Day 178 (7.10.17): A Glacier Hike and a Viking Church

We woke to a cloudy morning, though the rain had thankfully stopped.  We also didn’t have an early ferry to catch, so we were able to start our morning a little slower.  Lydie and Cassie enjoyed exploring the sprawling hotel, finding a bowling alley (of sorts) buried in the back, and took the chance to make a ruckus.

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Our plan for the day was to drive south, eventually making our way to Hafslo, where we would be sleeping at a “guesthouse” (though we didn’t know what that exactly meant).    (Incidentally, “Hafslo” is Norwegian for “the speed that my wife moves in the morning before her coffee.”)  We were also hoping that we would have time to visit the Borgund Stavkyrkje or Borgund Stave Church as it is known in English, but that excursion would involve a ferry so we weren’t sure if the timing would work out.

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After leaving our hotel, we drove east along the edge of Jølstravatnet Lake.  (“Vatnet” is Norwegian for lake, so that “Jølstravatnet” means “Jølstra Lake.”  Oh, and conveniently “vat” is “wet.”)  The lake doesn’t connect to the ocean, so that it technically is not a fjord, but geologically it is almost the same thing.  It was clearly carved by glaciers, making it look like a fjord that has been emptied of most of its water.  About fifteen minutes after leaving the hotel, we pulled over to admire the lake, looking back towards Skei.

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After enjoying the views, we got back in the car.  The road immediately plunged into the Fjærlandstunnelen, a four-mile tunnel under the Marabreen Glacier.  (Yep. My redundancy continues. “Breen” is Norwegian for “glacier.”)    On the other side of the tunnel, we turned off the highway to visit the base of Bøyabreen, another glacier.  Marabreen and Bøyabreen are both branches of Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in Europe.  We parked the car and headed down the path towards the glacier.

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After a short walk we reached the base of the cliff below the glacier, where there was a small lake.

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The lake was carved by the glacier years ago when it extended further down the valley.   As much as we would have liked, we couldn’t get close to the glacier itself.  It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the cliff was enormous, and playing at the base of a glacier is also not a good idea, as ice can calve off unexpectedly.  In fact, perched on a steep rocky chute, Bøyabreen is one of the fastest moving glaciers in Europe, with the ice moving about six feet each day.

Though we couldn’t climb the glacier itself, we could try to get a better view.  There were signs for a short hike up the left side of the glacier, and we set off to see what we could find.

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After passing through lush, wet forests, the path started to climb, getting rockier as we went.  The sun came out, and the girls got hot, passing their sweatshirts to their sherpa.

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On we climbed…

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After about 45 minutes, we reached the end of the hike, where a cliff provided a great view of the glacier, which you can see behind the girls below.

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On the way back down, we enjoyed amazing views of the valley stretching out below the glacier.

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We were soon back at the base of the glacier, where the girls enjoyed playing in the glacial melt, stained power blue with silt.

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We all would have enjoyed a longer hike, but our time was limited if we were going to make it to the church.  We decided to get lunch at the restaurant in the small visitor’s center.  The food was surprisingly tasty, particularly the Norwegian apple muffins, which had just come out of the oven.

Back on the road, we made great time, with one minor snag.  I had a conference call for work that unfortunately fell during our ferry crossing of yet another fjord.  Best. Conference. Room. Ever.

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Soon, we reached the Borgund Stavkyrkje.  

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Okay, so fine.  It isn’t actually a viking church.  The vikings didn’t have churches — they were vikings for crying out loud.  But this church was about as close as you could come to a viking church.  The Viking Age ended in the mid 11th Century and this church was built sometime between 1180 and 1250 A.D.   That’s right.  This wooden church is about 800 years old. And look at the dragon heads swooping from the roof, hearkening back to the prows of viking long boats.  Though christian, the interior of the church likewise incorporates Norse themes.

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There are also Norse runes carved into the wood just outside of this door.  They were hard to photograph, as they are now covered in glass, but one inscription reads: “Thor wrote these runes in the evening at the St. Olaf’s Mass.”   Thor?  Yeah, Thor.  Maybe not the God of Thunder himself, but still some guy named Thor who was nuts enough to carve up the church after St. Olaf’s Mass.  And that’s the same Olaf we crossed paths with in Trondheim.

We’ve seen lots of old church’s in Europe, but between the setting and the viking influences this one was special.

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After the church, we made our way to Hafslo, where we soon found our guesthouse, which was run by a nice couple and their kids.  The wife was American and assured us that, despite the beauty and charm of Norway in July the winters could be brutal.  Surely, she was right, but the view from our room was still idyllic.

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For dinner we backtracked to the nearby town of Kaupanger, where at the request of the chickadees we continued our study of Norwegian pizza.

-Will

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