Category Archives: Norway

THREE WAYS TO EXPLORE FLÅM

Rainbow over the fjord

Rainbow over the Sognefjord

Although most visitors on the “Norway in a Nutshell” itinerary continue their journey directly from the train to a ferry, we opt to spend a few days in the area to explore Flåm.

The village of Undredal on the Aurlandsfjord

Undredal, Norway

The “tourist” village of Flåm is centered around the train station and the docks. Apart from some scattered farmhouses and homes lining the road, a small museum, a bakery and a supermarket, tourist shops and the information center dominate the village.

A few hotels and guesthouses are available. Perhaps the most luxurious of these is the Flåmsbrygga Hotel situated on a pier with views of the Aurlandsfjord just 50 feet away – until a massive cruise ship (shades of Venice) moors in front. Fortunately, these behemoths (which are several stories higher than the hotel) are only there during the day, restoring your view in the evening and early morning.

The hotel with the best view straight up the fjord is the Flåm Marina and Apartments, on the other side of the harbor. This is also where we enjoy our best meal in the area.

The natural beauty of the area, however, almost defies description and is best experienced by fjord cruises, drives, and long walks along the shores of the fjord and into the hills.

A pair of seals on the shore of the fjord near Flåm

Seals in Nærøyfjord, Norway

FJORD SAFARIS

Clad in goggles, hats and thick Arctic survival suits, we climb into a rib boat for a two-hour trip through Aurlandsfjord and into the Nærøyfjord. Both are arms of the mighty Sognefjord. Norway’s largest and deepest fjord.

Of course, there is a bit of showmanship involved and much storytelling. There is a tale about almost every one of the few villages that cling to the cliff sides and the fjord.

For example, the village of Undredal, an idyllic community on the edge of the fjord, served as the inspiration for the movie “Frozen,” although our guide assures us that Elsa doesn’t live there anymore.

The village consists of about 100 people and 500 goats. Until 1988 it could only be reached by boat, but the construction of the new road has greatly increased the number of visitors who stop here.

It is famous for its brown goat cheese “Undredalsosten,” which you can find at the cheese shop, “Undredalsbui.” (It is an acquired taste). The Eldhuset cheese museum has an extensive exhibit about the product.

The Stigen Bed and Breakfast is another storytelling stop. Stigen means “ladder” in Norwegian. Years ago the only way to reach the farm was by hiking up a very steep cliff, so arduous that a ladder was required to traverse part of the mountain. Whenever he saw the taxman coming, the farmer would pull up it up to prevent him from reaching the farm.

The farmer eventually tired of eking out a living from his small plot of land, so he sold it. The new owner has turned it into an exclusive Bed and Breakfast that has an 18-month waiting list for accommodations. And, yes, you still have to hike up the cliff face although luggage is transported on a zip line.

The landscape is dramatic. As the glaciers withdrew at the end of the last Ice Age, they gouged out deep gorges that were quickly filled in by the sea, forming the fjords, one of the world’s natural wonders.

The Sagfossen waterfall in the Nærōyfjord

Sagfossen waterfall

Steep, granite-faced mountains drop straight into the water. Waterfalls flow down the face of the rock. Perhaps one of the highest and most impressive is the Sagfossen. It tumbles 1,200 feet into the Næroyfjord, one of the narrowest in Norway. You will only get to see this waterfall from a boat. Nearby is a striking mountain, the Beitelen, which marks the intersection of the three fjords – the Nærøyfjord, the Aurlandsfjord and the Sognefjord.

The fjords are home to a few marine mammals. On the rocks near the waterfall, we find a family of seals sunning themselves. A pod of porpoises delights in swimming in circles around the rib, popping up periodically. Our guide relates how killer whales have also been spotted in the fjords. Alas, we do not see any.

RENT A TWIZY

Without a car, it requires an effort to reach the stunning viewpoints near Flåm, although there is a bus. So we rent a Twizy to take us around. And what exactly is a Twizy? It is a cute, two passenger, French Renault, electric car that you can lease to explore the area. The battery has enough power to take you around several preplanned routes depending on how long you want to drive. It comes equipped with a talking navigation system so you can’t get lost – or so they say!

French Renault Twizy

A Twizy

After contorting ourselves into a pretzel to climb into the car, one behind the other, we set off for Aurland, a secluded mountain village in the heart of the fjord, just 20 minutes away. The village on the edge of the fjord consists of simple frame houses decorated with window boxes filled with geraniums and other colorful flowers.

