(names altered for anonymity)
I dedicate this blog post to the person who, above all, made my trip to Aurland not only enjoyable, but also connected me emotionally to the “spirit” of the Fjords. The grandeur of the place inspires awe and demands humbleness, leaving space for only a certain small group of people to inhabit the area year round. I would describe John in appearance and personality as the most harmless pirate you’d ever meet – he corrected me – “ah but a land pirate…,” as he owns a van and no ship. I had to restrain myself, but always wanted to say that he should dress up like Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean.
I met him Thursday night while relaxing with a glass of wine on my AirBnb ship. The night was one I will remember, and absolutely not what I was expecting when I booked the AirBnb. In short, I was at one point in the night in a taxi, sitting between one very drunk and one lesser inebriated Norwegian man, on the way to a pub that wasn’t actually open as we found out. Later on when the sun was coming back up, John essentially saved me from having to take care of the first drunk man, which of course I wouldn’t have minded too much (in fact, I was laughing about the situation more than being annoyed), but I did want to get some sleep in before the day began (the day of Sport till you Drop – see previous blog post).
Friday night, John was keeping watch over Mads’ ship; it is then when I met Mary, who is his coworker. In a shoe factory. That is so cool! So on Saturday, John showed me the factory (I got a private tour), explaining all the steps to make the AurlandSkoen shoe. It was absolutely fascinating to me, all the machines and materials needed to start from a rolled sheet of leather to a finished shoe. He even glued my personal shoes – the soles were separating a bit – and it is still firmly glued to this day.
After this very special experience, we picked up Mary who had been taking a bit of a nap, and drove to the town next to Flam called Gudvangen for the local Viking Festival.
Although the historical Vikings are no more, the festival and its setting was probably the closest I could get to the Vikings. They had a little village set up and were selling quality items like bows and arrows, wooden spoons carved by hand, the most creamy honey I have ever tasted, metal encased wooden boxes, among many other things. The atmosphere was also very much as if I had been transported back into the middle ages – there were guys wrestling in the grass, girls playing jump rope. The only point amiss was the row of toi-toi potties along the side of the site. At one point, I realized that it was actually quite difficult for me to make out the “vikings” from the visiting Norwegians. Under a larger shed, there was a viking band playing the most interesting instruments… which then brought the village to dance just as we were leaving. Looking up around the valley, the memory of tumbling waterfalls over jagged wild peaks hidden partially by floating blanket-like clouds, is still etched vibrantly in my mind.
On the way back to Aurland, which involved going back through over 14 km of tunnels and maybe 4km of open road, we stopped in Flam to eat a delicious soup at a familial restaurant, then bought food to make a salad for the second course.
Sunday morning, as I was looking out at Aurlandsfjord through my porthole one last time, I wondered what I would do before the 3pm ferry. I was already feeling a bit sad to leave the town, the ship, and most of all the people in this town. John had said we should rent kayaks, but as it was getting late and he wanted to make one last trip to Undrethal, he instead borrowed the fishing boat of the neighbors for an hour.
The trip to the next town over took over 20 minutes. We were laughing a bit – there’s no way we would have made it over there kayaking in time to get back, even if we were Olympian kayakers. Once on shore, he showed me into a grocery store. I was a bit confused… why not take a walk around the town or something instead. But then he ferried me to the back of the store where there was a little goat cheese station set up – goat cheese made locally in the town. We sampled through the 2 month old, the 4 month old, 6 month old and 2 year old cheese. I am no cheese expert, but this cheese was good. And then the shopkeeper pulled out THE cheese. It was brown like caramel; he explained it had a special process that produced this color and resulted in a slightly sweeter tasting cheese, specially made here in this little village. It was the most interesting cheese I’ve ever tasted; I didn’t hesitate buying a little bit with the thought to gift it to someone back home.
On the way back, I inhaled the fresh air once again, deeply, while surveying the walls towering over me; it had been four days, but this mighty nature never ceased to impress me. It was only a large wave that threatened to throw me out of the boat that interrupted my meditation. Looking towards John, his lips curled up in a smile sharing my emotions. I cannot describe fully the gentle kindness and caring these people showed me throughout my stay. It was like I had known them for ages. They just had this calm, nurturing, positive vibe, souls of real warm people wanting to share their culture with me.
As I boarded my ferry to Bergen Sunday afternoon, I stared out at Aurland and the valley I had known to call “home” for five days, including the only small cruise ship sitting in the harbor. I just had this feeling that I could only look, but take no pictures, like it would be disrespectful; the valley demanded attention, and really made me feel vulnerable and small in comparison. Cold wind in my hair, causing goosebumps on my arms, I just breathed it all in, vowing to myself to return one day.
(names altered for anonymity)