Have you ever been so overwhelmed by your surroundings that you shed a tear? Something so awe-inspiring you just had to let go of your emotions?
Introducing the highlight of my summer vacation, the boat trip from Flåm to Gudvangen on the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord:
Several boats a day make the 2-hour journey between Flåm and the nearby village of Gudvangen, two small villages on the end of the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord respectively. Both are forks of the mighty Sognefjord, one of Europe’s longest and deepest. The journey takes you past small villages, waterfalls and goats grazing on almost vertical mountain sides.
There’s a vast ferry system across the Norwegian fjords providing a lifeline to locals, but this boat is aimed at tourists. It’s part of the Norway in a Nutshell tour and as such tends to be full of large groups. You can still book an individual ticket though, or even pay on the boat as we did, even in high season.
On waking on the morning of our trip I was a little disappointed to see rain and clouds. Would the impressive scenery I’d read so much about be hidden behind grey clouds? As it turned out, the answer was yes, sort of, but it made it all the more spectacular. And unique, for the photos you see in the tourist brochures are always of clear sunny days. This is the “Fjord Norway” you can only see in person:
Towards the end of the journey and on the return leg the skies cleared, allowing us to fully appreciate the wonders around us. We were joined by seagulls in vast numbers, calling out loudly and circling the boat as some of our fellow passengers tossed them treats, which they caught effortlessly in mid-air.
Some of the calling points on the trip include the villages of Aurland and Undredal, alongside many tiny hamlets and farms. Aurland is the district centre and home of Norway's last remaining shoe factory, while Undredal is famous for its goat cheese.
On the map Gudvangen appeared bigger than Flåm, so we expected to find plenty to do. However it was mainly residential with little of interest open. Gudvangen does have a Viking themed attraction called Viking Valley, but this was closed so the village had a very quiet feel to it. We did find a cosy nic-nac shop run by a lovely old lady, the kind that tells you a story until you buy something… so my mum bought some hand-made mittens and we went on our way.
The rain soon returned, so we dashed to the visitors centre / shop / restaurant / café by the port and took refuge in there. I’m glad we did, as I got try some delicious goulash soup. We had an hour to kill and there wasn’t much more to do, except from resisting the urge to buy some tat with a picture of a Viking ship or a troll on it.
Because we knew what to expect, the return journey was a different experience. We could relax more, enjoy some coffee, cake and ice-cream, and in my case, spend some quality time taking photographs. The majority of the pictures accompanying this post were taken on the return leg, as I was too busy standing open-mouthed on the first leg!
The return journey also came complete with on-board entertainment in the form of a Korean tour group, doing their best to break every rule they could. Despite not being allowed to bring your own food on board, the tour leader gave each guest an enormous tub of noodles. They then took it in turns to harass the catering staff for some hot water. The polite Norwegian obliged for a while, but eventually enough was enough. We were then treated to the amusing sight of the tour group leader unplugging a vending machine to plug in her own portable heating element, with which she heated up each tub of watery noodles… MMMM DELICIOUS!
Why am I telling you this? Firstly because it was hilarious! But the more important reason is to highlight the issue with this trip – it IS a tourist boat, and things like this happen. Don’t expect a cruise ship, it’s an old local ferry shared with a whole bunch of passengers on the Norway in a Nutshell trip. They may or may not be nice people. This isn’t to put you off, hell no, you must take this trip! Just go with the right expectations.
This boat trip was the undoubted highlight of our time in Flåm and I cannot wait to return! Kayaking along this stunning fjord is something I just have to do…