Norway is a fairytale country. Commonly nicknamed as “fjord land”, this amazing country is blessed with steep rocky cliffs, deep blue fjords, lush green valleys, snow capped mountains, cascading white waterfalls and neatly painted colourful houses. Apart from the fjords, experiencing the journey on world’s most scenic Flam Railway and Bergen Railway are life time experience. Like other travelers, I dreamed to visit Norway since my childhood days. Finally, on the vacation of midsummer day in 2018, I managed to get a four-days holiday and visited the fjords. Obviously a portion of the country was explored by me. In fact, it is mostly impossible even for the Norwegians to explore all the fjords. People mostly visit the most beautiful Sognefjord and Nærøyfjord – they are however inscribed to UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I planned to have a cruise trip to these fjords, ride the two famous railways and to conclude the trip with a trek in Bergen.
What is Fjord:
First, I would like to give a brief about the fjords. Fjords were defined as a long, deep, narrow body of water that reaches far inland. Fjords are often set in a U-shaped valley with steep walls of rock on either side. Fjords were formed during the ice age by the thrust of glaciers. Fjords were created by glaciers. In the Earth’s last ice age, glaciers covered just about everything. Glaciers move very slowly over time, and can greatly alter the landscape once they have moved through an area. This process is called glaciation. Glaciation carve deep valleys. This is why fjords can be thousands of meters deep. Fjords are usually deepest farther inland, where the glacial force was strongest.
Usually Fjords are found in the countries closest to the polar circle but mostly in Norway. Coastline of Norway is estimated at 29,000 kilometres (18,000 mi) with nearly 1,190 fjords, but only 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) when fjords are excluded.
Plan for the trip:
Planning for any Norway trip is always tough. Being one of the most expensive countries in this world with lots of restrictions (to save nature and natural resources) Norway very seldom offers discount for tourists. Norway in Nutshell (NIN) packages are the best options to explore Norway but depending solely on NIN, the budget will be too high. While planning, I was biting my nails to reduce the cost.
I pinged my friend Ika Rangen who had visited Norway a few months ago. She suggested making a DIY-NIN (Do It Yourself – Norway In Nutshell) plan would be the most convenient way of travelling Norway. As she suggested, I chose to reach Myrdal by Bergen railway, followed by world famous Flambana or Flam Railway to travel to Flam. Flam is a village in fjord. For the cruise trip in Fjord, I booked a seat on the NIN Fjord cruise and NIN bus. For staying at Flam and Bergen, I trusted hostels booked by booking.com.
On the midsummer day of 2018, I started from my home to explore the Fjords of Norway. After an overnight bus journey from Stockholm, I reached Oslo – the capital of Norway at 8 AM. The bus station was next to the rail station. I crossed the connected over bridge, reached the station and waited for the train of Bergen Railway.
Oslo to Myrdal by Bergen Railway:
Bergen Railway has been connecting Eastern and Western parts of the country for the last 110 years. The express train covers 371 kilometer in 4 hours. It is the highest mainline railway track in Northern Europe, crossing the Hardangervidda plateau at 1,237 metres (4,058 ft) above sea level. Finse Station remains the highest elevated station at 1,222.2 metres (4,010 ft), while the highest point is in the Finse Tunnel at 1,237 metres (4,058 ft). There are 182 tunnels in the route. While travelling by this train, the passenger can witness the magnificent view of Hardangerfjord, Sørfjord, Sognefjord and Naefjord.
Obviously a passenger can get the best view of the countryside of Norway. My plan was to travel till Myrdal by Bergen Railway. I booked a window side seat. It is mandatory to pre book the seat.
The train started from Oslo Central Station at 9 AM. Initially, the train was running through the Oslo suburbs. After leaving Hokksund station, the scenic Nordic countryside came under sight. The lush greenery of the fields, trees gives eternal freshness in eyes. Meanwhile, I had my lunch in the cafeteria inside the train.
With a small elevation before Flå Station, the train entered into a valley surrounded by Veslefjell Mountain. The view was gradually getting heavenly when the train reached Gol Station. The sky was over casted by the thick layers of cloud. One of my co-passengers (sitting next to me) was a Norwegian. He said to me, “Now we are in the fjord area. Look at the mountains. If anybody climbs to the top, he can see the fjords.” He also assured me, “Don’t worry, cloudy sky is a very normal phenomenon in Nordic summer. Once it rains, the sky will be clear. The Sun plays hide and seek at least 2-3 times in each and every day.”
