I recently took a weekend trip to Bergen, the “gateway to the fjords.” Here is part one, The Tour.
Before traveling to Norway, I had always thought it was a cold and rainy place, without much sun, but with plenty of dramatic landscape beauty and fit, blonde folks. Turns out my preconceptions weren’t totally wrong, though my trip definitely brought me a few surprises.
Bergen, the “gateway to the fjords” is a small town with brightly colored square buildings topped by tile or slate roofs.
There’s a jovial pride in fishing and seafood and many sweet shops featuring the good designs you might suspect from a Nordic country. Bergen is quite close to the sea (yet lacks the typical aromas) and hosts a bustling sea port with everything from mini motor yachts to enormous cruise ships tying up along one of the many docks at the center of town.
We were eager to walk around the small town, but our first night in Bergen was almost entirely spoiled by heavy rain that made exploring by foot a soggy proposal at best.
So after a quick turn around a few blocks, we settled on dinner at the place next door to our hostel. It offered local and organic produce as well as vegetarian fare. I had a tasty veggie burger and a pint of the local brew.
Saturday we headed over to the train station to begin our “Norway in a Nutshell” tour. My flatmate’s colleagues had recommended the tour as an easy way to see some good scenery and with only three days in Norway, a “nutshell” approach seemed like the best option.
The train wound its way from Bergen towards Voss through tunnels and along steep mountainsides overlooking the calm, flat fjord. But it was still raining! Worse still, the windows began to fog up.
The windows did eventually clear, so I thought I may as well snap a couple of shots whilst on the train, but was frustrated to find most of the scenery was on the other side of the tracks.
It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that a tour would be full of tour-ists, but I hadn’t realized we’d be spending our day with grannies, photographers with foot long lenses, and virtually every other type of tourist stereotype. It actually became quite a hilarious impediment to enjoying the landscape.
In Voss, we got off the train and loaded on to several buses to traverse down the steep mountainsides (13 hairpin turns, the brochure brags) down to the water at Gudvangen. We passed several beautiful waterfalls (no big deal, there is a beautiful waterfall approximately every quarter mile) and lots more grand scenery. Of particular note was the Tvinnefossen waterfall. Its waters tumble about 150 meters.
At Gudvangen, we spent a few minutes in the tourist shop and discovered Norwegians seem to be very proud of the trolls in their midst. These hairy, long-nosed friends seemed to be offered at every store in Norway.
The rain continued on and off for the rest of the afternoon. Our ferry ride on the fjord from Gudvangen to Flam started out with a heavy sprinkle that threatened to keep all the tourists hellishly inside the boat, but miraculously, it cleared shortly after we left. Traveling through the fjord felt like walking through clouds, though. They were gently hung from every slope and sat silently in the air all around us.
The fjords did provide spectacular scenery. The tall mountains on either side stretched up hundreds of meters and were covered in well-nourished, super green trees and bushes. The water of the fjords, being so well protected from wind by its tall companions, is incredibly flat and calm, so it often perfectly mirrors whatever is above it.
Riding the trains, buses, and boats through all this made it feel like we were in one long, tracking shot from a movie.
As our journey progressed, I found myself regretting coming on a tour. Each mountain we glided by, each village the boat chugged past, every waterfall that splashed by us was a missed opportunity to explore with feet and lungs and eyes up close on moss and cracks in rocks. I really wanted to get off the boat and go for a hike, but alas, that’s not what I signed up for.
I tried to put myself squarely in my present moment instead of longing for what could have been and found myself looking at my fellow travelers in a different way.
I was sure when this mini-rainbow appeared the boat would fall over since everyone rushed to the port side to catch a snap.
In Flam, we got to walk right down by the water. This was really great. The water is clear and cold and oh-so-still. The water hardly even laps at the shore. It was serenely peaveful.
There is a kayak place about a quarter mile’s walk away from the train depot that offers trips. That’s on the to-do list for the return trip.
In Flam, I also got to sample some more local culture – hazelnut and raisin chocolate called Fruktnott and more trolls! We also saw lots of locals who had biked down and would take the train back. I can certainly see why it would be a popular thing to do!
Flam also hosts the Aegir brewery. We didn’t go inside, but we sampled their IPA the night before at a bar called No Stress. It was great, so visiting the brewery is definitely on the to-do list as well.
The train out of flam to Myrdal is an old, stylish railway (art-deco-ish) completed in 1944. It has one of the steepest gradients of any normal gauge railways in Northern Europe (1 meter up for every 18 meters over), though you don’t really notice it when you are riding the train, except that suddenly you are in the clouds.
The train made a memorable stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall where there’s a platform right next to the cascading water and we were encouraged to get out. You are so close you can feel the spray of the falls.
The train dropped us off in Myrdal where we waited for the next train for the two hour journey back to Bergen. We waited with all the other tourists. I really loved this guy’s style.
So overall, a nice introduction to the scenery of Norway. Though if I had to do it again, I would try to:
– go camping at Tvinde Camping
– Bike down to Flam
– Aegir Brewery
– Kayak and camping trip from Flam
Stay tuned for the next post on Bergen!