fortykay.com

it's 40k kilometers around the world's circumference

The Golden Circle in Iceland

Iceland’s landscapes are spectacular, but equally interesting to the views is the audiobook we’re listening to.  As entertainment in the car while we drive from geyser to waterfall to museum to hot spring, we listen to Meltdown Iceland: How the Global Financial Crisis Bankrupted an Entire Country.  We learn how the 2008 world financial crisis began in Iceland, with its population of only 300k.  And then we go on to see manifestations of that in many of the sites we visit.

At the geothermal energy center where we learn how Iceland uses geothermal energy to heat its cities, we also learn that the center was built just before the financial crisis.  As a result, the center is beautiful, but unfortunately, they can’t afford to replace the expensive Italian light bulbs so the building isn’t shining quite as brightly as it used to.  Also, when we visit Reykjavik’s concert hall Harpa, it was designed along with a hotel just before the crisis, but it wasn’t started until many years after the crisis.  As we tour around, we learn of all the compromises that needed to be made because the original private donors could no longer support it.

Today, we enjoy the tourist hub that Iceland has become partly because of this mammoth financial explosion.  But whatever the reason, there is no denying this beautiful country.

Swinging by Oslo

To end our adventures in Norway, we spend time exploring Oslo.  We try several coffee shops to keep our caffeine levels high.  Our favorite is easily Tim Wendleboe – great coffee, great atmosphere, not so great prices, but that’s Oslo.

We walk through much of the city, some of the time along the river, which even has a couple waterfalls. We pause at Vulcanfisk for lunch, and enjoy some very fresh seafood.  Afterwards, we walk around an inside market, where we’re convinced to try some smoked minke whale.  Delicious.  We learn that historically whale was an undesirable food choice; however, that is because if stored incorrectly, it is not very good.  The gentleman behind the counter also answers many of our questions around salmon farming, and we get a much better sense of how the salmon that we’ve been eating every day here in Norway is raised.

After lunch and another cup of coffee, we walk back through the city to the Vigeland museum and nearby Frogner Park.  The museum and park hold the statues of Gustav Vigeland, who was both prolific in terms of his productivity and very creative.

Although Norway is not known for its alcohol scene, partly because the prices and taxes on alcohol are so high, we do find a microbrewery Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri to taste a couple local brews, and at the end of the night we find a nice cocktail bar named Fulgen.  At both, we toast to our Norwegian adventure.

Activity-filled Alesund

After our bike trip, we take an early ferry back to Bergen, rent a car, and hit the road towards Alesund.  The journey is far, but the weather is perfect, and the fjords are shining.  We stop early and often for food, photographs and viewpoints. An amazing part of Norway’s highway infrastructure is its tunnels.  We go in tunnels that are 5 to 6 kilometers long, and apparently there is one that is more than 20.  Instead of going around every mountain, we go straight through some of them – I love the efficiency and the breathtaking landscape just waits for us on the other side of the tunnel. (We also learn that Norway is working on a tunnel for boats big enough to fit cruise ships.)

The next day, we explore Alesund.  Alesund’s history is bittersweet.  Because of a fire in 1904 that burned down the entire city, everything was rebuilt in the art nouveau style.  And today, the city just seems to fit together. After our typical breakfast of fresh bread, smoked salmon, yogurt and granola, we climb to the top of Sukkertoppen, overlooking the city.  This is actually the second time we get this type of vantage point as we climbed the 418 steps just next to the city for sunset (~11:15pm) last night.

For our next vantage point, we walk through the old city enjoying shops, food stands, and its many boats.  Later, to give our legs a little break, we rent kayaks and circle the city by paddle.  Turns out that when we get a little outside of the protected waters in the center, there are some decent waves that give us a salty splash now and again.

Finally, to round out the day, we drive out to Runde, an island known for its Puffins.  The bridges along the drive are stunning and slightly scary.  They are very steep, one-lane bridges.  As a result, we can’t always tell if another car is coming up the other direction, and if it were, we would have to negotiate how to best pass each other.

Runde ends up being a highlight of the whole trip.  The sky is big with layers of clouds but enough sun to give us lots of energy.  The landscape is as vast as we’ve seen it, and in every direction.  The lighting is warm, the trail we take keeps providing us with new surprising views, and the puffins (although from a distance) are as cute and playful as the stuffed animals of their likeness made us believe.  Runde was a bit of a drive outside of Alesund, but completely worth it.

Fabulously photographic fjords

Folgefonna

On our day off from cycling, we visit Folgefonna, a nearby glacier.  Not knowing what to expect because we booked the trip through the ferry website, we first ferry, then bus, then arrive at a ski resort 1000s of meters above the fjord. Although a small ski resort, the athletes here are legit – we learn that many Olympians and x-gamers come here to train and we could quickly tell by watching them.  The weather is brisk, the sun is peaking behind the clouds, and the landscape is stark – adventure must be near.

