Monday, August 08, 2011

Naked in Norway: Oslo to Flam

After visiting Norway (Svalbard) last year, it was always Ruth's dream to return and explore the rest of Norway. I thought this was a pretty stupid dream as my dreams tend to involve me being the rhythm guitarist for Queens of the Stone Age, being really rich and occasionally saving the world with Bruce Willis. I was wrong; Norway is an incredible dream to have and fulfill.

In fact, for the time I have been here I have been suffering a condition which I call Norwegian Jaw. This is a condition caused by continually walking around with your mouth open in awe - Norway is so beautiful, every turn of the head reveals a postcard moment and then you look again and it is as if a chorus of angels is singing "LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" as the sun shines on some random natural beauty. Plus the language is easy to understand: take a familiar word, throw a few consonants like J, K and N and Bob's your uncle. I can't even make a joke about it...

...although I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.

Our trip started in Oslo and obviously after the terrible massacre there the previous week, the city was a little unsteady on its feet. It was still a vibrant town and the place we were staying showed little signs of trauma. However, every street corner or statue became a shrine to the fallen and our brief time there was overshadowed by the torment of the town. Such needless violence in such a peaceful place is so unfathomable and distressing, I can't even begin to describe the feeling here. As such, I'll just move on rather than addressing something so terrible on such a joke of a website.

Our trip from Oslo took us to Geilo, Finse and Flam - all places that sound like they'd be Norwegian themed bars on Oxford Street. However, our hard Australian strine makes a mockery of the actual pronunciations (respectively pronounced ji-lo, fin-say, and flum). Geilo was a bit of a misstep as although it was beautiful in its way, it was really a ski resort in the middle of summer so as such, there was nothing much to see apart from non-operational ski resorts. However, where we were staying was in a beautiful pastoral/forest area with an idyllic stream next to the hostel...

...and the occasional sign a moron would find amusing - HA! It says fart!

We then took a train trip that was so laden with natural beauty that it was ridiculous. It was like watching a greatest hits package of the Planet Earth program.

Our destination was Finse which is basically a two horse town in the middle of nowhere but what a beautiful middle of nowhere it is. One of the highest accessible points (by train) in Norway, you are surrounded by rivers and snow capped mountains.

Finse was also the place where they filmed the snow planet scenes for the Empire Strikes Back. For boys of a certain age such as myself, this cultural touchstone is insanely and weirdly gratifying. To know I was walking where Han Solo massacred a tauntaun to keep Luke warm through the night was mildly exciting and reveals that I am the biggest nerd on the planet. I don't care, I'm still excited.

Ruth calmly ignored my nerdgasms and enjoyed the majesty of the place in her own understated way.

The main reason for visiting Finse was to commence the Finse to Flam bike ride - an amazing bike track through awe inspiring scenery and according to every guidebook and website 'an easy downhill ride that takes a leisurely 5-7 hours'. LIARS! Of the 55km ride, the last 20km are solidly downhill. All I can say, unbeknownst to the smiling bikers above, pain was about to be dished up in a rather large serving.

However, before I get to the bike ride, a quick digression. Have you ever noticed how tanned Norwegians are? For a country that doesn't get much sun they sure have a healthy looking glow and now I know the reason for it - Norwegians like getting naked in nature. Seriously, and it's not just the stereotypical young Norwegian spunks who look as if they're carved out of wood with their perfect smiles and blonde, blonde hair. You're riding your bike around a corner and there's your Norwegian grandmother stripped down to her undies and bra waving hello... NO GRANMA NO! Those old guys riding their bikes ahead of you have stopped for some skinny dipping in the Fjord ahead - as if the lycra wasn't bad enough. I'm far from prudish but please, Norwegians, put your shirt back on - at least, your underwear, alright. However, I digress...

Anyhow, these are some of the scenes we saw from our bike. It really was truly breath taking but much of the ride was difficult with loose gravel roads and steep uphill sections which for amateur bike riders like Ruth and I was quite a challenge. Did I say challenge or did I mean life threatening?

We did, however, find a place that sold waffles on the way which made it even more awesome.

The ride was tough and long. We were at the point of total exhaustion but thought we were almost in Flam. Unfortunately, it was about the time we found this sign... 21.5km to go after five hours of riding - you bastards!

However, here was the saviour. We rode down a very tough part of the track and were confronted by these beautiful ranges - pure joy was the response. Better still, after riding through some goats - the ride from Myrdal was actually downhill - downhill in that awesome bike-carrying-momentum-way that you don't even have to peddle but put your head back and remember what it's like to be a ten year old kid again riding their bike fast down a big frickin' hill.

This is the end of the journey. Ruth is too tired to lift her arms all the way up...

...and so, after seven hours of riding this is what victory looks like....

...and this is what it feels like. Pretty bloody tiring.


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