Fjording Around

From Oslo to Svalbard, a magic tour on the heels of the Vikings, in between huge glaciers and Swiss-style villages .One Norway,many Norways. There’s a land covered with conifers and birches, endless woods reaching far into the Northern wastes, and countless streams and waterfalls. And there’s the famous land of fjords, dramatic and spectacular, thanks to impressive clefts cutting in the coast like wounds,sheer rocks plunging straight into the sea,covered in green forests and moss. Fjords are a marvel of nature,and serve as a kind of brand logo for the country even though in fact they are only to be found in the southwestern region,between Stavanger and Ålesund.The word fjord, however, is used to describe the whole of Norway’s coast, which is just as majestic and marked by gulfs and bights which are just as impressive. The best way to discover the magic of the fjords is by sea, starting from the capital, Oslo, which is itself on a 100-km long fjord (Oslofjord) and has many attractions: set between sea and green hills, it stretches into parks and gardens through which appear, now and then, low-rise buildings. After a tour of the main attractions such as Karl Johans Gate, a long, tree-lined avenue running through the city centre with impressive buildings, fashionable shops and ever-crowded restaurants, you get back ashore for Kristiansand, a nice town showing on its central square, Torget, rows of ancient wood and stone-built houses.

There is also an interesting folklore museum, Vest-Agder Fylkesmuseum, in the northeastern part of the city.After doubling Norway’s southern tip, you will travel for a few hundred kilometers until you reach Bergen, Norway’s second city, the fjord capital on the gulf of Vagen, a few kilometers away from Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord (200 kilometers). This magnificent city will charm you with its medieval wooden houses,as bizarre and colourful as toyhouses: they are now shops and restaurants with their own special atmosphere. Most of them are to be found in the Bryggen area, on the east side of Vagen harbour, a World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO.In the same area the Bryggens Museum houses the world’s largest collection of rune stones with magic and eroticcarvings. The coast between Bergen and Trondheim runs across thousands of gulfs set between sheer rockfaces on which lie lovely wood-built towns and villages such as Molde: the so-called “city of roses” as it is known thanks to the vegetation that reaches from the city centre into the surrounding area.

Locked in between mountains and the magnificent Romsdalsfjord, Molde is a modern town, rebuilt after the bombings of the second world war which had largely destroyed it; in July it comes to life thanks to a lively jazz festival. A few kilometers northwards lies Trondheim, Norway’s third city with its 141,500 inhabitants and an important port. It offers a unique view into Norwegian history and culture, with a Gothic cathedral bang in the city centre,wooden houses and lying all around the best of Norway’s landscape features: mountains and fjord, lawns and hills rolling gently out for kilometers. Trondheim Cathedral is the most important medieval monument in the whole of Scandinavia: it was built at the end of the 11th century and underwent various alterations over the centuries. It has seen the coronations of seven kings and queens and it is a lovely blend of styles showing the influence of,as well as Scandinavian, also Italian, French and English art. Moving northwards the landscape becomes bleaker, green areas becoming rarer yielding ground to icy and empty wastes,largely uninhabited, blinding white plains as you cross into the Arctic Circle and you get nearer to the North Cape while the light gets ever whiter. Tromsø, the North’s most important city, appears in the midst of such a bleak landscape like a mirage surrounded by woods, as it benefits from a mild climate due to the Gulf Stream. The “Arctic Capital”, the “Paris of the North” as it is known thanks to its lively cultural life, with countless bars and cafés throughout the city centre. A beautiful city, it becomes even more attractive between May 21 and July 23, when the spectacular midnight sun shines throughout the day. Tromsø lies on a small island on which you can find a beautiful lake surrounded by a park and the Nordlys observatoriet within the park, from where you may observe midnight dawns. To reach the Svalbard Islands you have to move even more northwards, 700 kilometres north of Hammerfast which is itself one of Norway’s most northerly points (the North pole lies a further 1000 km north). This group of rocky islands, covering an area of 62,000 square kilometres (half of which lies on Spitzbergen Island) is covered in glaciers plunging traight into the sea, with fjords cutting into them and mountains showing the different geological periods during which they were formed through mountain rising and erosion. They are largely uninhabited, though, with 3,000 people, they are still the world’s northernmost inhabited area. The chief town, Longyearbyen, a tiny hamlet of 1,200 people,looks like a children’s drawing: wooden houses with eaves and brash, colourful walls contrasting with the somber blue skies surrounding the area.