Day 7: Flam/Aurland
With a full day planned, we started early… out of bed at 5:30-6am, packed up, and checked out by 7am. While not as epic of a buffet as the Thon, the Fretheim selection was more than sufficient. We ate quickly and walked across the street to the Flam Railway station. The Flam Railway was built in 1924 and opened in 1940. It is 12.6 miles long and goes up 2,831 feet.
Because the railway is the third most visited tourist attraction in Norway (per Wikipedia) and the late morning and afternoon rides were booked, we were surprised to find a relatively empty train at 7:30am. We were able to roam to seats on both sides of the car, allowing for clear shots. The only thing blocking our view were those pesky clouds. Still, the ride was pretty cool.
Arriving back in Flam at 9:30am, we had enough time for second breakfast before our 10am NÃƒÂ¦rÃƒÂ¸yfjord cruise on the new “Vision of the Fjords” boat. The weather decided it didn’t want to play nice this time, and it rained for much of the tour. The inside was nice, and again, fairly empty, so admiring the view from the window wasn’t the worst. We also took turns braving the elements to get some pictures.
Unlike the train, which took us back to our starting point, the boat dropped us of in Gudvangen. We took a shuttle bus back to Flam and went through the same long tunnels we took yesterday (in the same direction).
Flam is a town with 400 permanent residents and a handful of hotels, so it was pretty quiet – until a cruise ship rolls up! By the time we got back from our fjord tour, the place was packed. Fortunately, we completed our Flam activities and were ready to forge ahead.
Next to Flam is Aurland, a small shoe-making town dating back to the 1880s when salmon fisherman needed their shoes repaired. In the 1930s, a cobbler named Nils Tveranger returned to Norway after studying in the United States and developed the first penny loafer inspired by the moccasins worn by the Iroquois. The shoes were a huge success. They developed and changed over time, but the basic pattern is still used today. While many stores in Norway and Europe sell the Aurland Loafer, the store in Aurland also houses the small factory where a team of seven people make every pair by hand. They allow visitors to tour the factory and watch the artists at work.
We couldn’t leave Aurland without getting a pair for ourselves. My choice was easy, as they had my go-to color, which is currently very popular in Norway. At least I will be in style for the next week. Due to the unique nature of handmade products, each shoe, even of the same size, fits slightly differently. After finding the perfect pair, we were ready to hit the road in style.
The route toward Guapne has two options. One is a 24.5km long tunnel at 80 km/hr. The other is the Aurlandsfjellet scenic route, which winds up and over the alpine mountains. Being in no hurry, our choice was clear! Our directions were not. We drove through the long tunnel before realizing we passed the entrance to the scenic route. The only “scenic” thing in the super-long tunnel was a handful of rest sections that were lit up with blue and green lights – perhaps to simulate the Northern Lights?
To remedy the situation, we just turned around and took the scenic route back to where we started. Turns out that was the suggested direction anyway. Clouds still obstructed some views on the route, but they cleared up for the best spot, the viewing platform at Stegastein.
Back where were started earlier in the afternoon, we took another spin through the LÃƒÂ¦rdalstunnelen – and kept going north this time – toward the Mannheller-Fodnes Ferry on the way toward Sogndal and Gaupne.
Our last mission before getting to the hotel was to find the Kaupanger Stave Church. Scattered throughout the country are churches built in the 1100s constructed out of wood rather than stone. While each church is different, they all have corner-posts and timber framing. We plan to see a few more throughout the rest of the trip, but we can also go to Little Norway, Wisconsin and see the Stave Church replica that was used as a stall to debut Aurland shoes in the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
As the sun started to peek through, we finally arrived at our hotel in Guapne to end the day. That’s enough relaxing. Back to active adventures tomorrow!
Joanna – I LOVE those blue penny loafers – great choice. Let me guess, Matthew got brown?!?! lol! Fun to hear the history of penny loafers – they were quite desirable back in the late sixties and early seventies – and many of us used dimes instead of pennies, just to be different! The stave church is beautiful – wondering just how old some of those gravestones are?!?! Really….I think some sunshine is in order….