Our second full day in Norway was spent entirely on trains, busses, and boats so that we could experience some of the amazing scenery in Norway’s wilderness, without actually have to venture too far into said wilderness. (Richie would probably have loved to camp out on the side of a mountain, but unfortunately, I lost my love of camping, tents, and primitive restroom facilities somewhere around the age of twelve.)
The tourism people call this trip Norway in a Nutshell. First, you take a train from Oslo to a small town called Myrdal, climbing in elevation the whole way and watching the scenery change from lushly green to icy rivers and snowy banks. I was pretty skeptical about how well we would really see the scenery from the train, but the train really does cut right through the major attractions, and my eyes were glued to the window for nearly the entire trip.
Myrdal is 866.8 meters above sea level, and the station there has gorgeous views of a little river and mountains, temptingly located just past a bare-bones fence on the other side of the railroad tracks. Richie threw caution to the wind and hopped the fence to get a better look (starting a trend, I think, as soon after, about 20 people followed).
We then got on the Flåmsbana, a much older train that took us from Myrdal to Flåm, which is a mere 2 meters above sea level. The conductor stops the train at the most scenic waterfall, just a few minutes into the journey, so that everyone can rush out and get a photo. Needless to say, the odds of getting a really great photo with hundreds of others trying to do the same is minimal, but we gave it a shot. The materials for the trip included a note that said to watch out for the siren, who will try to lure you to your death with her singing. Sure enough, the railway has hired a woman whose sole job is to emerge from behind the waterfall in a slinky red dress and croon to the crowds of tourists staring below. Luckily, no one jumped this fence.
Once we reached Flåm, the train portion of our trip switched to a boat, which took us through two sections of the Sognefjord (the Nærøyfjord and the Aurlandsfjord). It was here that Richie and I began to curse the existence of seagulls (and other tourists). A few of the passengers on our boat had noticed a few seagulls soaring by our boat and decided to hold out pieces of bread for them. The seagulls called out to their buddies from all over the fjords, who heard the call of free bread and came running (or flying, in this case). As more and more of the seagulls came, more of the passengers ran to the (really expensive) food station in the boat and bought anything they thought might tempt a seagull (including, strangely enough, hard-boiled eggs, which the seagulls blatantly ignored). So, at this point, despite paying what amounted to hundreds of dollars for these tourists to experience the gorgeous fjords, they were standing, arms lifted and covered in bread crumbs, begging seagulls to come land on them and completely ignoring said fjords. For over an hour. There were two annoying effects of this – first, every photo we tried to take of the fjords for that hour had several birds dive-bombing for bread in them. Second, birds have no qualms about pooping where they eat, and I was in mortal fear every time a bird came anywhere close to me (which, again, was the whole first hour of the trip). Luckily for me, I emerged unscathed from SeagullFest 2012. Alas, Richie was not so lucky, and only the waterproof windbreaker he was wearing saved the day.
Once the ship had finally run out of bread, we were free to enjoy the second hour of our fjord trip without any issues. You’ll have to see Richie’s photos of these to see how truly beautiful these fjords were, because I am just not skilled enough, but here are a few of my favorite shots.
At the end of our boat ride, we boarded a bus to take us to Voss, where we would catch the train to Bergen and stay there overnight. The road from the fjord to Voss is a steep one, that goes through something like 13 hairpin turns. On a coach bus. Scary, right? The bus driver mentioned at one point, due to the grade of the road, that we (at the back of the bus) were more than 2 meters higher than he was at the front of the bus.
I’m pretty sure just seeing that photo is making my mom nervous. Don’t worry Mom, I won’t make you go on any roads like that when you come visit 🙂
The rest of the trip was mainly uneventful – the train ride to Bergen involved a lot of tunnels, so there wasn’t much scenery to enjoy on that part. However, at that point we’d been looking at mountains, fjords, waterfalls, and greenery for nearly 12 hours at that point, so it was nice to just sit and relax without worrying that we’d miss some glorious sight if we closed our eyes.
We arrived in Bergen and quickly dropped our bags at the hotel in hopes of finding food that wasn’t a hot dog or a pesto-barbecue sandwich (two of the options on our trains for lunch – the best thing I can say about the train food was that it didn’t make either of us sick). Bergen is a beautiful town, and now I wish we’d planned for a little longer stay than just overnight so that we could do some sightseeing.
The next day, we boarded the train to return from Bergen to Oslo. Since we weren’t switching railways and taking boats, the trip was much shorter this time – less than seven hours. We arrived at Oslo at 5 pm, checked into our new hotel, and headed to dinner at a restaurant called St. Lars, which was recommended by one of Richie’s coworkers in Oslo. He described it as “meats on a grill”, which is heavenly to Richie. We loved this restaurant – it wasn’t in the touristy part of town, and it was clearly not meant for tourists as the menu was a few sheets of paper on a clipboard, typed entirely in Norwegian. Our waitress, despite appearing to be the waitress for the entire restaurant of 20 or so tables and thus being incredibly busy, took about 10 minutes to translate the menu and make recommendations. We decided on two entrees – entrecôte with fries for Richie, sausages made with lamb, goat and moose (really!) and mashed potatoes for me – and split the two so we could each enjoy them. It was definitely our favorite meal in Norway.
Since sightseeing hours were over, but it was still incredibly light out, we wandered through the neighborhood surrounding our restaurant and stopped at Deli de Luca, a chain of really great convenience stores with things like smoothies, ice cream, and sushi mixed in with the standard convenience store products. We happily chowed down on ice cream (clearly eating healthy was not a priority on this trip…) and headed back to our hotel to get ready for our morning flight to Stockholm.
Here are most of the photos I took in Norway. I’ll be adding some to Facebook later, but definitely not all 150+ of them 🙂
If anyone is planning a trip to Norway, here’s some of what we did:
Hotels: we stayed in two different hotels in Oslo.
– Thon Hotel Cecil – this hotel was ideally located, but our room was TINY and the bed wasn’t very comfy. It fulfilled Richie’s requirements of being clean and not in a shady location, and it was really convenient to most of the sites that we visited, so if you want a basic hotel room (with included breakfast) in a great location, this isn’t a bad choice.
– Saga Hotel Oslo – this hotel was really pretty, a newly renovated place with a really comfortable bed and great decor. It was further from most of the sightseeing, but it was only 5 minutes’ walk to metro stations and the same distance to Frogner Park (mentioned in yesterday’s blog).
– Basic Hotel Bergen – this was our hotel for the quick overnight in Bergen and, despite its name, was not really all that basic! It was bigger and nicer than our room at the Thon hotel. It came with free wifi, but no daily maid service or breakfast. It was perfect for us, since we were just staying one night.
Packages: We bought our Norway in a Nutshell tickets as a package from the tour operator (there is only one). You can buy them individually based on which segments of the trip you’d like to do, but you can’t really compare rates as there’s only one company that runs along this route. Of course, this makes it a little pricy. If you’re an outdoors-type person who likes adventure, and doesn’t mind cold temperatures in July, I would recommend going off the route and doing some hiking, camping, etc.
Up next: Stockholm, Sweden!