To get to the top of the mountain, we drive up behind the village through a series of hairpin bends to the Stegastein viewpoint overlooking Aurlandsfjord.

A panoramic viewing platform juts out over the fjord over 2,000 ft. above the water. At the end of the elegant, smooth, wooden pine walkway, there is only a pane of glass to stop you from falling off the end. From here you can see as far as Flåm on one side and as far as Beitelen Mountain, marking the edge of the world heritage site, on the other.

Looking over the fjord from the Stegastein Viewpoint

The Stegastein Overlook, Aurlandsfjord

HIKE TO THE OLD VILLAGE OF FLÅM

The main village of Flåm is a few kilometers away along the river. Small farms and collection of houses line the route. The main attraction is the Flåm Kyrkje, a wooden church built over 350 years ago. Start from the Flåm station, follow the railway line and the river. After 3 km you will find the church, dating to 1667 and surrounded by an immaculately kept cemetery

You can also hike to the Brekkefossen waterfall. Starting from the station, cross the bridge and walk along the Flåm camping site. Continue straight ahead at the road crossing. After 1.5 km follow the sign for Brekkefossen. Walk through the gate and follow a red T-marking on the path. The terrain is quite steep, and you need to be cautious as the rocks on the hillside are very slippery.

Spending a few extra days to explore the area around Flåm provides us with many unique opportunities to photograph the fjords, mountains, and villages of the area.

Brekkefossen waterfall, Flåm

Brekkefossen, Flåm

 

IF YOU GO

Flåmsbrygga Hotel

Flåm Marina and Apartments

Flåm Fjord Safari

To rent a Twizy just walk over to the office on the far side of the harbor. You will need a driver’s license. (www.emobflam.no/en/)

Stigen Gard and Tours 

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THE FLÅM RAILWAY OR NORWAY IN A NUTSHELL

Looking up the Aurlandsfjord

The Aurlandsfjord

Most travelers to Norway spend only a few days in the country but want to experience as much of its natural beauty (and in particular the fjords outside the cities) as possible. To facilitate their travel, the Norwegian Tourist Board developed the concept of “Norway in a Nutshell,” a series of planned itineraries for visitors to follow independently, using public transportation, including trains, boats, and buses. The first and most popular of these is the Flåm Railway (Flåmbana).

The Flåmsbana Railway between Myrdal and Flåm

Waiting to board the Flåmsbana.

Our journey starts early one morning at the Oslo train station where, coffee and skillingsbolle (cinnamon rolls) in hand, we board the train to Bergen, for the five-hour ride to Myrdal to connect to the Flåmbana.

The Oslo to Bergen line is considered to be one of the most spectacular train rides in northern Europe. The rail line initially was meant to link Stockholm with Bergen; however, when Norway won its independence from Sweden in 1905, the line (completed in 1909) was modified to connect the new country’s two major cities – Oslo and Bergen.

Thousands of workers chipped and chiseled, blasted and burrowed through the mountains, many using only hand tools and explosives, cutting through the rock to create 200 tunnels, 18 miles of snow sheds and over 300 bridges. Over 63 workers lost their lives during the years it took to complete the railroad.

Today, trains travel 300 miles over the spine-like mountains between the two cities, climbing through forests and lakes to a height of 4, 266 feet at Finse, the highest station on the line, far above the trees.

Here, racks and racks of bicycles line the edges of the platform, waiting for riders who will undertake the hair-raising, death-defying ride down from the mountains.

As you approach Myrdal, located in Norway’s largest national park (Hardangervidda), the scenery becomes more dramatic. Giant boulders line the green hillsides, while impossibly blue and green lakes add a dash of color. Apart from three or four houses, the Art Deco train station is the only structure in sight, dwarfed by the peaks rising all around it.

A mythical Hygdda at the waterfall

Beware the Hygdda!

THE FLÅMBANA

As we disembark from the train, we are directed to cross the platform to wait for the small train on a spur line that will ferry passengers down the valley to the fjord-side town of Flåm. Luggage is piled at the end of the platform, ready to be loaded into the baggage compartment.

The connection is usually seamless, with only a few minutes wait for the arrival of the Oslo train and the departure of the Flåmbana. There is a bit of a rush to get on and secure a coveted seat on the left side, believed to be slightly more scenic than the right. Important to note for photographers: Except for the windows at either end of the cars, none of the others can be opened.

