Yesterday it snowed some more, but once again not as much as was forecast. It was still very cold, -3C, and if it still wasn’t ‘deep and crisp and even’, the earth was certainly ‘hard as iron, and water like a stone’. I defrosted the bird bath every time I had a hot drink, and the birds were very grateful. Mr and Mrs Blackbird took it in turns, and kept coming back for more. A pair of magpies stopped by, and a small flock of four starlings bickered and chattered as they filled their beaks. Some great-tits, blue-tits and long-tailed-tailed-tits flicked around from bush to bush and tree to tree, along with a tiny wren, but they didn’t join the drink queue. Most of the birds sped off as soon as they saw me with my camera, but Mr and Mrs Blackbird posed beautifully. The birds were obviously finding enough to eat, as they were only interested in the water, and largely ignored the scraps I put out. The dog happily finished those bits off later!
It snowed last night, not deep or crisp or even, but definitely snow, sprinkled across the garden like icing sugar. Although it was bright and sunny this morning it snowed some more, soft fat flakes drifting and dropping aimlessly. This afternoon it grew colder, and the snow fell like tiny hard crystals whirling madly in a biting, easterly wind. Some of the longer spikes of grass are still standing tall, but most of the lawn and flowerbeds are covered with a thin lacy blanket of snow. A few small, half-open daffodil buds, have been stopped in their tracks, as winter has returned with a vengeance. Tiny pendulous snowdrops stand straight, while pink and white hellebore flower-heads are heavily laden, bowing down to almost touch the icy cold earth. I’ve defrosted the bird bath three times today, and have been rewarded with the sight of blackbirds and pigeons grabbing a quick drink, and I spotted a wren on the trellis, and a squirrel high up in the oak tree. Despite the bitter cold, there is still life in my garden. We may not have had the snow we were expecting, but there are a few days yet of snow and below zero temperatures forecast, so who knows…..
I’m back again; not that I’ve truly been away, but ‘life’ has happened, as it so often does, and I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Now I’m back again, no doubt over the next few posts I’ll put into words some of the things that have happened over the last couple of months.
In the meantime, autumn has come and gone. Winter is here, and what a strange winter it has been so far. Over shadowing, depressing greyness, rain by the sky-full, very wet, very muddy, and unseasonably warm. Before Christmas I spotted an urban roundabout completely covered with confused daffodils that usually don’t flower until well into February; had anyone told them they were a full two months early? I’ve spotted snowdrops and hellebores – not quite so seasonally out of kilter. And I have a sprinkling of pale purple anemones splattered across the sunnier borders in my garden.
Last week we had hail, like ice marbles, clattering and bouncing on roofs and pathways, enough to almost bury the patio. Then we had a couple of mild frosts, that have taken us by surprise, and unaccustomed as we are to the cold this year, made us feel that we’d been dropped into the Arctic! Then finally this morning, we awoke to a world dusted with an inch or so of snow – the first snow of a very peculiar winter. It’s almost completely gone now, and who knows if there will be any more.
At this time of year I would usually be looking forward to spring, and eagerly watching out for signs of growth, but this year I really feel that we haven’t truly had any winter yet. So over the next few days I’m hoping for some cold, frosty mornings, with a crackle underfoot, a bite and a sparkle in the air, and with bright clear blue skies; then I can start looking forward to spring properly.
The Independence of the Seas left Skjolden at midnight, and cruised back down the Sognefjord until we reached the Aurlandsfjord, a tributary of the Sognefjord. Nestled at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, and surrounded by steep mountainsides and deep valleys, is the little village of Flam, (pronounced Flom), which means ‘little place between steep mountains’. Since the late 1800’s Flam has been a popular tourist destination. English and German visitors first came by steam ship, and then travelled through the steep rugged mountains in two-wheeled buggies. The Bergensbanen Railway had reached Myrdal in 1909, joining eastern and western Norway, but only a rough, narrow road, with 21 steep hairpin bends joined Myrdal to Flam, and the fjord below. So in 1923 work began on the 20km long Flam Railway. It employed 400-500 workers, and when it opened in 1940, it was considered to be a masterpiece of Norwegian engineering. It is Europe’s steepest normal gauge railway, climbing over 850 metres from the fjord to the mountaintop, and the gradient is 1:18 for almost 80% of the track. There are 10 stations, 20 tunnels (18 built by hand, using a combination of drilling and dynamite blasting), and 1 bridge. The biggest challenge was of course the tunnels. The Nali tunnel is the longest at 1341 metres, and the 880 metre Vatnahalsen tunnel actually makes a 180 degree turn inside the mountain! In 1999 a new cruise terminal was opened, able to receive the largest of cruise ships, making Flam one of the most popular and successful tourist attractions in Norway. The Flam Railway – Flamsbana, is one of the world’s most spectacular railways, and in 2013 had over 700,000 passengers.
