Nothing says Norway like a Russian tourist straddling a troll statue in a rainshower. That’s my entry for the new national anthem (it’s ‘yes, we love this land’ right now; mine wins hands-down, yes?). Troll-straddling was the most popular activity I witnessed in my short stay in Geiranger, a tiny community supported by the cruise ships that sail into its fjord. The particular troll in question was a little sheltered from the rain, maybe explaining its popularity.
The rainstorm came in at exactly the minute it was predicted to – Norwegian weathermen must have a closer connection to the sky controls than American ones. I set up a small picnic camp on a covered patio, right in the stream of cruise-ship travelers under umbrellas, who were ogling the diverse troll statuettes and jewelry in the windows behind me. I caught a fair amount of their ogling, too, but they were probably just jealous of my lunch of bread, jam, and Norwegian brown cheese…
Even with precision rainshowers and a crowd of cruise-shippers, Geiranger is a breathtaking place. The mountain road plummets down switchbacks to reach the water; from there, you can see that the town is an anomaly – a slightly flat place in a vertical world.
I opted to take a 3-hour ferry through the fjord, cutting out another big climb up the Ørnevegen (Eagle’s Way) – I left it for the birds and stuck to fish country. The ride was unbelievable, with the rain lifting just as we set sail. Along the walls of the fjord (and they felt like walls – impenetrable at most points), we passed countless waterfalls. The pre-recorded audio guide tried to keep up with our pace, but with Norwegian, English, and German to go through, it lagged behind at times.
As each new language started up, different clusters of people would lean into the speaker to hear about “The Devil’s Hideaway” (a crack in the fjord-wall so deep that he can always stay out of the sunlight) or “The Seven Sisters” waterfall, or the abandoned farms we began to see.
These farmhouses hung onto the tiniest scraps of hillside. Almost all of them relied on goat-paths or cable-lifts to access the fjord. Some had no water in winter, or were built under rock outcrops to protect them from landslides; all of them were extremely beautiful. Also a little terrifying to think about ekeing out a living in such an inhospitable environment. How desperate for land/subsistence must people have been to choose these places to make their stand in the world?
All these farms on the Geirangerfjord were abandoned between 1950 and 1960, when the economy was stirring, cities were growing, and the oil boom was on the horizon. Children began to see life more horizontally, spreading out and away instead of shuttling farm goods up and down, watching out for rock slides and tidal waves. It’s a trend that spread throughout the country, but was especially visible here in the most challenging growing environment in the country.
After the ferry ride, there was just one climb between me and the Troll’s Highway, Norway’s silliest road.
P.S. sorry for the lack of formatting on these photos – haven’t found a good way to stick them into the post from the road.