Norway - Stalheim's Hotel
( Originally Published 1907 )
Direction—We are looking east-northeast, towards the head of the fjord, though the water is not in sight. Surroundings—This mountain-side rises still higher behind us. The little mill which we lately saw is now off at our right and behind us, considerably lower down.
These stiff, shy little damsels are the children of a farmer not far away. It would be interesting to know how far they appreciate the glories of such a scene as this. People come half way around the world to get the view we have now, looking off over the valley. There is a good deal of latent poetry in the Norse temperament, and very likely the children are more or less impressed by the landscape splendor, though the effect probably suffers with them from over-familiarity.
Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, years ago, put beautifully into words the experience of a Norwegian boy about the same age as these children, when he climbed for the first time up from his home in the bottom of a narrow valley to a place where earth and sky opened all around him as they do here.
"To him, who had never been used to see more than a few rods around him, the change was so sudden and so unexpected that for a moment he had a sensation as if he was losing his breath, or as if the earth had fallen from under his feet and he had been left floating in the air. . . . The immense distance dazzled his unwonted eye. . . . He drew a long, full breath ; surely he had never known the delight of breathing before. A throng of childish plans crowded into his mind : half-hidden dreams, half-born hopes revived and came forth into light.
They had not had room while they were crowded together down in the dark, narrow valley."
It has been raining and the clouds are just breaking away; the distance, as we see, is still shadowed by clouds. That curious, thimble-shaped mountain is the Jordalsnut. It is almost 3,500 feet from the valley floor up to its summit. The mountains on the opposite side of the valley are the Koldafjeld and Aaxel—all three are mostly a beautiful silvery gray feldspar or "Labrador" rock, forming a splendid contrast to the wooded heights nearer where we stand. Away down there in the valley we can see the same river that we saw beside the old mill (Position 54), only it is now at a much lower level. In order to get down into the valley it has leaped over a tall cliff—we shall presently see it making the plunge.
That fine, large hotel is one of the best known inns in all the north of Europe. Twice it has been burned, but each time the rebuilding has brought still greater popularity and prosperity. Almost every foreign tourist is certain to come here, whatever else he does or leaves undone. During the short tourist season the house, large as it is, becomes full to overflowing. It is managed on much the same plan as any good hotel in Christiania or Bergen, so far as bed and table are concerned ; that is, everything is modern and comfortable, and the meals are such as one might expect in a large town. There is a good deal of social gayety here—band concerts, dances-the usual variety of entertainment for summer hotel guests, and visitors naturally do some mountain climbing. An interesting ascent for the ambitious is that of the extraordinary cone of Jordalsnut yonder—not really dangerous, but difficult enough to require a local guide who knows every obscure turn of the route and every symptom of the sky. A sudden rainstorm, such as often sweeps over this valley, is one thing when you are snugly settled at Stalheim's with a blazing fire on the hearth, a piano, books, and plenty of company. It is said to be a seriously different matter if you are cowering in a chilly crevice on the top of Jordalsnut, your clothes soggy with rain, your muscles sore with unwonted use, and the lunch-basket empty !
It is no small height on which the hotel itself stands, though looking down on it as we do now we might easily underestimate its dignity. Beyond that terrace with the flag-staff the cliff drops almost straight eight hundred feet down to the valley floor below.
That monumental stone on the neighboring cliff yonder, just over the little girl's head, commemorates a visit made here by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
It will be interesting after we leave here and explore parts of the Sognefjord, to recall to mind the formation of this narrow valley which opens now ahead of us, for it is precisely that of a narrow fjord, lacking only salt water to cover the river bed and the winding highway and the little fields. If we can imagine water thus filling the bottom of the valley and reflecting the walls above, we have an idea how things are going to look presently when we reach the end of a seven-mile journey by that river road down to Gudvangen.
There are several pleasant walks about Stalheim's, quite feasible for those who do not feel the fascination of adventurous mountain climbing. One such ramble would take us to a point which is now off at our left. The place is marked 56 on the map. Look it up on the map and notice how the red lines run—they promise an outlook almost at right angles to the one we have just been enjoying.