In January this year I challenged myself to visit actual bookshops rather than buying books on Amazon. I was seeking to support bookshop owners, in my own small way, having read Shaun Bythells’ The Diary of a Bookseller where he described the challenging conditions facing bookshops in a climate of huge disparities of book prices, given the power of Amazon and its economies of scale. Amazon is easy and apparently cheaper and I had definitely found myself just buying books quite thoughtlessly. But I always have loved a bookshop. Every weekend break I go on I hunt out the bookshops. Though I really don’t feel like, before this year, I had read a lot for years.
Cut to me in 2018. As we approach September I have read more than 70 books as this mighty Bookshop Challenge has reignited my passion for reading. I have a whole wall of new bookcases in my lounge to house the books (though there are still piles everywhere!). And in August I visited Norway’s book town.
I’ve always seen that picture of Norway’s book town on Pinterest and been dazzled by it. When I wrote a blog about the book shops that I wanted to visit in my life Fjaerland was on the list. And yet I just didn’t think that was ever really going to happen. It seemed like a proper pipe dream.
Then one afternoon I was sitting in the garden reading an article in Red Magazine by Laura Jane Williams about travelling alone and I thought I should just go for it. I told my husband what I wanted to do and over the coming weeks a little plan developed, a proper itinerary started to take shape. I wanted to train it around Scandinavia, go to the cities I had never visited like Oslo and Stockholm. I read about this amazing train journey between Oslo and Bergen and knew I wanted to do that. I started looking at adding Bergen to my travel plans and then realised that this was possibly the best opportunity I had to get to that book town.
Looking at maps of Norway I could see the book town was in the middle of nowhere and it seemed virtually impossible for me to reach it. I researched alternatives but this wasn’t a taxi ride away from Bergen, this was miles and miles and miles away. I understand why that is now, it’s because Fjaerland is a Norwegian Fjord town so really, to get there, you have to take a boat.
I emailed a boat company in Norway and asked them if they had any trips that would get me there. They kindly suggested that one of their tours, that visited the glacier museum, would be perfect. I could get off the boat at Fjaerland Quay and stay there, rather than getting on the bus to go the museum and glacier. Then when the tour came back to town I could rejoin them on the boat having spent an hour or so perusing book shops.
I was nervous. It seemed like a long way to go to miss the boat back. And I was alone. I have to say, even to the moment I stepped off onto the quay that feeling never left me and I had to fight it to get on the boat that morning!
Eventually my husband just booked it for me. Told me the most important thing about the trip was me getting to see the book town.
And suddenly I found myself on an aeroplane flying to Bergen. Then on a boat sailing out of Bergen towards the Norwegian Fjords. And then, six hours later, stepping into the dream that is Norway’s book town.
The first ferry I took left Bergen at 8am. I got talking to two American ladies in the queue and ended up forcing myself on them for the five hour trip to our first first stop. Shortly after the boat left the dock two totally unrelated American women joined us at our table and I have to say that this journey with these fascinating women was one of the absolute highlights of my trip. It’s weird the stuff you talk about with strangers and it’s weird how quickly strangers aren’t quite so strange to you anymore. After five hours we docked at Balestrand. Here I was to change boats for onward journey to Fjaerland. The first group of ladies I met were alighting here to stay the night and have a real smogersbord whilst the second couple of ladies were going on to Flam, staying on the boat, so that the next day they could take the glorious train journey back to Oslo.
My boat for Fjaerland was waiting in Balestrand already and this was a much smaller boat with far fewer people. Now we really began a journey into the Fjords. The scenery had been growing more and more spectacular as the day had progressed but my eyes could not believe the beauty I was now seeing. Crystal waters edged by sheer mountain sides and pretty little houses. Where were the roads? A voice announcement on the boat advised that farmers from this area had prospered in the difficult terrains of America given their experience with sheer mountainside farming!
This boat journey took about an hour and we travelled towards a glacier. I am stunned to have seen these sights. Just glorious!
Eventually we docked in Fjaerland and I felt I had to pinch myself. I had made it. I was here. The weather was clear and immediately in front of me I could see tourist information so I headed over for a map and directions…
Next week I’ll tell you all about the book town and share some of my photos of the fantastic hour and a half I spent in heaven!