What we loved….

Amsterdam – Me Jenny loved that it was compact and quaint.  I love the buildings and the history and the canals.

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Iceland – the scenery was simply spectacular and we imagine it would have only been more fabulous had we had more than 8 hours of sun in the whole week.

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Finland – Me J wasn’t a huge fan of Finland.  I think we found it a bit dower and scarce and I hate to mention the weather again – but grey sky and rain doesn’t generally equal happy faces. It seemed to have quite a strong Russian influence with its square, dull (almost criminal) buildings.  We found the people to not be terribly friendly either which can’t be true for the whole country, but the ones we met….. not too fussed on being nice.  I quite liked the trees and the lakes – there are 220,000 of them – only 20,000 more lakes than they have reindeer.  I’ve been to Finland before and met local Finnish people who were more than lovely and hospitable hosts and couldn’t do enough for us…. so I think we were just unlucky this time.  However – they did have some cool reindeer and then there’s Santa….

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Norway – We loved the coloured houses in the remote locations along the fjords.  Flam was breathtaking and well worth the journey to Norway alone!  The city of Bergen had some gorgeous pockets of old houses, giving you a taste of what life might have been like back in the day….. and what it still is like for the people who still live there!

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The basis of this trip was to try to find the Northern Lights.  We gave ourselves plenty of opportunities, but unfortunately we were met with a lot of cloudage throughout our whole trip.  We did see them, but they were not what we were expecting.  After the first night, we were a bit disappointed…. “Is that it?” but then I spoke to my lovely cousin, Kay who had seen the lights before and I did some reading up on what you can actually see with the naked eye compared with what the camera picks up….  and I felt a bit better about it.

The next two photos came from this website: https://petapixel.com/2016/01/22/the-truth-and-lies-of-those-aurora-photos-you-see/ in a blog entitled: The Truth and Lies of Those Aurora Photos You See

This is what we could see with the naked eye …..
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Photo by: GARETH MCCORMACK

and this is what was picked up by the camera…
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Photo by: GARETH MCCORMACK

So….. what have we learned on this trip?

1. Even when the sun doesn’t shine – you’ve got to keep a smile on your face and laugh through the rain.

2.  Buffets aren’t for the faint-hearted, but get your elbows up and push through and don’t make eye contact with anyone.

3.  When you’re in a foreign country, it’s ok to just take a few hours out and see a movie (in English) you don’t have to be sightseeing every minute of the day…. we saw Victoria and Abdul – it was lovely.

4. When you get the opportunity – sit outside with the beverage of your choice and just watch people.  It gives you a great insight into the area, the culture , the country and how sore your feet are.

5.  Always carry your umbrella if you want the guarantee of no rain.

6. Get out of the cities and see how the country folk live.

7. Get off the main trourist streets and always take a different scenic walk back to your hotel…. you find houses and buildings and gardens that you’d never see on the HOHO bus route.

8. Some hire cars have heated steering wheels….. there’s nothing actually wrong with your hands.

9. Even though people give us the shits – they’re only in your life for a very brief moment.

10. Try to be open minded about tyring new foods.  On this trip we tried reindeer, in many different forms, brown cheese, which is made from goat’s milk and whey and tastes like caramel…. but whilst your at it – stick to your guns about eating things you don’t believe in – like whale.  I’m not sure why I draw the line there, but I do.

We’re about to board the plane on our second to last leg of this journey which seems to have taken WAY longer than 34 days – in a good way.

So, thank you all for coming along for the ride – it’s been great having you with us.

Until next time…….

 

Norge, takk for solen

What a lovely day!  The sun was shining on our last day in Oslo – phew!

We headed back to the palace garden to make the most of the unseasonal sunshine and came across this lovely statue (below).  The only plaque on the rock is that of a crown and the letter “S” – S for Sonja – that’s Queen Sonja.  She is the wife of King Harald.  They dated for 9 years and Harry’s Mum & Dad weren’t too pleased on him marrying a commoner, but he said well, I’m not marrying anybody else and if you want heirs to the throne…….  So they relented and allowed the marriage – how welcomed Sonja must have felt!  Anyway, in spite of all of that, she’s done quite well for herself and the people of Norway, so well done Sonja.

