If you’ve never seen the History Channel’s action packed historical drama, Vikings, I recommend checking it out if you are planning a visit to Norway (or not; it’s that good). We visited a few ports of call during a Northern European cruise. While cruising isn’t my preferred way to travel, it was interesting to explore the small coastal hamlets that dotted the shoreline of the fjords and to experience Norway’s stunning natural beauty from the water.
The way our mammoth floating city of a ship saddled right up to the shore in these incredibly deep waterways was unthinkable. Norway, after all, is all about the water. Over 90% of the country’s power comes from hydro, with the small remainder made up by thermal and, only recently, windmills in the North Sea.
Population 220. Yet cruise ships bring about 600,000 guests a year to this village in western Norway, at the head of Geirangerfjord. We booked a tour so we could see some of the surrounding countryside. If you’re prone to motion sickness you may opt not to endure the 11 hairpin turns on Eagle Road. We visited the only summer mountain farm still in operation in the area, where we sampled local cheese and tried to imagine living in such an isolated place, even among the beauty.
This adorable village in southwestern Norway at the end of Aurlandsfjord, a branch of the vast Sognefjord, is also home to the world’s steepest railway, which you can learn all about by visiting the Flåm Railway Museum.
Our excursion on this stop was a small hybrid boat tour on Future of the Fjords, gliding through narrow Nærøyfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the loveliest fjordic landscapes on earth owing in no small part to the many waterfalls. Get out onto the water every chance you get!
[PRO TIP: Visit Viking inspired brewpub Ægir for terrific local microbrews and Bakeri for local treats and souvenirs.]
Haugesand & Karkøy
VISNES MINING MUSEUM
In 1865 discovered by a humble fisherman on the island of Karmøy, Visnes rich copper deposit became Northern Europe’s largest copper mine and produced 70% of Norway’s copper export. The Statue of Liberty in New York City, USA was built of copper from the Visnes mine. Now a museum, its exhibition is designed to get to know the history of what was once a very special society ahead of its time.
THE VIKING FARM AT AVALDSNES
Just outside of Haugesund is Norway’s oldest royal residence, first settled in approximately 870AD. It’s easy to immerse yourself in traditional life, as the farm also serves as an educational camp to teach local children their Viking heritage.
A project of the Archeological Museum of Stavanger, the reconstructed village includes a longhouse (a residence for an entire extended family and servants), boathouse (used for naval defense and banquets), roundhouse (speculated to be places of worship), firepits and pit houses (used for crafts and cooking).
The rune stone (pictured below) is a memorial to King Halv, the great, great grandson of King Augvald, from which Avaldsnes is named. The stone’s inscription is in Old Norse, which translates “The rygr of the island raised this stone to the memory of King Halv” rygr being the tribe for which this region of Norway is named Rogaland.
ST. OLAV’S CHURCH
At the height of Norway’s political power, King Håkon Håkonsson started the work on St. Olav’s Church in 1250 as part of a royal manor complex. The King consecrated the church to St. Olav, and the church became an important stopping place for pilgrims.
Early in the 1300’s King Håkon Magnusson made St. Olav’s Church one of four royal collegiate churches. Under the King’s direct control, these ‘universities’ of there time were an important instrument of his power. They served as places where the King could gather his trusted priests and advisers, as all other churches were under the control of bishops appointed by Rome.
St. Olav’s is the only one of the four that remains standing today.