|Hill across the Esefjorden|
The views across the fjords and into the mountains were still dramatic, but different — instead of being able to see mountains into the distance, sometimes the clouds were so thick that we couldn’t see across the fjord or even nearby mountains. Other times, it was clear at close range but the clouds hung across the mountains or in patches on the mountain sides so defined as to look like wisps or bits of cotton clinging to the slopes.
We had breakfast and caught the 7:50 expressboat to Vik. The land here was much flatter and more arable, which was reflected in the fact that there were several churches visible in the landscape, including the very old stave church that was our main destination for the morning, the Hopperstad Stavkirke (photo), built in AD 1130. We walked up the main road out of town past interesting houses (photo) to the Stavkirke (photo). A stave church is so named because, instead of the roof being supported by both the walls and the interior columns, in a stave church the roof is wholly supported by the church’s massive interior “staves.” (photo) We noted the intricately carved door jambs and lintel at the main entry door (photo) and the carved pulpit (photo) with sweet faces (photo). Otherwise the church was relatively plain. The church can be seen from tee outside for free, but there is a nominal charge to go in; the guide whose services come with the entry fee was excellent. The cemetery in the churchyard was jammed with headstones, almost all with one of five surnames such as Tryti (photo) and Hopperstad. We were told that this did not reflect that just five families were part of the church community, because originally surnames reflected the area of residence rather than the identity of ancestors
Then we walked another kilometer to find the Hove Steinkirke, a church built entirely of stone in about AD 1180. All of the tombstones in this much smaller cemetery bore the surname Hove, as did the mailboxes for the families in the area. We could not get into the church itself so had to be content looking from the outside (photos). Like the Stavkirke, the Steinkirke is now just a heritage site, and is not in regular religious use.
We took the expressboat back to Balestrand and had a picnic lunch in our hotel room because it was raining so much. After lounging around for much of the afternoon, we tried to get to the Arboretum at Dragsvik; but although it is only a few hundred yards across the mouth of the Esefjorden, a ferry runs across the fjord only once each day and the road around the fjord goes 10 kilometers. We walked down the main road around the Esefjorden in the off and on rain until we got to the spot where the water from the waterfalls forms a raging river that plunges into the fjord. Then, we turned around and came back for supper.
Finally, having had several cheap lunches, we decided to splurge for dinner. We went to Kvikne’s Hotell, the fancy hotel in town (see photo of the “historic”wing), and feasted on their famous buffet, a range of smoked, marinated and cooked seafood and fish, cheeses, meats, salads, breads and of course desserts.
Balestrand Hotell, the view out the window was particularly striking.