As an avid hiker – apparently there isn’t a mountain range in Norway that she hasn’t explored – so they had this statue made and it was unveiled by her grandchildren.  Such a lovely, down to earth image of a queen rather than the poncey, stagnate poses they’re usually made to do.


I thought I’d give you a look at the palace with some blue sky in the back ground.

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A little walk through the main street taking in the sights and checkout out the people….. and mice.  Mickey ghosted us the whole way down the street.  Well played Mick!

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I like to place Me Jenny in possible posing positions next to flowers cause she’s the ultimate Blomster!

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Because of the beautiful day it was decided to walk the city and see all the things that we only saw through the rain streamed windows of the HOHO bus yesterday…. Here’s the finger of Christian – the man who pointed to this spot and declared that they shall rebuilt the city in that spot – then humbly called the city Christiania after himself.

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When you’re walking, you do see so much more and today when we approached the Nobel Peace Centre from the footpath side rather than the road side – which is covered in building fences…. we saw the front door and that it was open!

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It was really well done.  This year’s recipient was ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.  Good work everybody.  Hopefully more work can be done in this area before DT gets his greedy little hands on the 32 nukes he’s after so that he can claim he’s the Prez with the most ever nukes!  I can’t work out who’s madder or more childish – DT or KJU?

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There is a room that is quite reminiscent of the field of lights we saw at Uluru, but this field of light features all the past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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This was pretty cool – all the faces of the winners as little stickers on this window with the Oslo Town Hall – where they present the Nobel Peace Prize each year in the background.  You can even purchase these faces as wall paper.

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Have you ever wondered where the peace sign came from?

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This saves me from typing it out….
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#worldpeace #peaceout #peace #peacebewithyou

Wine-ing about the rain

When we were planning this trip Oslo had a question mark next to it because we had been there before and we were trying to stay out of the big cities… but then, after a bit of conversation about what we saw the last time we were in Oslo, we started doubting ourselves because we couldn’t remember anything about it.

I get a lot of my memories from the blogs that I wrote during previous trips – and in that blog – there’s no mention of Oslo…. and if it’s not in the blog, did it really happen?

We were convinced that we hadn’t been to Oslo, and so we changed our itinerary to include 3 days there at the end of the journey.

It wasn’t until we were doing a bit of reading up on Norway and in particular, Oslo and more specifically Vigeland Park – which is full of sculptures that we realised that we had indeed been to that park, and therefore we’d been to Oslo – ergo – we’d been to Norway!
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This then sparked some more memories of museums and viking ships and winter olympic sites…..yep – we DID come to Oslo.

Oh well, each time you return to a place you’ve been before, you just do something different.

We started the day at a cafe called Joe the Juice which is a place that we read about and have seen all over Norway, but hadn’t had the chance to try it out.  It was a pretty cool place and had Abercrombie models working there…. one in particular was wearing jeans that were WAY too small for him – possibly borrowed from a friend…. and he also had some spectacular hair that was necessary to flick, which is probably why his head was on a constant lean and his lips were pursed – ala Zoolander….. anyway, it was a cool little place.

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Me Jenny loves a good flower market/florist and it seems everywhere we’ve seen blomsters in Norway they are just beautiful – way lovelier than we get at home, so there was a bit of perusing done there.

Each day at the royal palace they have the Changing of the Guard, so that was where we headed next.  It was supposed to be a day with a few scattered showers today, but it appears that our friend, Mr Hemsworth has been a little busy with something else and today the rain started and did not stop – in fact, it’s still raining now.

Last time we were in London we watch the changing of the guard there but the two experiences just didn’t compare.  In London we were 4 people deep held back by the large golden gate that surrounds the front of the palace.  In Oslo, a very small crowd gathered to watch the pomp and ceremony which is a little bit like the one at Bucks….

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The guards themselves are different to the ones in London too – these ones turn their heads and look around and speak.  If you venture too close to the palace front door, they will march over to you and ask you to step back.  They do carry loaded rifles with bayonets, so best to stay back.

