This was a huge day. It would be better to do it with an overnight stop in Flam. If my travel agent had advised me of this a year in advance when we booked the cruise from Bergen, instead of one month in advance when the Norway in a Nutshell booking time came up, we might have stayed overnight en route. However in her lackadaisical fashion, this did not occur to her until we had already made all our onward arrangements. We could not cancel and re-book everything at such late notice, because all our dates were carefully dovetailed. Grrrrrrr.
It was me that booked the Norway in a Nutshell trip instead of my far from proactive travel agent. I should have done it myself at the beginning, but thought that’s what you paid travel agents for – to take care of travel arrangements for you!
We went to Central Station on the tram the day before to pick up the Norway in a Nutshell tickets. The hotel was chosen for its handiness to the station – but had the smallest hotel rooms I have ever been in! Apparently it is quite typical of Norway. The rooms were beautifully designed, functional and sleekly modern but…..hardly room to swing a cat! I guess the hotel rooms are designed for a healthy Norwegian hiker with one solitary backpack, rather than an almost decrepit mad keen photographer and her other half, equipped with one suitcase for Australia, one garment carrier for London and Hong Kong, and two duffle bags for the Arctic - plus two backpacks of photographic gear! I had quite a hissy fit when my husband lumped all the bags onto the bed in the morning and expected me to reorganise everything before breakfast!
The idea was to send everything we didn’t need on the train to our Bergen hotel with a great service called Porterservice AS, run by Vidar Aaen Phone: +47 906 10 009 [email protected] WWW.porterservice.no My husband said it would have been the end of a perfectly good 45 year old marriage if we had tried to lug the bags on and off three trains, a bus, and a boat, so it was well worth it! We paid 250 NOK (about 25 sterling) per bag. Worth every penny. I got the luggage transfer people to come to the hotel at 5.30 a.m. We left the bag for Australia in the unlocked hotel luggage room – that’s very common in Norway and works well. We picked it up on our way back home through Oslo.
Luckily I had read ‘Just Wanderlust Blog’, which said you should take a packed lunch because there was no time to spare for buying lunch between the various legs of the journey. At the station we bought enough food for breakfast, lunch, and an evening snack, plus water. As it turned out, the train to Myrdal had a bar with coffee, sandwiches etc. and we could have bought supplies there - but after that it was just too rushed. We found our platform with the help of a nice young man – it did not have Flam or anything else indicating we were going on the Norway in a Nutshell trip, just Voss.
It turned out that we had to head for an end destination of Voss, and get off at Myrdal, then take the train to Flam. The first leg to Myrdal took nearly 5 hours, from 6.25 a.m., as we steadily climbed into the mountains. A sign in the carriage showed our altitude.
I realised we should have specified, when picking up the tickets the day before, that we wanted to sit on the left side of the train - the scenery was better on that side. However, we didn’t, and got seats on the right side. My other half had a long nap lulled by the rhythm of the train, but I couldn’t sleep for animated loud chatter and bursts of laughter from four hearty Norwegian ladies sitting in front of us.
It turned out they were pumped and ready to roll when we got to the top of the pass where the scenery really was stunning, with meandering trails wandering beside beautiful lakes with impressive mountains all around.
They and most of our healthy, happy, fit looking Norwegian fellow travellers disembarked to go hiking or bike-riding along the trails.
At Myrdal we got off the train and waited about 10 minutes for the Flam railway to arrive.
Bear in mind that the front of the train to Flam is facing the opposite way from the train you just got off, and aim to be facing the front. Photographers, try to get opening windows, which are only at the front and the rear of each carriage. We hustled to a window that I could open to take photographs. Sometimes the right was perfect for the sights, but sometimes the left was better!
If I had my time again, I would stay overnight in Flam and make the trip back to Myrdal to take photos out of the other side - but thanks to a gormless travel agent, we had no chance of choosing this option.
The scenery on the Flam Railway truly was amazing, with soaring mountains and beautiful waterfalls, punctuated occasionally by little patches of brilliant green grass on which sat super neat matchbox houses.
Rivers ran through the valley and splendid waterfalls came foaming down from the heights, spray like smoke all around.
Little boathouses and sheds were usually the traditional rusty red.
Guess who insisted on putting the backpack with my heavy long lens on the railway rack above our heads, even though I told him it would be fine between us on the floor. He wrecked his shoulder and ended up in a lot of pain.
When we arrived in Flam we were confused about which boat we were supposed to get on. There was no guidance at all for Norway in a Nutshellers. Fortunately there was an information booth. They told us we needed to get on the black boat leaving in half an hour. We just had time to go to the bathroom, then get in the queue. There was a café but you'd have to be pretty quick to get a bite to eat.
