We reluctantly left Stavanger to make our way to Bergen, this time Norwegian style, by ferry, fiord steamer, and bus. Our reward was an unbelievably breath-taking view of the most glorious scenery in Europe, completely untouched by the ravages of industry and still unspoiled by tourism. The villages cluster along the banks of the fiords, and a steamer gets the same kind of reception a stagecoach must have had in our own pioneer West. When people normally isolated from the world come into contact with outsiders even for a few minutes, the occasion becomes a holiday, something to celebrate. Our steamer unloaded a cargo of mail, bicycles, cases of food, and ponies. We watched with amazement as cranes lifted the tawny fiord ponies out of the steamer, their bellies cradled in canvas slings, and we believed, perforce, that these hard-working little horses are extremely placid and good-natured. Farmers find fiord ponies invaluable on the small steep hillsides where farm machinery, or even horses of the usual size, would find it difficult to operate. Since the ponies cannot readily be transported overland because of the mountainous terrain, they sail from farm to farm by the roundabout route of the fiords. Our steamer took on more passengers and loads of grain that had been transported down from the steep farms on an ingenious arrangement of cables.
The next step of our journey, via bus, was almost as precipitous as the grain's. The drivers push over the dangerous narrow winding roads with fearful abandon and unbelievable competence. In these isolated west coast communities, the people consider the bus driver a person of consequence. They entrust him with messages and commissions which he handles with dispatch all along his route, and he obviously deserves his fellow citizens' confidence. Yet we were relieved to find ourselves at the end of the road, at the edge of a lake, and near one of the stations that receives a lake ferry two or three times each day. At the ferry station, we stopped for welcome refreshment; a bowl of oplagt melk, fresh-tart clabbered cream, lightly dusted with cinnamon and brown sugar, and little cakes rich with butter and faintly redolent of cardamom.
We broke our journey by spending the night at Solfonn, in a splendid mountain lodge that perches like an eagle's eyrie on top of the mountain pass. In the keen air of that altitude, appetites become robust and the sight of the groaning koldtbord at breakfast time diverts even French visitors from their customary croissant and café au lait . As for us, we gleefully sampled everything—fruit, smoked fish, half a dozen kinds of salami and sausage, eggs, cheese. whole-grain breads, Danish pastry, and cup after cup of fragrant coffee. Moreover, we could still look forward to a second go at the koltdbord at luncheon. Then, we were assured, it would include hot meats, smoked salmon, shrimps, and lobster, as well as numerous varieties of herring, the famous sill of Norway.
Our gastronomic explorations proved so fruitful that we eagerly anticipated what our next stopover would bring. We planned to spend the night, on the next leg of our journey, at the new, elegant, and infinitely tasteful Brakanes Hotel in Ulvik. The Brakanes stands at the head of the Ulvik Fiord. From oneside, it offers a superb view down the fiord itself. On the other three sides, tall hills rise in spectacular beauty and protect the hotel from the rigors of the climate. In May, when the apple trees are in blossom, the mountains seem to be hung with lacy wedding veils, pink and white against the snow-capped peaks. In September, they told us, the hills glow with yellow plums and red apples, and vacationists walk up the terraced mountainside through fragrant orchards.
At the Brakanes we ate ristet orret, the brown trout of the fiord, marinated briefly in a mixture of oil, vinegar, and fish stock, and sautéed in hot butter to a crisp brown. We have never eaten trout of comparable flavor and firmness of flesh except on our own fishing expeditions, when trout went instantly from lake to frying pan. Our pleasure was enhanced by the sight of the waitresses, who wear the charming intricately decorated Hardanger costume, for at the Brakanes the old customs of the region receive loving observance. We went into the village to see the elaborate wedding dresses of the district, lavishly trimmed with embroidery and silver filigree. These, and the jeweled gold crowns that also form part of the traditional bridal costume, belong to the village, and any Hardanger bride may borrow them. Our waitresses offered bread and cakes in the klingkorg, the wooden basket from which the bride serves homemade cakes to her wedding guests on the second—or even third—day of the festivities. The hotel uses as its symbol three of these crowned brides, one bearing a candelabra, a second the kling-korg, and a third a pitcher.
From Ulvik we proceeded to Bergen, capital of the west coast of Norway, and the northernmost outpost of the famed Hanseatic League. The city, reminiscent of San Francisco, clings to a hill and, like San Franciscans, its hospitable citizens have known generations of good living. Since the days of the Vikings superb silver has been fashioned here, and the local museum has one of the finest collections of rare Chinese porcelains in all of Europe, donated by the local shipowners and captains.
We had dinner with General and Mrs. Roschers-Nielsen; since his retirement from the army the General has been director of tourism for western Norway. In their charming apartment, Mrs. Roschers-Nielsen served us the aristocrat of fishes, a large whole rosy-fleshed salmon, poached in a court-bouillon fragrant with feathery sprays of dill. At the table, the General confessed that one of his proudest possessions was a cowboy shirt. “I got it in a German prison camp during the war,” he explained with a smile. The splendid garment came from a Red Cross package received by a fellow prisoner, a Texan. The General's Red Cross package also included a shirt, an ill-fitting garment from Norway. “I simply told Tex that my shirt arrived as a personal gift from King Haakon, and he begged me to trade with him. So I let him persuade me.”