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The Norwegian Fjords
The Norwegian fjords are a giant work of art, sculpted from the land by the action of Ice Age glaciers that once covered Scandinavia. The sheer weight of all that ice drove great cracks into the land, way below the sea level itself, so when the ice retreated, the sea rushed in to fill the void. Hence, Norwegian fjords are very, very deep; Sognesfjord is 1250 metres deep in places, ten times deeper than most of the Norwegian Sea. Find if you're a fish, a daunting thought if you're in a plastic canoe...
Geirangerfjord is a fjord that knows where it is going - eventually. From its mouth near Ålesund, a ferry port with an impressive collection of Art Nouveau buildings, the Geirangerfjord winds its way inland, squeezing past the towns of Strada and Liabygda, to arrive at Geiranger itself. Not surprisingly for somewhere so far north, this route is only passable during the summer, when the sunshine and stunning clarity of the air renders the viewer almost speechless. In winter, the elements claim the sheer walls and narrow gorge back for themselves, cloaking it in snow as if in remembrance of glaciers long moved on.
The mighty and deep Sognefjord runs deep into the edge of Norway for some 200kms, branching off when the opportunity arises. On its northern shore, Highway 55 does its best to keep pace with the fjord, pausing only when a ferry is necessary to cross a side fjord. Its southern shores remain road free, the route from the south choosing to meet with the Aurlandsfjorden and its Hurtigbåt service instead. Here, too the Flåmsbana mountain railway finishes its helter-skelter trip from height to fjord shore at Flåm.
The Nordfjord may be smaller than the more southern Sognefjord, but in its inner section, it's hard to shrug off the brooding presence of the Jostedalsbreen glacier above you. As yuu sail along the fjord, the glacier peeks out at your from valleys, sparkling in the sunshine and turning the rivers green with washed down clay particles. And yes, global warming seems to be affecting this glacier, and its shrinkage (and very occasional growth) is carefully monitored. Always take a guided walk, as glaciers still have tricks up their slopes, such as crevices for unwary or over-confident. Norway once belonged to ice, and walking across the Jostedalsbreen glacier, you get the distinct feeling they would like it back again one day....
The Hardangerfjord feels more benign, perhaps because it is so much closer to the history and central-heated comfort of Bergen. For classic 'chocolate box" villages, take a boat to the inner end, to the pretty settlements of Utne, Ulvik and Lofhus. For a stark contrast, hikers head upwards to the Hardangervidda plateau, a strange undulating landscape that is such a contract to the sheer rock walls below.
Viewing any fjord is best from a boat, but that doesn't mean you have to leave the car behind. Most fjords are served by both car ferries and the famous Hurtigbåt passenger boats, and any number of sightseeing boats are available, from simple day trips to long cruises in five star luxury.
© 2009 Kirsty Young
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