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Norway in a Nutshell

NORWAY | Thursday, 28 August 2008 | Views [2222]

I got up at the crack of dawn (ok – the vacation version) to catch the 8:40 train to Voss where i would begin the much touristed “Norway in a Nutshell” package trip. I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of taking my “backpack”, which felt a lot more like an elephant by that stage, along for the ride but as it turned out the trip was American-friendly (meaning little if any walking was involved) and carrying my luggage was relatively painless.

Ok – i will quit boring you with the logistics and get right into the trip itself.

After disembarking at the small town of Voss us tourists (cameras at the ready) where herded onto several buses where we began the hair-raising journey to Gudvangen. At first it was all just pretty scenery – green fields and forested hills studded with fruit trees and a few cattle and sheep (i've yet to see any place with as many sheep as we have back home, but i still can't understand why most tourists are so very excited to see them). I was starting to wonder where the hair-raising bit, so emphasised by the website was.

Then we got to a place called Stalheim at the top of a large hill...and pretty much tumbled (albeit very slowly and carefully) down to Gudvangen (our destination).

The road we followed has a gradient of 1:18 (very very steep, as in one of the steepest in the world, to those of you like me who didn't exactly ace physics) which pretty much means hairpin curves the whole way down. This is concerning enough in a small car but was just plain terrifying (luckily the scenery made it awe-inspiring too) in a large convoy of buses. My photography skills have never been so severely tested (it was a compromise between hanging on to the rails or my camera). Can't say i envy the locals sitting their driving tests.

Our spectacular descent into Gudvangen pretty much set the scene for the rest of the trip – that is – mindblowing scenery!

We boarded a ferry at Gudvangen for a 2 hour trip through the Naeroyfjorden to Flam.

Cameras at the ready, we passed:

  • waterfall after waterfall cascading down the steep hills/mountains into the fjord.

  • picturesque wee villages clinging to rockfaces
  • vineyards (of all things!)

all with a grandiosely scenic backdrop of beautiful green mountains, jade coloured sea-water and (through most of the day – it started to rain later on) a dramatic blue and grey sky . Really, words can't explain the beauty – the popularity of the trip (despite the prohibitive costs) speaks for itself - i was lucky to actually get a seat outside on the boat.

The boat dropped us off at the tiny village of Flam which i explored with a South Korean girl (sadly her name escapes me) in the pouring rain. Despite the rain we managed to cover all the many souvenir shops and discovered a really cool brewery/pub/restaurant. The brewery was built all out of wood and the bar and sculptures all over the place were really awesome. In the middle of the room there was a roaring fire (oldschool) surrounded by ultra-mod furniture (probably from Ikea) which was totally cluttered with stylish tasting trays. I was annoyed that i don't drink beer.

After a couple of Flam hours we boarded the Flamsbana (the steepest normal-gauge railway in northern Europe) to Myrdal. The extremely picturesque trip goes through a wild, gorgeous valley, past hiking stations up to Kjosfossen waterfall – a raging torrent with a convenient platform for tourists to take photos from. I was first off the train at the waterfall and managed to actually get a photo without any other people in it (a feat that became impossible in the next few seconds). They even have a fake mythical, Siren-like creature that sings on queue for the tourists. Very kitsch! After passing through a few more cute villages we got to Myrdal (a station of 867masl nothingness – though it's still pretty of course).

Then, after 40 minutes of being crammed in to the station (it was still raining and the train to Bergen was delayed) i was back on a train to Oslo where i crashed for the night. Apart from a few quirky characters i met on the train (2 old jokers, an American-Norwegian and American-Swiss, & their partners – absolute crack-ups who refused to leave the dining car where they were eating their home-made sandwiches) the journey was uneventful.

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