international trip: western norway

Enjoying the gateway to the fjords, Alesund, at a more relaxed pace.

Enjoying the gateway to the fjords, Alesund, at a more relaxed pace.

Do you go on vacation to relax? Do you relish holidays for sleeping in without an agenda for the day, perhaps getting in some stitching and a little stretching, taking a walk, lounging by the sea/pool/lake or snuggling up with a good book?

Despite that sounding absolutely exquisite, our vacations aren’t typically of the sort. 

For some reason or another, we (I?) tend to cram our travels with things to do. I guess our (my?) mentality is along the lines of 'we don't travel for pleasure very often, so when we do, we have to basically do everything.'

Of our two week trip to the Faroe Islands and Norway over the summer, the Faroes were definitely a ‘do as much as you can’ type of trip. We had a hike picked out for each day and no matter the weather, we got out there and did the Faroe Islands right. It was great, it was wonderful (it was a little bit tiring?). Traveling on to Western Norway, we (again, I?) had the same idea - get as much out of the place as possible. Turns out the universe had other plans for us.

Alesund

We flew into Alesund on a connection from Oslo (from the Faroe Islands). The flight was absolutely breathtaking. I never get window seats, but on this flight I magically had a window and I did not look away for one, single moment. There was water and there were mountains, and there was water on top of mountains. Serpentine fjords, crystal lakes, puffy clouds, tall, snow-capped peaks, all with the backdrop of the brilliant, beautiful sunset. Just when I didn't think it could get more amazing, it did. I fell in love with Norway before we even stepped out of the plane.

We had one day in Alesund, a port town that's known for its Art Nouveau architecture, and for being the gateway to the fjords. It was Saturday, September 1st (that’s important). I remember wanting to wake up early, go grab coffee and breakfast and then stop at the Tourist Information office so we could plan the next couple of days in the region. Little did we know that beginning Saturday, September 1st, the tourist office was no longer open on the weekends. 

It was at this moment that I actually considered the options. We could spend some hours researching online, (but not getting the full scoop as we would have from a human at the information shop), or we could adopt more of a laissez-faire approach. A sort of, ‘go where the breeze takes us’ mentality. And that’s what we did. Seeing as how I take my messages from the universe pretty seriously, I decided not to force a to do & see list and Dylan was 100% on board. 

So what did we do on our one day in Alesund? We walked around the streets, somewhat aimlessly (though there was a point when, with 20 minutes to spare before they closed, we were practically running to the wine shop). And what did we find while wandering the streets you ask? Well, yarn stores of course! 

Four of them to be precise.  The two I mention below were my absolute favs. I mean, they were the kind of yarn shops that my dreams are made of. They were big, wonderfully stocked, and staffed by the most friendly, helpful women. Perfect for little old me with not an idea of what to buy or make! 

Spoteriet

You know you’re in knitlandia (i.e. fantasy knitting land) when you walk along the main street of a town and there’s a bright, beautiful shop showcasing endless rainbows of yarn through floor to ceiling windows. In Alesund, Spoteriet is the spot to be at (did you pronounce it in that way too?). Upon walking in the store, you get the feeling that knitting is not only a treasured pastime in the country, but also that it’s quite trendy. The shop had a very urban feel- airy, complete with the minimalistic Scandinavian vibe decor. (Not to worry, there was nothing minimal about their yarn selection!)

Rows and rows of beautiful yarn.

Rows and rows of beautiful yarn.

Squish the rainbow!

Squish the rainbow!

A young lady was working the day we happened in, and she was extremely helpful. She showed me some lovely Sandes Garn pattern books (one was even in English!) and then helped me find the right yardage to use for patterns that I will have to translate. (Side note: Sandnes Garn, established in 1888 as Sandnes Uldvarefabrik, is one of the oldest factories in Norway that still produces yarn. Today, they sell around 40 types of yarn - some 100% Norwegian wool, others with fibers from South America. Their patterns range from garments to decor, traditional to contemporary, classic to bohemian, and I love them ALL!)

While she and I were conversing and she was showing me what she was knitting at the moment, Dylan tutted around taking photos of the shop (not sure if he’ll like the fact that I said he was ‘tutting,’ but you get the picture). All of a sudden he was up at the desk with a ball of yarn asking if I could make him something out of it. I beamed. (I think all the yarn shopping that we’d been doing had him beginning to dig this new little hobby of mine. Mustn’t let that fade!) Once again, the lady came to the rescue. She found a hat pattern for Dylan’s yarn on the du Store Alpakka website, and she emailed it to me (another one to translate). Du Store Alpakka is another Norwegian company with an incredible selection of yarns (they specialize in alpaca), as well as lovely patterns. If there's anything to inspire me to learn Norwegian it's to translate knitting patterns!

(FYI: Despite finding few Norwegian knitting pattern books in English, everyone we met spoke the language beautifully.)

