun, even when it’s showering the land with golden rays, is not very intense and people just don’t “brown-up.” There were serious runners & joggers and some people keeping up skiing skills by using roller skates on the gravel. It was truly invigorating to hike in such a wonderful park. Dinner that night was at 6:30 and we walked the waterfront to a new place called the Brasserie. The Thai chicken was spicy and wonderful and the chocolate mousse with passion fruit sauce was outstanding. Haugesund was a foodie’s delight!
FIFTH STOP: EIDFJORD - QUALITY HOTEL VORINGFOSS (JUNE 29 & 30)
We anticipated a fairly long drive today between Haugesund and Eidfjord because our travel searches had suggested that this part of our journey would take us through some of the best scenery Norway has to offer! The drive clearly proved we had not been misinformed!
We quickly came up the first of three incredible waterfalls, all of them right by the main road and not far separated from each other. They each had several leaps, divided cascades, and tremendous amounts of water tumbling thunderously down only to disappear beneath the roadway through man-made tunnels. The early morning light caused the waters to sparkle and create diamond shards dancing above the falls. Truly stunning photos for sure and it proved also that Norway at present has no problem with water shortages.
At one of the falls, there was an informal display of the various kinds of granite found in this country. About 20 different “rocks” had been polished to reveal the many colors in each and also the great differences in colors among them all. Quite impressive! What superb counters and tabletops could originate here.
Reluctantly, we finally continued on, taking a long curvaceous road to avoid another ferry ride. Our destination was another suggested stop at a “House & Garden” showcase called Rosenkranz Baronial Palace and Gardens. This “tourist trap” was very expensive, charging dearly and separately for parking, palace tours, & garden tours. The site was impressive and there was interesting history connected with the Palace (it dates back to the 1600s) but we elected only to explore the gardens. A big disappointment was there as well. There was very little variety in floral displays (mostly out of season roses) so not much color. A more truthful advertisement would have called the garden an arboretum since there were many kinds of trees to be seen, but very few of them were labelled as to species or native homes. Lunch in their outdoor patio did redeem the visit because the food was excellent and the prices were not astronomical. We enjoyed seafood salads a good dessert made with fresh fruits. Then back on the road again towards Eidfjord.
This was the only hotel Micki researched that did not match up to its description or her expectations (Eidfjord Fjell & Fjord Hotel). When we arrived around 4 o’clock, we were immediately unhappy when saw that there was no fjord view as advertised for M & D’s room and no mountain view for ours. We entered the lobby and the smell of fish, rotten fish, not cooking fish, assailed our nostrils. It was very unpleasant. The young man at the reception desk was rather slapdash as he showed us the lobby and “living room.” M & D had been expecting a private living area separate from their sleeping quarters. More dismay ensued. The atmosphere of the public areas was more like a hostel than a hotel. Then he showed us our rooms: Ours was small (that was okay) but we looked at the bottom of the hill where the garbage cans were lined up; theirs was bigger but no living area and no harbor view. Both rooms reeked of the rotten fish as well. Well, that did it! We brought the keys back to the young man (once he finally answered our calls) and said we would not be staying there. He just looked at us as we marched out. At that point we didn’t care whether or not we forfeited the prepaid charge.
We drove down the hill towards the harbor and right there was a lovely hotel called Quality Hotel Voringfoss.
Micki was incredulous because nowhere in her researches had this place been reviewed or even mentioned. We went in and found that not only was the hotel very nice, they had room for us. Micki and Dan chose a suite and happily went to their room. We asked for a regular room and were shown one down the hall from theirs—Room 405. It was lovely and we took it on the spot. Back downstairs, Kay went with the receptionist to register. It seemed to take a long time, and finally he told Kay he didn’t know why, but he simply could not force the computer to accept that room number. Rather chagrined, he asked if we would be willing to accept, at no extra charge, a junior suite (which turned out to be next to M & D’s room). Of course, we agreed with alacrity. Who wouldn’t? And our room was huge and had a great view of the fjord, two queen-sized beds, a sitting area with comfortable chairs and a great couch, dining table, and small kitchen. It was wonderful and so comfortable.
View From Our Room
Next: the good and unexpected ending to this story. As soon as I settled into our suite, I found an email address for Booking.com (through which we had made all our hotel reservations for this trip) and wrote a succinct synopsis of our experience and asked that the charges be refunded in full. Then we all went to dinner in the hotel for one of our most delicious meals of the trip (lamb sausage, salad & very tasty mashed potatoes with crème brulee for dessert.) Told Micki what I had done and gave her the email address. After dinner, she went up to her room and contacted Booking.com for their refund. By the time we returned to our room, I had an email stating the entire charge for the unacceptable hotel (hostel) was being refunded to my credit card. By morning, Micki had received the same message. Now we were all very happy and decided that Booking.com is a great company that looks after their customers very well! We were all so pleased with our accommodations that we decided to spend more time than usual in our rooms. So we did not leave for sightseeing until after noon. I think we all enjoyed the “down time” since we had been “on the go” fairly steadily since we left Oslo. That afternoon, we left for Voss Village to visit the Voss Folk Museum. It was an outdoor adventure because the museum was a collection of 20 old buildings typical of farms dating from the 1600s to the 19th century. The farm had been in continual use all those years. There were farm houses, cowsheds, hay and corn lofts, sleeping and weaving lofts, spinning wheels, storage facilities. There were even some live farm animals from the present day, chickens and goats anyway.
