When we docked one morning in the fjord at Flam, we jumped off the ship, made our way to the tiny train station, placed our rented bikes on board the 9:05 to nowhere, then sat back for an hour-long ride to the top of the mountain. Altho I had been to Norway and fjords before, neither of us had any deep, preconceived notions of our day this day. We knew the sky was a bit overcast and chilly; we knew that Norway was a beautiful and clean country whose generous people are some of the finest on earth; all else was a blank page.
Well, after a gentle but extremely steep train ride up 3,000’ or more (below, left), past pretty alpine farms and pastures, past perhaps a dozen spectacular waterfalls per mile, we finally reached the top of the mountain. Keeping in mind that this was August and stifling hot elsewhere in the world, people inside the station were drinking hot cocoa and wearing winter clothes like it was a Swiss ski resort with three feet of fresh powder outside. Whatever, M and Me grabbed our sturdy bikes, crossed the tracks, asked an idle railroad worker to take our photo (which the good man happily did), found the bike trail, and for the next four or five hours we coasted slowly and sometimes swiftly back down to the sea.
The sights and sounds on that trip back were simply breath-taking. Because it was so steep and rocky, prissy had to walk her self-mobile several miles, and so, I coasted a bit and waited…coasted and waited. But the entire waiting process was NEVER boring. Waterfalls, thousands of feet above us, cascaded over the cliffs until a large river became nothing but a fine mist when it reached the rocks on a pine-studded valley floor. One might imagine that such volumes of water would be thunderous but when it falls from such a height, it’s as light and quiet as a fog when it lands below.
Adding to our wonder and awe, there were very few people on the trail. Every so often a biker or two might pass us, but the solitude was almost absolute--just us, the falls, the towering cliffs, the pines . . . and goats. Breaking into one small sunny clearing, we were surprised to enter a pretty pasture populated by nanny goats. Not any goats these, however—these were the tamest goats I had ever see. These cute creatures with their brush tails straight up in curiosity actually walked over to us, not to be fed, but to be petted and scratched. A short distance beyond was a tiny farm which sold cheese from these goats. It was the most unusual and strange cheese either of us had ever tasted. It apparently was a local fjord favorite—a brownish, aromatic, very sharp, and extremely distinctive cheese. As long as one lives, one will never ever forget the taste of that cheese--not rank like Limburger but tangy like a hyper-aged cheddar.. We, of course, bought a nice chunk for the grand sum of 6 krones, or one dollar. I could have spent the entire day just laying around this clearing. But, just across the crashing river and around a rocky bend were some Fjord horses and for Michelle this was a must. Like the goats, the sturdy little horses were tame and wanted to be scratched and petted.
When our bikes finally coasted silently back into Flam at dusk, we stopped at the picturesque little church (below, right). All was quiet, everywhere. Smoke rose straight up from a few fire places around the village. A lady was planting some flowers on a grave site as darkness closed down. We both felt like we had reached home.
This day, spent quietly, simply, humbly in nature’s glory was as close to heaven as either of us had been or expect to be. It was indeed as if Flam and its spectacular valley was opening its heart to us and had reserved this day exclusively for Mike and Michelle and Mike and Michelle only. The effect on us both was, and remains, so profound and magical that we can hardly wait to return. We also talk of staying there for a month or more.
“I want to live there,” says my wife solemnly.
When Michelle talks like that, in that tone of voice, she means exactly what she says. Thus, Mike and Michelle may not last a whole lot longer on old Manasota.