Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nuts in Norway part une

Wednesday afternoon we flew to Oslo, Norway’s famous capital located on Oslofjord of the east coast. Our good friends, Viestarts and Brigita, had helped us with our planning from the beginning, and we were in for four days packed with sightseeing and Norwegian hospitality. For a long time now, we have known that we had wanted to see one of the famous west-coast fjords; but with our limited time I was at a loss for how to accomplish this until Brigita suggested “Norway in a Nutshell.”  It worked out as perfectly as was possible, and although we spent two days away from Oslo and our hosts, the tour made the most of our limited time.  We were able to take in several of the biggest hits of the region, if only superficially and along with hundreds of other tourists.  With Lauris and only two days we unfortunately were not the ones hiking and kayaking the miles of fjords – but we took pictures of those hearty vacationers, and probably had more hot cappuccinos.

Not the biggest rock in the fjord
Early on Thursday morning we were fed Norwegian lox on toasted bagels with cream cheese,  which, along with a hot mug of coffee, almost convinced me to abandon all travel plans. But Viestarts urged us on, escorting us in the early morning to the train station. We arrived with plenty of time to pick up our Norway in a Nutshell trip tickets at Oslo-Central and catch our train, which would take us west from Oslo to Myrdal, on the Oslo-Bergen train line. The trains were half the trip; the sights visible from the windows were incredible, and I believe traveling by train is one of the best ways to see a country. We quickly left Oslo behind for lush, green countryside. As we climbed into the mountains we started seeing snow, and by the time we reached Finse (alt. 1222, the highest station on the Norwegian rail system) we were surrounded by snow covered tundra, frozen lakes and jagged mountain peaks. The train took a 10 minute pause in Finse, enabling passengers to hop out and photograph the Hardangerjøkulen glacier before speeding on west.

Top of the Norway rail line
Four hours and forty minutes after leaving Oslo we stepped off the train in Myrdal, with a quaint little rail station, a few dozen houses scattered about, and not much else beside the surrounding mountains. Tourists, ourselves included, were already snapping waterfall and mountain pictures.  We had not had a bite of the hot dog or sip from the hot chocolate from the station by the time the connecting train arrived, but we boarded, made ourselves comfortable and soon the train was off, following the Flåm river valley down from the mountains. According to the Flåm railway, almost 80% of the railway line has a gradient of 55% and it travels through 20 tunnels for a total distance of six kilometers. Of these, 18 were excavated by hand. The scenery was breathtaking although we were made to really feel like tourists, especially when soon after the narrators described a Norwegian folk tale of sirens, that supposedly appear to travelers and lure them with their beautiful singing into the wilderness and probably to death, we witnessed a dancing spectacle off in the distance at the first waterfall stop, dancers appearing and reappearing to the sound of an enchanting little number.  Luckily the conductors, whistles in hand, successfully lured us back to the train.

All aboard!
In Flåm (pop. 500) we had 45 minutes, which delighted Lauris as he took advantage of a children’s playground before boarding the Maimiti, on the Aurlandsfjord, a branch of the world’s longest fjord, the Sognefjord. We never actually traveled on the Sognefjord, but cruised north until the Nærøyfjorden, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which we followed southwest to Gudvangen. The boat ride was pleasant, and each direction one looked – the views unbelievable. In addition to the towering sheer cliff faces and tens, probably hundreds of high, cascading waterfalls, there was also the boat to explore. With three decks, a café, enclosed and open viewing areas, Lauris had plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, and two hours later we were sad when the boat ride was over, although excited about the next leg of the trip.

The family boat trip
In Gudvangen came the first hiccup in the Norway in a Nutshell tour; about one hundred passengers scrambled from the boat to board the one NiaN bus, and as we were probably last to disembark and obviously saw we would not fit, we wandered around the village for a while keeping an eye on the tourist crowd running hurriedly to every arriving bus. Roberts kept me calm, and exactly as he predicted, two more buses soon pulled up, and the last 15 travelers had a whole 50-person bus of space. Instead of heading directly for Voss, the bus took a detour and we soon found ourselves winding down the Stalheimskleiva road, the steepest stretch of road in northern Europe. 13 hairpin turns with great views of the Sivlefossen and Stalheimsfossen waterfalls with Laurīts blissfully asleep! This bus tour, colored by the driver’s slow precision turns and dry humor, was a highlight among the highlights.

Commandeering a Viking vessel
Voss is on the same railway line we were first on, from Oslo. We boarded the train for the last stretch of our journey that day, arriving in Bergen to a cold drizzle. Also on the UNESCO World Heritage list, it is the second largest city in Norway and is often called the “Gateway to the fjords.” Tired from the very long day, we hurried from the rail station to our hotel, leaving all sightseeing to the following morning. Although we had missed the complimentary dinner by ten minutes, the concierge had the chefs prepare some sandwiches for us, and thirty minutes later we were sprawled on the bed, eating gourmet sandwiches and watching TV. A very long day, but worth every second! And our compliments to Choice Hotels for making a tired, rain-covered family experience delight – missing a dinner deadline but still proposing to prepare sandwiches.


  1. I'm drooling thinking about the Norvegian lox on toasted bagels with cream cheese! YUM!

  2. How cute pictures! I love Norway, it feels almost like home - and I am happy that you seem to enjoy it as well!


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