Friday, June 24, 2011

Norway: Up the Songnefjord

It was characteristically gray and cloudy when we left Bergen, but even in the greyness the landscape looked rugged and beautiful.

After spending five days in Bergen we left for Flåm, a tiny village of about 400 people that serves as a crossroads for tourists traveling up the fjord by cruise ship or down the mountain by scenic train. Several companies shuttle people one way down the mountain and then through the fjord back to Bergen.  We had heard that the average stay in Flåm is only a few minutes, but something about the little place intrigued us. So before we left LA we booked a hostel Flåm. But for some reason we waited until we got to Norway to decide how to get there. After too much contemplation at the crowded Bergen visitor's center, we chose to take a five hour ferry up the famous Songnefjord from Bergen to Flåm. And we were not disappointed.

When we left Bergen it was cold and overcast. In typical Kip-and-Theresa traveling style, we stopped at the fish market, just to see if we could get some last minute breakfast and ended up having to run as fast as we could, suitcases in tow, to catch the boat just as it was leaving.

On board we spent as much time on deck taking pictures as we could stand. It was extremely cold and windy, so I had to "borrow," the souvenir hat I had bought for our daughter. We ended up going into the cabin every few minutes to thaw out, and then back up top.

As we started out there were no mountains and waterfalls, but the shoreline was populated by picturesque red fishing cabins with docks -- a sanctuary of simple life for the weekend fisherman escaping the city.

On board the Fjordtroll -- they have a thing for trolls here.

As the sun breaks through the clouds it shines on a little mountainside church, evidence that this typically post-Christian country has a rich history of faith. And what once was can be again.

As the mountains grow taller, further inland, the melting snow packs trickle down the mountainside into beautiful waterfalls.

The sun breaks and shines on the mountains and flag like a postcard.

We were as happy as it looks. It's hard not to be happy when you are smiling, and it's hard not to smile when you are surprised by beauty.

What would it be like to live here?

Up close for one of the first really good views of a mountain waterfall cascading into the fjord.

We passed by this little summer skiing town on the fjord.

I would enjoy staying at this hotel.
The rest of these pictures are more gorgeous photos of waterfalls and happy us. They don't need much explanation. When I talked to my mom on the phone (free -- thanks to Skype on Kip's I phone!) I told her it was the most physical beauty I had ever seen in one day. But that was before the bike ride from Flåm to Myrdal.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bergen: Running Mt . Floyen

Beginning the run by climbing stairs, short cuts between the city's parallel, ascending neighborhood streets.
I mentioned in an earlier post that after the first day of rain and gloom and Kip attending his conference, I decided I needed to get out. And up.

I grabbed my running shoes, the warmest running clothes I could find and headed out the door, through the maze of switchback streets, out of the town and into the park above Bergen.

It was exhausting and exhilarating. When I told Kip about it, he decided he needed to experience it too, so we ran the same route the next two days. The sun came up early, around 4 a.m., every morning, so it was no problem for us to be up and out long before Kip needed to be at his conference.

The first day that we ran I took the camera. I knew it would slow us down, but the sights were too amazing not to stop and enjoy. And for blogging sake, I am glad I did.

Bergen is surrounded by seven mountain peeks, and Floyen (about 1,000 elevation) rises straight up out of the city. A tram carts visitors up the mountain everyday for it’s famous view of the city, the fjords below and the infamous cruise ships coming into port. We road the tram on the only really clear day earlier in the week, but everyday we ran it was overcast by the time we got to the top.

On the way down the mountain we were drawn off road to admire the natural hanging gardens, the cascading water filtering down the mountain at every turn and the lush greenery everywhere.

It was cold and wet, but a great way to start the day. Every runner should have a mountain like that in her backyard.

The first view, after just climbing a couple of streets above our guesthouse.

The floyen funicular track -- it takes the mountain in five minutes. It took us more like a half an hour.

Water runoff cascading down the mountain.

After we made it through the Bergen neighborhoods we ran up this steep road with switchbacks until we made it to the top.

