December 04, 2023

On the road: Scandinavian summer

Farm & Food File

Everywhere you look on the sun-drenched Stockholm streets, you see blue and yellow. Blue sky, blue water and the powder blue field of the Swedish flag dominate in all directions.

Bobbing in these blue seas are islands of fair-haired Swedes hiking, biking, boating and walking on or alongside the wharf of the city’s best people-watching street, Strandvägen. The bright yellow Nordic cross on waving Swedish flags adds to the luster.

And right there, in a city so bright, so elegant and so welcoming that you fall in love with it, you promise perfect strangers that you will return to “Paris of the North.”

They understand; everyone, after all, speaks English and everyone seems to enjoy the city as much as you.

It’s the perfect gateway to Scandinavia, a loosely-defined region that a local guide assures us means only Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

After a four-day soak in Stockholm’s warm sun, tasty food and numerous museums, we take a short flight to Oslo, Norway’s capital, for two more days of walking, ferry riding and sauna sitting.

Our traveling clan — six of us including a 3-year-old granddaughter — isn’t the only international group in the city.

NATO defense ministers from nearly 30 nations have taken over Oslo’s historic center for an “informal” meeting. Local police, guard dogs and armed soldiers — all stiffly formal — are on street corners and atop buildings.

Even at that, Oslo is as walkable as Stockholm with few hills, much shoreline, gleaming museums and sunny public spaces.

Most grassy parks are crowded with sunbathers soaking in June’s 20 hours of daily rays. A steady onshore breeze cools all.

Soon, we’re rocking gently on the train a few hours northwest to rural Dombås, where another train takes us further north to Åndalsnes on the famous Rauma railway.

A fellow passenger informs us that we’re entering “troll country” and granddaughter Nora warns all when a welcoming conductor encourages her to sound the train’s whistle.

Troll country’s towering mountains, sturdy stone bridges and snow-fed waterfalls come so fast there isn’t time for both an “Ooh!” and an “Ahh!” before the next breathtaking sight comes around the bend.

Throughout the narrow, shadow-shrouded valleys are farms whose chief crop, grass, is fodder for sheep, goats and a few cattle. Stately, three-story red barns are testament to long winters when the livestock, like their owners, are forced inside.

Soon, the lush meadows give way to more fjords and more memories. For the next four days we rest, hike in the nearby Sunnmøre Alps, peer over Geiranger Fjord and kayak a bathtub-smooth, 1,000-foot deep Storfjorden.

I ask our kayak keeper if the locals fish the mountainous fjord. “Yes,” he replies, “but it’s better fishing at the ocean” — an hour-long cruise down the lengthy fjord — “where the water is less deep.”

Norway: Where the ocean is deep, but fjords are deeper.

Revived, we board a 44-foot palace of a boat for a breathtaking, three-hour trip down Hjørundfjorden to rainy Ålesund and then a short flight south to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city and its first capital.

Landing in Bergen is worth the price of any airline ticket. Everywhere you look there are too many islands to count surrounded by the dark North Sea and ships of every make and nationality — colorful oil tankers, massive cruise ships, gray coast guard cutters, sleek sailboats with billowing spinnakers and working fishing trawlers.

After checking into our hotel, little Nora takes charge again and delivers her dinner plan: pizza in a park.

After 10 days of the North’s finest salmon, monkfish, lamb and duck, supper is takeout pizzas, a pint of fresh strawberries and lukewarm refreshments on a grassy slope overlooking a wharfside neighborhood.

Three hundred yards away, the luxury cruise ship Queen Mary 2 awaits for her passengers to return from city sightseeing and their not-pizza supper.

The next day, our final full day together, we ride Bergen’s famed funicular to an even better view of Bergen, the North Sea and beyond.

We can’t quite see America, but we, like generations of Scandanavians before us, know it’s there and trust it will shelter us soon.

Alan Guebert

Alan Guebert

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