The Art of Chilling

When I say chilling, I mean Nothing. Let me relent here because there are the basic functions of living to be considered. Breathing, eating, checking into the loo and the works. Then there is the glorious prospect of gazing dreamily into the fjords beyond the windows, sighing from time to time, because you could live with such a view for a long time. As long as you lived.

Add a lifetime’s supply of books, coffee, tea, husband, hikes and two dogs. Now did I just describe Els’ life?

But before you get down to the art of perfecting nought, there is a condition that has to be met. The weather gods will have to conspire to make the heavens burst asunder till you will have no option but to sit tight within. If you are in a cottage by the fjords would you even consider complaining about thunders and showers?

The first day of our Norwegian vacation was about sparkling blue skies and froths of clouds. As a cloud chaser, I could not have asked for a better start. The second day materialised as an overwhelmingly grey prospect. That dirty, washed-out hue which can only cast long grey shadows upon the mind. But happiness is a state of the mind you have got to court. As Anne (of the Green Gables) claimed: “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.” You do need inspiration to make light of the weighty moments in life.

But you shall need to give into sadness and woe too because those are inescapable emotions. What kind of a person would you be if you did jigs at a funeral? (which makes me think that I would want people to dance at mine, tuck into piles of good food and drink away. Life is too short to allocate enough time to ennui and glumness.)

Leaving thoughts of mortality behind — it is a Sunday after all — and I do not want to make you too contemplative on a day that should be about nothing really.

It is a feat to achieve nothing on a holiday. I have rarely indulged in such a feeling and it felt grand. Delicious. But before setting about it, we had to gather provisions from a supermarket beneath leaden skies because realisation had rapidly set in upon us during our time in Stavanger about the pocket-ripping dangers of eating outside in Norway. Now don’t get me wrong. No one’s waiting to slash your pockets and mug you. Heavens, but this is Norway, folks! Get a grip. I mean simply that you eat indoors unless you want to risk heading back home as paupers. Eating in and carrying packed lunches on our drives were going to be part of the essential ritual of roaming around Norway.

Mist swirled in and around the bridge nearby like wraiths smoking their way through, parts of the bridge disappearing behind the mist. Nature is an effortless magician. That morning I was reminded of the first time I had laid my eyes upon the Eiffel Tower on an autumn’s morning, when only the top of the tower loomed above a sea of mist. The waters of the fjords were mysterious, a uniform sheet of smoky blue.

Right, time to scamper back to the cottage, after we had armed ourselves with a decent stockpile of food. There was the added incentive of demolishing a cache of organic chocolates I had amassed at the store. Those chocolates count high on my list of worthy chocoholic experiences. They were expensive and Adi grumbled, but later, he ate humble pie and those bars too, with lasciviousness equalling mine.

Upon our return to the cottage, we found waiting at the door, a pot of mint and a couple of organic eggs with a hand-written note. A welcome breakfast note from Els. Now, if you have not added mint to your omelette, you would not know about the heady fragrance it lends to the eggs. We went about a brunch laden with hot dogs and eggs, all the while facing the fjords so as not to lose out on the changing landscape that unfolded before the eyes. Adi watched movies on the ipad, and I sat and read, looking up from time to time to soak in the unreality of it all.

Then came the best part of the day. Els dropped by with organic chicken from her farm. She sat for a couple of hours, her legs folded up on the sheepskin rug upon the couch. And we chatted. It is rare to come upon individuals with whom you can achieve a connection effortlessly. She was of that breed. Highly unconventional, a bit flighty, a bit wise and a bundle of quirks. We shared confidences during that time to the tune of a few cups of tea, discussing husbands, the importance of fighting in a relationship, meeting the loves of our lives, hiking, travelling and then reflecting upon the art of how to go about making this one life we have a wonderful happy place to be.

Giving into the whims of nature, it turned out that day, can be a rum idea.

IMG_20160818_210342

IMG_20160818_210107.jpg

IMG_20160821_210732.jpg

IMG_20160818_205931.jpg

IMG_20160818_210236.jpg

IMG_20160818_205219

Getting to Flåm

The road to Flåm from Gudvangen has opportunities for deep sleep. The kind of sleep that is delicious, because like all forbidden things that carry the tag of deep delight, it is not a good idea to nod off behind the wheel and in the middle of a tunnel. For one, you stand the risk of disappearing into another realm – akin to the road safety warnings that pop up all over the Norwegian country. Of a girl fading away. That road sign gave me the heebie-jeebies. You shall spot it in the roll-call of photos below.