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It was quite simple – the new guards marched out from a side gate and then did some formation stuff and then lined up at the other end of the square.  They stood there for what seemed like forever and we’ll never know what happened after that because it was too cold and like I said – raining, so we high tailed it.  That sound you can hear on the video sounds like it could be the marching…. but it’s not – it’s the rain on my umbrella.


This chap here was very gung ho and into his role and good on him.  He marched and stood to attention so hard that he had a slight uniform mishap where one leg of his trousers was wedged in his buttocks, making it a little shorter than the other and then the short leg got caught in his boot…. he knew what was happening, but couldn’t do anything about it.  You could feel his discomfort.


It was decided that we would get out of the rain and jump on the Hop On/Hop Off bus… Now I know what you’re all thinking…. ‘after Reykjavik, why would you get on another HOHO bus again?’  Well, I will admit that thought did cross my mind, but we scoped out the map and deemed it worth jumping onboard – that and the thought of walking through Oslo in the pouring rain didn’t seem appealing.

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So jump on we did!

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It looked mostly like this…. and as we drove around – especially at the more touristy places, more and more memories of having been here before came back to us.

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Oslo, like a lot of cities seems to be going through a surge of new buildings/renovating old buildings/street maintainance and general digging up of things, so there is a lot of fencing and scaffolding and road blocks.

One place I would have liked to ‘hop off’ and have a look at was the Nobel Peace Prize Centre – but it had half the building covered in scaffolding, the road was blocked off and the rest of the building was fenced off – it wasn’t meant to be.  Did you know that Adolf Hilter was once nominated for the Peace Prize?  His nomination was quickly recindered in the same year – and rightly so!  Today we learned that they don’t publish the nominees until 50 years after the prize is given.

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This drive around town was actually quite good and if you’re ever in Oslo – I’d recommend it.

After our circuit was done, we hopped off, found a place for lunch where the waiter asked if we were Australian and then kept saying “G’day” and “Hooroo” and giggling.

I read in another blog that purchasing alcohol here in Norway has a few restrictions.  Whilst you can buy beer and cider in grocery stores, anything over 4.7% must be purchased from Vinmonopolet – literally the Wine Monopoly – which is a government owned retailer and the only place allowed to sell alcohol over 4.75%.

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All alcohol can only be purchased before 8pm on weekdays and before 6pm on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays and some public holidays but the Wine Monopoly shops close at 6pm during the week and at 3pm on Saturdays – I know, right – can you believe it?

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So – with this information, we found ourselves a Monopoly store before closing time and purchased ourselves a bottle of wine – a little bit of inside information goes a long way, then we bought some cheese and biccies and got back to the comfort of our hotel….. poured the wine and……. relax.

 

Flam Railway

Today we are full of excitement because we’re on the Flam Railway train heading over what is absolutely up there in the list of beautiful scenic places.

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INFO from the http://www.visitflam.com website:
In the span of a brief hour, the train takes you from sea level at the Sognefjord in Flåm to the Myrdal mountain station at 867 metres above sea level. Myrdal is also a station on the Bergen Railway, which means that the Flåm Railway connects with trains running between Bergen and Oslo. For information on and tickets for connecting services on the Bergen Line, please visit NSB’s website: www.nsb.no 

The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest standard-gauge railway lines in the world, with 80% of the journey at a gradient of 5.5%. The train runs through spectacular scenery, alongside the Rallar Road, vertiginous mountainsides, foaming waterfalls, through 20 tunnels and offers so many viewpoints that, for many people, a single trip up and down is not enough.

National Geographic Traveler Magazine calls the Flåm Railway one of the top 10 train journeys in Europe while in 2014 Lonely Planet Traveller went even further, and named it the best train journeys in the world.

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This is the original 21 hairpin turn road that was the only way into the fjord besides viking ship.

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Along the railway line, in between two tunnels where the front and the rear of the train were still inside…..

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there’s this viewing platform with the most lovely waterfall.  They stop the train for about 5 minutes so you can get out and take photos. This little lady couldn’t wait and had her camera stretched out as she alighted.

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Me Jenny and I stayed snuggled up on the train and viewed it from the window.

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and on the other side of the train from that waterfall was this gorgeous view of this old water pumping station back by the snow capped mountain – quite beautiful.
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57 minutes from start to end and we were dropped off at this deserted station at Myrdal.

