During the night, we traversed one of the longest fjords in the world. We awoke to the village of Skjolden, a sleepy little hamlet in a valley left behind thousands of years ago after glaciers pushed their way through granite, before debouching in what came to be the fjord.
I have no words to describe how beautiful Skjolden is. If you stand with your back to the village, you look out upon an endless narrow fjord flanked by towering, tree-covered almost-cliffs. I say “almost-cliffs” because they’re not completely vertical. They’re just ALMOST vertical.
Face the village, and you see rich green farmland dotted with white and yellow houses and red barns, all of which occasionally climb into the mountains that encircle the valley on every side but the fjord side. Winding its way through this perfectly pastoral farmland is a swift-moving river that’s the brilliant blue gray color that only glacial water can be.
If you leave the valley’s plain and hike a few minutes into the surrounding hillsides, you’re in a sun-dappled, moss-covered woodland that is quite obviously home to fairies, sprites, wood nymphs, and the occasional troll. Peek through the delicate, white-barked larches (or maybe birches), and you see spread out before you a patchwork of green farmland dotted by rustic buildings, on either side of a crystalline gray-blue river, ending in a perfect fjord.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that, looking back on all my travels and all of the beautiful places I’ve seen in my life, Skjolden easily takes its place on the top ten list. It’s just exquisite, and precious, and breathtaking.
Incidentally, the farmland is just as perfect up close. We saw horses and nursing foals; placid cows; an endless profusion of flowers, both cultivated and wild; the requisite farmhouse cat (gray and white, of course); and handsome people who walked friendly dogs, spoke perfect English, and were as friendly as their dogs were, only thankfully more helpful, since we kept getting lost and needed guidance.
This afternoon, as we headed out of the fjord for our next port of call, the ship opened the doors to the bow so that we could stand at the very front of the ship see both sides of the fjord simultaneously as we head out. As we wended our way past the various mountains that flowed into the sea, we were treated to one incomparable vista after another.
We also got to see (although only from a distance) one of Norway’s stave churches, this one dating back to 1070. It was amazing to think that this wooden church has guarded the passage way and the inhabitants’ souls for almost one-thousand years.
Other than that, all is well. As a total aside, there was an interesting show on the ship today: Lance Ringwald (his last name is something like that) performed. Lance is a two time Olympic gymnast (1988 and 1992), a World Champion gymnast, and a member of the USA Gymnastic Hall of Fame. In other words, as an athlete, he’s the real deal.
Lance is also a total, and somewhat manic, extrovert who didn’t know what to do with himself when his athletic career came to the end. He decided to reinvent himself as a cruise ship entertainer. He swings on the silks, uses a walker like a high bar, juggles (very well), and sings and plays the piano. I enjoyed the show, which had the quality of a really good, old-time vaudeville show.
I’ll let you know whether Alesund is as good as or exceeds Skjolden. Considering that Alesund is above the arctic circle, I have high expectations that it will be pretty special.