Want to explore Europe's wild North? Then traveling western Norway between the historic city of Bergen and Geiranger, along the secluded coast and over the central mountains with its demanding rides around Dalsnibba and Trollstigen, is your best bet.
When the Fjordlines ferry Bergen opens its jaw-like flap, it releases the four of us into the modern section of Bergen's historic harbour. A member of the Hanseatic League, the medieval partnership of trading cities in Northern Europe, Bergen was founded in 1070 and has a maritime history extending almost a thousand years! Our adventure in Norway's fjord country begins here. And the first of the many fjords on our route, the Fusafjord just south of Bergen, is only a short ride away. But instead of rolling down E 39, the straight shot into Os, we decide to take the scenic alternative on the squiggles of the secondary roads. Wild and winding, the lefts and rights roll up and down the coastal mountains.
I sit here in a lush garden and watch the woman beside me. She seems to dream away. Her eyes stare at the Fusafjord. The scene brims with peace and harmony, and I start to daydream, too, caught up in this view of the magnificent landscape that surrounds the Solstrand Fjord Hotel. The sun comes out, alighting on my lovely companion - a bronze statue that will forever stare across the water - one of the many stunning sculptures scattered around the hotel's park.
We have booked half-board, so dinner is included. In a country with a reputation for expensive food and drink, this is definitely the best choice for travelers. It's even better when faced with the varieties and amounts of food served: I have not seen a maritime buffet like this in a long time. And to our surprise, the hotel prices for beer or a bottle of wine are not as shocking as rumor had it. In fact, though Norway surely resides somewhere on the top tier when it comes to European prices, I have seen more expensive rates in places not half as charming as Os.
It's our first full day in Norway. Matthias is on his Beamer, Jan, his Kawasaki, Frank on a slightly historic Yamaha, and I'm riding a Triumph Sprint ST on a trip around Hardangerfjord. En route, Frank catches a glimpse of one of the regions natural spectaculars, the Steinsdalsfossen waterfalls, only the first of many to follow, and he signals a halt. We take a few photos and on we go, deeper into fjord country. Sizzling, our engines finally cool down when we shut them off after a hard ride to Kvanndal where we wait in line for another ferry.
Arriving in Utne, I allow myself time for a visit in the Hardanger Folkemuseum to get acquainted with the history of the Hardangerfjord region. My companions would rather stay outside to enjoy the sunshine, a rarity in Western Norway. After all, Bergen is known as "the rainiest city on earth."
The road to Jondal turns out to be a rider's feast. It follows the coast some 30 miles, at times directly on the waterline and then high along the cliffs facing the sheer rock walls above the fjord. We catch the last ferry back to Halhjem as the setting sun cast its glow on the red wooden homes and white boathouses.
Torrents of rain fall on our way north to Balestrand and the Sogne Fjord, the longest and deepest in the world. But even in these conditions, in the dimmed lights of a midsummer's rainy day, the views of fjords and fog-covered mountains have an effect on us. We ride cautiously, concentrating on the surfaces of our chosen byways. "Slippery when wet" doesn't have to be signposted here; it's understood.