August 2014 turned out to be the occasion to visit Norway — disregarding the menacing reports of imminent eruption of Bárðarbunga. For that, we defined a route of eight days and travels from west to east (yes, that includes the Bergen-Flåm railway, one of the top scenic railway routes in Europe). The final locations would be three: Oslo, Flåm and Bergen.
Day 1: Oslo
After 4 hours on the plane, we arrived at Oslo-Gardermoen airport, then travelled for 20 minutes more to get to our hotel using NSB trains (90 NOK). We could unfortunately not see much of the city during this day, as the next day we would be taking the Oslo-Flåm route early in the morning; but it was enough to get a glimpse of how the metro and the city worked.
Day 2: Flåm
Early in the morning, we arrived to the NSB station to catch the train to Flåm. There would be plenty of time to enjoy the Norwegian landscapes, as the journey lasts around 6 hours and a half. And if one was to get bored of the scenery, trains there incorpore plugs for electronic devices and (usually) free wi-fi. The seats were next to the family area, where kids are left to play; but there was little noise there. Guess we were lucky!
These are some pictures from the travel:
At this point we arrived to Myrdal, the latest station before taking the Flåmsbana (train to the village of Flåm). From there, this new train initiates a steep descent, from the 863.6 meters in Myrdal to 2 in Flåm. The scenery is beautiful, though sometimes the tunnels or the metallic structures do not allow to see the whole picture.The only stop before arriving in Flåm is the Kjosfossen (fossen: waterfall). You may watch some performance there before getting back to the train. There are some other small villages (even smaller than Flåm) in the surroundings, but we sadly found no time to visit them.
After the beautiful scenery, the train arrives in Flåm, a small village of 350 inhabitants located at the foot of the mountains and directly facing the Aurlandsfjorden. It is very touristic, as there are cruises that get there everyday; but it does still feel peaceful in there. There are few restaurants, some cheaper than others, either with traditional cuisine (salmon with baked potatoes, reindeer, Norwegian waffles) or any other option. Some of them provide terrace or are located in the open air, thereby combining great views and food. There’s a supermarket where food can also be bought, as well as postcards and stamps.
We headed for our accommodation, located in one of the nice wooden houses and, as with everything in Flåm, surrounded by nature and having wonderful sights. Then walked around the town and made an attempt to enter the cold waters of the fjord (oh well, there were some Norwegian kids having a proper bath there; why couldn’t we try?), then desisted and went for a light dinner.
Day 3: Flåm
After a perfect night of sleep, we had breakfast in one of the picnic tables right next to the fjord (and dock). It was chilly, as expected, but it was worth it.
The plan for this day was to take a tour on the Nærøyfjord. However, as we found no proper sites to book ferrys or cruises (here is the booking site in case you rightfully want to see the fjord only), we had to book a tour, which also included the magic white caves and costed 575 NOK. The caves would go first, then the ferry would depart from Gudvangen and navigate through the waters of the Nærøyfjord during 2 hours to end in Flåm. So we headed for the bus terminal and find we were the only ones in the bus – until one guy appeared at the last minute and seated in the first rows. The first part of the travel crossed the Nærøyvalley, but most of the time it was through tunnels, so there was no much to see there.
The first stop was done to enter the caves, where visitors were handed a coat in the first place. Then, a woman dressed in (supposedly) traditional clothes and braid explained that the intended way to visit the caves was in silent, one by one with enough space between persons, for an introspection process. Visitors’ minds blowed up when hearing that and nobody was taking the initial step, then the woman said it was OK to enter in groups, although being silent to enjoy the caves. No background to the caves mines was provided, so it felt like a dispensable tour (a bit of info can be found here, basically there is anorthosite inside, which is possibly still extracted, as we would see later on a ship preparing to load big quantities of material). Also, they abused of using figures of trolls, which we think were completely unnecessary. At some point, there’s free cake (herbs-spiced) and tea/coffee.
Anyway, after that, we got to Gudvangen and waited a bit for the ferry along with a big group of Asian people. It was time for the fjord, the real deal.
The ferry crossed the fjord, sometimes indicating which towns were located in the hills of each side of the fjord. That time, the loudspeakers described a bit of each town in Chinese and Italian; but this seems to depend on which passengers are there. You can find some of the pictures here:
After the ferry and a brief stroll around the city, it was time to get to the Flåmsbana to Myrdal, then take the train to Bergen. The first one arrived late, but luckily the train that covered Myrdal-Bergen waited for the passengers.
Day 4: Bergen
Back to the city, we prepared the planning for the day. First, get up to the mount Fløyen (using the funicular called Fløibanen – 85 NOK); to have good views over the city. Besides the views, it is possible to walk around, using some routes over the forest.
