I thought I’d never get lost. In this first smartphone-enabled trip, it has been too easy to know where I’m going. So this morning as I drive through outer Bergen on my way to route 7, it is almost a relief when I miss my turn.
The detour takes me a half hour out of my way, but everything goes smoothly once I retrace my steps to the correct turn-off. Route 7 is the Hardanger National Tourist Route, one of many such routes the Norwegian government has developed to encourage travel in its rural areas. The winding highway runs mostly along the northern shore of Hardangerfjord, Norway’s fruit-growing region.
The weather is sunny and mild, and I’m enjoying my zippy little Nissan 3. A little east of Norheimsund, I stop at a hillside pull-off to take pictures of some islands just offshore. To get the best view, I take a short downhill hike following some English couples. They stop for a picnic, but I see the black cloud that is looming just behind the mountaintops. Back on the road, the cloud begins to give chase. It overtakes me in a construction zone and is nearly past me by the time I reach the ferry run at Kvandal. I watch the car ferry shepherd cars onboard for the run across the fjord to Utne and Kinsarvik, then I cross the road to the little store for a hot dog and a Fanta.
The meandering afternoon drive leads me toward the Hardanger Bridge a little before four. But first I must plunge through the longest tunnel I’ve ever encountered. The tunnel is eight kilometers long and resembles the launch tube on the original Battlestar Galactica show. About seven miles in, I hit the roundabout where routes 7 and 13 converge with each other and the turnoff to Ulvik. The sight of a roundabout carved inside a mountain and lit in the kind of blue light you see in dance club bathrooms is bizarre. If this were China or Japan, they probably would build a small city in here.
Eidfjord is the jumping-off point to the Hardangervidda National Park.Completing the circle, I’m slingshot into sudden daylight and onto the world’s longest tunnel-to-tunnel bridge, suspended high above the deep blue water. Driving across the Hardanger bridge feels like flying. I’m moving too fast, but not so fast that I don’t notice a couple walking on the pedestrian side. I can’t see where they could have parked. I can feel the wind blowing my car, so I can’t imagine how they can stand the gale that’s cutting across the bridge.
No time to think about it. I’m back in the next tunnel. This time it’s not as long. There’s another roundabout, where Route 13 heads south toward the fruit village of Lofthus and onward to the Folgefonn glacier. Route 7 diverges to the east toward Eidfjord.
Eidfjord is a little rustic town along the banks of its namesake fjord and the jumping-off point to the Hardangervidda National Park. Eidfjord has houses built high on the hill overlooking the water, but those houses are not so high as what awaits at Kjaesen Farm.
Kjaesen Farm is sited way up on the side of a mountain overlooking the Eidfjord. I arrive at the road to the farm before it gets too late to make the drive up the 10 kilometer, one-lane passage. Cars go up on the hour and must go down on the half hour. This system is necessary because most of the drive is through a rickety tunnel that’s like driving through an old mine shaft, one that appears as if it could fall on top of me at any moment.
Safe at the top and back in the sunlight, I reach the farm by foot. Kjaesen is still a working farm, one of the few mountainside farms of its kind that are still inhabited in Norway. There are two simple but fine wooden houses looking down on a steeply sloping field of high grass that comes to an abrupt halt at the mountain’s edge. The views from here are sublime, and the sense of being here is calming.
An hour later, I’m at the lookout for the Voringfossen waterfalls in the Hardangervidda. Voringfossen is the most famous of the Hardanger falls, and because it’s by the roadside, it’s the most visited. Bunches of people gather by the railing to photograph the twin falls, which fall in a V shape. The left fall is a thin jet spray coming from a cleft at the mountain top, while the right fall is a wide plume that shoots out forcefully from the mountainside. The two falls crash down in a common pool at the bottom sending water spewing into the air.
Back at my little inn in Eidfjord, I enjoy a fresh mountain trout, grilled simply and served with local vegetables. After dinner, just before dark, I stroll along the fjord heading out of town. In the morning, there will be a cruise ship anchored in the water and tour buses bringing the masses to this sleepy place. For now, it is quiet, as the ten o’clock twilight descends.