His assurance was convincing enough. Actually I experienced the same in Sweden too. In fact, I was enjoying the cloudy sky as it gave a different texture to the colours of trees, fields and huts. After the Ål Station, I got the glimpse of Eidfjord (Eid Fjord).
After Gelio station, Hallingskarvet mountain range joined us.
While the train was running beside the scenic Ustevatn Lake while going from Ustaoset station to Haugastøl Station. Since the weather was cloudy, the rich texture of nature and Nordic homes looked like a treat to eyes.
With a sharp elevation of almost 300 meters, the train entered Hardangervidda (Hardanger Plateau) and we reached the highest point of the train route.
The train reached Finse Station. The highest station in this route.During winter, spring and early Summer, people gather there for skiing. Though it was mid summer, some patches of eyes were still found.
I was completely lost in the natural beauty of Nordic landscape. After Hallingskeid Station, the driver announced “Nasta Myrdal” (The next station is Myrdal). It seemed like I woke up from a dream. The train entered inside a tunnel, came out and reached Myrdal.
Myrdal is the most scenic station I have ever seen in my life. The station is in Aurland municipality and just on the south side of Sognefjorden (Sogne Fjord). Located inside a scenic valley, Myrdal is the most important station in Bergen Railway. Myrdal Station is where people switch trains from Oslo to the Flåm Railway or Flåmbana. No hotel is there. There is really nothing there except a train station and a few huts. But the red coloured station inside a lush green valley with a backdrop of mountains made this landscape heavenly.
It started raining. I zipped the windcheater and started walking on the platform. Suddenly I found a cute train was coming. The arrival of Flåmsbana was announced.
Myrdal to Flåm via Flåmsbana or Flåm Railway:
As the train arrived, we boarded. Train attendant welcomed all the passengers also suggested to put the luggage in the front cabin and to carry the hand luggage only in the passengers’ bogies. We went inside the train. I liked the aesthetics of the passengers’ compartment. It has big windows and the cushion topped wooden seats were arranged in a way so that everybody can see the beautiful Norweigian landscape through the window.
Here, I would like to give a brief about Flåm Railway. The 20.2-kilometer (12.6 mi) long railway line between Myrdal and Flåm runs in Aurland Municipality, Vestland county of Norway. It is also regarded as a branch line of the Bergen Line. It runs through the valley of Flåmsdalen and connects the mainline with Sognefjord. The line’s elevation difference is 866 meters (2,841 ft); it has ten stations, twenty tunnels and one bridge. By virtue of its track through the scenic village and the breathtaking view of Sognefjord, Flåm Railway is regarded as one of the top five amazing train rides.
The train started running, before it entered into the first tunnel, all the passengers gathered in front of the window to witness the lovely green landscape. Even only a few passengers were able to keep themselves in their seats. A continuous commentary was running from the centralised speaker and right after the announcement, passengers were gathering to witness the specific spots through the window.
The train reached Kjosfossen – a waterfall. There is a small station. We all got down to see the waterfall. The train Line passes directly in front of and over the upper part of the waterfall (the falls continue much longer down to the right (east) of the Flåm Line as you head down into the gorge), which is one of the main attractions for tourists who take the Flåm Line.
With a whistle blow, the announcer asked every passenger to go inside the train. The trains started running. The landscape was heavenly. We got a breathtaking view of upper Flåm from the train.
Finally, at 5PM (CET) I reached Flåm Station.
Staying in Flåm and a walk under midnight Sun:
Flåm is a fairytale village. Nested in Flåmsdalen valley, the picturesque village is situated innermost in the Aurlandsfjord – a branch of Sognefjorden. Steep mountains stand on the other three sides.
My hostel (Brekke Gard Hostel) was one kilometer away from the station. Glancing first time at Brekke Gard Hostel I recalled the landscapes I painted during my childhood days. It was a lovely red coloured hut inside a green field and surrounded by steep mountains. I liked checked in, got freshened up and went out with my camera.
First, I went to the station and then started roaming along the sea shore. Suddenly the sky became over casted and within a few minutes, it started raining but within ten minutes the sky became clear and dramatic.
Around 7.30 PM I felt hungry and decided have the dinner in a Viking style. I found a restaurant name – Aegir. I stepped in, and the interior was fabulous. I ordered a locally crafted beer and a Viking dish.
