The Coastal Path in Norway – Vossvind

In 1995 I took up skydiving.  I loved it.  Lived it.  Breathed it.  In other words, I bored everybody rigid with it (I’ll try not to do the same here).  When Deb fell pregnant with Ben and Catherine I decided to stop.  Most people think that this decision was based on safety concerns, but that is in no way correct.  It was a question of time.  I used to get up at the weekend, drive two hours to the drop zone, spend all day there and then drive two hours back.  I would have been an absentee father.

I went out “on a high” so to speak, travelling to Davis in California and jumping with oxygen from 30,000 feet up.  I enjoyed views spanning miles in all directions and was in freefall for over two minutes.  As a souvenir I was given one of the best pictures ever seen of my backside, but don’t look at that – look at the views!  Those nearby hills are 14 miles away, and I could see much further than the photo shows.

Exit NicI came back to England, did one more jump in April 2002 (having just earned my camera ratings this was my first and only jump with a camera) and then called it quits.

My parachute rig and all my other equipment are stored safely in a cupboard at home.

Just in case.

You never know.

Something might come along.

Like Voss.

Voss, being the adventure capital of Norway, has a small airport and drop zone.  One day, after we had booked our Norway trip, I happened to mention this to my wife.  She looked at me and said one word.

“No”.

And that was that, or was it?

Voss also has a wind tunnel, Vossvind.  Even better, children can use it.  My wife looked at the videos on the Vossvind website and gave her approval.  I’m not sure who was looking forward to it more – the kids or me.  Actually, I do know.  It was me!

Vossvind is situated to the east of the town, in a remote corner, accessed via a dirt track.  How could such high adventure be so tucked away?.

VossvindOne of the best things about using a wind tunnel is that you don’t need to do much training.  After a 5 minute briefing we were all ready to go, looking resplendent in our goggles and helmets.

Catherine and Nic at VossvindBut once in the tunnel nobody really worried about how silly we looked.  We were having too much fun!

Catherine at VossvindThe kids really enjoyed it!

Ben at VossvindAnd as for their dad?  After 12 years I was worried I had forgotten everything I learned.  I thought I might be bouncing all over the place, smashing panels of reinforced glass as I went and ejecting shards of glass into the spectators.  I was terrifically happy to discover that it was like riding a bike – once you’ve learnt how to do it, it all comes back naturally.  The instructor decided to hop off the floor and join me for a bit of relative work.

Nic at Vossvind“What was it like?” he asked afterwards.  It was fantastic, I said, and I’d love to do more of it.  All the same, I missed the smell of the parachute fabric.  I missed the uncomfortable feeling of having a rig on my back and the pulling of the straps as I walked to the aircraft.  I missed the cramped conditions on the plane and then the complete release when jumping out into the freedom of the skies, and the feeling of absolute isolation as I plummeted downwards on my bed of air.  And the views are much better 10,000 feet up.  Like this, sit flying above Langar in Nottinghamshire.

Sit Flying at LangarIf you find yourself in Voss, Vossvind is well worth it.  If you ask my kids what the favourite part of their trip to Norway was, they both answer instantaneously.  “Wind tunnelling!”.

Catherine and Ben after their Flight

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Vossvind:  N 60° 38.035 E 006° 26.650
  • High Altitude Jump in Davis, California:  N 38° 35.070 W 121° 51.200
  • Sit Fly Jump in Langar, UK:  N 52° 53.390 W 000° 54.400

The Coastal Path in Norway – An Introduction to Voss

There is little doubt that we will be returning to Voss.  The adventure capital of Norway, it is ideally situated for the fjords and is only an hour from Bergen.  If we time it well we could hop on a plane from Heathrow and be in Voss in three hours or so.  Yet the small town of Voss feels as if it is in the middle of nowhere and as if it should take days to reach.

Our train from Oslo deposited us on the platform, about 10 yards away from our hotel – the main entrance to the hotel was on the platform itself.  This seemed so strange that we decided to walk off the platform and around the front of the hotel, only to find no entrance there.  We circled the entire hotel and wound up back on the platform.  Our train still stood there; the people who watched us walk off the platform at one end of the hotel also watched us arrive back at the other end.  It was all rather embarrassing.

Voss Platform and Fleischers HotelFleischer’s Hotel is an impressive building.  It is situated at the bottom of Hanguren, the local hill.  In the photo below you can just about make out a building at the crest.  That’s the local cable car station, used by hikers in summer and skiers in winter.

Fleischers HotelIn front of the hotel is a stretch of green grass which acts as one of the landing zones for the local paragliding community (did I mention Voss was the adventure capital of Norway?).  And in front of the grass is Voss’s massive lake, Vangsvatnet.  What a lake!

