For those of you who know me or follow me on instagram, you already know that I consider Norway my second country. It has been a part of my life ever since I was a little girl, back then mostly for winter holidays skiing with family, but in the later years I have been so furtunate to travel there in the summers as well. Back in August I was booked to photograph a wedding there for the third year in a row, and I had a wedding booked in Copenhagen the weekend before. So I decided to do a solo roadtrip in the week inbetween, driving from Cph to Oslo and North to Nesbyen to visit Alexander and Pauline at Lille Alpakka, then explore the two National Parks of Hardangervidda and Folgefonna, and finally head south to photograph the wedding in Stavanger.
Hang on for the ride, 'cause this is a looong post :-)
With a BIG photographer "hangover" after a 16 hour wedding day and just 5 hours of sleep, I started out on sunday morning on the 7 hour drive from Copenhagen, up through Sweden towards Oslo. Finally passing the beautiful Svinesund was a big relief, and at one point I had to pull in and nap in my car for 1 hour before moving on. Oslo is my least favourite city to drive in in all of Scandinavia, even with a updated gps it is a nightmare to find one's way, so after a stressfull 30 minutes of de-tours I found my way to Skt. Hanshaugen to meet up with a wonderful couple whose wedding I photographed outside of Oslo a few years back, and whose little family addition was now ready for his first encounter with my camera. One of my wonderful Norwegian colleagues, who funnily enough is also my name sister, Camilla Andersen, was kind enough to offer up her sofa for the night, and we spent a lovely evening talking life and photography (luckily she too had a wedding hangover, so we were equally dehydrated and fussy with a similar lack of vocabulary and memory in general :-D)
Camilla and her soon-to-be husband, Simen, made a wonderful breakfast for me that included my favourite cheese in the whole world, brown Myseost (I swear it is like eating nougat but without feeling guilty) and I was on my way North. I had left a cold and windy and rainy Denmark behind the day before, but now found myself in a summer'y heatwave, with my suitcase full of sweaters and long pants.
I arrived at Nesbyen and took a quick drive through the town to have a look, before heading up up up to the cabin in the mountains that Aleksander and Pauline were kind enough to let me borrow for my two nights in the area.
Driving up the mountain I found a magical little spot where I stayed for a few hours, enjoying the sun, dipping my hot feet in the ice cold river, and jumping barefoot from stone to stone. The sound of the water drowned out the voices in my head completely and I was able to let go of everything in that moment and just 'be'.
In terms of the cabin, I didn't quite know what to expect, except that it would be far away from everything and anyone and that it would be relatively "primitive" by modern standards. Nothing had prepared me for the utter peace and quiet, the charm, the view, the atmosphere of this place. Although it took me a few hours to get used to being all alone except for the flock of male alpacas grazing around the cabin, this was EXACTLY what I needed after 3 insanely busy months. I will be forever grateful to Aleksander and Pauline and to the universe for putting this together for me. it was INCREDIBLE. No wonder they call this place their 'Paradise number two'.
After getting my stuff inside, I spent a few hours getting aquainted with the animals, exploring the area on foot, camera in hand, and then went inside to watch some mindless tv series and eat whatever I had leftover in the cooler from my drive, a few apples, crackers, nuts etc. I may have fallen asleep for a while, because I suddenly woke up when one of the alpacas stuck his head through the window and grunted, and I discovered it was close to sunset. I quickly closed the window to avoid having too many bugs and moskitoes to spend the night with, and then ventured out again with my camera to capture the beautiful evening. It was so difficult to force myself to go inside.
As I fell asleep that first night, all alone inbetween the middle of nowhere and heaven on earth, all I could hear was the babbling creek next to the cottage and the distant bells of mothersheep roaming free and leading their flocks through the trees.