We arrived at the Flam cruise terminal at 7am, but we were in no rush. We had a train trip booked for lunch time, and I was really looking forward to it. I had a leisurely wander around the tourist shops, and met up with the others at the station in plenty of time for our train ride. It was every bit as good as I had expected. The scenery was incredibly wild and beautiful. The train twists and turns through steep and rugged mountainsides, in and out of tunnels, cliffs above, sheer drops below. Most of the 20km is single track, but at one point there are two tracks, where we waited for the ‘down’ train to pass.
At Kjosfossen Station the train stopped, and from the platform we were able to see the magnificent waterfall, with a free-fall of 93 metres, as it plunged down the mountainside; and feel the spray in the air. As the thunderous cascade hit the rock-face, the foam was pure white.
At Hylla (or ‘mountain shelf’) there is an opening in the tunnel wall. During construction the tunnel wall became so thin and so close to the edge of the mountainside, it was considered safer to create a ‘window’. So between some uprights, there are narrow, but panoramic views of the landscape. You can see the river winding way down in the valley, and in places you can also see the railway track cut into a ledge in the steep mountainside.
Before arriving at Myrdal, you can look down into the valley and see the old road, with its tight hairpin bends, winding up the Myrdalsberget mountain. At Myrdal station there were pockets of snow still lying by the edges of the platform, and as it is high up in the mountains, and spring comes later, the trees were just coming into leaf.
It is an amazing train journey, and one not to be missed. The Flam Railway, or Flamsbana, travels through stunningly wild and beautiful scenery, with snow-capped mountain peaks and deep ravines, valleys with lush pastures and precariously placed hillside farms, snowy slopes and sheer cliffs, rivulets and waterfalls. And all this is crammed into a train journey lasting barely an hour! And then to have it all repeated on the way back down again!
Also worth a visit, is Flam museum, showing the history of the railway. And there is a nice, and not too strenuous walk to a view-point, overlooking the fjord and village.
Well! So much for my post about spring, and warm weather on the horizon. Today we awoke to snow, and so far it has snowed hard most of the day. It may be March, but I think someone’s hit the rewind button, and we’ve been unceremoniously plunged back into the depths of winter again!
My dog Brinny still wanted her walk of course, so I wrapped up well, and we ventured out into the cold. The sky was grey and leaden, and the wind bitingly cold, flinging myriads of tiny snowflakes and ice-crystals in our faces. The snowdrops are completely buried, and the newly emerged daffodils are bowed down, their heads hanging sadly.
Spring has turned tail and fled, leaving winter to reign supreme for a little longer.
The seven Narnia books by CS Lewis are my all time favourite stories, both as a child and an adult. I very much enjoyed the three recent movies, and was really looking forward to The Narnia Exhibition, which we visited last week, in the Pavilion at Melbourne Docklands.
We walked from Southern Cross train station, but it took us ages to find the exhibition, as it wasn’t sign-posted until we were almost on top of it. It was also a very hot day, and we discovered that the Pavilion was in fact a huge marquee, with no air-conditioning, just a couple of large fans. So rather than entering a cold kingdom of snow and ice, it was like walking into an oven! The only redeeming feature on the temperature front was the frozen waterfall – literally a wall of nice cold ice. I don’t know about others, but I returned to that wall every few minutes to cool my hands and rub cold water across my face!
The first exhibit was CS Lewis’s study, but from behind the barrier, I couldn’t read the information cards as the text was too small, and one was even obscured by a bookcase! But never mind, I probably knew all that already. Then we emerged through the wardrobe doors, between fur coats (a nice touch), and there was the lamppost and there was ‘snow’ on the ground. The exhibition itself was ok, but there wasn’t enough of it. I was disappointed there were no exhibits from the most recent film ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ – the ships prow would have been great, the sail, or even Reepicheep’s coracle. The film information clips were interesting, the costumes and exhibits were well displayed, but I would have liked much more. I was a bit nonplussed by the connections with science. Where in the Narnia stories is anything about global warming? or animal habitat? or logging and deforestation? (certainly not until The Last Battle, which hasn’t ever been filmed, and probably never will be). Maybe a connection with the Christian imagery which is definitely in the Narnia stories would have been a bit more appropriate.
All in all I’m glad I went, but I felt it was very over priced at Aus$20, and it could all have been done so, so much better!