We gear up with a harness, crampons, an ice pick, waterproofs, and the stiffest hiking books we’ve ever worn.  The first half-mile is all steeply up hill in the snow.  Every two steps forward is accompanied by one step sliding backwards.  Although chilly out, we reach the top of the hill in a full sweat.  From here, we traverse for about an hour and then scramble down some rocks until we reach the blue ice of the glacier.

After a couple energy bars, we tie our crampons to the bottom of our boots and ready our ice picks for the next adventure.  All connected by a blue rope with about 5 feet of slack between each of us, we set off into the white abyss (the cloud cover has really come in).  Careful not to fall in any crevices or to sink too far into snow above the ice, we carefully make our way around the glacier stopping now and then for a picture.  The clouds come in and out exposing and then hiding our surroundings keeping us always alert.

The terrain is so desolate and different and seemingly dangerous, that we can only embrace the adrenaline rush that comes with it.

Hardangerfjord fruit stands

There is little more quaint than an unassuming fruit stand along a rarely travelled, one-lane road. Our ride through Ulvik was dotted with them. Farm after farm had set out their early harvest of cherries and strawberries, accompanied by an unlocked box for payment. We stopped for cherries just after a long downhill. As we stood by our bicycles plucking the cherries from their stems, the farmer from across the street asked in the little English he knew, “Very good?” And that summed up the whole moment.

A 1722 historic hotel in Utne

As we bike from small town to small town along the Hardangerfjord, our expectations for our accommodations and meals are modest.  Most towns have one large hotel with a lot of character, and the meals typically consist of salmon prepared in 3 to 7 different ways.  When we arrive in Utne, our expectations are blown away.  The Utne hotel we stay in was first established back in 1722, no two rooms are the same, the hotel managers are most hospitable, and the food is a real treat.

We arrive, quickly shower and change, and head downstairs for a local cider tasting.  Apparently, cider in the Hardangerfjord is a thing.  Apples are grown throughout and cider production has been happening dating back to the 11th century.  The hotel owner leads the tasting and walks us through 5 different ciders.  Some were dry, some sweet, some very sweet.  Each was made with a different combination of apples – all grown in Hardangerfjord – and each came with a story of who the producer was and their philosophy of cider production.  The hotel owner went to school with a couple of the producers, and we learned that one now has a doctorate in chemistry and makes very consistent cider, while another like to use more love than science when preparing his ciders. We enjoyed ciders from Alde, Hakastad, and Edel among others.

We love the whole experience complete with lit candelabra, a different wine glass charmingly of random sizes for each taste, and of course the local cider itself.

Hardangerfjord waterfalls and bridges

Test riding our bikes

We arrive in Voss from Bergen via train with a lot of daylight left, especially with sunset around 11pm.  We explore the town for a bit and caffeinate ourselves to fight the jetlag at a nice local coffee shop.  With coffee now in our system, we can start to figure out what the rest of the day should bring – some combination of trying out our new rental bikes that we’ll be using as our main transportation over the next week, taking a quick hike, and finding food for dinner.

We research some nearby ride routes, and find one that circumnavigates the lake right in front of the hotel.  The distance is modest, the elevation reasonable, and the temperature perfect, so we set off in a counter-clockwise direction.  We quickly learn of some unexpected challenges, so good thing for the test ride so we can be better mentally prepared for tomorrow.

The main challenge is the weight of the clunker – I mean bicycle.  Without exaggeration the bike weighs 50+ pounds without any additional snacks, jackets or cameras.  Turns out that cycling up hills with an extra 50 (maybe 60 or 70) pounds isn’t so nice on our muscles and our knees.  The road is beautiful and the views even more so, but my right knee is already quite soar and our muscles tired.  Luckily, I can raise the bike seat more and buy myself a simple brace in town – two easy, quick fixes.

Although it’s clear that we’ve been spoiled by nice, light road bikes with clip-in pedals and seamless gear shifting back home, these bikes won’t stop us.  The distances are all manageable and more importantly, the landscape is wonderfully distracting.  We are looking forward to getting back on the road in the morning.

Bergen really puts the fun in funicular

As weary travelers, we land in Bergen

Close to midnight with the land still bright,

With jetlag, the time is quite uncertain

So we find our beds and say good night.

The next morning starts before the hour six

Starting at an award-winning coffee shop,

And we’re excited to learn the city’s tricks

In this spectacularly mountainous backdrop.

An early ride on the funicular

Where we get to see the whole city;

And what we’ve already seen in particular

From way up here, look more pretty.

The fish market does astound

But not as much as the blue skies

Because though they sell whale by the pound

Apparently the rain and clouds, only lies.

(*knocking on wood*)

Our first stop in Norway ends with lunch

At a place with a twist on Norwegian fare

Pickled veggies and salmon, a true 1-2-punch

And the restaurant Lysverket has its snare.