Cities / Towns Visited: 42
Countries Visited: 13
Steps Taken Today: 16,378
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,495,982
We awoke and packed our bags, as it was finally time for us to bid farewell to Bergen and head on to the next adventure. After a rather treacherous trek down the mountain, which mainly involved trying to prevent the suitcases rolling away down the road, while simultaneously trying not to fall backwards with the weight of the backpacks, we managed to reach the train unscathed and off we chugged until we reached the town of Voss. At this point we had to wait for our connecting bus, hiding in the corner of the bus shelter to avoid the barrage of sun already assaulting the earth despite it still being the morning. The bus arrived and we trundled off once more, until we reached our intermediate stop in Gudvangen.
Now to say this town is small is an understatement, it consists of its ferry dock, an information centre / souvenir shop / restaurant, a few houses, a motel, and the one attraction we were actually majorly excited to visit; Njardarheimr, a replica of an old viking village just beside the fjord. Having little luck finding somewhere to store our bags at the information centre, we tried our luck at the viking village itself, and they were more than happy to oblige. Once more it’s the small town attractions, who understand that tourists are their lifeblood, who jumped at any opportunity to help us if it meant it would get us through the gate. Thus gleefully we stowed our bags in their locked shed and skipped on into the village just in time to take the free hourly tour.
Joining a family of Americans at the meeting point, we were met by one of the employees of the village, all of whom dress in the clothes of the historic civilisation they are representing. In thickly Norwegian accented English our stereotypically viking, long haired and bearded guide led us around this obviously relatively new attraction. Apparently they used to only set a small village up seasonally, but they have finally been able to erect it as a permanent site. We were taken around, past the old viking boat, and pausing for him to show us old viking style weapons. He explained that, when needed, all viking men were expected to be able to arm themselves for a battle bringing a close quarters weapon like an axe or dagger (or a sword if they were wealthy enough to own one), a pole weapon (usually an pole axe or a spear), and a shield. If they were an archer they were required to bring a bow, 60 arrows, and a second string. If they failed to do this they could be fined for each missing item. That being said it was not often that they were required to fight, unlike the preconceptions we have of them, most were simple farmers and fishermen just going about their daily and relatively boring lives.
From here we were shown a few of the replicas of more simple, grass roofed, viking huts which would have been used by the general populous, as well at the chief’s hut with its larger bed, throne like chair beside a heavy wooden table, and a man and woman dressed as chieftain and wife (although in my head I always imagined the chief to be a big brawny fellow, not a rather weedy old man; still he looked witty and wise, so points for that), and a rather jovial looking man whose entire job was to tell over the top, old Norse God based tales (but we’ll come back to him later). We continued on past some employees plying old skills, from a special kind of knotted knotting, to tablet weaving, to a female blacksmith hammering away, as well as being shown old wood turning equipment involving an impressive rig of rope connected to a wooden foot crank. Its the kind of old school handicrafts that would take hundreds of man hours to complete, and that are a dying art as we simply have it completed by machines now.
Our tour concluded at the old sacrificial area, with its wooden totem poles of the Norse gods Odin, Thor, Freya, Frey (yes that’s the God of fertility with the uncomfortably large penis), and Njord (the God after whom the fjord is named). This part of the village would have been the place where the community would have sacrificed animals, and sometimes people, to the Gods in the hope of a good harvest, a good catch, good weather, protection, or fertility. Free to our own devices we explored the town at our own pace, stopping to try our hand at axe throwing, which is seemingly not my fortay. Unsurprisingly it is rather difficult to throw an unevenly weighted weapon accurately on your first few tries. After a lot of laughing, terrible aiming, and the realisation that I’d likely be bludgeoning people with the handle more than the blade, we headed to the village communal dining hall to source our lunch. Ordering our, ever so viking, grilled meat, bread, and root vegetables, we continued wandering a little while we waited the 20 minutes it would take our tomahawk steak to cook. Eventually it was time to dig in, and sitting on the goat hide covered benches of the communal tables we dug in to out steak, and pork chop. Both were delicious, and there was something so very old school about picking up the massive bone and gnawing on it. The only thing that was missing was a tankard of mead, a few dozen bearded men, and some hearty chortling over old war stories.