After pampering my taste buds, I decided to trek to the hill adjacent to the station. I walked till midnight and witnessed the fjords under midnight sun. At 1 AM, the sunlight dappled, more like early evening before gradually brightening again for the following day.
I walked back to the hostel and went to bed and it took a few seconds before I fell asleep. Though it was an unforgettable day full of enjoyment, I was tired. I dozed up a bit more.
Next morning, after having a sumptuous breakfast, I went to the cruise station – located next to the train station. I was excited for the upcoming cruise trip through fjords.
The cruise trip – Sailing on Sognefjord (Flåm to Gudvangen):
All the passengers were waiting at the deck of the cruise. It was a two-hour fjord cruise trip from Flåm to Gudvangen along two different branches of the UNESCO World Heritage Sognefjord – starting from the Aurlandsfjord and going through to the end of the Nærøyfjord.
The landscapes were just immense. The scale of the mountains and the width of the fjords dwarfed everything. Boats looked like a toy boat. As per I was seeing there were numerous shades of green everywhere with granite rocks and the waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. with flashes of red from the wooden buildings along the waterfront.
The cruise was sailing. Though the chilling air was freezing us, nobody left the deck. The shoreline of the fjord was dotted with farms, mainly producing goats’ cheese using the same traditional farming methods which have been used here from the viking era. Especially I mention the name of the village for cheese is Undredal, which has 100 residents and four times as many goats. Many of the farms are located on the water’s edge, in little hamlets that can be accessible only by boats. In spite of being a popular tourists’ attraction, the village is so remote that nobody can imagine.
As we sailed on, an almost vertical rocky mountain at Britelen marked the point where the two branches of the Sognefjord split. This is the point where we left Aurlandsfjord and moved into the Nærøyfjord.
One of the villages along this stretch of water is Styvi. At that point the walls of the Nærøyfjord started to get closer and closer, and it reached its narrowest point around the hamlet of Bakka. There the gap was only 250 metres wide and water was as little as 12 metres deep. The steep sides tower above us and it was hard to imagine those huge cruise ships fitting through this stretch of water without scraping the sides. Bakka is one of the oldest settlements along the fjord and has a pretty white traditional Norwegian wooden stave church. The church was built in 1859 and can seat up to 200 people – though with only 100 people living in the parish now it can’t be full very often.
At the far end of the Nærøyfjord, the boat docked at its final destination – Gudvangen. Gudvangen means ‘God’s field by the water’. It was a big trading post back in the Viking era and there’s a Viking centre. A small artificial viking museum was there where the tourist could find out how they used to live. Unfortunately the village was closed that day due to mid summer holiday. The town houses a few hotels and shops.
Bus trip from Gudvangen to Voss:
After an interval of half an hour NIN Bus came. As suggested by my friend Ika, I took a seat on the left side. The bus was going through Stalheimskleiv Road, which winds its way through 13 hairpin bends from the end of the Nærøydalen (Nærøy Valley) up to Stalheim before continuing on to Voss. The road on the hill adjacent to Nærøyfjord.
Nærøy Valley was green with white cascading waterfalls. En route, two stunning waterfalls were visible from the road – Stalheimsfossen with its drop of 126 metres. The other falls is Sivlefossen and has a drop of 140 metres though, water volume-wise, it is less powerful than Stalheimsfossen.
After a journey of one hour, the bus reached Voss.
Voss to Bergen via Bergen Railway:
First, I decided to travel to Bergen from Voss by bus. One of my Swedish colleagues suggested that I should take a train from Voss to Bergen. I trusted her. It was probably a great decision as again I got the opportunity to travel by Bergen Railway.
The bus dropped me at Voss Central Bus Terminus. The rail station was adjacent to it. I had one hour in hand. Though I was hungry, I decided not to waste time. Rather I preferred to visit Voss Church.
From Voss church, I went back to the rail station, had lunch with falafel and coffee at the station after waiting for ten minutes with a cup of coffee the train arrived. This time I took a seat on the right side towards the train direction. While the train left the station, the lovely view of the Norweigian Countryside attracted my eyes.
Next station was Dale. From Dale, the train runs through tunnels. But while the train was going out of the tunnels, the beauty was pleasing to the eyes. Finally I reached Bergen Station. Next two days, I explored Bergen. I will tell the story in the next post.