From Munich to Sognefjord – Day 3. Sauland – Heddal – Lavik – 470 km
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
It was our first night in a traditional wooden Norwegian house. The guest house looked like a typical wooden Scandinavian house appearing in every promotional video featuring the Norwegian countryside. The exterior was painted in dark red and the interior in blue and white. The front side looked to the not too busy main road and the inner court faced the edge of the village with deserted hills visible in the distance. The morning frost was glowing in the sun on the wooden furniture on the terrace, tempting us to go outside and enjoy the dazzling morning. The guest house offered the comfort of a home with breakfast served by the ever thoughtful host: home made coffee or Nespresso for extra charge, cold meat, hard boiled egg, cheese, rye bread and some cherry tomatoes and cucumber, accompanied with sweet pastries, all enjoyed in a living room-like restaurant pleasantly decorated with objects reminding of sea-life. Norway has a 2,523 km coastal baseline bordered by the Barents Sea on the North, the Norwegian Sea on North-West, the North Sea on the West and the Skagerrak strait on the South. Once feared conquerors and seafarers, today Norway has the 6th largest merchant fleet in the world, with more than 1400 ships travelling around the world to transport goods. No wonder that the sea life motif is present in many Norwegian homes.
The departure was a little sorrowful as one always enjoys a comfortable home, nature just waiting to be explored and the feeling of being welcomed. Yet another unique place was awaiting to be discovered. One of our main purposes during the Norwegian trip was to visit the greatest stave church in Norway, Heddal stave church. We have seen earlier several pictures of it on the internet, in promotional videos and it fascinated us through its interesting and unique architecture. So, we set out on the road eagerly waiting the moment to explore this one-of-a-kind building.
We arrived at Heddal stave church a little before noon, after only half an hour drive. The sun was shining brightly, only some fluffy white clouds lingering in the sky. It was a pleasant late October day when one could still feel the power of the sun through the cold air. There were not many cars in the parking lot, but the area wasn´t deserted either. A few minutes after we stopped, another car parked near us, a young man and woman jumped out of it, hurried to the roadside from where the church was visible, took a few selfies, jumped into the car and drove away. We decided to do a more thorough exploration of the place.
The church was constructed in the first part of the 13th century and records prove it was consecrated in 1242. The 20 m long and 26 m tall building is the largest stave church in Norway. The church lays in the middle of a cemetery, a common way of clerical setup for the middle age. The wealthy used to buy burial place within the church, that´s why if you happen to visit Westminster Cathedral or St. Paul´s Cathedral in London for example you will find many crypts of kings and queens or noblemen of the British society within the cathedral. The poor usually bought burial place in the land surrounding the church which belonged to the parish. Beginning the 18th century for hygiene reasons and lack of space, the cemeteries surrounding the churches have been moved to the edge or outside cities. The cemetery surrounding Heddal stave church remained unscathed.
According to the legend, the stave church itself was built by a mountain troll named Finn and it features unique wooden carving depicting nature and animals to frighten off evil. Although the legend alludes to Norse pagan mythical figures and traditions, the church itself is entirely Christian. The Vikings didn´t have churches, the religious activities were kept usually outdoors at altars, rarely temples or even common places. The stave churches that survived centuries are the heritage of the early Christianized Norse folk.
Near the church is the bell tower and the statue of Olea Crøger, a Norwegian music teacher from the 19th century who collected disappearing Norwegian songs and ballads.
When open (from May until September) the place is tourist friendly: you can enjoy refreshments in Olea coffee shop and visit the exhibition in the basement which presents the history of the place in detail.
We left the church late after midday, just the right time to get stuck in the not too heavy traffic accumulated on the road. We had a 450 km drive ahead until we reached our next destination. Although the GPS foresaw the arrival late in the evening, we were still having the impression of being on a German highway and expected to reach our destination in 5-6 hours. We were enjoying the sunny weather as we set on the road, the ever-changing geography as we passed through rivers, near mountains and lakes, through tunnels and forests. The hours passed and we realized we were not advancing at the expected speed. It was late in the afternoon, close to golden hour when we reached the Southern part of Hardangervidda National park. The road was leading up and down like a roller coaster on the snowy mountains. The landscape turned wild and deserted. We felt like the ice road truckers driving towards North, with the difference that we had a car and not a truck. While admiring the untouched snowy scenery, we felt the menace of solitude like the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. It wouldn´t have been a fortunate situation to break down in the middle of nowhere, where even the gas stations were closed and deserted. We prepared well for the road, had warm clothes and blankets, food for several days and left with a full tank, yet the idea of spending a night on the top of the mountain, in an unknown country was not appealing. The few cars and trucks that passed by us brought a hint of relief even if only for a short time. We were not entirely alone after all.
The sun was setting when we reached the Latefossen waterfall.
Popular tourist location, the Latefossen waterfall amazes the visitor through its powerful cascade and dimension. The twin waterfall gathers the water of the Lotevatnet lake and smaller rivers from the area pounding down the 340 m high rocks, pouring under an ancient arched brick bridge into the river Grønsdalslona. The waterfall is at full strength in summer, however it doesn´t stop to astonish in autumn either. Our road continued along the southern arm of Hardangerfjord where it was sided by massive mountains on the East and deep waters on the West. As we progressed night fell over the fjord. All we could see was the crooked road on the GPS display and the few meters ahead of us lit by the car’s headlights. We drove on for several more hours passing along steep mountain edges, bridges, one band narrowed roads where the cars where passing in each direction, tight tunnels and wild woods. Close to Oppedal the road got crowded and the cars and trucks were visibly speeding up. We arrived at the ferry quay 2 minutes before 10 o´clock in the evening, just before the ferry crossed the fjord. It reminded me of the island jumps we made a few years earlier in Finland. We drove to Mossala taking several ferries between the islands and we returned to Turku with the last ferry leaving. As we jumped from one island to the other, the car convoy became longer and longer and each of us was hurrying to catch the last ferry. If we had missed it, we would have got stuck on the island for the night. In Oppedal the ferries cross Sognefjord 24 hours a day, therefore it wouldn´t have been a tragedy if we missed the 10 o´clock ferry. We were relieved we could pass the fjord immediately and had to wait no longer. We crossed the fjord in 15-20 minutes and finally arrived at the hotel which was right at the quay. After a quick check-in and a short celebration with a shot of Jägermeister praising our long but successful travel, we hit the sack and fell asleep immediately.