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Oslo to Bergen via Flam

NORWAY | Monday, 15 July 2013 | Views [387]

Oslo to Flåm via Myrdal and one of the most AMAZING train trips ANYWHERE!

Having survived two false starts with early morning phone calls, we trundled our bags to the train station where our Bergen-bound train was awaiting us. We were booked onto 1st Class (of course I hear you cry) but there was a bit of a problem. The seats on one side of each carriage face in one direction & those on the other side face the opposite way. And they are fixed in that configuration. Our seats were among those facing backwards. Merran used to become quite travel sick if she travelled backwards. We now know that she has overcome this condition (she didn’t even turn green). As we headed for Myrdal, we climbed steadily – and the temperature dropped! We saw folk with skis joining the train and there were groomed slopes available for them to use at a number of stops. There was light sleet falling while we were at Myrdal, waiting for the train to Flåm which runs on the steepest tracks without cogs anywhere in the world. From Myrdal to Flåm is some 20Km but the trip takes almost one hour! There are 20 tunnels (one even has a spiral within it to reduce the gradient) and those 20 tunnels cover almost 6Km of the trip. Where the train is in the open the scenery is SPECTACULAR!!!  The route is down a glacial gorge – the beginning of what becomes the fjord further down. And what waterfalls! – on both sides of the valley/gorge. There were three Norwegians (young folk with a sense of humour) who were saying “You’ve seen one castle – you’ve seen them all / you’ve seen one waterfall you’ve seen them all”. The train stopped for a photo opportunity at the biggest of the falls – everyone got out & availed themselves of this Kodak moment. Finally we reached Flåm only to be amazed by the fjord where cruise ships tie up right in the village. The village itself has remained small and retained the (touristy) Olde Worlde architecture. We found where the workers live when we went for a walk the next day. Our walk took us to the ‘old village’ and its 1660 vintage church. There are two separate housing developments along this road and thus the good burghers of Flåm shield themselves from the madding hordes. None of the tourist trap tours were operating – no cruise ships in port ergo not enough suckers to justify hitching up the horse & cart or whatever. But it is a beautiful little village and our hotel room looked straight out onto the fjord. We’re starting to really notice the shortness of the darkness periods at night. I took photos at 2230 (10.30PM) and it was quite bright enough for ‘normal’ settings.

Flåm to Bergen via Voss

From Flåm we travelled by boat/ferry to Gudvangen which is at the head of another (and the narrowest in Norway) fjord. It’s such a small fjord that at one point it is just 12 metres deep as opposed to the one (Geirangerfjorden) between Geiranger and Ålesund which reaches 750metres deep (with 800 metre high walls rising straight up from the water on both sides) which we sailed through later in a different adventure. We met two delightful ladies at the opposite ends of the chronological scale on the boat. Ronni (Veronica) from Long Beach New York has ‘been there – done that’ all over the globe! She doesn’t count Australia as one of the countries she’s been to as she landed at Cairns, boarded a dive boat & headed out to the reef then did the whole thing in reverse! (What a waste). She has volunteered in all sorts of roles for an organization called ‘Mindspring’ in all sorts of third world places. She’s an interesting lady. She uses a ‘Zimmer’ style walking frame as she has a compressed spine and also she fell last year and broke BOTH knees! Malika, on the other hand is a third year university student from Ottawa, studying International Relations at Toronto but on an exchange semester in Lund (southern Sweden). Malika had been staying with her aunt in Oslo and said aunt had given her some sandwiches – enough for Merran and me but they were soon wolfed down and Marika complained that she was still hungry. I’d rather feed her for a day than a week! Our boat trip was really enjoyable, even though it was raining quite heavily at times. From Gudvangen we travelled by bus/coach to Voss where we were to catch a train to Bergen. What a bus ride! Because it was fine and no snow had fallen recently, we took the ‘high road’ – and what a road! In 1.5 Km there were THIRTEEN – count them 13!!!! hair-pin /dogleg bends - one immediately upon the next. It is like that famous street in San Francisco – but compressed and with waterfalls and AMAZING scenery. It is/was FANTASTIC! The train ride into Bergen paled a little after such an assault upon the senses. It’s as well the drivers didn’t suffer from vertigo!