Full of good food and general content we took another stroll amongst the huts, and took the opportunity to engage the tale skills of the village storyteller. In his clearly British accent, I honestly can’t flaw his enthusiasm and excitement in which he tells the folklore of these northerthy ancestors, even getting us involved in being able to choose which animals and items Loki turns into in the story. The tale centred around the Norse God Eden who’s golden apples keep the gods perpetually young in Asgard. As an athiest it is always amusing to see the similarities between all of the religious narratives, and yet they all fight over which one is correct, despite the clear fact that they are often copies or reinterpretations of older ‘heathen’ beliefs.
We left the hut full of laughter and headed to our last stop before our departure; the archery range. Now, archery has been something I’ve wanted to take up for a long time, and a sport I have enjoyed greatly on the few occasions I have had the chance to try it, and this was no exception to the rule. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I think I did rather well for someone who hasn’t drawn a string since I was in primary school, with solid grouping, decent accuracy, and so much force that the poor lady running the range struggled at a few points to dislodge the arrows from the fake animal targets. To be fair I just needed to be a few paces back, but there wasn’t quite enough room for that. I’m fairly confident we both did well as she let us use the sharp arrows that she hides out the back so that the people that are terrible at it don’t blunt them by shooting them into the ground. I left with a renewed sense that should I feel the need to take up a sport when I finish travelling, this is the one for me.
With a quick stop at the gift shop we purchased a few trinkets to remind us of our most joyous visit to this tiny unassuming town; a few hand stricken viking coins, and a wrought iron troll cross made by the blacksmith of the village (designed as an amulet of protection from the mythical trolls of the forests, although I’m kind of hoping it works on the modern day internet trolls). It was finally time to hop on our fjord ferry to our home for the night; Flåm.
Much like our cruise a couple of days prior, I sat in awe of the beauty of this remote scenery for the entire length of the three hour trip. The towering cliffs making me feel both small and insignificant, as well as part of something so much bigger than my single, solitary self. Eventually the tiny town of Flåm drew closer and we pulled in alongside a massive cruise ship, so large it almost seem illogical as to how it managed to fit down the fjord at all; I guess these waters run deep. After a rather tiresome walk to our hostel, which involved a nice man from the accommodation stopping us two thirds of the way there and driving us the remaining distance, we arrived up the hill at our home for the night; and what a home it was. Our room sat on the top floor of a 300 year old farmhouse, with a stunning view of the mountain and waterfall just behind it, and original floorboards so wonky that if you leave your wheeled suitcase unattended it would roll away of its own volition. It was strangely endearing, but obviously less so when you realise that the bed is also on a lean and the blood ever so slightly runs down to your brain when you lie in it. After a quick trip to the shops and back to source food for dinner, we spent the rest of the evening catching up on blogs in the quaint downstairs living room with its original brick fireplace, and the kind of furniture which makes me reminisce about the times in my childhood I spent at the house of my British grandparents, with their home full of old trinkets; it had an air of history and homely welcome.
As a fell asleep to the eerie silence of a town secluded from the hustle and bustle of modern day life, I listened to the gentle creak of the weatherboards relaxing in the cool air, and watched the soft midnight sunlight creep in around the curtains. My thoughts drifted back to thoughts of my grandmother who passed less than four years previously, and in my mind she was healthy as she had been when I was younger. I was back in their home in Grevillia, in a tiny town with a population of fifteen, and she was just outside tending to the vegetable garden, bringing joy and life to all around her, just as she always had. In my nightmind the sweet smell of her baking wafted through, and the old clock ticked in the hallway, and I felt as though I was home again, even in this far away place.