The cloudy view from the top.

I'm feeling like a champion, and look, I am still a little double jointed.

More spontaneous waterfalls, rain runoff really.

Going dangerously off path just because ....

Lots of cool morning creatures to avoid on the road.

As we descended into the Bergen neighborhoods again we saw the steep switchbacks. It's a mystery to me how people drive these. Of course most people seemed to walk to work.

Almost "home" back to the guesthouse.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back in LA: Catching up on the Sweet Simplicities of Summer

We are back in LA, and there is still so much to blog about from our trips, but I'm hoping to catch up over the next few days.

I'm giving the kids a "real" break from school work, meaning I'm not asking them to do any classes, assignments, worksheets or lessons. But since most of our "school" is life learning anyhow, I'm assuming we will have a rich unschooling kind of summer.

So far our 9-year-old son has spent alot of time playing Monopoly with his stuffed animals and with us. Last night we finished the first game ever. I remember playing Monopoly alot with my sister when I was about that age. The game would go on forever and never finish. I always thought that was a tragedy, but actually playing out an entire game last night made me realize a truth about Monopoly, and maybe Capitalism in general: it's just not fun to play it all the way out. The richer the rich get and the poorer the poor get, the less fun it is for everyone. Even the rich guy felt bad cleaning everyone out.

We had a nice little discussion about socialism and capitalism. Our daughter suggested we play "Socialism" instead, but we all decided that would get really boring, really fast. It made me think of the Ungame. Is that still around? I guess so, since I just found an Amazon link. LOL. The cover looked different in the 70s and 80s when our family played it.

I'm planning to take the kids to the beach every week this summer with our homeschooling group. Our son may go to a Cub Scout day camp or a Vacation Bible School. And our daughter wants to go to camp with a friend's church youth group. But we really don't have alot planned for the next couple of months, and I am really kind of happy about that.

Simplicity is good.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bergen: When the Sun Shines

Apparently the daily occurrence of rain in Bergen is a national joke. Kind of like, "Ha, of course it's sunny in California! What did you expect?" So to anyone considering a vacation in Norway, if your itinerary includes Bergen, buy a raincoat and some sweet rain boots.

The lowlight of our Bergen stay for me was slipping on slick slate and tumbling down half a flight of stairs. It was pretty much my own fault. I was trying to dress up a little for an expensive, formal dinner that Kip had to go to for the conference. I didn't want to wear my running shoes, so I wore the dangerous black high healed boots. They were bad enough on wet cobblestone streets, but completely stupid on the slick slate staircases. I fell pretty hard on my shins and knees, but fortunately survived with minor bruises and smudged mascara.

Moral of the story: invest in cute rain boots.

But it didn't rain the entire week. The last afternoon we were there the sun shone, summer dresses came out and Bergeners partied late into the summer evening. We went to Kafe Kippers, a restaurant recommended in our travel guide and made irresistible by it's name. We enjoyed the long sunset with a crowd of mostly locals.

I told Kip that Bergen seems like a bad high school relationship. When it pours with freezing rain, you kind of hate it. And then the sun comes out and it seems like the cutest little city on earth, and you forget about the rain.

Big, beautiful sailboat.

We missed the last sail of the day. It was our theme that afternoon.

Rosenkrantz Tower. 800 years old. Very cool for a homeschooling mom to see. But we missed the last tour of the day.

See me in the gate?

Bryggen in it's postcard perfection. Glad we got to see it like this at least once during the week.

This is the primary image of Bergen. Cool, but kind of touristy.

Yummy muscles. Food looks good too.

That late evening sun is strong! The sun deck and bar at Kafe Kippers was hopping at 10 p.m.

Just another interesting neighborhood around Bergen.

I took this picture while we were walking home, around midnight. People were still up, having dinner, enjoying the midsummer.

Kip found yet another kitty to pet.

This might actually have been from our first walk on the first day. I love all the colors. We saw more shades of rhododendron than ever before. It is the state flower in West Virginia, but I have never seen more than a couple variations there.

Purple rhododendron

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