I’m in a magical place...
...having arrived here wet and weary up the Sognefjord in miserable weather.
See my poor luggage on the express boat improperly protected from the rain while waiting. Why or why didn’t I bring covers for them??
And… landed in the lovely Kringswy Hotel I Balestrand.. The hostels were all full so I’m paid a hefty price but boy was it worth it!
Look at the view from my room!
Quiet, warm, and all to myself. Soon I’ll have to share with a 6 bed mixed dorm hostel in Bergen. But for now, there was… peace. Free bountiful breakfast. And plastic covers for my luggage, compliments of the clerk who is buying his family Hotel.
What is so magical about Balestand?
Well, I picked it because the end locations on this fjord were fully booked. Yep-- I guess Norway is a prime location for vacationing Americans and English in the summer. (The Norwegians go south to warm beaches.) For some reason this town had an opening. Yay! And the perfect place!
It has a history as a tourist town, fed vacationers only by boat, since the late 1800’s. It is on the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. I don’t really see how anyone could make a living here except by tourism. The west coast of Norway was responsible for most of the 800,000 Norwegian emigrants to the US!
Look at this little farms slanting down the mountain side. How are these hay fields mown, much less how can the cows walk on them?
Beautiful beyond words but highly impractical for habitation.
The boat trip up the Fjaerlandsfjord from Balestand tells you why this is the perfect spot to make home for a few days. Magical! To the “book town” of Fjairland, bus to glacier museum and glacier, and boat home. Peaks and waterfalls and clouds dissolving, mist and tiny towns, improbable farms and tiny churches…. The stuff of storybooks. Probably trolls too.
I didn’t want to give any of it words as the boat glided along..
It was all about the form and formless and the interplay of rock, rock moving, ice, ice moving, water flowing, mist changing… All about what we think of as time embodied in landscape.
Until the words were given to me at the Pilgrim Restaurant.
I was attracted to this yellow house with a globe-top by the menu out front. Reindeer stew, troll soup and the best dessert ever! That and the attached art gallery of the married owners Bjorg and Arthur. Something special about this place! And after a week of midges, ticks and slugs I was ready to be treated!
Troll soup? Everyone I texted a picture to asked for the recipe.
My best guess was mushrooms, onions, carrots and lots of butter. Bjorg said the recipe is secret but it definitely contains two trolls! The reindeer stew was accompanied by lingon berry sauce.
But the very best was the "best dessert ever!"
I was stuffed but how to could one pass up a description like that? I nabbed her as she wandered by the table. looking as colorful and as on the move as a gypsy. “And what makes it the best?” I asked before ordering the unnecessary calories? "Well, it was judged the best in the 1970’s by a TV station." Really? "First you make a yellow cake which is very rich with egg yolks. Then on top you make a meringue with the egg whites and sugar. Then you bake it – but it takes just the right level in the oven so that they each cook correctly. (Sounds like a lot of trouble to me!) Then, when it is cooled, you cut it in half and put one half upside down on the other."
Voila! And boy was it good enough to win that prize in the 1970s!
But the best part was the Bjorg, the magical lady.
I kept asking her questions as she drifted by. "What is the Pilgrims Trail that you are building? What is a troll? What do you love about this place?"
The last answer first—the light here is special. The fjord takes a bend here, making a wider area, the mountains further apart, and more light can enter. And the artists did flock here to paint.
The Pilgrims Trail is not yet complete, having to conform to the EU’s standards, even though Norway is not in the EU.
And a troll is a stone if the light hits it. Kind of a back-wards answer.
And then she took center-stage, telling us how Norwegeians get through the long winter, grey and cold, by thinking of the spring. That is when she paints, when the Restaurant is slow, and she needs to remember the fragrance of summers. And here she is!
After passing out free birthday calendars containing her lovely watercolors, she invited several tables to her secret room. We obediently followed. One key hidden in an old telephone box opened one door. The inside was dark, but voila! Christmas lights appeared and holiday decorations! I felt like her grandchild! But how to get out?
A second key did not work for a second hidden door. So she passed out water-colored renditions of a Norwegian Christmas song, in Norweigian, and the other American couples and I did our best. Voila! The door opened and we climbed into a crystal dome overlooking the magical lights of Balestrand’s sunset. (How do I end up in these places?)
On the way out I questioned her chef husband Arthur, an equally talented artist, whose specialty is naked women in water, in trees, in light…. In his write-up he acknowledges that people mistake his art about just being about naked women. "It isn’t sexual," he insisted!! "Women understand water more than men do! Water is spiritual. Women are spiritual, the earth mother, creativity, movement!" (My favorite art piece stated that "Holding onto love is trying to hold onto water.")
So, are there really words for the magic in this place? Maybe only art and song, lights and secret keys.
Midges have been forgotten. And if the weather and biting insects ever get me down again, just like Bjorg in the winter thinking of spring, I will think of Balestrand, Norway.