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We waited as the Flamsbana switched ends and returned back to Flam…

… while we were left to fend for ourselves for about 40 minutes with very limited resources.

But the train was there right on time and we were whisked though a whole host of landscapes that we weren’t expecting…. check out the snow!  And see the rippled part on the water? – That’s ice!

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The train journey from Myrdal to Oslo took about five hours, so we sat back and watched the scenery change from waterfalls, to frozen lakes to snowed in towns to moonscape rocky fields and as we got closer to the big smoke, the towns got bigger.

Our hotel was not too far from the train station, but also wasn’t surrounded by restaurants, so we headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant which was a quaint little maze of rooms and at the end…. a little bar.

This is the hotel lift – how cool.

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The restaurant offered a 5 course Japanese tasting menu

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which was a lovely surprise…. but if I’m honest, we were so hungry, we would’ve eaten anything!

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Layer upon layer upon layer

This morning was one of the coldest October days since the woman at the Fjord Safari counter could remember and we were booked on the Fjord Safari tour…..  which is this fast, open boat that scoots up and down the fjords.

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We thought we’d be ok with what we had on, but no……

I was wearing for following items:
* thermal legs
* jeans
* thermal pants worn over own jeans (given by Fjord Safari people)
* singlet
* marino long sleeve top
* fleece vest
* thermal hoody (given by Fjord Safari people)
* fleece hoody
* outer wind breaker jacket
* floatation suit
* beanie
* gloves (own)
* gloves woolen inners (given by Fjord Safari people)
* gloves canvas outer (given by Fjord Safari people)
* thermal socks
* boots
* goggles (given by Fjord Safari people)

And… at minus degrees and travelling at 30 knots – I was still cold.

As we were getting ALL the clothes on, Me Jenny was sitting on the bench ramming her leg into the floatation suit and she was just about to say “I don’t think this is going to fit” when the man popped over and said “I think that’s an arm”  Bess him for being so kind – “I think….” He KNEW it was an arm and 7 layers down – I was wetting my pants – hilarious!  All dressed up and this is what we looked like!

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We were told by our tour bloke and boat driver that we were both very brave for coming to Norway in October because it’s generally raining and he also said we were super lucky because yesterday and today were the first clear & dry days in ages and if it had rained yesterday it would have been all misty today and we wouldn’t have seen much…. but today, besides the subzero temps, the conditions were absolutely perfect!

Flam is situated at the end of the Aurlandsfjord…

Facts about the Aurlandsfjord:

  • The Aurlandsfjord is a part of the World Heritage area surrounding the Nærøyfjord
  • It is a 17-kilometer arm of the world’s second longest fjord, the Sognefjord (204 km)
  • It is surrounded by high mountains that reaches heights of over 1,400 metres
  • The fjord is considered to be one of the most picturesque fjords in the world

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I couldn’t take many photos because it was just too hard to get my phone out of my pocket and I was too busy thinking about how I was going to switch my brain to believe that the freezing cold burning sensation that I was feeling was actually that of a warm sensation…. something I did not master in the 2 hours, but we did stop at some lovely spots and I took the gloves off when I could.

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This village was the initial inspiration for the movie Frozen.  There are about 60 people who live here permanently and about 600 goats – you can find some of them in the houses – the goats, not the people…. although the people can probably be found in there as well!

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This house at the top of the hill was first built 600 years ago.  There is no road access to the property and it’s a 4 day hike in from the nearest road, so the quickest way to get to the property is to climb from the jetty below.  The original owner apparently scouted along the fjords for some farming land and as flat land is fairly hard to come by in these parts, he noticed a bit of a plateau, climbed up and claimed it as his own.  The current  owners bought it in 1990, renovated the house and lived there quite self sufficiently with their veggie patch and assortment of mountain animals and they installed a ladder to get up and down, but then when their 2 children, who were born up there, reached school age, they moved a little closer to a town and now the house is a hotel…. You can rent it out!  They’ve since removed the ladder, and have made a sort of a walking track that goes in a zig zag pattern across the face of the mountain – and you’d have to carry your own luggage…. and – there is a 3 year waiting list!

