Friday, June 08, 2007

from Lofthus, Norway: honor and the nose

Yes, it’s pretty here, in countryside, but I really want to come face to face with a fjord. This is not easy if you’re determined to use public transportation and refuse to join a tour group. So near and yet so far.

Truthfully, my first night in the countryside was less than perfect. My hotel was over a small train station and the noise from all sides was enough to knock sleep out of even the hardy. Which, btw, is not, so far as sleep is concerned, me.

Morning breakfast was a buffet thing – wasted on me. Fruits, breads, cereals – that would be fine. Fish, salads, cheeses, sausages – forget it. The northern Europeans can kill my morning appetite in a minute. I feel I am in Poland.

I nibble on some kringle and run for the bus station.

I’m nervous using buses abroad. I mess up schedules all the time. How do I know what they mean by “holiday?” Fine, I see that Saturday is different, but who would know that Wednesday is different as well, in certain places? I struggle with the charts, and here, in Norway, with the language. Still, I think I can connect. I think I can.

Damn it, I want to get to Lofthus! (I wanted to get there last night, but the hotel there had no rooms for me then.)

Lofthus is actually a collection of tiny hamlets bordering the large Hardengenfjord. A favorite hangout for Grieg. In fact, he composed his most famous pieces in my hotel of choice! Maybe even in my room! Maybe it will inspire me to create great things as well! Maybe not.

The bus ride is terrifying. Twists and turns on a narrow strip of asphalt, requiring backing up if another car is coming. I try to appreciate the scenery but I’m counting the minutes, wondering how many busloads are lost to the mountains and ravines of Norway.

I do take one photo before deciding that taking photos will dislodge the kringle and coffee. But the shot at least gives you a feel of how pretty a terrifying ride can be.


And suddenly, we are at the dark waters of the fjord. So this is what the fuss is all about! A ferry takes us over. In a flash, my calm is restored.


We finish the final miles along the shore of the fjord and finally it’s my turn to get off, at the Hotel Ullensvang in Lofthus.

Yes, I guessed that my room wouldn't be ready. I’m sorry for the super early arrival, I was anxious to get here. Can you recommend a walk while I wait?
Long or short?

(Thinking – the day is beautiful and I want something more than a geriatric stroll to the church and back) Long!
I have a map for you. Take this trail up to “the Nose.” Good views up there.

I turn to leave.

It’s about a two and a half hour climb, straight up. Beautiful views.

Do I turn around and ask for maybe something less hardy? No I do not. My honor’s at stake. I don’t want to be seen as a wimp.

Never mind that I am hardly ready for a mountain climb. That I have the wrong clothes, wrong shoes, and heavy camera gear with me. Never mind that I am tired from not sleeping, hungry from not eating and generally a mess from the bus ride. I walk off with a wave as if I am as eager as anything to attack the mountain.

Here, you can see the Nose from this shot. It’s the rock up at the top, near the strips of snow, the one that looks like, well, a nose.


I do have the sense to stop at the store for more water (I had half a bottle left from Oslo and it is sunny and hot outside).

I do not have the sense to wait until the store opens. Impatient to attack the beast, I set off.

At first, the climb is nothing short of awesome. This is Norway’s fruit plate. Orchards line the slope in much the same way as vineyards line France’s southern hills. And below, there is the fjord.


But very quickly I am hotter than hot and that half bottle of water becomes like liquid gold. One sip every half hour, I tell myself.

Oh to hell, the clothes have to come off. There’s no one here.

Up up, into the forest. Slightly cooler here. Back goes the shirt. Still, the sun filters in even among the firs.


I see the patches snow above, like a mirage – glimmering in icy splendidness. I imagine stretching on one, cooling off as the melting water drips straight into my mouth. The image is nice. Up, up I climb, forest needles and cones constantly filling my mary-janes.

I see wild blueberries ripening. I’m tempted to eat the whole batch of them.


I am hungry, I am thirsty. I think of the cistercian monks who not only did this climb routinely but also went to the trouble of hauling rocks that form steps near the top (some 500 years ago). Why did they do it? Who would benefit? Was it worth it? What did they eat? Do monks eat well? Were there good cooks among them?

Flowers appear in clumps. Forget-me-nots, anemone. Birches replace the firs. I am in birch paradise. I can’t say that my step is lighter with each breath, but I am very very pleased to be here, doing this climb on this bright June day.


And finally, I reach the Nose.


And the view that is worth every last sweaty step.


I meet a Norwegian couple just a wee bit younger than me. I must look frightful because he offers to carry my camera equipment back down. I tell them I don’t usually hike in such disarray. They nod sympathetically, kindly. They tell me about different fjords – ones with steeper cliffs, rock formation, green waters. Me, I’m happy just to have seen this one in this hamlet where Grieg composed.

Five hours later, the hike is behind me and I am again in the village. The room is ready, I check in.

To say that I have a room with a view is an understatement. In the wee hours of the morning (though how do you define morning here?) I look out onto this:


Plans for today? After a period of writing, I was thinking of doing this:


But that’s tomorrow’s story.