Madelyn Given at the Mardalsfossen Waterfall, Romsdal Alps, Norway.

Scandinavian Adventures 2016: Romsdal Alps, Norway

For days I had been hiking, then traveling by plane, boat, or minivan to another mountain region in Norway, always going further north. The countryside is filled with forests, and most of the mountains are woodlands with snow and ice still present at higher elevations. The villages are small, and the roads are paved with many long tunnels through mountains, under water, and between the mainland and islands.

The people of Norway are friendly, healthy, and happy. The food is so natural and food prepared for us was delicious, healthy, and an excellent energy source for hikers. Bread is baked daily, fish is caught daily, and vegetables and fruits are served from the garden each day. It is a country where the majority of people still live healthy lifestyles. People walk, bike, and hike everywhere at all ages young and old.

I came to Geiranger by boat and small ferry, and the next day we left by minivan to hike Trdlstigen. The road to get there was narrow, with serpentine turns up to a high plateau, a place where herds of reindeer migrate. It is a huge, flat plains area high above the valleys. Ledges jut out here and there and at one place I carefully crawled out and daringly looked straight down, 2,788’ below me. I walked about on this exposed, rocky plateau with moss and little vegetation. I looked for reindeer but to no avail that day.

Later our guides drove us to Isfjorden to hike in the Romsdal Alps. This valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and Norway’s most famous peaks: Romsdalshorn, Trollwall, Vengetind, Juratind, Kirketaket and Torshammaren. I hiked all day through alpine meadows, rushing streams, and glistening lakes with awesome views. It was beautiful, serene, and peaceful. The weather was sunny and warm every day.

We hiked until about 6 pm and then headed to Hotel Aak, really like a country home and the oldest tourist hotel in Norway. I was told that Winston Churchill’s grandfather stayed here while he came to hike in the mountains. It is a very cozy mountain inn noted for its incredible cuisine. It wasn’t long before we sat down to dinner of baked salmon, fresh rolls, and wild strawberries and cream. It was serenely quiet without traffic, city lights, or sirens blasting. It is truly a natural setting, and the air feels so fresh here.

Trollwall, in the Romsdal Alps in Norway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Trollwall, in the Romsdal Alps in Norway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The next morning I woke to the smell of bread baking below in the kitchen. I walked alone by the river and came back ready to join my guides and hiking companions for an early morning breakfast. Our guides drove us to a trailhead for an all day hike up to the Mardalsfossen Waterfall, the 4th largest waterfall in Europe and longest in Norway. It was a moderate hike up the mountain and pleasant to hear and see the waterfall along the way. My guide told me that 10% of the waterfalls in Norway have been converted to hydro power. Dams are built and the pipes convert the water to manmade reservoirs. Later, I saw a few of these waterfalls, now with just a trickling of water—those would have been beautiful, powerful waterfalls, but now they are supplying electricity for Norway. After our hike we drove to Aursjovegen Plateau for another view of the great mountain peaks and the Trollwall. This is a great piece of nature, a high ridge with many tiny peaks, like a comb with missing and broken teeth. It looks like a top of a wall with silhouettes of trolls standing there. It is an impressive area to hike and many Norwegians camp and spend their vacations in the Romsdal Alps.

There is nothing more rewarding for hikers at the end of a day than a great dinner. Back at our historic tiny inn, while we had been hiking all day, an extra chef and cook joined the main chef and staff at the Aak, and in this rustic setting, they prepared a most fantastic five-course meal for 12 people. When I entered the dining room, each individual setting at the long table was set with six goblets, five forks, five knives, and a bread plate.

I knew this would be a Norwegian meal to remember. The first course was lox: large fresh salmon that had been prepared the night before, wrapped in a thick coat of salt with fresh dill. Before serving, the salmon is rinsed and the lox have become a magnificent delicacy. The second course was poached fresh cod, caught locally, with a creamy dressing. The third course was roast veal with mustard dressing; the fourth course was roast reindeer with loganberries and boiled native potatoes. The fifth course was a dessert flan with cloudberries and whipped cream. All that in addition to side dishes and vintage wines! We applauded the chefs and staff after each course, as they truly had outdone themselves. It was the most elegantly prepared and delicious food, and I will remember this experience for a long time.

After eating a meal that rated at the top of my list in a lifetime, I needed to take a short walk. It was still light outside; I had no worries there, as it stays light this far north most of the 24 hours this time of year. The mountains were all around me, and the path went along the river. I walked upstairs, took the large brass key, and unlocked the door, then noticed a sign on the door reading Churchill Bedroom. It wasn’t long before I lay in bed, reading and writing in my journal, calling it a day. Each day seemed to get better as our small group continued our journey north, with more days of hiking still to come.

(posted September 20, 2016)

Madelyn Given hiking in Norway, on the Vidden Trail above Bergen from Mt Ulriken to Mt Floyen.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Hiking in Bergen

I spent several days in Oslo, where I met my fellow hikers and guides Anna and Anne. We did some sightseeing and walked to Vigeland Sculpture Park and to the Opera House, a simplistic yet grand building down by the harbor. The Opera House is unusual in that you can walk from the ground up its massive roof to the top of the building for views of the surrounding area of the city.

We flew from Oslo to Bergen, second largest city in Norway, and checked into the hotel Terminus. Centrally located near the Fish Market and historic Torgalmenningen Square, this old hotel sits on a 400 year old stone cellar. On my bed lay a book about Roald Amundson, a famous Norwegian explorer who made it to the South Pole. Later in his life he spent his last night here in this hotel on a fateful rescue mission to save a crew of Italian explorers in northern Norway above the Arctic Circle. His plane went down in foul weather.

