The first time we sailed into Geirangerfjord, it was the end of April. I awoke pretty darn tootin’ early, threw on what I considered to be warm clothes, and made my way up to the bow of the ship (that’s the front, pals) in order to witness the marvel of the mountains. It truly was marvellous. There was an eerie mist surrounding us- very Pirates of the Caribbean, you know the opening scene with the little girl singing?- with the surrounding mountains just visible beneath, looming up to the sky on either side of us. They were still covered in snow, giving the whole experience a tinge of being in a mildly sinister yet epic black and white film from decades ago, with the ship calmly cutting through the calm dark water below us. Crazy. We passed the Seven Sisters waterfall; seven icy cascades of water plunging down from the top of the snow-capped peak…it was pretty full on AWESOME. Also pretty full on cold, so I needed to retreat and reappear with several more layers. As we rounded a bend in the fjord, the shroud of mist lifted slightly and we could see the tiny village of Geiranger at the dead end full steam ahead. Over the next few months we returned to the village every ten days, seeing it slowly change as the snow almost entirely melted, blossom appeared on the trees, and then the full bloom of Summer, before it started to retreat into Autumn again. So here, in all its glory, is what I have to say (or write,even) about Geiranger.
First things first…what is an actual fjord?
I am not suggesting for one second that you do not know what a fjord is; but what I am saying is, it’s ok if you don’t- because I was pretty clueless myself. So here is my best explanation: a fjord is created when a glacier (that is, a very slow-moving but frozen river type thing) carves out a pathway which extends below sea level. It reaches the sea, then retreats (basically slowly starts to melt), and then the sea fills the void that would be left behind. Good one, sea! This means that obviously the water within a fjord is actually saltwater, and these fjords can go on for miles and miles. The mouth of the fjord is typically a pretty shallow affair, and it becomes deeper and deeper the further inland you get; there are points of the Geirangerfjord which are as deep downwards as the mountains that tower over them. I’m getting all David Attenborough here but what an amazing world we live in, guys!
Geiranger could go at any time!
This is a sad but true fact. Aleš, our photographer friend, declared it over lunch one day like some sort of Slovenian prophet sent with the word of The Almighty, ‘one day, the mountain will crack and fall into the fjord!! And the force of the rock will be SO huge that it will cause a tsunami which will wipe out the whole civilisation of Geiranger!!’ Well, it seemed a bit far fetched to me- Aleš also once told us that he had wrestled an octopus off the coast of Switzerland and if you know your geography you’ll realise that that is fully impossible. You can’t fool me, sir!
Anyway, after some stealthy googling it turned out he was being 100% factual. There’s a big old crack which is consistently growing diagonally across a mountain in the fjord; when the top of the mountain finally breaks off, which it definitely will at some point in time, it will plunge into the water and create a tsunami which will DEFINITELY wipe out the village of Geiranger and anything else within its path. The same thing has happened to fjord villages in the past, so they know with full certainty what Geiranger’s fate will be…how terrifying is that!!? Good lord. But fear not, pals- this is the most monitored mountain in the world, so if the mountain starts to go the people of Geirangerfjord should have approximately 72 hours to flee before the rock finally tumbles. Phew.
Geiranger is a teeny tiny place
As in, fully minuscule. The permanent population of the village is around 200, although this increases drastically when seasonal staff arrive for the Summer season. Mainly made up of small wooden shops selling classic tourist goods, campsites and the odd coffee shop, there is also a very tiny school, a church and a few hotels. My favourite place for a coffee and a Norwegian waffle (which is actually more of a pancake, served with sour cream and jam), was a little place called CafeOle, staffed mainly by English and Spanish people. Crazy. The weird thing about this is, the entire time I spent in Geiranger, I never once met a Norwegian person, and I’m not gonna lie it unnerves me slightly to be in a foreign place where it’s seemingly impossible to find a local. Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places.
It’s perfect for a good old-fashioned hike (especially if you’re in a bit of a mood)
I love a good old-fashioned hike, I do. Part of the problem sometimes with these good old-fashioned hikes though, is that I tend to set off at a crazy pace with not much of an idea of where I’m actually going, and end up slightly lost in the process (see:The Title of This Blog). This led me to encounter all manner of local hotspots; the day I made it my goal to climb as high up as I possibly could despite the fact I was definitely not wearing appropriate footwear and hadn’t informed anyone of where I was going (rule number one of hiking in Norway, homies). I realised when the earth became particularly sodden with water and mud that I wasn’t following a footpath, I was following a stream that was all but finished streaming as there was no more snow left to melt off of the top. Eventually I made it back to a rough pathway which led me in turn to a terrifying looking wooden bridge which had nothing underneath to support it from falling into the roaring waters beneath it. I was pretty much gripped with fear at this point, but having taken a photograph of said bridge I realised I’d be an idiot not to risk my death by crossing it; how embarrassing would that be, to take a photo of a bridge I had no intention of crossing!? Well, I realise now I was stupid to be so afraid but all I’m saying is I did it and I’m rather happy there was no one around to witness my weird shaky walk across the bridge; I’d imagine it was something similar to a chicken experiencing a stroke.
Or there was the time I encountered a posse of goats, chilling in a field. I was well up for getting closer to those goats and they looked like a friendly bunch, so I got as close to them as I could by walking crab-style between the stringy looking fence and the stinging nettles that ran parallel with it. After saying hi to several rather inquisitive furry fellows, I realised I was being electrocuted repeatedly by the fence- it might have looked like mere nylon thread, but upon closer inspection there was definitely metal running through it and I felt the need to make a swift but very careful exit back down the side of the field, this time more Mission Impossible style as if I was walking on the edge of a building. Danger. Severe danger.
I’m sad to say that I never got the chance to kayak on the fjord, but it’s something I reckon would be a really awesome activity. Alas, my name never got picked from the list of crew who signed up for it, though in hindsight there are plenty of kayaking centres dotted around the water so it’s something you can obviously organise for yourself if you’re really up for it. To see the drama of the cliffs and mountains up close from the water would be rather spectacular I bet. For the extreme hardcore adventure lover, you could even try cycling up the mountain. Yep, you read it right. Cycle. Up. A. Mountain. My pal from the ship did it and I was highly impressed. There are many a bike hire spot dotted around, and paths are clearly mapped out as well.
It’s easy for cruise passengers in particular to just stick to the village with its gift shops and bakeries- but I definitely recommend just setting off at your own pace and seeing what you find. There are mountain farms high up in the hills, wildlife everywhere, and a surprisingly colourful landscape waiting for you to explore it. If you’re up for it, you know.
- It goes without saying that Geiranger is a very remote location. The closest airport is at Ålesund, and from there it’s possible to either take a public bus or hire a car- the journey by road still taking several hours.
- Beware- the roads are winding and in the winter months often closed! Do your research before you go.
- Considering I work on a cruise ship it’s maybe slightly strange that I don’t generally recommend paying to go on one; but sailing into Geirangerfjord is an experience like no other, so if you ever get the opportunity I’d say that it’s worth it for sure.
- Norway is EXPENSIVE. Even in tiny villages a casual coffee will set you back around $5-7. Scandalous.