UNESCO Heritage Site #72: Displays of Fjormidable Beauty

The morning after an awe-inspiring, if bright, night on the coast of Aurlandsfjord, I had built up my appetite for the Miss Norway of the glacially-formed inlets. After all, the true reason for me being in this part of the country was to see the UNESCO-protected Nærøyfjord. From my wild camping location, I trod back to Flåm to catch the three-hour boat ride on the fjord. To break up the inane act of sitting on a boat amidst the frenzied tourist picture-taking, I opted to stop in a small town of Undredal approximately halfway through the trip.

The 40-seat Undredal church can fit two thirds of the village population.
The 40-seat Undredal church can fit two-thirds of the village population.

Undredal stop proved to be one of infinite charm. I was the only one getting off the boat, as the rest of the tourists were itching to continue their journey into the fjord. As I came off the boat, a girl in the early 20s approached me, introducing herself as my personal guide to the Undredal church. In about 5 minutes, we walked through the entire village, as she showed me its highlights. She told me that the population of Undredal was approximately 400 inhabitants: 63 of them were human, the rest were goats. The human population varied seasonally as the younger residents, like herself, would leave for university and return for the summer; the goat population was less affected by the university admissions. It took us 5 more minutes to fully explore the single-hall church and every detail it had to offer. After the diligently delivered tour, I was directed to the local cheese shop to try the apparently famous goat cheese. At the shop, I was met with an equally proud village inhabitant, who educated me about the different types of cheese. I learned that my favourite Norwegian cheese brunost (which literally translates into “brown cheese”) is prepared in such a way that actually firmly puts it in the category of caramel much more than cheese. That was a memorable, as well as a delicious lesson.

After snacking on a variety of cheeses and cheese-like caramels, I took the next boat to finally travel through the fjord. It was really as beautiful as expected and as promised, although having camped on the side of one the night before, I felt somewhat distant admiring from a boat deck. Every few kilometers, a sprinkle of unreachable farms could be seen, nestled into the feet of the steep mountains. Everything about the surroundings had a perfect charm of unspoilt nature. Human presence was definitely evident, but it combined with the natural beauty around it instead of subjugating it.

After arriving at Gudvangen, the final destination for the boat, I took the bus back to Flåm. A 20-minute bus ride through the tunnel back was yet another testament to Norwegian efficiency and obsession with tunnel-building. From Flåm, I took the scenic Flåmbana railway through more tunnels until Myrdal, from where I took another train and more, you guessed it, tunnels to return to Oslo.

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