The museum (farm site) was beautifully situated on a hillside overlooking the modern town of Voss down in the lush green valley.
A fjord divides the valley in half and the dark blue fjord glitters in the distance at the head of valley. Very picturesque spot for our last sightseeing experience. As we were driving away, we saw Hylla Waterfall streaming down in bridal veil wisps to the fjord. It was on our drive back to Eidfjord that we entered the most complicated and sophisticated tunnel and bridge combination that we had seen yet. There were 4 lanes (2 going each way) and road signs throughout the tunnel. Several roundabouts made it possible to leave this tunnel and enter another going to a different destination. One of the roundabouts was simply surreal! It looked like a huge mushroom or maybe a spaceship atop a tall stalk. It was lit with blue lights all around its circumference and indicated at least 4 different ways to exit for different our highway route and found ourselves (most unexpectedly) on an bridge spanning a fjord with another fantastic view of Norway with its fjords, mountains, valleys, charming little villages and towns. If your eyes are aching for ethereal scenery, save some money up and fly to Southern Norway. The flight cost will be the least of your expenses!
SIXTH STOP: DALEN—DALEN HOTEL (JULY 1)
There was a 4 hour drive projected between Eidford and Dalen, but the scenery that appeared on this route was the best yet! It was absolutely stupendous. We were driving through ski country and there was an amazing amount of snow around still. We stopped a couple of times to walk about and look closer at the magnificence around us and the camera people had lots of fun trying to capture the majesty and sweep of the mountains.
We also stopped at a very different roadside restaurant for lunch and chose their buffet lunch which was meatballs, boiled potatoes and mushy peas (which made folks happy). The place was jam-packed with Norwegian tourists so we figured it had to be a good spot for food. And it was probably the least expensive meal we had on the whole trip. Not an accurate prediction for what we would pay for tonight’s dinner.
We reached the Dalen Hotel in the early afternoon and found that its elegant reputation was not an exaggeration. This is the oldest wooden structure in all Norway, having been built in 1994. It has 99 beds because 100 was considered an unlucky number in that era. Several famous folks stayed there when it was young: King Leopold of Belgium (of infamous reputation in the Congo—read “Heart of Darkness” to find out why), Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and the King and Queen of Norway during that period.
The architects for the hotel were evidently (in some way) influenced by the familiar “stave churches” of Norway for their designs. And while we had visited a couple of those still standing churches, we had trouble seeing the influence clearly for ourselves. To create a mysterious atmosphere, later architects and designers added such things as dragons and other mythological figures to the outside of the building. Inside, it definitely had the air of elegance and leisurely living. Comfortable places to sit in privacy quietude, a beautiful library, handsome bar, and the dining room has a charming gentility—so much so that we felt quite underdressed for have our evening meal there.
But what we lacked in our outfits, we made up for in the prices we paid for the really special food: lamb chops with a mouth-watering sauce, perfectly cooked vegetables and I can’t really remember what for dessert but I know it was equally good.
Our room at this fancy spot was another “broom closet” but not uncomfortable for one night. After we checked in and parked our luggage, we went walking around the property which is quite large with a large arboretum, a flower garden, and a lawn that swept down to the Bandek Lake. The lake fills from the Telemark Canal. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. Though the hotel was interesting historically and very attractive inside and out, it probably wasn’t our favorite but that fabulous dinner where we learned about the “Norwegian Arm” from our charming waiter made this last night of the self-drive trip fun and memorable! “o what is the “Norwegian Arm?” Unless he was pulling our lower extremities, this is the true story. Whereas we Americans (& probably the English and the French too) are taught that correct table manners include asking fellow diners to pass things to us such as salt & pepper or a second helping of some dish, the Norwegian version of good table manners consider interrupting conversations by requesting items to be passed is unacceptable. Instead it is much more polite to just reach for it, however far. Interesting variation—if true. So we spent our last night at the Dalen and then headed for Oslo the next day. It was supposed to be a four-hour drive but heavy traffic with congested roads, a visit to a Stave Church from the 1200s that still has an active congregation, a 45 minute lunch & 15 minute gas stop delayed our arrival in Oslo until 4 p.m.
Our self-drive adventure in southern Norway was exhilarating and the perfect prelude to our return to “valbard and our expedition to Russia’s Franz Josef Land in the high arctic. As usual, we four enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and laughed and marveled over “novel” Norway with its many surprises and amazements.
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