After a call from M, we made a spontaneous decision to go to Norway for a couple of days. This post is my account of our trip. Unless otherwise noted, all pictures shown below were taken by her, although I may have done some light touching up.
Below is my favorite picture from the trip, the view from our room taken on our last day at Finse. Because I love it so much, I have also made a widescreen desktop wallpaper and a Windows Phone 7 wallpaper version of it, so I can use it as a background image on all my devices.
Our itinerary was inspired by the Norway in a Nutshell® tours, although we decided to do book everything on our own.
Day 1: Arrival in Oslo, train to Finse
On the morning of 04 August, we took a Lufthansa flight from Düsseldorf to Oslo. The flight was surprisingly cheap, even though it was a major carrier and between major airports. From Oslo airport, we took a train (actually a two trains and two buses, because the were doing work on the railroad tracks) to Finse. we had bought Interrail passes beforehand, so train travel was pretty cheap. But since we hadn’t reserved seats, we had to give up ours a couple of times when the train was full.
While there are terminals for you to buy your tickets at the train station, you cannot use them to plan your itinerary, as there is no way to print out the list of trains to take and the tracks they leave from. This is a much better experience with Deutsche Bahn’s terminals here in Germany. The staff, however, was super nice and their English was impeccable. Something you can’t say about Deutsche Bahn’s staff.
Calling Finse a village would probably be too much, as it is just a hotel, a youth-hostel-like lodge and a couple of houses with a railroad station. Finse is, however, located perfectly for hiking and mountain biking (in the summer) and skiing (in the winter) at 1222m above sea level.
We stayed at Finsehytta, a staffed lodge that is kind of like a youth hostel in it’s amenities. Unfortunately, many things were labeled only in Norwegian (there was a surprisingly large number of Norwegians there, who lived in the cities but spend their vacations there). So while the food was generally good, I had some things, I would normally not have taken had I been able to read its label.
We were also super lucky with the weather as we had no rain and mostly blue skies, even though the weather forecast had indicated clouds and some rain.
Day 2: Glacier tour
For the second day we had booked a glacier tour. This was a really interesting experience, as I had never done this before. It was roughly a 7h hike, although I had not given too much thought about how physically challenging that would be. The greatness of the experience more than made up for being totally exhausted afterwards.
I also think that such guided glacier tours where everyone if tied together with a rope make for really good team building exercises. Because not only do you have to watch closely where you are stepping (ideally using the exact same spots as the guide), but you also have to make sure that you are moving at a speed such that the rope in front of and behind you is tight, so in case someone does break into the ice, they don’t fall far.
Day 3: From Finse to Bergen
After two nights in Finse, we set off to Bergen where we were going to spend the remaining three nights. While I originally resented M’s idea of staying at a lodge like Finsehytta, it was a great experience and I wouldn’t want to have had it any other way. For Bergen, though, I insisted on a real hotel (i.e. a place that has showers in every room, which Finsehytta did not). So we stayed at Rica Hotel Bergen. The hotel was ideally located in the city center, so everything was within walking distance.
Day 4: Flåm
The following day, we took a train to Myrdal (which is much closer to Finse than Bergen, actually) where we boarded the Flåm railroad (Flåmsbana). It’s only 20km long, but features a constantly changing scenery. Unfortunately, the Interrail pass does not cover Flåmsbana, although it does give you a 30% discount.
Flåm itself is kind of surreal place existing only as a tourist destination. In addition to the train station, there is a pier where cruise ships arrive, there are a couple of restaurants, souvenir shops and a few places to stay overnight, but that’s it. The old village center of Flåm is actually located a couple of miles inland, as was pointed out by the announcements on the train (picture below). Note the stave church, a building style once common in Northern Europe.
If there is one thing about Norway that I found the most striking, is that there is water everywhere. Below is the Kjosfossen water fall (93m meters of free fall). The train actually stops there for a photo-op, music starts to play and dancers pop out on the rocks next to the water fall performing what I have to assume is a traditional Norwegian water fall dance (no explanation was given, so it might just be something for tourists to take pictures of that has nothing to do with anything).
From Flåm, we took a Norled express boat. Despite its name, it still took five hours to make the trip back to Bergen. That trip through the fjords was really beautiful though. You start feeling really small, when on both sides of the water, there are walls of solid rock, maybe a hundred meters high. Also note the shadows cast be the clouds. Looks really interesting.
Day 5: Bergen
On our last full day we stayed in Bergen to see a bit of the town. In the morning we had planned to take the Fløibanen Funicular up to one of the mountains framing the valley that Bergen is located in. Looking at the line of maybe 100 people, however, we decided to wait a little and do something else first. Big mistake. When we came back some time later, there were like 400 people waiting in line. The wait was totally worth it, though. The view over Bergen is spectacular as you can see in the picture below.
Before we had been to the Nordnes peninsula in Bergen. Even though it is quite hilly, it’s a really beautiful neighborhood with a lot of patches of green and wooden houses like those in the picture on above.
Since Norway in general is pretty expensive, and we wanted to be frugal when it came to being dinner. So the first night we ate at Café Opera, a place recommended by my Baedeker. They have a nice menu, the food was great and quite affordable (by Norwegian standards). Since we couldn’t find anything comparable, we also ate the following two nights there.
Easily my greatest vacation in recent years. I have seen and experiences so many things in these couple of days. It was so amazing. Every time I look at these pictures and think back, it puts a smile on my face.