Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Norway in a Nutshell – 30 May 2011

Today was a day of superlatives: the highest railway; the steepest railway; the longest fjord; the deepest fjord; the narrowest fjord; the steepest road; the smallest church and the silliest farm.

The day began at a reasonably civilised hour at the Oslo Station when we boarded the scheduled service to Bergen and from that point climbed steadily until we reached 1222m at Finse which is the highest railway point in northern Europe. We had passed through the tree-line and the snow-line before we got there and on arrival the guard gave us time to get out and look at the glacier (or have a very quick snowball fight as some did).

We did not stay long, fortunately, as it was snowing and the warm train was inviting. After descending to 866m we arrived at Myrdal where we left the main-line train to take the Flam railway down to Flam. Known as the “twenty line” it took 20 years to construct this line which passes through 20 tunnels on its short 20km journey down from 866m to 2m making it the steepest adhesion railway in the world. There are stops along the way to admire waterfalls and view points and the trip takes an hour to cover the short distance.

After a brief look around Flam we boarded a ferry on the Naerofjord, the longest and deepest in Norway. The two-hour trip basically takes you from one arm of the fjord, passing the smallest Stave church in Norway and a (silliest?) goat farm 300m up the fjord wall that was originally only accessible by ladders (and goat tracks) and then round the corner and up the next arm; passing through the narrowest point in the fjord where it is only 250m wide. Although there were intermittent showers, the fine spells were sufficiently long to enjoy the views for the waterfalls cascading down into the fjord, all very reminiscent of Milford Sound.

Unfortunately a shower was waiting for us at Gudvangen as we dashed across the carpark to the waiting buses which took us up through a winding tunnel to Stalheimskleiva where we turned off the main road and descended the 13 hairpin bends on Norway's steepest stretch of road, passing two magnificent waterfalls on the way down. At the bottom we seemed to simply retrace our path up through the tunnel to the top and then on to Voss for a short wait before boarding a local train down to the coast at Bergen.

Although it was 2030 by the time we arrived in Bergen it was still light enough to explore the fascinating World Heritage site comprised of buildings from around 1700. These old warehouses lean at crazy angles and seem to be propping one another up side-by-side and across the narrow alleys that provide access between them.

There was time for a delicious meal before heading back to the station to catch our overnight sleeper train back to Oslo where we had time to collect our luggage from the Hotel, have some breakfast and dodge the rain on the way back to the bus terminal to catch the bus to the airport for our next leg of the “cruise”.

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