I prepared for my hiking and exchanged currency for the Norwegian Krone for the days ahead. I was told that in Bergen it rains 275 days of the year, so I took advantage of the fine weather and walked about the small clean city until dinner.

My first hike began with a lift by a cable car to Mt Ulriken. From there our small group walked for 6 hours to Mt Floyen along a wide scenic plateau. The views were of snow-capped mountains, nearby fjords, islands and Bergen. It was another sunny day and warm for being so far north. The path was well worn; I soon learned that Norwegians are a country of hikers with good health habits.

As soon as we finished our hike we returned to pick up our bags at the hotel, and then we took a minibus to a waiting boat for our overnight journey, headed north. We were experiencing the longest days of summer: after a late dinner that evening, it was still daylight, and the sun was still high in the western sky.

All night we sailed along the coast, turning at Alesund and making our way into Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We sailed all morning between magnificent cliffs and waterfalls, working our way to the tiny village of Geiranger, which as far as boats can go before turning around and heading back to sea. Norway is a country with many fjords and many tunnels though the mountains and under the water between islands.

It was another great day in Norway, with scenic views and the sun shining. We had traveled a good deal already, but our day was not over. We checked our bags into our hotel, changed into hiking clothes, and headed for a 3-4 hour hike to one of the fjord’s most famous viewpoints, the Storsaeterfossen Waterfall.

Storsaeterfossen Waterfall at a distance. Photo taken by Madelyn Given while hiking in Norway.

Storsaeterfossen Waterfall at a distance (Madelyn Given).

The trail was well maintained, with a gradual incline up above the small valley of Geiranger. The hike was great, and the waterfall was massive.  We learned that it was possible to precariously walk behind the waterfall, surrounded by the sound of the powerful water pouring out in front of you. It was intimidating to most in the group, but for sure I wanted to go down and feel the power of nature. It was an awesome experience.

Without question, going behind this massive waterfall made my day. The rest of the hike, I was still in a magical world of nature, thinking about that experience of a lifetime.

(posted September 14, 2016)

Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Arrival in Norway

For a very long time, I hoped to travel to the Scandinavian countries and in summer 2016, it was finally happening. I first planned my trip around a hiking adventure; I researched places and decided on Norway.

Norway is very similar in many ways to my home state of Maine. Mountains and hills, covered with forests, border a large coast of Atlantic Ocean. There is a cool climate and a small population. Like Maine, Norway is known for its fishing industry, from drying cod to canning sardines.

I was excited about traveling, and I kept changing and adding to my travels in order to see the four Scandinavian countries. I finally packed for this trip in four parts: hiking in Norway, flying to Denmark to visit a former Danish exchange student and his family, then joining a group in Poland to tour the Baltic States and Finland, and finally going by ferry to Sweden, to tour the last of the four Scandinavian countries by myself. This would make for a long trip!

I was not feeling as physically well-prepared as I had been for my past adventures, and I went through emotional highs and lows as I considered what lay ahead. Then the real me kicked in, saying “You live only once, do it while you can,” and “Make the most out of life.”

The day of departure, Ed and I enjoyed a pleasant lunch on the Maine coast before I said my good -byes and hugged our dog Truffles. Then I was on my way to Logan Airport by transfer coach. Several hours later I sat in the international terminal in Boston, thinking lately every time the news flashes it is a terrorist attack, and I am now heading to Paris!

I flew to Oslo by way of Paris because the airline tickets were cheaper and it made for a shorter wait time between flights. But the flight was late and I ran like a madman at Charles de Gaulle Airport to catch my connecting flight to Oslo, Norway. (A month later, the day I was to fly home from Europe, there was a major strike at the airport in Paris and I had to return with a different airline by way of Amsterdam.)

I had allowed extra time in Oslo to tour on my own before meeting my guides and other hikers. I checked into my hotel Guldsmeden, left my bags, and went for a walk along Filipstadkala, down to the harbor. After dinner I walked to Slottsparken, the Royal Palace.

It started to get very windy and then began to sleet. The days are long here, as it is the beginning of summer and so far north. Oslo is similar to Anchorage, Alaska in degrees to the North Pole, and the weather can change quickly. I walked a few blocks back to my hotel, chilled there, and called it a day.

That night, I heard people going about all night, as it was light and people were at nightclubs, coming and going—it never ended. In Norway, it is unlucky if anyone goes to bed on June 23rd, the Summer Solstice. It is one of the biggest celebrations of the year.

The next day, I toured more of Oslo by myself, walking the streets of Radhusgate, Stortingsgata, Akershasstranda, Filipstadvein, Bygdoynesveien and so many more that I carried a map and still feared I would not find my way back to the hotel. The museums, Viking, Kon-Tiki, Folk Museum, and Marine Museum, are easy to reach by ferry across the city harbor.

Oslo is a great city for walking and public transport is safe. Rental bikes are great and a fun change from walking.  After making short stops at Oslo City Hall and the Nobel Prize Museum, I walked to Akershus Fortress (dating back to the Viking period), up on a hill guarding the harbor. That evening I found a pleasant place to dine in the Ruselukka section of Oslo, with new buildings and beautify landscaped sculptures along the harbor.

The next morning, I met my hiking group and we spent the morning getting to know each other and walking to Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo. This was a must-see place, different from all the other parks I have ever visited. One sculptor, Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland, created 200 sculptures for this park. From the gates to the center fountain, a circular staircase creates a labyrinth of the circle of life, and the work of this artist is featured throughout. It is his and his alone, created between the 1920s to the 1940s. It was a great place for hikers to get acquainted.

After lunch, we flew to Bergen to begin our hiking journey. After all the city museums, I was ready for the fresh air of the Norwegian mountains.

(posted September 6, 2016)