This is a beautiful coastal city in Norway which is famous for its Art Deco buildings. The formerly wooden city was destroyed by fire in 1904 and was gradually rebuilt in stone and brick in the Art Deco style. The town center is attractive, and the cobbled pedestrian streets are appealing. Our excursion today, however, took us out of the city to the nearby islands of Giske and Godoy.
Access to these two islands is via tunnels under the ocean. Built in the 1980s, these tunnels have allowed islanders better access to the mainland and have enabled more people to make their homes on the islands. The smaller island is Giske, which has about 800 inhabitants, many of whom were farmers but who now cannot make a living on their farms so they work at the nearby airport or in the fishing industry in the area. We made a circuit of the island, passing by neatly manicured yards, perfectly maintained homes, a charming old marble church with a graveyard, and a Bronze Age grave mound. One special feature was the turf roof, which appeared on several homes, outbuildings, and even on mailbox shelters. There was some open pasture, one with a couple of cows, but most of the land was given over to homes and yards – lots of flowers in bloom.
We then drove through another tunnel to the island of Godoy. This one has 1500 inhabitants and has many of the features of Giske, but our destination for this island was its lighthouse, which sits off by itself at one end of the island. We were able to wander around the lighthouse and ascend three flights of very steep wooden stairs inside to take in the views of the area. When we returned outside however, we realized that views were actually better outside because we had the wider perspective of the whole location, which was spectacular – ocean, breakers, rocks, grasslands, gentle breeze, mountain covering the rest of the island, and so much quiet.
Our tour continued as we drove back to Alesund through the ocean tunnels and residential areas on the mainland. After a drive up a narrow and winding road, we stopped at the Aksla viewpoint high above the city. The view is really amazing. We could look straight down into the houses and apartments below, see the entire town laid out before us, and then view the ocean and nearby islands all around. The site was full of tourists, but many of them had walked up – there are 418 steps from the town center to the top of Aksla. We watched some of them rejoice as they approached the top. They were justifiably proud of their achievement. Later from down in the city, we caught a view of the steps and were glad we had the bus option. For the natives, however, such a climb would not be unusual. Evidently, hiking in Norway is a national passion, and infrastructure and cultural norms are in place so that both young and old can enjoy it whenever possible.
This town is located at the end of Eidfjord, which is a branch of the longer Hardangerfjord. As we were passing along the fjord, we could see a highway, power lines, and occasional communities just above the level of the water. Frequently, waterfalls, sometimes just a trickle, were cascading down the mountainside, fulfilling everyone’s desire to see water in action. Eidfjord has only about 1000 inhabitants, and the Norwegian government has embarked on a program for increasing its population by offering monetary incentives to first-time home buyers who are willing to commit to living there for 10 years or so.
Our tour for today brought us to a nature center, a waterfall, and a dam. We began our visit to the Hardangervidda Nature and Wildlife Center by watching a panoramic movie about the mountainous areas around Eidfjord. This movie was filmed from a helicopter so we had wonderful views of these highlands. Afterwards, we wandered around in the nature center itself, looking at pools of salmon and other fish, a herd of stuffed reindeer, big chunks of clearly identified rocks, etc. It was a small but very well exhibited collection. A souvenir shop and restaurant were located in a building across the street which had a turf roof with goats on the top. Both the nature center and the restaurant were built of wood in a very attractive rustic style.
Next, we drove to Voringsfossen, which is a huge waterfall, with big volume and a 600-foot drop into the valley below. To get a good view of the waterfall, we had to walk on a treacherous pathway along with people from four other tour buses, not to mention all the locals who were there as well. A little rain had started by this time, so that added to the difficulty of the walk. But the view was spectacular and Denise took a beautiful video of it.
Our last stop was the Sysen Dam, which supplies hydroelectric power for the area. Despite the drizzle, we walked out onto the dam and took in views across the lake and down the valley which we had just traversed. We returned to the ship by retracing our route along the valley, as our guide spoke to us about Norwegian life and culture. Once along the way, we had to stop for a few minutes to allow a herd of goats to cross the road in front of us. Evidently, they need no goatherd, because they’re tagged and their movements are monitored.