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Norway by Train A small bit of it, at least...

There were a few reasons why I chose Norway for a long weekend. The destination was chosen because it was one of only two countries that I had previously visited but didn't have any photographs of. This trip would, hopefully, rectify that.

The length of trip was chosen because it was Norway. And three days in Norway is enough to bankrupt anyone.

The plan was to ride the Bergen Line by train, with a detour down to Flåm on what is often described as the most beautiful train journey in the world. While everyone thinks of fjords when they think of Norway, the train would give me a window to its empty interior. Literally.

And it came with the added bonus that looking out of a train window is just about the cheapest pastime that you can do in Norway. I'd like to say that this is the last time that I will mention the cost of anything on the trip. It won't be.

Bryggen, Bergen

Landing in Bergen, I got the tram from the airport to the city centre and was immediately thrown into a feeling of angst. The automatic ticket machine kept insisting that the cost for this 20 km, 40 minute journey was 38 NOK (just under £4). There was no way that was right but, in the absence of a manned ticket booth, I just had to take it and pray that I wouldn't have to pull a "stupid foreigner who doesn't know how to use the machine" routine to the ticket inspector.

Of course, when I got to the hotel I checked to see what the price should have been. 38 NOK. Why I didn't check on my phone whilst on the tram and save myself an uncomfortable forty minutes I can only attribute to my psyche having secret masochistic tendencies. Still, it was nice to have experienced a rare piece of Norwegian generosity, even if my stress levels didn't let me enjoy it at the time.

Bergen, Norway
Bergen. In the rain.

Bergen was, wet. There's not other word for it. It shouldn't have come as a surprise given it is known to be the rainiest city in Europe, one which once had 85 consecutive days of rain.

It was certainly too wet to watch the free concert in the main shopping area (three of my last four trips have coincided with an unexpected free concert, are these places putting them on especially to welcome me?). So I resorted to walking around the Bryggen area where the tighter streets at least offered some protection from the rain.

And then Bergen decided to really let the skies open. The closest safe haven was a Starbucks where I had a coffee and a bun. For a tenner. Which begs the question, why were there tourists in Norway? I once had a three course meal and a hangover for less than that in Albania.

I gave up the rest of the afternoon as a bad joke and used it to get some sleep to recover from my early start to the day. When I resurfaced, the rain had gone and Bergen was now being shrouded in a beautiful golden light. All of a sudden my day was rescued and I could go back to my original plan of heading up the Fløibanen to see the sunset over Bergen from Mount Fløyen.

Sunset over Bergen

The next morning, I headed down to the train station to catch the train to Myrdal from where I would change to get the Flåmsbana down to the fjords. I did feel guilty for kicking the German tourists out of my reserved seat when I realised we were just about the only three passengers on the train.

The start of the journey is ruined a little by having to go through many tunnels, with just enough glimpses of the Veafjorden to be a tease. The tunnels never really go away but the gaps between them do get a bit longer. And with a scenery that is quite reminiscent of Scotland. But a Scotland that is on steriods.

A train with a view

There was a brief stop in Voss to stretch legs while the train changed drivers. From this point on the scenery became more barren as the train started to climb toward the snow line.

Myrdal is a train station that only exists to transfer to the branch line down to Flåm. Which sounds the worst place on earth to be told that your next train is delayed by forty minutes. Instead, wilfully ignoring the sign that said "Do Not Cross the Tracks", I, er, crossed the tracks and used my unexpected delay to take photos of the most photogenic railway station that I've ever seen.

Myrdal train station

When the train to Flåm arrived it was clear why it was forty minutes late. It was rammed full of cruise ship passengers who insisted on standing in front of the windows as if Norway existed for their own exclusive entertainment and was not to be shared with anyone else in the carriage.

Fortunately I was doing the reverse journey the next day, so the photos can wait until then.

Not overly impressed to see this in Flåm

Apparently the cruise ship spewed out four thousand passengers into a town of four hundred. What could possibly go wrong? I was told by a tour guide the following morning that there had been complaints. So, lots apparently.

I got lucky, though. Most of my fellow train passengers went on the old "classic" fjord cruise which left my electric "premium" fjord cruise almost empty. Not only did that mean not having to use elbows to get a good spot to admire the impressive Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord, it meant being able to enjoy the silence provided by the electric boat without the incessant cruise ship chatter in the background.

With ninety minutes to wait at Gudvangen for my bus back to Flåm, I decided to admire the view with a beer.

300 millilitres. Eight quid. By my calculation that was a pound per mouthful. It was drunk slowly. Very slowly.

By my evening meal in a lovely brewpub, I had adopted a formal policy of not asking for the price of anything and just handing my card over. I found that blissful ignorance was a better guarantee of enjoyment than knowing how much every mouthful or every minute was costing me.

After dinner, there was thankfully no sign of the cruise ship and so I was able to enjoy a peaceful walk along the banks of the fjord to enjoy the sunset.

The next morning, I had my first warning that I'd been in Norway too long when my response to a 30-minute minibus journey to Stegastein and back costing £35 was "what the hell". Was the fact that I was the only passenger on the minibus because of the price or the lack of cruise ships in the harbour?

Stegastein viewing platform

Stegastein is a 30 metre long platform, 600 metres up the side of the fjord offering great views. Even from the toilet. It was certainly the first time that I'd been in a queue of photographers wanting to take a photo of the conveniences. But, from that lofty position, I could see the dreaded cruise ship steaming up Aurlandsfjord. Time to leave, Flåm, methinks.

Fortunately, the Flåmsbana left before the maritime hordes invaded the town. I even had six seats to myself, allowing me to move around and get photos as the train climbed 863 metres over 20 kilometres.

The quieter train also meant that the stop at the waterfall wasn't anywhere near as crowded as it had been on the way down. As a result, I was able to get a better look at what was going on. Yes, that is definitely two women in red, dancing to some kind of Scandinavian Enya. No, not sure why.

Views from the Flåmsbana

Then came the five hour train journey back to Oslo. In truth, it would have been better had the journey been in reverse as, predictably, the journey gets less interesting the closer you get to the capital city. But, the views across the Hardangervidda plateau, at 1237 metres the highest mainline railway in Europe, were spectacular.

So, three days in Norway. All that remains now is for me to have a look at my credit card statement. Actually, all that remains is for me to find the courage to look at my credit card statement.

Credits:

© Flyfifer Photography

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