Later on, a must see is the fish market, where both fish, seafood and other types of meat and ham are sold. Some stands prepare the fish or seafood you buy. As with other fishing locations, seafood is kept alive in aquariums, ready to be boiled for the visitors to eat. However, we didn’t try the food at that point for a number of reasons. But it is good to walk around, see the fishmongers and so on.
After the market, there is a set of characteristic, coloured wooden houses near the harbour. This is called Bryggen (Norwegian word for “quay”). Between the houses, there are also wooden corridors, filled with shops and restaurants.
Passed Brygge and following the sea and moving to the right, there’s the Bergenhus festning (Bergenhus fortress), which is one of the oldest fortress in Norway. However, we only got to see the cannons, pointing to the sea, and some modern buildings which appeared to be still in use. Apparently, military activities ceased at 2002, but this place still has a military commandant.
Day 5: Bergen (and surroundings)
After a relaxed visit to Bergen, it was time to look for something around the city (some examples here, and how to get to them).
Our first stop was the Fantoft Stavkirke. For that, we bought 1-day ticket (80 NOK), got in the tram and got out in the “Fantoft” stop. Near the stop there’s a big supermarket that offers precooked meals, so we decided to go for that. Bad idea. We bought a meat burger that tasted to all kinds of stuff and also some fish-like meat, which transported me back to the times of the school’s cafeteria and its terrible food. Anyway, as you get down on this tram stop you’ll see the supermarket. You shall follow the road to the right of the supermarket building, then go up for a while, pass some residential neighbourhoods and enter the forest, where there are some indications. This wooden church may not be the biggest one, nor the more beautiful, not even the original one (it was burned down in 1992 and reconstructed); but if you have the time and want to go for a walk, the outside is nice to look at. By the way, the entry fee is 50 NOK (though we did not enter).
Another point to visit is Troldhaugen, residence of Edvard Grieg, the famous Norwegian composer. Ticket costs 90 NOK and is said to include a guided visit (English and few other languags) to the house. You may visit the composer’s house, its studio and tomb, and the auditorium constructed next to the house. First point to visit was the house, which was being reconstructed. The upper floor, if accessible at any time, wasn’t now; so we stayed in the base floor listening to the guide about the life of the composer and its family. Depending on the nationality of the visitors, the guide makes different jokes. In our case, there was a group from the USA, so the guide felt it would be amusing to compare Grieg to Einstein. It wasn’t. Anyway, it is a good place to stay for 1-2 hours. The scenery is nice, the place is calm. You may sit on the rocks, next to the sea level, and look at the landscape. Or look for squirrels in the trees nearby. There’s also a chance to buy an entrance to the auditorium and attend to a concert session.
There was a last item in the list to visit: Damsgård manor. As you can see, it is a wooden manor built by aristocrats as their countryside retreat. It shows an ornamented, rococo-like style. Surrounding it there are some small gardens and pond with ducks. Unfortunately, whilst the manor opens from 12h to 16h, it can only be seen with a guided tour at 12h, 14h – or 13h as well in Sundays. We got there at three and it was only possible to see the outside and walk around the gardens.
Day 6: Bergen-Oslo
As we booked a flight to Oslo, it was time to get back to the capital. We bought the tickets for the train the day before in the machines at the Bergen’s train station, and learned that there would be maintenance works going on on the train tracks, so NSB would provide a bus charter service until Voss, where it was again possible to take the train. As an interesting matter of fact, the journey back form Bergen seemed to stop more than the one going from Oslo.
Day 7: Oslo
The last day was devoted to visit the capital. First, some breakfast next to the hotel. We found incidentally a military parade passing by the Karl Johans Gate street. This is a curious thing about Norway, where the military service seems to be compulsory for both man and women (since 2013). In any case, we have observed a number of people dressed in military costume in the train throughout this travel.
After the breakfast we headed to Sognsvann lake, 20 minutes by metro from the city centre. A place full of locals, by the way. Apart from some students of a nearby institute (or that’s the conclusion we reached), several people go here for walk and run. Contrary to what we would expect, we were approached by a friendly local old man that was taking a walk and shared thoughts on several different topics. Turns out he was well informed about different countries. So far, I also felt that keeping some time for spending with locals is usually a good idea.
Then, walked back to the center and got to the Royal Palace. It was 13.30h, therefore a couple of tourists and us were expecting the changing of the guard. Unfortunately, nothing happened and ended up imitating a nearby militar that was taking a nap in the grass, next to the palace.
In the afternoon we decided to visit the Vigeland park, a park with 200 sculptures of human bodies, by Gustav Vigeland. At some points it can turn a bit awkward, for example if you look closely to the monolith, where several human bodies are screwed between them and in different, uncomfortable positions. It is a curious place to visit and give a stroll. Locals also come here to run, walk with their families and so on.
…And here concludes this journey to the south side of Norway. There will be another chance to visit the north. Or Iceland. Just wait for that.