We decided to take the long, scenic route from Bergen to Oslo Norway. The first leg of our journey was a morning cruise up the Sognefjord. Norway’s longest (more than 200 km) and deepest (1,300 meters) fjord, which extends from the North Sea to the Jotunheimen mountains, provided all we expected from a great fjord cruise—steep cliffs climbing up to 2,000 meters from the surface, forests, picturesque towns, farms, tall mountains in the background, glaciers, great views around every bend and of course, waterfalls. And did we mention waterfalls?
Best of all, our cruise ended at the town of Flam and one of the end points of the famous Flam Railway—which is deservedly ranked as one of the world’s most scenic train rides.
The ferry cruise, as shown in the following map, began in the coastal archipelago, where we passed numerous islands, pretty towns, vacation homes perched on rock outcroppings and passed under bridges of all designs.
After an hour and a half, we entered the fjord for a four-hour odyssey. The mountains got higher and more rugged, the islands smaller but more rugged, the towns smaller and less frequent, small farms began to dot the landscape and the waterfalls became steeper and more powerful.
About halfway into the fjord we came to a succession of ever more spectacular sights. There was, for example, the entry to the town of Vik, where we were greeted by a pair of several hundred foot waterfalls and a town framed by two snow-capped mountains. Then the even more magnificent entry to Balestrand, with its grand harbor front hotel and glass observatory-capped restaurant from which to view the two glaciers that overhung the town. And then, before reaching Flam, the showstopper that merited a viewing stop by the passenger ferry—a powerful waterfall that probably plummeted about 1,000 feet before splitting into three legs. And, miracle of miracles; we spend our last day on the coast and in the fjords with no rain!
The town of Flam, located in the heart of the Aurlandsfjord, is a small (about 400 person) farming turned tourist community that now serves as a cruise ship and ferry boat stop and the terminal for connecting this section of fjordland to Oslo and the rest of the world. It exists primarily for tourists who are either boarding or leaving the 20 km Fram railway. Its primary features are a ticket office, a microbrewery, a few cafes and a railway platform that is crowded with people seeking to get the best seats on no-assigned seat train. We had time for a quick bite at the largest of the cafes—a decent open-faced shrimp sandwich, a dreadful venison burger and a disappointing Amber Ale from the town’s Aegir Brewery.
We, however, were there for the railway—not the food. And the railway didn’t disappoint. Although only 20 km long, it is one of the most famous and most scenic rail trips in the world. It, however, packs a lot of magnificent mountain, sheer cliff, forest, river gorge and waterfall scenery into such as short trip. The huge, powerful 225-meter Kjosfossen waterfall is the highlight of the trip. Such a highlight that the train has a scheduled stop at which all passengers pile onto a platform for views and obligatory photos.
Aside from being a scenic attraction, the railway is was also something of an engineering marvel when it was built in the 1930s. Over these 20 km, it spirals up (from Flam) 2,831 feet, winding around mountains and gorges and through more than a dozen hand-built tunnels. The train ends in Myrval, which is even smaller and has less to do than Flam.
It was in Myrdal that we boarded a Bergen Railway train to Oslo. The initial stretch, at least for the few glimpses we were able to steal during our brief peeks outside the tunnels in which we continually rode, were of tundra—mountain lakes scoured out of scree, with naked mountains in the background—topped with snow and a few glacier tongues. As we descended, the barren landscape was marked by occasional thin patches of grass and a few homes—more and more as we descended until we reached verdant valleys and forested mountains and more and more buildings, more towns and many, many lakes. Lakes everywhere.
It was a long trip—a 4.5 hour train ride after a 5.5 hour cruise and a total of almost 4 hours between legs. And after our disappointing lunch, we were glad to have brought our own dinner onto the train. Cold-smoked salmon, reindeer sausage (our favorite of the moose, whale and pork sausages we tasted), brown cheese, Norwegian crackers and a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir. A nice preparation for the Michelin-quality restaurants we anticipate in Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen.
And the best part? We arrives in Oslo and it wasn’t raining. Did we mention that we had rain in Bergen every day????