Norway 2006: Day Six (To Ulvik)
A good hotel is a joy to stay in. A bad hotel often leaves you stressed, fed up, annoyed and feeling un-welcomed. An indifferent hotel is – well – just indifferent. But in a good hotel, you feel welcomed, comfortable, relaxed, happy, carefree. Not quite as good as being at home, but close.
After four night staying at the Midtnes Pensjonat in Balestrand, I decided the place fitted firmly in the good hotel mark. It felt nice, relaxed and carefree. True the food was slightly 1970s-esque in style, but it was substantial and tasty. On our final evening meal I’d been presented with a platter full of beef, potatoes and veg. It certainly filled me up, and after there would be great views to admire, games to play. However it was time to move on. Between us, we’d come to the end of the road. Nothing ever lasts forever. Our itinerary from the holiday company said so…
Day six would see us leave the Sognefjord, and head for Ulvik, on the Hardangerfjord – the third largest fjord in the world. But first we’d have to get there. This unfortunately necessitated an early-ish start, by catching the express boat from Balestrand at 07:55.
We were met at the hotel reception by the owner who was driving down to the quay with luggage of other departing customers, and so gave us a lift down. On the quay side, he shook our hands and bid us goodbye. Yes, I think it’s a nice hotel.
The boat zoomed up bang on time – Fjordprins was on its way to Bergen, but our journey would be a mere 15 minutes and take us to the other side of the fjord to a town called Vik.
From Vik we’d catch a bus to Voss, but alas, connections were not on our side and we’d have to wait an hour before it arrived.
To be honest the things you can do in any town between 08:10 and 09:10 in the morning, is a bit limited. But thankfully Vik had a few tourist attracts, so with luggage in tow, we opted to do our own mini “Vik in an hour” tour!
And so the challenge began. To find three tourist attractions in Vik, admire them and get back in time for the bus! Would we find three? Would we miss the bus and be stranded in Vik today? Would the suitcase wheels fall off as we rushed around? Well only time would tell, and the clock boys and girls, was most certainly ticking!
Tourist attraction 1 came quickly. A walk up the main road took us past the famous Gamalost diary.
Gamalost is an ancient cheese, dating back to the viking times, and dairy company TINE had invested much in a dairy in the town to produce the cheese. So much so that they do tours and have fantastic leaflets in tourist information offices.
Of course at 08:20 in the morning, the diary was actually shut and of course we probably wouldn’t have had time to look round it anyway. Still, it’s a tourist attraction and that counts! An early success! Hurrah!
Attraction 2 was a bit further away – the famous Hooperstad stave church. After our failure to see the Kauppanger stave church the day before, we were keen to make sure we at least got a glimpse of the one in Vik. It is however about a twenty minute walk from the bus stop, so the suitcase was bouncing along on its wheels as we rushed along.
The church was built around 1130, although some estimates put it even earlier. After many years lying abandoned and its exterior stripped, it was purchased in 1880 and was restored over the next decade.
From the outside it’s a very impressive building, standing on a small mound and standing tall amongst the nearby houses. Of course, it was also shut which meant that we couldn’t look inside, so we picked up our luggage again and headed back.
Attraction 3 would probably have been the nearby Hove Stone Church, but we would never have made it back to the bus in time (ironically the bus actually goes past the church – but we didn’t know). Oh no! What will we do!
With the timer counting down, we had problems! We were going to fail! Oh no! What is there for us to see? A hotel? A supermarket? But wait! What’s that over there? Yes, we’ve found it… attraction number 3! The world famous Vik Sports Stadium! You know the one! The one with… errr… sport in it! Yes!
And with that, we dashed back and found that our amazing “Vik in an hour” was more like “Vik in 40 minutes” so settled down to wait for the bus.
A bus marked Voss duly arrived and we got on the road. A large coach, it sped quickly round winding roads, going ever steeper up the road until it reached the top. Despite the remoteness of it all, there were scores of little houses everywhere – some no doubt farms, holiday cottages and some, presumably, for those wishing to ski in the winter. It was stunning scenery for the ten or so people who “filled” a bus for sixty.