There is also the unappetising thought that there would no possibility of a picture-perfect village tucked into a valley encircled by steep mountains, no ooh-ing and aah-ing at thundering waterfalls in close quarters and trying to catch a reflection of the self in the emerald waters of the fjord. Instead there would be a foray into the vast unknown.

The purpose of the extensive prattle is to lay it thick that tunnels in the Norwegian country can and will call upon your patience. We had passed a fair line-up of tunnels starting from Norheimsund that morning. The fatigue was setting in fast as we had woken up at a ghastly hour, when only lost souls and drunks roam the streets of Northampton, to make the journey to Heathrow. As much as it was bang for your buck to take these early-morning flights into Europe, it also meant that we were sleep-starved zombies walking around in a kind of stupor on the first day of all our trips.

The Gudvangen Tunnel stretched out for 7.1 miles, and despite a weakness of finding childlike joy in every little thing that life throws my way, which includes tunnels lit up in psychedelic colours, I wanted to scream with frustration. You see, we had to take the tunnel twice over. Now the tunnels lead into each other in quick succession often, cutting through hills, and there is no space for error while driving on these roads. Part of the fault lay in the fact that we could not identify Gudvangen and kept wondering if we had missed it along the way.

By the time we got to Flåm (pronounced ‘Flaam’, where ‘aa’ is enunciated as in London), we were two wilted humans. It was the sight of the man and the woman sitting on the bench by the fjord with their cups of coffee that made us sit up. The pretty yellow cottages with their red roofs beckoned to us. Somewhere inside one of those cottages life-affirming coffee awaited us. And a bite to eat possibly. The deal with eating in Norway is that your heart shall be in your mouth. I know I repeat myself if you have read one of my earlier posts. But a medium-small pizza marked up at £25 (roughly 270 NOK) is enough to send anyone’s blood pressure rocketing up. But what needs be must be.

Flåm by itself is an unassuming village made up of a small bridge, a handful of eateries and a public toilet, all of which stand at the end of an arm of the second-longest fjord in the world, the Sognefjord. But the most important thing that you need to know is that it is a gateway to a world of unparalleled beauty.

First on the list is the Flåm Railway. It has been touted to be one of the world’s best train journeys. It spans 12 miles cutting through mountain tops while offering you spectacular views of fjords, ravines, waterfalls and mountain farms. The whole gamut. We could not take it. It is on my mind that we shall return to Flåm, take the Flåm railway into the mountains and hike to Trolltunga.

The second possibility for all you lovers of hiking is to go up into the mountains and explore Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord, known to be the world’s narrowest fjord. Imagine standing on the cliffs and peering down into the glassy waters of the fjords. It is bliss. I can vouch for that. If there is one hike you want to do in Norway, however, make your way to Pulpit Rock. You shall remember it forever, as long as you live.

Bikers have the option of setting off on the Rallarvegen, an old works road that runs along the Bergen and Flåm Railway. It is called The Navvies’ Road because it was the construction road used to build the Bergen railway tracks. Bicycles are available for rent at Haugastøl, Finse and Flåm and accommodations too. You would possibly want the option of resting tired muscles out on a 50-mile long route. Just keep in mind that the season is between July to September.

It is only when you find yourself in a certain situation that you appreciate words that have been spoken by another person in another age. You identify with a complete stranger. Flåm put me in mind of Lord Byron. For he had observed: “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more. Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. Nature always wears the colours of the spirit.”

IMG_20160818_180839.jpg
Norwegian countryside 
IMG_20160825_125458.jpg
Cautionary signs
20160811_195733.jpg
Driving on the roads of Norway. Everyone drives in a sane, well-ordered manner, but once the clock strikes six, something comes over the Norwegians. They speed up and transform into Grand Prix drivers. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kinda situation crops up. Go figure.
IMG_20160818_210840
Reed-thin waterfalls stream their way down the mountains 
20160811_183501.jpg
Flåm
20160811_183238.jpg
The lovely cottages in Flåm
IMG_20160821_210952.jpg
By the fjords in Flåm
IMG_20160825_125631.jpg
Exiting Flåm
IMG_20160825_125559.jpg
Quaint mountain cottages
IMG_20160825_125659.jpg
Toodles, till the next tale from Norway.

