There is evidence of stone age occupation near Hellesylt. It is Norway’s oldest Viking port. The first tourist trips to Norway came to Hellesylt in the mid 1800s, and today around 100 cruise ships a year call there. We spent almost no time there, but had one of the most gratifying sights of the cruise thus far — a clear blue cloudless sky.
Our bus climbed over the mountain from one beautiful sight to the next. There were deep valleys, verdant farms and snow capped mountains. Norwegians can take their drinking water straight from the glaciers without treatment – the cold kills the bacteria. But we wondered about the sheep in the pastures. In our Rocky Mountains, the clear water is contaminated by a parasite from mountain sheep.
We passed many houses with grass roofs. The sod provides insulation. The older ones had birch bark under the sod; now they use propylene covered by tar. Most farms raise cows, sheep and goats but by in large, the animals were in summer pastures in the mountains. The farmers cut grass and put it into large white shrink wrapped rolls for storage for feed in the winter.
There are only six major highways into Oslo, the capital, and only two to the rest of the country. They rely heavily on ferries. We stopped at a 1923 hotel Grodås for cakes and tea. The hotel was next to Hornindalsvatn, the deepest lake in Norway not fed by glaciers. The water was clear and black.Then we drove on to Styrn. We were told the population was 7000, but that probably included the surrounding area. It is an administrative center for the region and would appear to be the main shopping center. We were surprised to look at a map and see that Stryn is only about five and a half kilometeres from our Olden guide’s hotel and only eleven and a half kilometers from Olden by road. But it was much further by our water and road route.
From Stryn, we climbed more than a thousand feet passing a tunnel through the mountains that is the modern shortcut to Geiranger. We continued to climb the old Strynefjell mountain road until we reached a hotel next to the plunging Buldrefoss Waterfall.After lunch at the hotel, we continued over a high pass, the site of a summer ski school, to the juncture of a main road to Oslo. At the juncture, we saw a mock-up of a World War II German bomber that was used in the 2012 film “Into the White.” The film did not do particularly well at the box office, but I am interested to get the book. It is the tale of German and British aircraft crews that were forced down in the mountains and found their way to the same hut. By the time they left, fast friendships had been formed. Now, in August, there was fresh snow on the mountains. In January, they have only three hours of daylight. Our guide said Norwegians like to vacation then seeking out the sun.
Before descending to Geiranger, we took a side road up to Mt. Dalsnibba, whose 4843 foot summit offered a great view down to our ship (and two others) in the fjord at Geiranger, our final destination.
People have lived in this region since the stone age. But the population was devastated by the Black Death. Then in the 19th and 20th century, many residents emigrated to America. But the little town, with a population of around 250, has been a major tourist site since 1857 and today is Norway’s third busiest cruise port.
On our way out the fjord, we passed the famous Seven Sisters Waterfall which have become synonymous with Geiranger. Just as people throw coins into Rome’s Trevi Fountain, we put a rock on a stack of stones symbolizing our desire to return.