Google Gudvangen. ‘Has she gone crazy?’ you might interject. ‘Here I pop by her post and she asks me to google the name?!’ Humour me for two seconds.
Atop the wikipedia page (for you do not have to click it open) dedicated to the small Viking village in Norway, you find yourself staring at an image of marvellous lofty peaks. The main peak in the photograph’s been squished and stretched up to look like a model lengthening her glorious svelte body. Then you notice later, much later, that the topmost peak seems to show you the middle finger.
Somebody’s idea of awful humour.
The day we reached Els’ cottage in Norheimsund we drove straight up into the county of Sogn og Fjordane. Gullible us inched closer and closer yet the peak did not materialise. Something was terribly wrong. The GPS informed us, we were there.
If you can look high and low for a peak, we did the job alright.
Then there we were in the middle of a valley that looked like it had been scooped out of the surrounding steep mountains, parts of which carried patches of fresh snow. A row of waterfalls gushed in slender threads of white down the mountains, at the foot of which stood a handful of white and red cottages and a harbour.
Welcome to Gudvangen. Not least like the photo we had seen. The jaws dropped once in disappointment – I cannot lie about that – but then it did drop once again in awe at the beauty dwarfing us. Ah but it was a stunning place blessed with tranquility to lull our travel-worn senses.
Dwarfed by the mountains, I stood there and wondered about what the Vikings must have felt when they arrived in this scenic spot on Nærøyfjord and transformed it into their market place. Did their seafaring nature make them glad that they had chanced upon this sublime Norwegian landscape? Or were they intimidated by the mountains that stood guard around the valley like ancient sentinels of grandeur. Who knows but they did not survive the 12th-century onslaught of black plague when the inhabitants died. People returned only when hundreds of years had passed by.
The graves of some Vikings are to be found nearby and hiking paths lead you into other pretty villages but it was too late for us to start a hike. We never got the chance to do any hike (Trolltunga or Gudvangen) given the rains holding sway over the next few days that we spent in Hordaland. We did however bask in the shadow of those mountains as we popped into Gudvangen Fjordtell, a hotel that makes you think that you are entering a Viking home, its roofs charmingly sheathed in grass. Inside the hotel’s cafe, I bought a wrap, the price of which spelled pure extortion. Then in Norway, you are holding onto your purses in vain if you decide to venture into a cafe or restaurant.
That astonishingly expensive wrap in our bellies and mixed feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction (strange bedfellows) mingling in our minds, we left Gudvangen, the village whose name translated, reads, ‘God’s fields by the water’.
Where to Stay: If you want to do hikes in the area, it would be a good idea to stay in Gudvangen. You have all of two choices: Pitch up a tent or mobile home at Gudvangen Camping. Prices range between NOK 500 to NOK 800 per night. Or put up at the Viking-inspired hotel called Gudvangen Fjordtell.
What to do:
The Magic White Caves of Gudvangen
Take a ferry trip between Gudvangen and Flåm
Hike the mountainous paths for views over the fjord. From a tiny village called Bakka, which is about 5 km from Gudvangen, take the path to the steep mountain of Rimstigen. It is a steep hike which takes two hours one way.
P.S.: The misleading wikipedia photo that I talk about right at the beginning is that of Lofoten Islands, the dramatic archipelago in Norway. Only a photoshopped version of it.