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Norway In A Nutshell®
Story and Photos by Margaret Deefholts

The bus is angled so steeply that I have to push my palms against the back of the seat in front of me to keep from sliding forward. As the vehicle lurches around another tight bend, houses like miniature Lego blocks of blue, yellow and green appear in the valley far below. On the horizon, a fjord winds between a cleft of blue-grey mountains.

A group of us are on the Stalheimskleiva, one of the steepest roads in Northern Europe (a gradient of 1:5) and this is the second stage of Norway in a Nutshell®-a full day's excursion between Bergen and Oslo, which encompasses three train trips, a bus journey and a boat cruise.

Up to this point, there haven't been any white-knuckled moments. The train climbing up from Bergen to the alpine town of Voss, went through meadows dotted with yellow flowers, pebbled streams and flocks of bearded goats who glanced incuriously at us as we flew by. Although the early morning sky was eggshell blue when we left Bergen, by the time we dismounted at Voss small, fat pillows of cloud had begun to materialize. Half an hour later at the Stalheim Hotel, where our tour bus halted for a short break, greyer skies and the fresh alpine air meant donning fleecy jackets.

Having negotiated all thirteen corkscrew twists down the Stalheimsklieva, the bus now comes to a halt at the Gudvangen dock. The Noeroyfjord inlet that lies ahead is silver-rippled under a pale sky, and as the name suggests, this is the narrowest fjord in North Europe-a mere 250 metres wide at its tightest passageway.

As we pull away from the jetty, the light playing on the water and the smudged outlines of distant peaks lends a dreamlike quality to Noeroyfjord, and an artist, rain slicker drawn around him, takes shelter under an awning on the deck. Using deft charcoal strokes he creates a chiaroscuro sketch of the inlet hemmed in by soaring cliffs, their summits wreathed in chiffon mist.

We dock at Aurlands where half-timbered houses with steep pitched roofs and window-boxes filled with scarlet geraniums line the quiet streets. At the summit of a neighbouring peak we dismount our bus and as we walk a projecting boardwalk, the sun breaks through in a brief but dazzling burst of brilliance. The view across Aurlandsfjord is quintessential Norway-deep blue waters spilling between mountains layered fold against fold against the sky. Falling away vertiginously below us are emerald fields, dotted with farmhouses; further to our left, the town of Aurlands is a cluster of buildings lining the edge of the water.

A short drive along shores of the inlet brings us to Flam. In contrast to the lonely splendour of Norway's mountains and fjords, Flam's waterfront is bristling with activity, the shops filled with tourists trying on Fair Isle sweaters, examining objets d'art and browsing through postcard displays. A monstrous cruise ship crouches at the dock. I pause to sip a cup of hot chocolate under the gaze of a large Norwegian troll with spiky hair and wicked eyes.

The Flam Railway takes us through the next phase of our trip-to Myrdal. The train weaves through several tunnels, one of them curved into a hairpin180-degree bend. At one point, I see the track along the mountainside zigzagging at four different levels along a narrow shelf. Although only 20 km in length, the Flam Railway is a marvel of engineering which, not surprisingly, took twenty years to complete.

We travel in rapt silence, gazing at this land of rushing streams and flower embroidered meadows set against a backdrop of towering cliffs. Waterfalls range from pencil-thin silver etchings on bare rock to explosions of white water cascading hundreds of feet to the valleys below. The train halts briefly, and passengers dismount onto a platform, and come face to face with the Kjosfossen falls, thundering down and across five levels of rock face. Suddenly, almost like a wraith in the mist, a Norse maiden in medieval costume appears on a rocky outcrop half way down the falls and as the music swells above the roar of the water, she sings us a plaintive Norwegian folk melody.

On our final leg from Myrdal to Oslo, I'm left with another image and a different song: the Hardangerjokulen glacier glimmering in the deepening twilight, accompanied by Solveig's Song as it streams through my iPod.


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PHOTOS by Margaret Deefholts:

1. Heading towards the narrowest strait in Norway's Noeroyfjord
2. Kjosfossen Falls en route from Flam to Myrdal
3. Norse maiden singer at Kjosfossen Falls
4. Lookout boardwalk overlooking Aurlandfjord
5. Aurland farms below boardwalk lookout
6. Aurlands street
7. Wicked old troll


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