VangsvatnetNow you might think it a little strange having a hotel on a railway platform.  Indeed, our room backed on to the line.  Trains ran from about 5:30am to 11pm and we were all of 30 feet away from them.  Each morning we were woken up early by the announcements.  You might think that to be cause for complaint, but no!  Voss is such a relaxed place that we didn’t mind a bit.  The 5:30am announcement would wake us up.  We would drift back to sleep.  The next announcement half an hour later would wake us up again.  We would drift back to sleep again.  We would continue this cycle feeling quite content, waking up a little more with each announcement – it was like having an extended lie in.  No complaints at all!

Fleischer’s Hotel gets it right.  Its decor isn’t modern, but neither is it outdated chintz.  Fleischer’s boasts a proud history; it is in keeping with the its history without being out of touch.  The hotel was originally built in the 19th Century and run by Frederick Fleischer with his wife, Magdalane.  In 1883 the train line connected Voss with Bergen, and so Mr Fleischer decided to build a new hotel.  This was completed in 1888.  It opened for business, and 13 days later burned to the ground.  The cause of the fire was put down to spontaneous combustion, but Mr Fleischer didn’t really care about that.  He thought he was a ruined man.  It was only later that he discovered his wife had purchased insurance, allowing the hotel to be rebuilt.

Towards the end of the century the hotel became a popular destination for royalty.  King Haakon of Norway; King Oscar II of Sweden; Edward VII of Britain; King Chulalongkorn of Siam; and Emperor Willhelm II of Germany all stayed at Fleischer’s.  Emperor Willhelm’s private toilet is on display (not so privately) in the hotel’s reception!

Emperor Willhelm II's Private Toilet in Fleischers HotelFrom the moment we arrived we fell in love with Voss, and with Fleischer’s.  We only had four days in Voss, but they were going to be good.

Voss

 Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Fleischer’s Hotel:  N 60° 37.725 E 006° 24.530

The Coastal Path in Norway – The Oslo to Bergen Railway

On Day Four of our Norway trip we left Oslo, heading west into the fjords.  Here comes our train – bang on time!

Oslo StationThey say that the Oslo to Bergen is one of the 10 best railway journeys in the world.  I’ve not been on the other nine.  I did go from London to Birmingham once, a couple of years ago, but I have reached the conclusion that there are better views to be had on the Oslo to Bergen line.  It really is a spectacular trip.  Within a couple of minutes of pulling out of Oslo we were greeted with this view:

Leaving OsloWe weren’t travelling all the way to Bergen today.   We were getting off at Voss, the adventure capital of Norway.  We brought books for the journey but we didn’t read them.  It was a five hour journey of pure beauty.  The train climbed slowly out of Oslo, up into fjord territory, reaching about 3,000 feet before starting its descent towards Bergen on the west coast.

We left Oslo behind and travelled through rolling fields with hills rising gently behind them.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyThe fields soon gave way to lakes and the terrain grew more rugged.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyWe saw tiny communities tucked underneath the hills.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyThe fjord waters were crystal-cut, reflecting the scenery like a mirror.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyWe soon started to climb out of one climate zone and into the next.  The fir trees thinned out and the vegetation grew more sparse.  We saw our first glimpse of snow in the distance.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyAnd then we found ourselves properly amongst it.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyThe railway snaked its way around the lakes and hills as much as possible, but more and more had to be routed through the terrain rather than around it.  We passed through tunnel after tunnel, sometimes emerging from one only to find ourselves heading into another a few seconds later.  More often than not the train would start by passing into a grey-clad structure enclosing the railway line before plunging into the tunnel proper.  These grey housings had windows and gaps in them so as to allow the passengers to continue to enjoy the landscape.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyAnd what a beautiful landscape it was!

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyEventually we crossed the watershed and started our slow descent.  We left the snow behind and joined the fir trees again.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneySoon afterwards we entered Voss, and so ended the best railway journey I have ever experienced.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyPoints in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Oslo Station:  N 59° 54.650 E 010° 45.100
  • Voss Station:  N 60° 37.745 E 006° 24.620
  • Bergen Station:  N 60° 23.420 E 005° 20.005

The Coastal Path in Norway – Oslo Opera House

Oslo Opera House is an iconic building.  It probably better known for its roof than for anything else, because you can walk onto it and then walk up it.  You don’t need to queue, or pay, or book.  It is a beautiful building.  Look at it here – a white granite iceberg against the dark clouds – I think there was some Wagner in the air above the Opera House when I took this photo!

Oslo Opera HouseAnd when the sun came out and the clouds departed for wetter climbs, well – then the Opera House was even more stunning.