We went up to the top in front of the captain’s bridge, but there was no seating. The only seats were inside. Taking photos through grimy windows? No way! My partner suggested we go onto the lower deck and sit on a bulkhead below the captain’s bridge. My legs were dangling because the bulkhead was too high - but for a decrepit traveller, far better than one and a half hours of standing!
From the bulkhead we could get up and go to the rail when great photo opportunities presented themselves. It was a spectacular trip, particularly in the latter part of the journey after we turned the corner into the narrower part of the fiord. Until then it had been T-shirt weather - we were unbelievably lucky. However at this point the wind of our journey got bitterly cold with the boat really pushing up the fiord.
I put on my Arctic parka and was glad of it. I had a battle with hair whipping around my face and in the end put up the hood too. Along with nearly all our fellow passengers, my husband went inside out of the wind. I stayed and took photographs. The scenery was utterly magnificent. Next to me was Selfie Girl, so involved in taking photos of herself that she didn’t feel the cold.
I did not take photos of her, but later realised it was part of the story, so I asked my beautiful niece Carla to pose for me. She posed up on a bitterly cold morning with a fan blasting cold air at her, to replicate how windswept 'Selfie Girl' had been, with hair all over her face. Carla was an incredibly good sport about being my model and frozen near to death. With help from a Photoshop savvy friend I later superimposed the images of my model 'selfie girl' onto my own landscapes.
On the boat I had never seen so many selfies taken, head tilted this way and that, smile, smirk, grimace, hair flying one way, hair flying another way – and not one photo of the magnificent landscape without Narcissist Selfie Girl in front! Maybe she was writing a blog too, which relied on her being in every scene posing away. I far prefer to remain incognito but I've noticed on Instagram the nubile young beauties are the ones with all the followers! No hope for me, then, my following will remain small.
I hasten to add that Carla is not a narcissist but was a splendid model who helped her aunt with many a problem of how to get this video loaded!
As we neared the port of Voss, I went into the cabin to find my man – who had fallen asleep! Through the most stunning part of the journey! I hope my photos give him an idea of what glorious views he missed. Festooned, it must be admitted, by electricity wires. Norway is an amazingly beautiful place but humans do impose themselves on a landscape!
A bus was waiting for the Norway in a Nutshellers – it was nearly full but a very nice young Taiwanese woman let me sit by her in the front. I was so grateful - I get carsick in the back of a bus going around hairpin bends! The recommendation was to sit on the right hand side but beggars can’t be choosers. I was on the left, with my good Samaritan in the window seat. She chatted with a Taiwanese man and his wife in the other front seats. I took a few photos through the bus window, leaning across my kind companion.
The scenery was spectacular as the bus teetered around hairpin bends, winding its way down to the next town. It was terrifyingly steep but taking photographs took my mind off my usual white-knuckled fear on precipitous mountain roads. When we disembarked from the bus, we were all tired and became somewhat frazzled when we realised we had to wait about an hour till the train came. I sank down wearily on a seat to nibble my last sandwich. An interesting drama began unfolding between the Taiwanese man and his wife. He started yelling and threw a plastic wrapped package at her. It landed on the floor.
Another person retrieved it and gave it back to him. It was a roll his wife had given him to eat. He thanked them politely in English, then yelled at his wife even louder in Chinese. All of us in the waiting room were embarrassed and looking the other way. His wife got up and walked out of the station, most offended, to look at the calming scenery.
He grizzled away to himself, poked the despised plastic wrapped package back into a shopping bag, pulled it out, shoved it back in again, left the carry bag on the floor. Off he went, muttering angrily. He came back, went to look for his wife, couldn’t find her, sat down again. She came in eventually, and he started screeching at her like a banshee. She announced loudly to the embarrassed people in the waiting room that he had threatened to kill her, and flounced off outside again. He sat squawking angrily to himself. She came in and tried to calm him. He let himself be mollified when she extracted a large bread roll with a different filling from the bag.
We must assume that he had threatened to kill his wife because he did not like the contents of his roll! It seemed he preferred the meatier option. Despite being close to the end of our tethers at the end of a very long day, we felt pleased that we had shown a bit more self-control and resilience than tantrum guy! It will be our benchmark from now on: ’At least I did not have a very public hissy fit because my wife gave me a roll with the wrong filling!’
Eventually the train came, and took a little over an hour to get to Bergen, passing more lovely scenery on the way.
Tired out, we took a taxi to our hotel, the Clarion Admiral, and were cheered up immediately by a lovely view of those iconic houses of gorgeous brown and rust red hues. Our luggage was there already thanks to the porter service.......and it was not a rainy day, which is apparently an extraordinary state of affairs in Bergen!