With the shrill of the train whistle, the Flåmsbana train starts its vertiginous, hour-long descent from 2,800 feet to sea level. It is one of the steepest railway lines in the world, with five separate braking systems to ensure a safe descent over the 5 percent gradient.

Television monitors in each car provide a continuous narrative of the journey in several different languages.

The track follows the Flåmsdalen Valley, stretching 12 miles from Myrdal to Flåm. It passes through 20 tunnels, many of which have been hand-hewn out of the rock. You half expect to see a cudgel-brandishing mountain troll jump out of the darkness.

Instead, perhaps a Hygdda will appear near the Kjosfossen waterfall, where the train stops for five minutes to allow for photographs.

Rjoandefossen Waterfall in the Flåm Valley

Rjoandefossen Waterfall

According to legend, the Hygdda is a troll disguised as a beautiful woman who will try to entice men to join her. She mimics the sound of the wind and falling water, making humans lose track of time and see visions of treasure. In reality, the Hygdda is a dancer from the Norwegian ballet school, dressed as the seductive siren who cavorts on the hillside to an eerie tune blasted through loudspeakers on the platform.

The 305-foot high Kjosfossen waterfall is on the right side of the tracks and is one of the most visited places in Norway. The spray from the falls can be intense so if you are planning to disembark to photograph, take a rain cover for your camera (and yourself).

As the journey continues down the seemingly bottomless valley, a magnificent panorama unfolds outside the windows of the train. Waterfalls (including the almost 1,000-foot high Rjoandefossen) plunge down the steep mountainsides, while small farms cling tenaciously to the sides, amidst the lush vegetation.

As the train reaches the valley floor, it passes through the old village of Flåm (on the left) with its picturesque old wooden church, built in 1667, before arriving at the end of Aurlandsfjord and the Flåm train station.

FERRY TO GUDVANGEN

Pick up your luggage from the platform and cross over to the pier to continue the “Norway in a Nutshell” itinerary, boarding a ferry for the hour-long ride along the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord to the tiny village of Gudvangen.

Find a spot on deck to photograph the postcard-perfect scenery of the fjord and its shores. The Aurlandsfjord is one of the many arms of the Sognefjord, Norway’s best-known, largest and deepest fjord. It is more than 3,300 ft. deep in the center of the fjord. The cliffs surrounding it are almost sheer as they rise over 3,000 ft. into the azure sky.

The church in the old village of Flåm

Flåm Church

The Nærøyfjord (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is one of the world’s narrowest, with towering cliffs, waterfalls, idyllic wooden villages, and even wildlife. Seals often sun themselves on the rocks. Occasionally, porpoises frolic around the boat.

GUDVANGEN TO VOSS

In Gudvangen a bus is waiting to take “Norway in a Nutshell” passengers 25-miles to Voss where it connects with a train to Bergen or Oslo depending on where you want to end your trip.

The first stop is the Stalheim Hotel, dating to 1885, built on the remains of an inn that stood here since 1700 when it was a postal relay station.

Leaving the hotel, the bus corkscrews its way down the half-mile long Stalheimskleiva, one of Norway’s steepest roads. Thirteen sharp hairpin bends, flanked by two dramatic cascading waterfalls and a sweeping view of the Nærødalen valley below, produce gasps from the passengers.

At the bottom, the bus rejoins the highway to Voss, following a surging river that eventually leads to the Twindenfossen Waterfall leaping down the cliff. Unfortunately, the bus does not stop for photographs.

VOSS TO BERGEN

The bus drops you at the depot next to the Voss Train station where you catch your connection to Bergen (or Oslo). Some connections are immediate while others can take an hour or so.

Voss is a big center for outdoor adventure, but there is little to do otherwise. At the bottom of the hill overlooking the lake behind the railroad station is Fleisher’s, a refined 19th-century hotel. It is a wonderful place to have a drink or a meal if you have to wait a long time for your train.

On its way to Bergen, the train passes a few scenic lakes, following the Veafjord until it reaches Bergen’s huge glass domed railway station.

If you opt to do Norway in a Nutshell in one day, it will take between ten and twelve hours to complete the trip, but it provides you with a glimpse of Norway’s many natural attractions. Of course, there is always the option of staying in Flåm for a few days, but that is another story.

IF YOU GO

The 19th century Fleisher's Hotel, Voss

Fleischer’s Hotel, Voss

Our trip was designed by 50 Degrees North which specializes in Scandinavian travel. However, you can also reserve direct online at Fjord Tours.

For additional photographs see the recent additions folder at Allegria Photos.

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