After a night of many interruptions ( I guess the alone-ness must have got to me more than I thought because I woke instantly every time one of the alpacas outside grunted or rubbed against the cabin), I woke at sunrise and quickly got my boots on and found my camera and headed outside again. I was greeted by a flock of fluffy faces, curious but at the same time very shy. Nothing had changed during the night, it was still the same magical silence. The kind that makes you wonder if you have lost your hearing even though in reality your clearly hear the water, a slight breeze in the tops of the surrounding fir trees, and as the night before, the bells from the distant sheep.
After a quick "breakfast" (it was now almost lunch time) I jumped in the car and headed down the mountain to go up another to visit and photograph the farm, animals and family at Lille Alpakka. It was so SO hot, and the harsh mid-day sun definitely didn't do me any favours, but I did the best I could. Aleksander and Pauline are some of the kindest warmest people I have ever met. Observing and capturing them and their kids interact with the alpacas was just as magical as I had hoped and I truly enjoyed spending a few hours at their home (although it did severly test my fear of heights ;-) They chose to leave the big city behind and raise their kids in a smaller community, near family, surrounded by nature, and do everything at a slower pace and with more time for eachother.
No, not dead, just HOT.
Driving back towards the cabin for my last night there, I decided to take a little detour up the mountain facing the one where their farm was located to give a better idea of how the house and the folds are actually hugging into the mountainside.
If you too need your daily dose of alpaca cuteness, you can follow them on instagram.
When I got back to the cabin I did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day. I just sat in the sofa, looking out the window, watching a bit of tv, sent a few texts to friends who part of me wished was there with me, because I knew how much they would appreciate this place, ate a pizza and a salad. Then I took out my notepad and started writing. I wrote and I wrote; about the journey so far, about the fantastic and at the same time unsettling experience of being in that cabin all alone for so long, and about my wishes for the future, about what I wanted my daily life to look like after the 2016 wedding season was over. During those 48 hours alone in the cabin, I found the peace and mind space I needed to make those wishes into an actionable plan. A necessary plan, if I don't want to spend the rest of my life on the verge of stress and depression. And that night I slept like a baby.
When I first arrived, I noticed a beautiful photograph of the cabin almost covered in morning mist. I had admired that photo during my whole stay. When I woke and looked out the window that last morning, the surrounding landscape looked exactly like in that photo. It was like nature decided to give me a proper goodbye hug. It was incredible!!!
I was in for a long but very very exciting drive on this day so I packed up my stuff and got an early start, heading South-west towards Geilo and Hardangervidda Nasjonalpark. The morning fog and I kept up with eachother for quite awhile giving me lots of lovely photo-stops along the way.
As soon as I entered Hardangervidda Nasjonalpark the landscape changed visibly. This is a place I must and will return to, I know that. I will let the images speak for themselves.
If you look very closely in the following photo you may be able to spot 3 tiny people. That will give you an idea of the scale of the landscape which can be hard to grasp otherwise.
As I reached the edge of the park, a flock of about 200 goats suddenly appeared from the woods, forcing me to come to a full stop in the middle of a very very steep piece of road, letting the goats engulf the car like a big wave. Some of them licked the side of the car, others rubbed their ears against it. And as I got out among them several of them came over, stopped and gently leaned their heads against my legs. The whole experience felt like one big loving hug, and I stood there for awhile watching the herd move into the field on the other side of the road feeling incredibly lucky to have had this experience.
I missed the turn for Vøringfossen in Øvre Eidfjord. So I can't tell you about that, but it definitely looked like a sight worth stopping for if you get the chance. The entire drive from Hardangervidda NP down to sea level was a sureal experience. Imagine the Rundetårn in Copenhagen but for cars and set inside a dark tunnel, ever downwards and ever round and round in a big spiral that seemed neverending.
The drive along Hardangerfjorden to my hotel in Odda looked and felt like the Nordic version of the Amalfi Coast or Lake Como. Especially the area around the village of Ullensvang. Terraced gardens and cosy cottages dotted on the steep mountainside among rows and rows of trained fruit and berry trees.
