We were travelling round Norway back in late summer in 2012 and “Norway in a Nutshell” tour had been recommended to us. The tour itinerary sounded so confusing before we set off. How are we going to take a train, a boat, a bus, then a train, all in one day? It was going to be a unique experience seeing Norway using these modes of transport. Things sorted out themselves when we arrived at the Oslo Central Station, a five-minute tram ride away from our Hotel Thon Stefan.
We asked, got on to the right platform at the station and caught the train to Bergen. It’s a scenic journey, passing green open fields, lakes and snow-topped mountains, even though it’s late summer in mid August. About four and half hours later we arrived at Mrydal, and this would be the most thrilling part of our tour, getting on to the Flam Railway. Here we got down for a sandwich and a drink, then waited at the platform for the train.
The Flam Railway is the steepest railway in the world and a masterpiece of Norwegian engineering. It’s a breathtaking 20-km-long train ride winding down the Flam Valley. Mrydal is at altitude 866 metres, and Flam is at altitude 2 metres, so you can imagine the steep ride we were going to experience. The whole journey took one hour. We looked backwards and could actually see the train coming up in a broad curve.
The train was crowded with European, Chinese and Japanese tourists. Then 15 minutes into our ride from Mrydal, the trained stopped, barely out of the tunnel within the mountain and let us down to take pictures of the Kjosfossen waterfall. The roar of rushing water greeted us. It was a 93-metre free fall, a whole sheet of water that set off a fine spray, falling on everyone, as they shot their cameras at it.
The Kjosfossen waterfall was spectacular, but there were more waterfalls dropping from the high mountains as the train moved on through at least 20 tunnels, down to the village of Flam, in the innermost corner of Aurlandfjord, which is part of the Sognefjord, the longest fjord in Norway. There was a brief stop at Blomheller, a village where houses hugged the mountainside 343metres above sea level, before we arrived at Flam, where we were to board the boat for the fjord cruise.
After the thrilling train ride it was almost an anti-climax, getting on to the boat which slowly pulled away on a sightseeing tour of the Sognefjord, the world’s second longest and deepest fjord, which is 204km long and 1308 metres deep. The Aurlandsfjord, which runs south, is a branch of this fjord. It divides at Beitelen where the Aurlandsfjord continues on to Flam and the most famous and attractive branch, the Naeroyfjord, runs into Gudvangen, where we would end our cruise. The Naeroyfjord is just 250m at its narrowest point, with the mountains towering over it at 1,500 metres above sea level. This fjord is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
There was no question of us not getting on to the cruise. A guide holding a Norway in a Nutshell placard was there at Flam, showing us the right boat to board. We sat on the deck but soon with a cold wind whipping our faces, we retreated inside. I explored the upper deck where you could buy drinks and snacks.
The cruise passed by several towns which were pointed out to us. First it was Otternes Bydetun, an old mountain farm settlement with just 27 buildings, and which has traces of settlement dating back to 300AD. It has a living museum for traditional crafts such as spinning, weaving, baking flatbreads and brewing beer, among other activities.
Then Vangen Church, a beautiful stone church dating back to the 1200s, could be seen at Aurlandsvangen. Hydro power development in the area has resulted in five hydro power stations, many dams and 136km of water tunnels in the mountains. They supply 40 per cent of Oslo’s power needs. The cruise also passed by Undredal, a small town with population of less than 100 people, and four times as many goats! It has the smallest stone church and naturally, the most famous goat cheese.
We took note of Stigen, Beitelen, Drydal, Styvi and then Bakka, where the fjord is at its narrowest, and shallowest, at just 12 metres deep. We arrived at Gudvangen, which means God’s field by the water, and since the Viking era has been a farming village, an important trading place as well as one which accommodates travellers. At Gudvangen too is a Viking Camp, untouched as it has been from 1,200 years ago.
At the end of our cruise we got on a bus to Voss, on a heart-stopping ride, with hairpin bends down steep mountain slopes. The driver was a jokey one, telling how he was going to be married to a lovely girl in Scotland and certainly wouldn’t be letting anything happen to him or us! Again we passed by more vertical waterfalls down the mountainside and the driver stopped for us to take pictures.
Voss is a small charming town, and the mountains and forests surrounding it have helped make it the centre of skiing, water sports and sky diving. It also has an open museum of old farmsteads. At Voss we caught the train to Bergen and landed there two hours later, in the late evening.
Our trip for two in Norway in a Nutshell cost us 2,860 kroners (RM1,547). This was back in mid August 2012. It would cost much more now.