We often go on vacation to slow down, catch our breath, and have meaningful thoughts of our own. If that’s your vacation jam, you might choose a beach or find a quiet place to do absolutely nothing and love it. That, however, is not my vacation jam…
Norway was the first stop on our 10 day Eurotrip–when in Norway, you can imagine it’s unlikely be catching your breath on a beach, but its more likely you’ll be hiking or “city-slicking” in a mid-sized city. That is exactly what we set out to do–hike Trolltunga and frolick in Oslo.
It started off with a 24-hour travel journey that brought us to our first destination. A bus to NYC, an unreliable subway ride to somewhere in Queens (10 out of 10 DO NOT recommend the subway in these scenarios), an Uber to JFK Airport, two planes to Bergen, a train to Voss, and a bus to Tyssedal. While most of that was a chaotic blur, things started to clear up on the train ride from Bergen to Voss. The air was just as crisp as I had remembered while the sun started to peak out from a scattered rain shower. It had been four years since I had been abroad, and I was quickly reminded of how confusing it can be in a foreign place. I just as quickly dusted off my travel cobwebs and got two train tickets to our next destination… Voss.
3 hours and 2 sore necks later, a local Norewegian from a town of 900 took note of our open mouths and wide eyes to ask if it was our first time on the train (obvs). After some friendly small talk and advice for the hike came a 2 hour bus ride to Tyssedal. To our surprise the bus ride was even more stunning than the train. Our faces were pressed against the window unconcerned by the one-lane highways that expect two cars (and sometimes 2 busses) to squeeze through.
After 24 hours of travel, I suddenly felt revived to be in rural Norway to see roaming sheep, spring foliage, and modest communities cooking along the fjords- 55 degrees and partly sunny is enough to get Norwegians eating outdoors- I only wish we could have joined them. By the time we made it to our Air Bnb, it was 8:00pm… too late for any restaurant or grocery store to be open by Norwegian standards, but certainly not too late for the northern May sun. We managed to get a quick bite to eat at the sole hotel up the street and despite the unsettling sun, we were out like a light. *ahhhhhhh* We finally made it to Norge…
Trolltunga Day- May 25, 2019
It’s easy to forget about jet lag when the view from your stay looks like the photos above. An easy, yet early morning got us to the trail head via shuttle just before 8:00am. We were as prepared as we could be for the 24 km (16 miles) hike, but had no expectations. Prepare for anything, I thought.
The eastern side of Norway gets a fair amount of rain, not to mention the volatility of mountain weather. The first 7 km up was a difficult and steady incline beginning on pavement, moving to some scrambling on the rocks, and finishing with a make-shift snow shoe from the remains of winter. I remember feeling worked (especially in the calves, woah baby), but spritely no less. A common “Hei Hei!” was shared among passing hikers, but otherwise was a peaceful trek. The only noise was feet crunching in the snow, and when we stopped you could hear winter melting beneath us into the nearest creek. The clouds were low at Trolltunga. With an elevation of only ~3,900 feet (the Rocky Mountains can reach 13,000 to more than 14,000 feet) we were still completely in the clouds. There’s a grand opening of a fjord around km 11 or 12 that felt like something out of a movie– too good to be true (see below). The clouds moved, the sun showed itself, and for a long while the fjord opened up to showcase its striking blue water and contrasting slate. I remember thinking about Nordic mythology and feeling so small in that moment. It would be easy, and much more enjoyable, to believe that a Scandinavian giant scooped out a piece of the mountain, crumbled the rock into a million tiny pieces, and then scattered the rocks along the hills for the trolls to hide. I’m no Nordic mythologist, (and that little fairy tale was completely fabricated), but you can imagine how the mind wanders on an 8 hour hike.
Determined to keep pace, we marched to the summit where km 11-14 were rainy, cold, and windy. What started as a comfortable 50 degrees turned into a damp and windy 35. Still in the clouds (and at this point, the rain), the fog refused to give. We knew we were at the summit not because it felt like the highest point, but because suddenly there were people! We ate lunch and shivered at the summit hoping the fog would lift. Perhaps the fog lords knew we traveled alllll the way from the USA to see the trolls, because for one brief moment the fog lifted and we saw what we had only seen on the internet — the trolls tongue high above the fjord that looked like it flowed off into eternity. I got my Trolltunga photo…
Eventually as we moved down the mountain, the fog lifted along with the rain. In the grand scheme of things, it was a brief stint of less than ideal weather, but we knew it could have been much worse. Sore and tired lower limbs set in, and we hauled down the remaining 12 km. For anyone wishing to hike Trolltunga, absolutely DO IT. To our pleasant surprise, we were not greeted by snakes or pouring rain as we had prepared for, but do not underestimate the hike and be prepared for any weather. We hobbled the rest of the day and warmed up with some much deserved Thai food and local beer. The last sentence from my journal that day reads, “Although we will definitely be hurting tomorrow, it is a well-worth feeling to see this new side of Norway that is quiet, communal, and stunning from every angle.”
When in Norge
When encountering sold-out trains, 2-hour train delays, daily rain, and intense exercise, you might expect that we had just an “ok” time in Norway. As I think back, none of that made a dent in our experience. Some Norwegians will tell you that they feel there is not a prominent Norwegian culture, but I could not disagree more. Although our stay was short, it was certainly observant. For me, Norway brings a welcoming and “homey” feeling. Norway is a modest place where the simple things bring the most joy. They make the very best of the grey days with the help of family and friends, and it shows in their pleasant persona. Where family dinners span to community dinners, and bread, meat, and dairy make up the daily foods, Norway feels familiar but has a friendlier face. Norway nearly feels like home.