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This is where you would be dropped off and picked up again and where the trek with your suitcase would begin…..  I’d say that’s a good 45° angle – good luck with that.

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There were more beautiful waterfalls which we could get right up close and personal in the little boat compared to the ferry.

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Our guide said that he has seen all sorts of marine life in the fjords – killer whales, porpoises, otters…. and seals.  At first I couldn’t quite see where they were because they were the same colour as the rocks, but then they moved.  This is their version of basking in the sun…. when there is no sun!

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After about an hour of the 2 hour cruise I’d had enough of the cold, but with little else I could do, I sat tight and wiggled my toes for fear of frostbite, but getting off was quite welcomed.

Our little town of Flam was simply stunning when we returned – the frost had melted and the sun had given it a little bit of warmth and so we walked every inch of it to take it all in while we tried to soak up some of the sunshine.

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One side of the river seems to be mostly tourist centred, but then on the other side there is a small enclave of houses where I guess people live permanently.

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There are even beach volleyball courts for when you feel the need.

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and when you feel another need….

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Isn’t Me Jenny as pretty as a picture?

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We had just finished taking this picture and were headed back to the village when a woman started calling out to us in a language we didn’t recognise.  “English?” we asked. “Yes, you will take my photo.” she replied.  She was from Pakistan but raised somewhere – we didn’t recognise the name – and really it was irrelevant to the topic at hand. It was her first time in Norway and she appeared to be on her own, so I obliged and we walked all the way back to this same spot.  I took 3-4 shots of varying angles and closeness and handed her back the phone.  “Are they ok?” I asked  “No, take more.  I will sit here and you stand over there.” was her reply as she thrusted the phone back at me and pointed to where she wanted me to stand – which, by the way, was on a rock precariously balanced on the edge of the water.  I thought the photos I’d taken were good, but she said “get me with the nature here.” indicated behind her – which is exactly what I had done in the first lot, and where else was I going to put the ‘nature’?  Anyway, after about 3 rounds of shots, the photo shoot was over when I handed her back the phone and said “that will do.”  There was no ‘thank you’, and there was no “would you like me to take your photo?”  That was it – our interaction was over.

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And whilst I was being held hostage by this woman, Me Jenny practised her skimming skills.

The water is so crystal clear, even the ducks can’t believe their luck – lucky ducks!

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We continued our journey around the village working out where we would need to go for our train ride tomorrow…

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Marvelling at the beautiful scenery across the  water…

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Then it was back to one of Europe’s oldest, historic pubs….

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for a couple of quieties by the fire.

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And then….. nap time!

Flam

Up at the crack this morning to get to the train station – today we’re getting the train to the bus, the bus to the boat, and then the boat to the end of the fjord – Flam.

It was a lovely crisp morning in Bergen, we got on the train with about a billion other people and then we went through our first mountain tunnel and when we came out the other side….. it was foggy and blue.

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There are about a gazillion tunnels on this train journey, so one minute you are looking out at something like this….

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and the next, this is what you’re faced with!

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Then on the other side…..

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One more tunnel and we’d obviously passed all the fog – because she was BLUE SKIES for the rest of the day – whoop whoop!  Yep, that there be snow on those yonder mountains.

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We pulled into the boat terminal which was surrounded by huge mountains…. that’s snow that’s lining the top of the mountain – and I’ve used no filter on this photo, although it does look like I’ve just plonked the mountains on a blue background.

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At the terminal there is a restaurant and the obligatory souvenir shop.. and this guy standing outside.

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And we’re hoping for a bigger boat than this to get us to Flam!

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It’s quite cold here in this valley….. so cold in fact, that there is ice on this table!

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We got on The Fjords and found a spot to sit….. now this is another situation where I  don’t understand or like people.

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Then we just watched as the most beautiful scenery sailed past.

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some people on board couldn’t see past their own fine selves to see the stunning scenery around them….

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There are little towns and villages scattered all the way along the fjord.  There are very remote – but that seems to be the way the Norwegians like it.