 

Into a Norwegian Artist’s Retreat

Here was an artist who did the Charleston jig, all in a bid to tell us how her Pointer got his name. The Pointer is a dog, a hunting hound that gets its name from its inclination to point its muzzle towards the game. Now imagine if you will, this beloved mistress of Charleston the Pointer, a grown-up woman lifting her chin up, arms pointed into the air as if she was about to release an invisible arrow off an equally invisible bow.

On this note of welcome into her home, we knew that we had landed a prize of sorts here — Els and her beloved Pointer, Charleston. I don’t know how well Charleston does the Charleston but he has a name to live up to. He also has a mistress who is quite capable of making him dance.

Now we had Els’ cottage to ourselves for four days. That red cottage with Homlagarden painted on its entrance, as you see in the lead photo, is perched strategically by the fjords of western Norway in a village called Norheimsund.

This was our big Norwegian holiday after our weekend stint in Stavanger when we had hiked our way to Pulpit Rock. My aim was to get our behinds to Trolltunga and sit on the troll’s tongue, legs dangling above the fjords. But that was not to be because just as in Stavanger we struck lucky with the weather even though the forecast had promised thunder and showers, our second Norwegian break was made up of enough mist and clouds, drizzle and downpour to make our hiking shoes hang their heads in shame.

What is life if our best-laid plans are not to be laid aside?

We reached Bergen on a fine day in August last year. Fleecy armies of clouds invaded bright blue skies, and when we got out of the airport to be greeted by this sight, we were injected with fair reserves of delight, natch. Could there be a better natural elixir than blue skies and billowing clouds on any given day?

Soon, in a rented hatchback, we were puttering down tunnels that ruptured lush hills for miles and miles, passed herds of sheep serenely trotting down roads, possibly out for their morning stroll. You will see in this post that the Norwegian sheep exude remarkable self-confidence unlike their English counterparts. We left behind the occasional church nestled in valleys along with a roll-call of black, red and yellow cottages. Some perched upon hills, others tucked in surreptitiously alongside placid lakes.

It made me rather musical. To trill out ‘My Day in the Hills’ ala Julie Andrews and trill I did till Adi asked me to switch to the phone playlist please. There was some harumphing on my part, but how difficult it is to hold on to a sulk in the face of such pristine charm, the lakes glowing emerald in the shadow of the hills and putting me in mind of a mysterious mermaid about to emerge from the waters.

This is how we found ourselves in Norheimsund, bleary-eyed after our early morning flight, but then there was that view of the fjord from our cottage. It drove our cares away in the batting of the eyelid.

We were in a quintessential Norwegian cottage on an organic farm. Chubby hen and monstrously plump turkeys strutted around in a red coop of their own, mini tractors stood like picture-perfect props with the blue hues of the fjord and hills merging into the background, patches of snow gleaming in the distance upon the hills. Inside our red cottage, we found the entrance decorated by Els’ paintings and a bay windows that opened up to the fjords. The ground level of this cottage housed her workshop and a carpentry shop.

Warm wooden interiors, a well-kitted kitchen with all manners of pots and pans that would make a gourmet cook smile like a shark, windows that looked out into the fjords and made us sigh. This was the idyllic start to a Norwegian fjord-hopping holiday, along with the presence of Els, Charleston and his mother, Kaisa.

20160811_123640
Bergen
20160811_125318.jpg
Hordaland county

20160811_125355.jpg

20160811_125805.jpg

IMG_20160819_202729.jpg
Sheep out on a morning stroll

20160811_132112.jpg

20160811_132131.jpg

20160811_132026.jpg

IMG_20160819_202814.jpg

20160811_130428.jpg

IMG_20160819_202152.jpg
Entering Norheimsund

IMG_20160819_202106.jpg

IMG_20160818_220530.jpg
Els’ farm and cottage

IMG_20160818_220455.jpg

20160811_140918.jpg
Inside our cottage
IMG_20160818_220627.jpg
Charleston and Els
IMG_20160819_201538.jpg
Undivided adoration 

2016-08-12 12.45.36.jpg

IMG_20160819_201752.jpg

IMG_20160818_201145.jpg
The view we woke up to every morning from the bed

To Book the Cottage: Get onto Airbnb and key in Hordaland and Els. However, Els does not always let out her cottage (because it is not quite commercial), so essentially you could take a chance.

How to Get There: Bag tickets for as less as £39 on BA and Norwegian Airlines to Bergen. From the airport, it is best to hire a car for your stay because it is easier and economic to drive around the county of Hordaland.