Oslo Opera HouseLook at its sleek lines…

Oslo Opera HouseWe walked onto the bottom section and started to make our way up the landward side.

Oslo Opera HouseNow it may not look it from this photo, but it happened to be baking hot this day (over 30°C).  The slope of the roof is ideal to capture the sun, particularly as it reflects off the white stone and glass of the building.  Apparently the local residents spread out their towels and sunbathe on days like this.  We saw a couple, but expected more.  Perhaps it was just too hot.  In fact the sun was reflecting at us from just about every angle.  Up, down, left, right, we couldn’t look anywhere without a piercing, blinding light melting our eyeballs and baking our brains.  The soles of our shoes started to stick to the roof panels.  People were spontaneously combusting before our very eyes.  We shed pounds in sweat and melted blubber which ran off our bodies and down the gaps in the paving slabs, down the roof, and dripped off the edge and formed oily pools in the water.

Taking photos was hopeless – if you took one with the sun behind the camera no-one could look at you!  The sun seared your eyes tight shut like scallop shells.  Like this…

Arrgh The Piercing Sun…and this…

Arrgh The Piercing Sun…and this – you’ll have to excuse Ben in this next photo.  One of his eyeballs started to melt and slipped out of its socket – he was just popping it back in quickly.  In fact it was so hot that one of the buildings in the background started to float into the air and drift away on a thermal – can you see it?  The city skyline, by the way, was absolutely fantastic from here.

Arrgh The Piercing Sun There were also some magnificent views to be had out into Oslofjord.

OslofjordBut eventually we could take no more.  We started our way back down, trying not to slip in the fatty puddles of people who had melted before us.

Oslo Opera HouseYou’ll have to excuse the state of my wife in the above picture.  The glare of the sun started to literally burn holes in her clothes.  She was stark naked by the time we reached the bottom, though she didn’t worry about that as everyone had their eyes shut to block out the sun.

Oslo Opera House – well worth a visit, even if you are blinded in the process.

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Oslo Opera House:  N 59° 54.460 E 010° 45.120

The Coastal Path in Norway – Cruise Ships

When we got the ferry back to Oslo from the Bygdøy Peninsula’s museums, we saw something that you see quite a lot of in Norway – a cruise ship.  It was moored in the cruise terminal and dwarfed just about everything around it.  These ships dock in the morning and let their throng of eager tourists off to explore.  Towards the end of the day they sound long, booming horn blasts, presumably warning everyone to get back on board because the ship is about to set off again.  I wonder what would happen if someone happened to miss the boat…?

Cruise Ship Stopping Off at OsloThe next morning we walked over to the Akershus Fortress (which you can see in the background of the photo above).  We stood on the walls and looked out over the harbour area.  This morning a smaller cruise ship had moored itself in the terminus.  It was tiny compared to yesterday’s, and a good thing too because we could see the vista behind it!

View from the Fortress Walls across Oslo HarbourAnd what a vista it was – beautiful!

View From Fortress Walls across Oslo HarbourI could live on one of those islands happily enough, I think.

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Cruise Ship:  N 59° 54.350 E 010° 44.100
  • Akershus Fortress:  N 59° 54.400 E 010° 44.170
  • Oslo Islands:  N 59° 53.300 E 010° 43.370

The Coastal Path in Norway – The Kon-Tiki Museum

I had been looking forward to the Kon-Tiki Museum.  And that’s putting it lightly.

Kon-Tiki MuseumThe Kon-Tiki Museum is all about a ridiculously unaccomplishable journey.  I love ridiculously unaccomplishable projects.  We are, after all, walking the entire coast of Britain whilst holding down full-time jobs and bringing up 12-year old twins – that’s 7,500 ridiculously unaccomplishable miles.  The Kon-Tiki Expedition was ridiculously unaccomplishable on an epic scale, but the enthusiasm and determination of a small band of men showed the world that when you put your mind to it, there’s nothing that can’t be done.

The Kon-Tiki voyage was concerned with some small and particularly remote islands, situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – the Polynesian Islands.  If you are not sure where the Polynesian Islands are then open up Google Earth and type in “Polynesian Islands”.  You will quickly see that they are in the middle of the blue bit of the globe – that part of it where the entire visible part of the globe is sea.

In the 1940’s it was the established view that the Polynesian Islands had been colonised via Asia, approximately 5,500 years ago.  A Norwegian adventurer, Thor Heyerdahl, disagreed.  His belief was that the islands had been settled by South Americans.  However, this would have meant that 5,500 years ago these South Americans would have undertaken a sea voyage of thousands of miles across the sea and navigated themselves to a precise point in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  Heyerdahl was ridiculed for his theory.  He was left with little option but to prove it in the only way he could – to construct a raft using materials only available 5,500 years ago and make the journey himself.  He built a raft which is on display in the museum, together with a full account of his expedition.