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I can tell you someone else who would have preferred to be in a remote space as we sailed through the fjord – me!  We first found a lovely spot to sit and were very quickly surrounded by a group of women who stood around us and talked at each other.  Not one of them looked out the window…. so we up and moved to a quieter end of the boat.  People just couldn’t sit and look, they were up and down, walking back and forth, standing in front of the window so nobody else could see out….. these people below, were facetiming a child and speaking in babytalk….. How do I know that? They seem so far away from where we’re sitting, right?  Yeah, we could still hear them, because people have no concern for people around them.

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So it’s decided that this is the prettiest place that we’ve been on the trip so far.

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and then we sailed into Flam.

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We got off and walked a full 3 minutes to our hotel which is lovely.

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And went straight to our room to stare at our view.

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A little walk around the town – shouldn’t take too long.

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There’s a couple of cafes…

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Not one, but two of these trains…. still trying to work out where the hell they would take you…

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Next door you can hire these enclosed scooters – again, not sure where you’d ride them.

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We waved goodbye to The Fjords and hopefully those women who sat on top of us….

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And checked out the wharf area where we met a resident, who was only too happy to make us feel welcome.


We checked out the Flam Museum.  It’s very interesting  with lots of facts that I won’t bore you with….. but do check this out – it’s the road to get down to Flam – there are 21 hairpin turns.  The buses only drive down when there’s no snow.  It reminds me of the road in Santorini where the poor donkeys push and up and down.  Back in the olden days when they used to have horses carry things up and down the road they had a sign that said “Be gentle against the horse and walk the hill up.”  They also made a rule that the horse was only to carry one passenger at a time…. poor bastards!

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Check out this cool motorbike track checker.

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Jen, where are we?

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Toy Town

BLUE SKIES!!!!!! Horray and lashings of ginger beer!

Today, we walked in a different direction down by the water.  There was a little enclave of houses that were perhaps originally built for the fishermen or the wharf workers?  Not sure, but they’re as cute as a button……

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Then you turn your head across the street and find this crime against architecture and people with eyes.  There’s just no explanation!

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There’s also no explanation for the Norwegian language….. Has nobody told them that they are allowed to put spaces in between words?  Me Jenny has a theory – whenever you hear Norwegian people speaking to each other, the person speaking appears to not take a breath – at all.  It’s like they start talking and once they’ve gotten going, it’s very difficult for them to stop and Me Jenny thinks that it’s because the words are too long and therefore one word just runs into the next word, making it terribly tricky to breath and talk at the same time.  They must know that  breath through your nose didgeridoo technique.

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We had a map so I knew that we were headed to the end of the peninsula, but we didn’t know that there would be this fabulous park area right on the water.

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There are concrete benches to sit and do your contemplating on… we only sat for about 4 seconds because it was absolutely freezing, but we did pass a group of people who’d brought a picnic with them and a range of plastic and fabric bags to sit on as well as little foam cushions – they knew!

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We got around the bend and the map just showed a road, but we came across a fork – one way was up hill and the other was down some stairs…. it was a gamble, but we opted for the stairs, which lead us to the back of an apartment building and once we got the courage to just walk on through as if we were meant to be there, we came to the water and a lovely seating area…

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and a lovely little cafe.  I reckon Me Jenny is a little sick of having her photo taken now.

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This cafe had made some of its outside furniture out of wooden pallets.  Very creative.

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This is why I love taking the back roads and turning right when you always usually turn left – you’ll always find something special.

We just wandered back in time through these gorgeous streets with the most precious houses where people still live!

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Not sure where this back gate leads to or if they know that somebody has taken their stairs.

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I love how all the houses are bright and painted different colours.

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Back over near where were staying we popped back into these old buildings that look like they’re right out of the set of Oliver Twist.  These buildings, or sections of them have apparently burned down about 8 times over the centuries that since they were first built.

Somebody’s not learning a crucial lesson there I think.

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Maybe something to do with the wood?

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Or dodgy extensions?

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The old buildings are quite touristy now with souvenir shops and cafes, etc…. and the obvious photo opportunities!

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Thanks Bergen, she’s been lovely.

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So back to our hotel for a little nap…..

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… but not before sampling a glass of Bergen’s finest brew.  You see, below our hotel is a beer bar, which is run by an Australian/Norwegian chap from Lesmurdie in WA!

Jubel!

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