I'm back in Paris after a very nice break. We came back to 100 degree temps and AirFrance promising to get our baggage to us eventually, so I'm not sure how happy I am to actually be here. Whoever tries to jimmy open our lost packs will get an unpleasant surprise as we did some pretty gross hiking in the wilderness and hot showers were not an option and everything is just gross. So ha! Joke is on you, AirFrance!
Where did we go?
There's mountains that look like boobs!
We had heard about the excellent trail system in Norway from this NY Times article from way back in 2005. I ignored it, but my mate here couldn't get it out of his head all these years that we need to make this trip. It took a little planning and a little foot-dragging on my behalf, but eventually I agreed on a BYOTP vacation. You have to bring toilet paper. There's not even leaves here to help you out since most of the hiking was above the tree line. Everyone else we knew was heading for islands somewhere, or Provence to be well fed and relaxed in sun and surf. I was going to be eating instant mashed potatoes and trying not to freeze at night for my summer vacation.
So, yeah. I was a little reluctant going into this. I have been trying to run 2 or 3 days a week, 4-5 miles each time, but I'm not in top form. Have I ever been? No. I do love hiking, but even more than that I love a hot shower and clean pajamas at the end of the day, and non-instant coffee in the morning. I sucked it up and despite my initial anxieties, ended up looking forward to it.
We flew into Oslo and stopped by the friendly DNT office there. They manage all the hiking trails and a lot of the cabins in the wilderness of Hardangervidda National Park. Kind of like the Appalachian Trail Club in the states, but bigger and more organized and with a couple more luxuries on the trail.
You can buy maps, ask for advice on where to go, buy last-minute supplies and get a key to their unstaffed cabins here. You don't need to bring a tent or too much food, as they stock the huts with canned and dried goods. It's EuroCamping. It's really nice, as it really cuts down on your pack weight. Multi-day hikes are now a lightweight affair.
Norway is a Very Expensive Place to travel. They have a very high cost and standard of living, making this a rather tourist unfriendly part of the world as far as costs go. The people were lovely- almost everyone was happy to chat with us and tell us about the area, and they really welcomed tourist in general. But the cost of everything was making us long for - ahem- affordable life in Paris pretty quickly.
After a quick lunch in Oslo, we hopped a train on the Bergen line which cuts through the country from East to West. We were planning on getting off at the ski resort town of Gilo, transfer to a bus for a half hour ride further and hike for 2 hours to our first hut before dark. Then...disaster. Our train stopped to wait for another bus transfer really early in the journey, setting us back a whole hour. We were told the bus at Gilo wasn't going to wait, and there wouldn't be another bus until Noon the next day. We scrambled a bit with our maps and plans and re-formulated our hike so we wouldn't miss out a full day of hiking and be stuck in Gilo for the night.
Instead of a fairly easy hike in, I made the decision to do a really long and tough hike out of the town of Finse instead. I couldn't bear to miss out on a full day of hiking based on a bus schedule. So we changed our starting point and the train conductors were very nice about us staying on the train a few extra stops.
The train climbed higher and higher. Soon, the green rolling hills gave way to bare rock mountains, snow pack and the occasional buttoned-up stone house. We arrived in Finse, the highest point of the railroad, just as the sun was setting and a bone-chilling cold set in.
There's no road here, just the rail line.
But there were tons of hikers and mountain bikers, all scrambling for a spot on the floor at the DNT lodge. They have a very nice policy- if the beds are full, they pull out mattresses and put them on the floor in the common room. Yay! Camping, with no privacy at all!
It's the largest and most crowded hut on the trail, but they have a full staff which means you'll get a hot meal.
Meat and potatoes. That's an accurate description as any.
A nice surprise was that they brew their own beer in the hut's basement. It might cost you $20 USD to try it, but it's there if you want it.
We got another nice surprise. As we were preparing to bunk down for the night on the common room floor with our sleeping bags and dozens of other campers, one of the staff motioned for us to follow her.
She led us to this room:
"Shhhh....its for you!" she said. Apparently it was reserved and paid for but the campers never showed up. I don't know if it went to us because we were the tolken Americans or what, but we ended up comfortably bunked in a private room and thanked the staff profusely for their excellent character judgement in choosing us. I have never been so happily surprised with a dorm room in my life.
I have tons of pictures to go through still...expect lots of pretty scenery and pictures in the coming weeks.