Saturday, August 30, 2008

Norway: on the Sognefjorden

Salix's work takes him to conferences in Europe once or twice a year, and Salix takes me (I love him dearly!) This summer, his conference was in Bergen, Norway; Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, though it's still smallish--during our trip, it celebrated its population reaching 250,000 (how they knew on exactly which day to celebrate, I'm not sure . . .) It's on the west coast of Norway, toward the southern tip--though to put it in perspective, it's farther north than Aberdeen, Scotland, and close to the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska.
So I was surprised to discover that Bergen's climate is actually milder than Virginia's! The Gulf Stream keeps the southern part of Norway relatively warm--the lows in Bergen in January bottom out at about 0 degrees C., or just at freezing, which would put them in Zone 9 on the USDA hardiness map. But they have long winters with little sun, and cool temperatures in the summer (they average around 19C., or about 70 F.)--so the growing season is quite compressed. The result was quite delightful for a plant lover--it was spring, summer, and the start of fall all at once.

I took way too many pictures, and I'm still sorting through them, so I'm going to spread the better ones over at least three postings. Bergen calls itself the "gateway to the fjords," and it's just south of the Sognefjorden, the longest fjord in Norway. The Sognefjorden opens into the ocean in the west, where it looks like a large bay; but as it moves east, it narrows and branches into several smaller fjords--we toured two of these, the Aurlandsfjord and the Naeroyfjord, on our first day.

To get to the fjords, we took the Bergen Railway from Bergen (at sea level) to Myrdal, a village at 864 m (2835 ft) above sea level. The Railway, which runs all the way to Oslo, is the highest in Northern Europe. These pictures were taken just west of Voss, about halfway to Myrdal and well into the clouds.

We weren't sure about the source of this plume, but it seems to be feeding the clouds:

When we arrived in Myrdal, we switched from the highest railway in Northern Europe to the steepest--the Flamsbanan, which descends those 2835 feet in just 12 miles. The views are spectacular, especially the 305 foot Kjofossen waterfall.

The small village of Flam at the end of the line is at sea level, at the southern tip of the Aurlandsfjord. We would catch the ferry here for our trip through the fjords, but we had three hours to see the area. I decided to explore the local flora, but I didn't find much more colorful than Salix as he prepared for his Fjord Safari, a trip around Aurlandsfjord on a speedboat.

Once Salix was strapped in and on his way, I went for a short hike around the village to see what was growing. This tree was one of the first things that caught my eye, because it was growing out of a rocky hillside. As things turned out, I probably saw more of this tree than any other--it's prolific in this part of Norway It's a Sorbus aucuparia, also called Rowan tree or European mountain ash. This time of year, it's covered in red berries.

Fruit trees flourish in the villages on the edge of the fjords--this apple tree is growing in relative wild (in a field just outside the village), surrounded by Angelica.

Here's a cherry tree in a more controlled setting--the front of the Fretheim hotel (in the window, you can see the reflection of the ferry in the harbor).

We saw roses everywhere, particularly Rugosa. These are probably cultivated, but they give the appearance of a wild edge along the banks of the fjord.

We caught the Rugosas at a particularly good time--most of the bushes were forming hips, but were still in bloom.

Still, cultivation here is probably hard. The hills are very rocky--I was surprised to see large trees growing where there was no discernible soil. And in the rocks, even (Virginia) weeds become lovely wildflowers:

Salix returned in one piece and relatively dry, and we boarded the ferry for our ride through the fjords. The first half of our trip took us through the Aurlandsfjord--the villages and farms are typically lcose to sea level, with the mountains rising abruptly behind them.

The trees in these fjords are chiefly spruce and other conifers, oak, ash (including rowan), hazel, elm, and close to sea level, fruit trees. The ground is carpeted by heathers and mosses. Most of the villages started (and many continue) as farming communities.

This isn't a great picture, but it's a great story. The little white house halfway up the mountain is one of the two farms that constitute Stigen.
Back in the day, the farms could be approached only by boat and reached only with ladders. The farmers could easily see boats approaching--and assuming that the only visitors would be church officials collecting tithes, the farmers would pull up the ladders when they saw boats approaching.

This is the village of Styvi in the Naeroyfjord as our ferry turned toward Gudvangen.

And this is the Sagfossen, the highest waterfall on the Naeroyfjord.

We landed at Gudvangen, took a bus up to Voss, and then the railway back down to Bergen. It was an absolutely beautiful trip--the gardens in Bergen would be more controlled, but pretty nonetheless.


Les, Zone 8a said...

Thanks for sharing your trip with us. I look forward to the rest of the trip. Scandanavia has always intrigued me, all the countries there look interesting, until winter sets in. The cold that most areas get is bad enough, but add the extra darkness and I would have to self-medicate until spring.

tina said...

Beautiful story of the area. I like that the farmers pulled up their ladders:) Looks like SO much fun. Can't wait to read the rest.

Rose said...

This scenery is so beautiful! Particularly so to someone who is so used to flat prairies:)
I am amazed that the climate in this part of Norway is so mild; I would have assumed it would be so much colder in the winter than the Midwest.
Loved the story about the farmers with the ladders; they wouldn't have been bothered by traveling salesmen either:)

Glad you are enjoying your trip!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful area. Thanks for sharing your trip with us. How interesting that something beautiful could grow in that rocky soil. Thanks for visiting my blog! I didn't know you other VA gardeners were out there. :)

Cosmo said...

Hi, everyone! Les, we experienced the other side of the winter darkness--the sun doesn't set until about 11 pm and it rises about 5 am--most hotels have blackout curtains so visitors can get some sleep. There's a great movie called Insomnia (the Norwegian one, not the Al Pacino knock off) about a Danish detective in Norway who can't get any sleep . . .

Tina and Rose, those farms on the fjords are amazing--most are tourist places now, though they still function, but in the old days they had to be totally self sustaining. Interesting enough, the thing that got the roads built was the need to get to church--the farmers would have to make the same trip we did in much smaller boats until the roads were set up.

PGL, thanks for stopping by! I'm very much an amateur--blogger and gardener--but Les and Jeff are masters! I fogot to tell you about Entangled, too--she's at, and she gardens near Richmond and also I think in Northern VA. So glad to have found your site (and thanks, Tina, for keeping us all connected--I've found gardeners local to me via your blog or Gail's in Tennesee!)

Gail said...

What a fantastic trip. It is beautiful with that deep green that practically screams...It doesn't get 100 degrees here! Cosmo, I am terribly impressed that you have all the names of the places you visited! I forget them so easily. Thank you for a wonderful tour of a beautiful countryside.


Sarah Laurence said...

Cosmo, wow! What a gorgeous country and you captured it so well in your photos and writing. I felt like I was on the trail with you. That Gulf Stream is what warms Nantucket and England. I hadn't realized it went by Norway too.

Have you read Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses? It's one the best novels I've read and it's set in Norway with a lovely sense of place. I reviewed it (see my sidebar.) I'd love to go to Norway too some day.

Roses and Lilacs said...

What a lovely, lovely place. You are so lucky to visit. I'll bet this is the perfect season too. Can't wait to see more photos and hear more about the trip.

Randy and Jamie said...

My word Cosmo! What a beautiful place to visit! Thank you for sharing your wonderful pictures with us. Everything is so green... and the waterfalls are just enchanting!- Randy

spookydragonfly said...

How fortunate you are to do such traveling! Enjoyed your beautiful photos and stories!