Bergen – Gateway to the Fjords!

Everywhere we looked there was a postcard picture just waiting to have its photo taken. The old town (Bryggen) is a former Hanseatic town – boy did those traders of yore know how to pick a harbour and how to plant a town on the shoreline! It’s the sort of place they make miniatures of for model railways. It’s yet another World Heritage town so we’ve ticked off a few in recent times. Our hotel was one street back from the waterfront with (all too) close access to the local nightclubs but oh! so convenient for funicular (cable car) for a panorama of the harbour, the peninsular and the islands which make up this the second largest city in Norway. It doesn’t seem all that big in area until the ship sails through suburb after suburb on the way up the coast. There were three cruise ships in port on the Monday and most of the stalls in the fish market were swamped by (mostly German speaking) crowds from two “Aida” line and one “Holland-America” line ships. On one day, in perfect sunshine (but freezing wind) Merran and I had the hop-on/hop-off to ourselves. The next, with all the tourists from the ships in town, it was almost impossible to join the bus let alone get a seat; so we elected to leave the bus at the zoo stop. Pat Rogers, zoos bring on the rain we’ve decided. The zoo was on both a ferry route our intention being that we would catch the ferry back to the fish market at the main harbour. It rained, it poured, it teemed while we were at the zoo. Shades of Vancouver - déjà vu all over again. I know: nostalgia isn’t what it used to be either. The rain stopped and we poked our way on foot through little pockets of residential plots snuggled in amongst the wharves and warehouses.

They serve THE BEST fish soup at the fish markets with mussels, prawns and fish pieces placed into the bowl and then a rich creamy soup is poured over all of that. But don’t look for a Norwegian behind the counters – Italians and Spaniards seem to predominate. One Italian had come straight from Dubai where he sells real estate and one Spanish girl had come fresh from being a dive instructor in Thailand. They both have friends who got them the jobs so that they could save up from a four month stint. I don’t know how anyone could save in Norway. There are about six Krone (NOK) to the Aussie Dollar but I don’t think anything costs less than NOK25. One chap we spoke to, recalled a loaf of bread costing NOK3 not all that long ago. It now costs NOK30! A cup of coffee is NOK 25 – 30 unless in a restaurant when it will be about NOK50! ‘Blame the North Sea Oil’ he said.

Bergen is a pretty city but I would not like to live in their climate. On Monday evening, we strolled through the pleasant evening (weak) sunlight to the indoor fish market for a dinner of fish soup. The temperature was about 17C with no wind. While we ate, there was a rain squall on one side of the building with the sun still shining 20metres away on the other side. The rain stopped, there was a period of quiet and then the polar wind started again. And people complain about Melbourne’s weather! We were fortunate that the Bryggen Museum didn’t open until 11.00 on Tuesday because if it had opened at 1000 as it would from Wednesday until September, we would not have seen the military band practising in a car park and then performing in a quadrangle. I’m not sure if they participate in the contest but there is a contest (on National Day) between the local bands where they try to drown out and put off their beat the other bands. We heard a number of the bands performing through the streets and when we asked we were informed that a number of the locals are not entirely enamoured of their efforts. Bryggen Museum is an archaeological dig site with finds dating back to the town in 1100AD. A soil profile shows where the fires had ravaged the town at least three times. Because of the fear of fire, the main buildings by the waterfront which housed the work place and dormitory for the entire staff were not heated. A separate building where food preparation and recreation took place was kept far removed from the source of finance. Once the Norwegian traders superseded the Hanseatic traders, they allowed cod liver oil lamps but no open fires within the main premises. All employees had to be unmarried and took a vow of celibacy for the term of their indenture. A tough smelly job - freeze drying herring and cod and squeezing oil out of cods’ livers for an absentee boss in far off Germany.

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