Flam a Balestrand, Norway

Where the Mountains Give In to the Fjords

The port of Flam fjord
Cruise ship docked in Flam.
Tandem Photography
Photographic enthusiasm with Norwegian flag waving in background.
A Futuristic Ferry
Ferry on the Aurlandfjord, one of the many fjords that ply Norway.
without losing track
Passenger resists a moment of harsh weather aboard the M:S Viking Tor.
at the foot of the fjord
Village on the edge of the Sognefjord.
Passenger ferry M:S Viking Tor-Aurlandfjord-Norway
The Balestrand harbor area, at the entrance to the Sognefjord.
Sognefjord clippings
Arm of the Sognefjord under heavy clouds.
The final station of the Flam Railway marks the end of the dizzying railway descent from the highlands of Hallingskarvet to the plains of Flam. In this town too small for its fame, we leave the train and sail down the Aurland fjord towards the prodigious Balestrand.

The composition of the Flamsbana the slow deceleration ends and comes to a standstill.

Enthusiastic about the beauty and magnificence of the scenery left behind, passengers disembark eager to see what Flam has in store for them.

Positioned by a carriage, composed under his officer's hat, white shirt and blue tie, Malvin Midje, an employee of the Norwegian state railway company, welcomes them and oversees the flow of people towards them. just off the station and on the banks of the deep Aurlandsfjord.

What we discovered is Flam's only and only touristic threshold: a yellow-brown building built in wood according to local architectural standards, filled with handicrafts and souvenirs from this exuberant Norway.

Cruise, Flam, Aurlandfjord, Norway

Cruise ship docked in Flam.

An anchorage more or less at the level of 59 meters of altitude at which the village is located. A short distance away, a gigantic cruise ship rivals the surrounding green cliffs and ridicules Flam's smallness despite everything.

On that day, there was only one cruiser at anchor. In others, two can be counted and, in this case, they throw a flood of up to five thousand outsiders on Flam.

We have to go back a long way to find a Flam dissociated from tourism. There are records of the village, with this same name translated as “flat” since at least 1340.

From the middle of the XNUMXth century onwards, every summer the village began to be invaded by English visitors who arrived in large boats, sheltered with the rural owners of the area – especially with a Christen Fretheim and had the program to fish the salmon that came up the various rivers around, including the Flam.

Their presence became so regular and aristocratic that the residents of Flam began to call them "lords of the salmon".

Dazzled by the scenery and exotic life in the Norwegian countryside, some of these lords went out of their way to prolong their stay. After the end of the salmon season, reindeer hunting began. This new hobby of his also started to justify postponing his departure.

In 1879, the Fretheim family was as rich as the seams of welcoming English people into their home. They decided to erect a separate building that they called “The English Villa”. This building has been enlarged and renovated over and over again to become the modern-day Hotel Fretheim, by far the most historic in Flam.

When 1923 arrived, the construction work of an ambitious railway line once again revolutionized the rural-tourist routine of the village. Nineteen years later, the convoys were already circling up and down the ridge, steam, of course. Flam would never be the same again. And more changes were to come.

After another twenty years, Western Europe had already recovered from the catastrophe of World War II, the first cruises began to travel the 2km of the Aurlandsfjord, almost to its end. At that time, there were no anchorages at that time, so the ships were anchored at some distance from the village.

In 2000, Flam received its ship port and started to accommodate cruises of various drafts. Today, around 160 a year are based there for the financial benefit of the inhabitants who, without exception, left the agricultural or fishing activities to which they were previously dedicated, surrendering to the almost immediate profits of shops, tours and other businesses and activities.

As happens everywhere they arrive, cruises generate excessive levels of disturbance to local harmony and pollution.

Flam and the Aurlandsfjord and Sognefjord – in the image of Geiranger and other parts of idyllic Norway – have suffered these same upsets. In such a way that the protests claiming free fjords of cruise ships are gaining supporters in large numbers, some of them very well-known.

Photo enthusiasm, M:S Viking Tor ferry, Aurlandfjord, Norway

Photographic enthusiasm with Norwegian flag waving in background.

We weren't going to board one of those colossi of the sea, but one of the regular ferries that connect Flam to Bergen, the second Norwegian city located on the coast still far from the North Sea. An orderly and multinational line of passengers awaited us, most of them from the Flam Railway.

We boarded in sunny weather. And with time to admire the surrounding Aurlandsfjord, despite all the transformations, here and there still dotted with small white and red wooden houses, some at the base of waterfalls that rush down the slopes.

They were the first of dozens because we would pass during navigation, all of them fueled by the melting of the snow-capped peaks which, in the case of the Aurlandsfjord, rise to an impressive 1400 meters of altitude.

The commander gives a honk warning of impending departure. Aware that this is one of the journeys of a lifetime, the most anxious passengers rush to the panoramic balcony above the stern. For a long time, space and photographs and videos compete with a Varangian fury.