Stjernestrikk 

We stumbled upon this cute shop as we walked through the old streets of Alesund. Because the sidewalk creeps steeply uphill on the side of the building, it gives the sense that the shop is on a lower level. Inside, there are exposed brick walls decorated to the brim with yarn. I had a major case of the squish in this shop. I had no idea what to look for, but the store was so lovely to be in that I had to spend time touching almost every ball/skein/hank of yarn in there. Do you ever get to the point where you’ve been to so many yarn shops that you know you want to buy something, but you’ve no idea what to get? I was in that headspace in this store. 

Such a cool vibe in this 'lower level' yarn shop!

Such a cool vibe in this 'lower level' yarn shop!

Can you see why it was difficult to pick out some souvenir yarn?!

Can you see why it was difficult to pick out some souvenir yarn?!

The woman tending the shop was the owner, and she was telling me all about the different yarns. What I should have done was bought more Norwegian yarns like Dale of Norway or Rauma Garn. But I ended up purchasing was two skeins of du Store Alpakka Hexa yarn (it’s a cabled yarn, which is unlike anything I've seen thus far) and one skein of Drops, which is a Swedish company. 

At this point my brain and bags were swimming in knitty notions, and I was content to off-load (both brain and bags). We enjoyed a nice evening on the town and even made it up to the highest vista of Alesund for sunset. It’s a bit of a hike - 418 steps to the Aksla viewpoint. But oh so worth it! (pictured above)

Valldal

Back in the states, I had planned to stop at Rauma Garn, a spinning mill, on our drive to stay at the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Valdall. I didn’t take into account that the day we’d be making that drive was a Sunday and they were closed (another message from the universe to lessen our to do’s in Norway!) So sadly, we weren't able to drop by on our way to our next destination.

To get to Juvet, we planned to take one of the most famous National Tourist Routes in Norway called Trollstigen, or “The Trolls Road.” The views along the road are breathtaking. There is one particularly steep, narrow, hairpinny part of the road that many tourist buses travel, along with motorcycles, cars and motorhomes. I guess I forgot to mention that when we picked up our rental in Alesund, they upgraded us to a manual SUV. All to say, driving up this glorified one land road (with two directions of traffic) tested my unsteely nerves. (Talk about taking my breath away!) At one point, I could reach out the window and touch the concrete barrier wall, while Dylan could reach out his window and touch the passing tourist bus, both of which bared road scars from other, less fortunate passings. When we made it to the top, I rejoiced in the fact that all of our scary drives were done for the trip, and I became much more relaxed.

Juvet is basically the reason we came to this part of Norway in the first place. Situated in a nature reserve, this hotel was built to blend in with its surrounds. The hotel is made up of 9 free standing rooms, which they call 'cubes on stilts,' each of which is designed around the natural topography, leaving it largely undisturbed. The only reason we’d heard about the hotel in the first place is because it was a filming location in the 2015 movie Ex Machina. 

We weren't the only ones who were there for that same reason. There were 2 other American groups at the hotel when we arrived, and they too had seen Ex Machina, Googled it’s filming location, and traveled off the beaten path to Juvet to get the full experience. It was every bit as wonderful as we’d hoped. The rooms, which each have two walls of glass for the best nature experience, are otherwise very simple inside. A bed, a petite European bathroom (where you can shower, brush your teeth at the sink and use the toilet all at the same time), a nook for sitting, and two chairs looking out the expansive windows made up the entire room (which was quite spacious actually). 

We stayed two nights at Juvet. On our full day in the area, we only got in the car once - to travel five minutes down the road for some recommended strawberry shortcake. Apart from that, we walked the grounds of Juvet, got a stretch in one of the most beautiful places to lay down a yoga mat, and took a dip in the hot tub. We completely, and entirely relaxed. This whole version of holidaying sans agenda was really starting to sink in. 

Om, don't mind if I do! Hands up one of the most beautiful places to practice yoga. 

Om, don't mind if I do! Hands up one of the most beautiful places to practice yoga. 

Sunnmore Alps

The hiking opportunities in Norway are plentiful, and we truly intended to do some of them! But after our most enjoyable days ‘off’ in Juvet, we continued the trend when we arrived in our final location in the Sunnmore Alps. This area is extremely popular in the winter for skiing and in the summer for hiking as there are mountains everywhere you look. For us, it was popular to read, cook meals, and unplug. What more can you ask for? The cabin that we’d rented was on a lake, so our only outdoor time during our two night stay was a row around. We felt like we were the only people there! It was quiet and still, save for the clanging bells of the sheep on the mountains (who were the only beings we interacted with while there). 

This part of our two week trip gave me a whole new perspective on our vacation travel. Turns out one doesn't have to do and see everything when on holiday! Norway allowed us to vacate our go-go-go mindset and enjoy the simplistic beauty of being somewhere different (and new and exciting) without the constant need to look at devices or check things off a to do list. We read books, I stretched a bit, we took walks, we ate cake. (I didn't do one single stitch!) It was quite blissful, actually. 

When I think of the word idyllic, I think of our time in Norway. We were blown away by the beauty we saw, and we only experienced a small section of the country - basically within a two hour driving radius. We would absolutely return to Norway, and with a little advanced planning, we could make a significant holiday of hiking, exploring, yarn shopping and more. Or, we could amble about, connect with nature and a welcome slower pace of life.