After a while we pulled into a small stop in a town called Vinje and the driver said something to Norwegian towards some people near the front and went out to open the luggage compartment. A few people got off – we presumed that they were to connect with another bus. As it turned out, we all had to get off – the driver having got on again to repeat his message in English! With the bus marked Voss on the front, we’d assumed we’d have a journey straight to our destination, but instead we had to loiter around for a few minutes until a (late) Nor-way Busexpress coach arrived to take us on.
As an aside, Nor-way Busexpress (the Norwegian equivalent of the UK’s National Express) has a “No Reservation, Seat Guarantee”, such is its confidence that that you will get to sit down when the vehicle turns up. Indeed, their website boldly proclaims:
NOR-WAY Bussekspress guarantees its passengers a seat on its scheduled coaches to all Scandinavian destinations. We guarantee all our customers a seat on board our express coaches so you don’t even need to make an advance reservation. […] All you have to do is show up at your nearest bus stop, signal the coach driver – and you’ll be on your way in no time.
Notably they don’t actually tell you what happens if they fail to live up to their guarantee! Thankfully for us, there was room at the back and we headed off to Voss in rather dull scenery. About the only “excitement” when we came to use the onboard amenities (aka the toilet) which was impressively designed so that you had to flush the loo by lifting your foot up and pushing down on a raised pedal – easy to do when the driver is hurtling round a corner at breakneck speed…
It was around eleven when we got to Voss, which left us sitting in Voss railway station’s cafe drinking tea, and admiring the display of local cuisine (hotdog wrapped in bacon – top stuff) until 11:40 when we caught our next and final bus for the day for the fifty minute ride to Ulvik.
This bus journey turned out to be a bit more interesting, featuring as it did, a very slow, twisty descent down a very large hill (always good in a large coach) which took us past a quite frankly stunning waterfall. It’s just a shame that this beautiful sight could never really be enjoyed by people as it was right on the main road!
The bus stopped right outside our hotel – the Ulvik Fjord Pensjonat – around 12:30. Unfortunately our room wasn’t ready so we opted to leave our bags and wander in search for food. Walking into town, we found that the hotel was not only conveniently located for the bus stop, but also for the bus depot, palette factory and double glazing showroom. All mod cons eh?
After a brief look in the tourist information options, we set about appraising the food situation. And found it. The enchantingly named “Grillkiosken”. You can probably guess the rest – a gastronomic delight and no mistake, with Catherine having to settle for chips, whilst I had make do with a lacklustre (and obviously not fresh) fish and chips.
Lunch done with we went back to the hotel where there lad behind the desk (with his Northern twang – yes, he was English ) wasn’t sure if the room was ready because “she’s gone out” – she being the person who cleaned the room obviously. After a bit of a wait we decided to take a gamble and took our room which was in the enchantingly named “annex” building next to a stream.
Our stuff duly dumped, walking shoes were inserted onto feet and we went out for a walk, popping in to admire the church on our way.
In the tourist information office, Catherine had found a series of “Car walk” leaflets, although the car element seemed to be rather incidental. We opted to go on a circular walk around the hills of Ulvik, and found ourselves walking past many an orchard – Ulvik is the principle apple growing area of Norway, and the number of apple trees showed.
Alas Ulvik was struggling to meet up with the gorgeous views of Balestrand, and the weather certainly didn’t help with regular rain which began to come down in almighty proportions as we returned to town – so much so that we ended up sheltering under a petrol station canopy for several minutes until it was dry enough to continue.
By the time we got back, tea wasn’t far off so we warmed up in the shower and got ready. After the “wonders” of lunch time, I was looking forward to something nice. Unfortunately it seemed that someone had other ideas. Catherine was presented with a quiche (topped – oddly – with potato wedges) whilst I got a plaice escalope. After the silver platters of the Midtnes Pensionat, it was a bit of a come down. The chocolate moose slice for desert didn’t exactly make up for it.
After tea we sat briefly in the frankly perturbing bar which featured an even more perturbing collection of stuffed animals, but after someone put the TV on, we adjourned to the sanctity of an adjacent room, before headed off for some sleep.
 it has since been pointed out to me that the person – the nephew of Paul, the owner – is not actually from the North of England, which I am happy here to correct here in this footnote. Could have sworn he was, but there you go, I was apparently wrong. I’m also happy to clarify that in no way do I think that it’s bad that anyone British should be found working in a hotel in Norway – it just surprised me a small amount, just as meeting any Brit working abroad has a tendency to do. Update made 6 August 2007