As is often the case in Norway, meteorology has its own plans. It doesn't take long to impose its will.

As we head north, a bunch of dark, dense clouds from the ocean push into the fjord, launch a premonitory icy wind, and shortly thereafter, a squall.

Arm of Sognefjord-Norway

Arm of the Sognefjord under heavy clouds.

The downpour finally broke the stubbornness of the most resistant passengers. If almost everyone had already slipped into the cabin, the latter were quick to follow suit.

M:S Viking Tor Ferry-Wrapped Passenger, Aurlandfjord, Norway

Passenger resists a moment of harsh weather aboard the M:S Viking Tor.

With the exception of a woman in a dark raincoat who, bent on ritualizing the moment, faced the storm with open arms on the balcony, beside the white, red and blue flag of Norway which, according to national precepts norse, cannot touch the ground or be worn on the body below the waist.

The gale made her whip the air around her without mercy.

As it came, the weather gave way to the sun. This would not be the last weather alternation on the route.

Meanwhile, the passage through the riverside villages on one side or the other of the fjord provoked successive rushes back to the panoramic deck. We saw Aurlandsvagen, to the starboard side, with the houses of its nearly eight hundred inhabitants scattered along the foot of a steep slope.

Settlement, Sognefjord, Norway

Village on the edge of the Sognefjord.

From the outskirts of this village, one of the adored roads in Norway, the Aurlandsfjellet, is built on the slope. At 45km, it rises from the fjord level to the desolate, rock-filled plateau that separates Aurland from Laerdal. By itself, the first 8km already represent a memorable journey-experience.

They lead to Stegastein, one of the most extreme observation points in the entire region, provided by a wooden walkway set off about 30 meters from the rocky face of the mountain, 650 meters above the fjord and overlooking two of its inaugural meanders.

Predictably, the slope of the also narrow and winding Aurlandsfjellet – a veritable roller coaster – makes it impractical during the long winter, when snow and ice cover and cover it at any moment. Even in midsummer, snow islands flank the asphalt. For some reason the locals call her Snovegen, the Snow Road.

Next is the hamlet of Unredal, which we can see on the port side, in a narrow fjord after one of the fjords, located at the mouth of a tight glacial valley. Soon, Fronningen and Fresvik, on opposite sides of the ship. The first at the confluence of the Lustrafjorde and the Aurlandsfjord.

We sailed on the hydrodynamic and modern “M/S Viking Tor”. More than mere dazzling, the magnanimous geological whims around it inspired the various imaginary surreal incursions into the dark ages of these near-boreal ends of the world.

Dreams of fleets of longship with great sails aft, driven to bend by the oars of the warriors of the god of thunder and lightning, of storms and of fertility.

"From the wrath of the Norse, deliver us Lord!" it is said that this is how the Saxon monks implored God's protection when Scandinavian robbers invaded their monasteries, as they did as far south as Lisbon, Seville, and in the Mediterranean to the Italian peninsula.

To the east, across the Volga and the Black Sea above, already converted to the Rus people of the genesis of Russia, until they encircled mighty Constantinople with an estimated upwards of 200 longship and drive the Byzantine Emperor Michael III to despair.

If, at that time, the glimpse of the Vikings aroused fear and trembling in villages and intended enemies, both the domains from which they were setting sail and their civilizational legacy are today a reason for consistent exaltation.

Around Fresvik and Slinde, the contours of the Sognefjord force the “M/S Viking Tor” to bend towards the west. The base of the flooded canyon proves to be soft enough to accommodate providential roads: the 55 that accompanies it to Balestrand and for many miles further, to a distant Vadheim. On the opposite bank, a secondary road that leads to the no less important road 13.

Indifferent to the triumphs of civil engineering and modernity, the King of the Norwegian Fjords extends his 204km quest by sea. During almost half of that length, it reaches more than a thousand meters in depth and between 5 to 6 km in width.

The longest and deepest of the Norwegian fjords is, at the same time, the second longest on the face of the Earth. It is second only to Greenland's neighbour, Scoresby Sund, which stretches over a staggering 348 km.

Balestrand, Sognefjord, Norway

The Balestrand harbor area, at the entrance to the Sognefjord.

We pass through Hermansverk and Liekanger. The “M/S Viking Tor” skirts the Vangsnes peninsula.

Balestrand, our destination this afternoon is in sight with the sharp, snowy mountains of the Esefjord in the background. We identified two piers coming out of the base of the slope and above them, the riverside section of the village.

We dock at a jetty soaked from a recent rain that opens onto a street bordered by light colored wooden houses.

Once we landed, we reoriented ourselves and, in a flash, we found the Kviknes hotel where we were going to stay, a kind of local Fretheim. We didn't arrive like lords and the salmon would be served to us already on a plate. We only had one day. In this derisory time, the Kviknes Hotel and Balestrand entered our history.


More information and tour reservations “Sognefjord in a Nutshell" in www.fjordtours.com

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