Kon-TikiSuffice to say that the experts called the entire stability of the raft into question when Heyerdahl announced his plans.  They thought him mad.  Remember that Heyerdahl sailed in 1947.  There were no GPS systems.  There were no long-range satellite communications.  In short, there was no help.  If Heyerdahl’s raft encountered problems on the open sea there would be no-one to come to the rescue.  His team were very much on their own.  It was a massive risk they undertook.  Nobody had sailed a raft like this on a journey like this for thousands of years.  Many thought that the raft would break up.   But it didn’t!  Do you see how the ropes in the next picture rubbed and wore grooves into the balsa logs?  This was a particularly important aspect of the raft, the effect of which was not appreciated until it was at sea and the interaction between the ropes and timbers started to play out.  But you’ll have to read Heyerdahl’s book to learn why – I’m not going to tell you.

Kon-TikiHeyerdahl’s voyage lasted 101 days and 4,300 miles before he landed (or rather was smashed) on a reef on the Tuamotu Islands.  On 7 August 1947 he proved to the establishment that their theories were wrong.  Thanks to Heyerdahl it is now the accepted and established view that the Polynesian Islands were settled by South American natives who made epic journeys across thousands of miles of ocean.  Heyerdahl wrote a book about his experiences which must hail as one of the best adventure books of all time (possibly bettered only by Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World (not that I want to get into an argument about this (though I will if I have to))).

Here is the journey Thor Heyerdahl and his companions made:

Kon-Tiki Information BoardThe Kon-Tiki was not the only raft Heyerdahl built, and not the only vessel on display in the museum.  We also got to see the Ra II, a raft built of papyrus which Heyerdahl and his crew sailed from Morocco to Barbados in 1970.  With this voyage Heyerdahl proved that it would have been possible to cross the Atlantic in Egyptian times.

Ra II
As we were leaving the museum something caught my eye.  It was something I had always wanted to see but never thought I would.  It was an Academy Award!  Heyerdahl made a documentary about his Kon-Tiki voyage which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature of 1951, and there was the award, staring at us from its museum shelf.

Kon-Tiki Oscar

Points referred to in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Kon-Tiki Museum:  N 59° 54.210 E 010° 41.885
  • Callao, Peru (where the Kon-Tiki was built):   S 12° 03.200 W 077° 08.000
  • Tuamotu Islands (where the Kon-Tiki landed):  S 18° 40.000 W 141° 00.000

The Coastal Path in Norway – The Fram Museum

You may be able to tell from the outside that this building was specifically built for one purpose and one purpose only – to house a ship.

Fram MuseumWell OK, either a ship or a really large tent.  The Norwegians, however, are more famous for their ships, and one ship in particular:  The Fram.  Here she is, nestled tightly inside.

The FramThe Fram is a three-masted schooner with auxiliary steam power, and the first vessel designed to winter in the polar pack ice.  Her hull was shaped so that no matter how strong the pressure of the ice, she would not break up.  She would freeze into the pack ice and drift with it.  The Fram is believed to have sailed further north and further south than any other wooden ship.

The Fram was the brainchild of a famous Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen.  He believed there was a polar current flowing towards the east coast of Greenland, but  In order to prove his theory he needed a ship that would withstand the pressure of the ice and so drift with it.  The Fram was his answer.  In 1893 he set sail, reached the ice, let his ship freeze in, and began to drift north.  When he reached the furthest point to which he thought the ship would drift, he left it and sledged across the ice to latitude 86° 13′ N, thereby setting a record for the furthest penetration north at that time.  After this he turned south to Franz Josef Land where he wintered and was picked up by another expedition in 1896.

The museum had many models of the expedition which I particularly liked.

Fram Museum ModelAs for The Fram herself, she is there to be explored.

The FramYou could take the wheel…

Ben at the Helm…and investigate below decks.

Inside The FramThere was lots for children in this museum (it was our two’s favourite).  I have to say they made quite good Eskimos…

Polar Ben and CatherineThey also got to try their hand at seeing how easy it was to pull a fully laden sledge.

Pulling a Sled's Weight

We couldn’t spend long in the Fram Museum (regular readers of this blog will know there was a bit of back trouble going on at around this time), but it was well worth the trip.  We even found a souvenir depicting our children in Norway!

IMG_0267

Points referred to in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Fram Museum:  N 59° 54.200 E 010° 41.975
  • Latitude 86° 13′ N on the same sort of longitude as the museum:  N 86° 13.000 E 010° 41.000
  • Franz Joseph Land:  N 80° 37.046 E 060° 42.045
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