The road is carved into the stone, clinging to the mountainside with constant views to snowclad mountain tops, even in August, and right next to me, the glistening water of the most impressive deep blues and greens. The road is so narrow that I sometimes forgot it is not a one-way street. But I was abruptly awakened from this illusion by the sight of a huge bus or truck appearing from around a turn with a mighty haste that seemed inappropriate considering the limited width of the road. I took a deep breath, slowly edging my way past them, even though I would have sworn beforehand it would not be possible :-)
I arrived at Odda and the Hardanger Hotel late in the afternoon. Most people use this as a starting point for a day trip to spectacular Trolltunga, but since I am not a fan of heights, I had plans to explore Bondhusdalen and the glacier instead. So knowing I wanted to get up really early the next day for that hike, I bought a delicious take away salad at cafe Smeltehuset by the harbour and just relaxed in my hotel room.
The next morning the view outside was exactly what I had hoped for...
So I skipped breakfast, grabbed my camera, dressed warm and headed into the tunnels for the quick 20 minute drive to Sundal/Bondhus. When I arrived I was at first a bit puzzled by the werid blue tone of the fog (no it is not done in photoshop, if anything it looks more muted in the photos than it did in real life).
But as I discovered an hour or so later during the hike, when the fog slowly started to lift here and there, the blueness was caused by the deep shadows of the mountains around me which turned out to be much much higher than I anticipated.
It was very cold and I was very happy I had decided to wear a sweater and bring a scarf as I started the hike. I was completely alone on the trail for the whole 1 hour hike from the parking zone to the glacier lake. And it felt like I was walking in some mystical Nordic universe. The river and path are right next to eachother for the whole hike, and despite (or maybe because of) the noise of the water and the physical "strain" of the walk up and up it felt meditative.
The path from the parking area to the glacier lake is a beautiful even foot path that can easily be walked by everyone. The trail onward around the edge of the lake to the foot of the glacier itself is a completely different story, rocky, narrow and uneven. I did walk it alone, but would definitely recommend doing it with someone else as there were many parts where you could easily twist an ankle or slip and get hurt. I reached the glacier lake just as the last bit of fog lifted.
The walk back down was a completely different experience than the walk up there in the morning. The sun was now burning hot from a clear blue sky, and I met tons of families and hikers with little or basically no clothes on who stared at me funny as I walked by in my sweater. I just smiled and thought to myself that they had missed out on a lot of nature magic and beautiful solitude by not arriving earlier. Again I spent my evening relaxing in my hotel room in Odda with the tv on, a stack of Norwegian and Swedish country living magazines and chinese take-away from Asian Wok on Røldalsvegen.
The next day I drove from Odda to Stavanger, only making very short stops at Sandvevatnet...
I then picked up a Polish couple hitch hiking their way to Preikestolen. It was nice with a bit of company and there wasn't much to stop and photograph for the rest of that drive anyway. Most of the landscape seemed to pale in comparison to what I had seen the past 3-4 days and my eyes were "full". I think at this point, my mind had also started to get back into 'wedding mode' preparing for the location scouting later that day, and the wedding the day after.
When I returned to my hotel in Stavanger after a long but beautiful wedding day by the coast, my brother had arrived, flying all the way from Copenhagen for just one day, to hike with me to Hiafossen. A hike we attempted last year, when my father and my kids were also with us, but failed to complete because we took the wrong path. So we got up early to catch the ferry from Stavanger to Tau and then drove the beautiful and familiar route to Årdal. It was wonderful to be just him and me, to hike, drink the ice cold water, to be quiet together and to talk and talk about both serious and random stuff.
As we drove South that night to spend the night in Kristiansand before catching the ferry 'home' to Jutland the next morning, my heart and head was beyond full. I know for sure I will return to many of places I saw again in the future, but this time it won't be alone, but with people I love.
I would not have been without this solo adventure, it was an experience of a lifetime!!! But adventures are meant to be shared. At least now I have shared it with you, and I hope the photos have inspired you to visit or re-visit this magnificent country in the North.