Taking the Aurlandsvegen tourist road to Stegastein, over the mountain pass to Borgund Stave Church & on to Gjendesheim in Jotunheimen Nasjonalpark.
We finally dragged ourselves away from the intoxicating comfort of not moving and left Flåm, saying our goodbyes to the new cruise ship now in the harbour. We decided not to take the world’s longest road tunnel out of town, but instead to go up and over the mountain, to take in the view from Stegastein.
Stegastein was an award-winning viewpoint constructed at the top of a steep road mainly consisting of many narrow hairpins. It was made with deep glulam beams and structural glass, the front edge curving down to a foundation in the forest below, but giving the impression from above of cantilevering out over the fjord. We drove up through layers of wispy cloud that hung in the valley, hoping that the viewpoint would be between layers, thus affording views across the Aurlandsfjord. It was.
We parked up in the happily almost empty car-park and walked over to the viewpoint. The fjord was moody with light grey clouds and a hanging mist, but the veil enhanced the beauty, in our estimation. The less than perfect weather had kept the crowds away, so we had the viewpoint almost to ourselves; just one other couple, very handy for a mutual exchange of posed photos. We stood a while and looked out over Aurlandsfjord below, savouring the calm, white-washed stillness of it all, especially when viewed from 650m.
Our road, the Aurlandsvegen mountain road, led us on up and over a steep, high pass, where we reached the altitude of the visible snow line for the first time. The roads were entirely clear and dry, but there were deep drifts of snow at the side of the road that were higher than Benny. The landscape had dramatically changed, with vast areas of monochrome moorland and wild patches of dark water now peeking out from behind the snow. We passed Flotvatnet, a partially-frozen lake complete with waterfall on the way, near the highest point of the pass. A series of further hairpins dropped us back below the snowline and through the trees to the valley floor.
After dropping down the other side of the pass to Lærdalsøyri, we were back in green, tree-lined valleys. We soon reached Borgund stave church, were we stopped for a while to walk round the site. There was a small car-park and visitor centre situated around 100m from the beautiful dark timber church, but several tourist buses selfishly stopped and blocked the entire road to let their passengers off directly adjacent to it, rather than have them walk the extensive distance.
The triple-nave stave church was a fine example, our favourite to date, with its black wood, steep, triangular-layered roofs and gable-post dragon motifs. A larger, more modern 19th century parish church now shares the same site, but for us it was dramatically overshadowed by the original in both complexity and detail.
We followed the tourist road E16 along the valley before cutting left over another mountain pass. The roads were, as they have been many places in Norway, lined with a rainbow array of lupines; blues, whites, purples and pinks. Reading up later, we found that the lupines are not planted by choice, but are considered to be self-seeding pests that overshadow and threaten indigenous Norwegian flora and fauna. Programmes have been initiated by local councils in several areas to try to eradicate them. But for us, they provided a beautiful splash of colour to the verges as we drove by, alongside the obligatory cow parsley and buttercups.
We continued into the Jotunheimen nasjonalpark where we passed by our potential aire before arriving at the boat departure point of Gjendesheim. We had hopes of purchasing single-way boat tickets for the following morning. Unfortunately, we found their operation only allowed advance purchase on-line, or you could turn up and buy a ticket as you boarded the boat to Memurubu on the day. The issue with the latter was there are strictly limited places; when the forecast looks reasonable, and definitely on weekends, you need to be queuing an hour beforehand to ensure you get a spot. There wasn’t any nearby Wi-Fi and we had no phone signal, so we drove along the road until we found a working patch of 3G coverage and quickly darted into a lay-by to complete our purchase.
We returned to settle into the free aire we had previously passed, carefully watching to see if the very changeable weather was going to follow the forecast or not. But either way, we had now secured our boat tickets – it was on.