A Travellerspoint blog

Reflections on the Oslo to Bergen train

Guest blog by Susan

all seasons in one day 15 °C
View Around the Baltic Sea on maxari's travel map.

After an airplane journey of 12 hours and an overnight stay in the Radisson Blu hotel, I awoke un-jetlagged and ready for the next leg of the journey. Katie and I arrived at the main train station in Oslo and located the train from Oslo to Bergen on track 3, after procuring some shrimp and salmon sandwiches for lunch along the way. This 7 hour train trip is often billed as Europe's most beautiful train journey, and the weather was clear and sunny in Oslo, so our expectation levels were pretty high. We found our reserved seats in car 6 which was well towards the back of the train. Fortunately our seats were facing forward, so Katie was able to enjoy the ride without a hint of motion sickness.
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We started our journey after leaving Oslo by winding our way up to a high plateau above the tree line. Along the way were a few small train stations through this sparsely populated area.
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The next stage of the journey took us up into the mountains, where we glimpsed snow-covered peaks, rivers, and waterfalls.
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I was fascinated by the glacial moraines, and managed to capture an image of one.
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We reached the high point of the journey near Geilo with an elevation of 1222 meters above sea level (4000 feet for the Americans). When we reached the town at 4:30 PM, the temperature was 3 degrees Celsius, and to our delight, it was snowing up there.
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The mountainous region of the journey of the trip also brought numerous tunnels; I counted at least 36! After an hour or so in the snow-covered mountains, we began our descent towards Bergen and the sea. When we reached the town of Voss, the elevation was 51 meters above sea level (about 150 feet), and at 5:13 pm, it was 18 degrees Centigrade. As we continued down to the sea, we came to the town of Arna at 6:45 PM, which was only 8 meters above sea level with a temperature of 9 degrees Celsius.
We also noticed that almost all of the houses were either red, white, or yellow, as is traditional in Norway, and were all in good repair.
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While the landscape including mountains, waterfalls and beautiful lakes was very pretty, we felt this was diminished by the inclusion of so many tunnels along the route. We found some local rides in the Swiss Alps to be equally if not more scenic and enjoyable.
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After arriving at Bergen train station, we took a taxi to our hotel and settled in for the night with a pair of takeout club sandwiches from the hotel restaurant. The next morning continued the streak of amazing breakfast buffets which began in Oslo. I have enjoyed some sort of seafood, usually salmon, with every breakfast since then. After borrowing a scooter (Bruce Jr.) from the hotel, we headed out into the surprisingly sunny Bergen weather to do some exploring. Luckily, the sidewalks in the city were either macadam or very smooth paving stones, so Bruce Jr. had no trouble navigating around.
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During our exploration we discovered Bergen's classy McDonald's location.
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Our first stop was the very crowded tourist office, where we did some research about potential attractions to visit in Bergen. Next, we headed over to the fish market, expecting it to offer fish right off the boat. Instead, we found a tourist attraction with kiosks selling expensive reindeer jerky and jars of jelly and jam.
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So, we didn't linger too long, and headed off to Bryggen to have a look at the old houses. Bryggen is part of the original city of Bergen and the oldest section remaining.
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Today the houses host mostly shops, and they were all impeccably maintained. One of the houses had a name that struck me as particularly Norwegian: Knut Skurtveit.
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After checking out the old houses, we headed to the cathedral, which was small but pretty. It was not as ornately decorated as other cathedrals in Europe. What was ornate in the church was the large pipe organ which was the 5th one to occupy that position in that specific church.
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Soon after we left the cathedral, the rain showers started and the temperature dropped, so we headed back to the hotel for cover.
Katie went out foraging and came back with some fish wraps for us to share for lunch. The salmon one was especially good, and the other plain white-fish wrap was made of haddock and cod.

The sun came back out, so we went and toured a bit more around town. We saw a church up a hill, and managed to maneuver Bruce Jr. on a circuitous path that avoided any steep slopes to reach the church. Sadly, we found the church doors were all locked, but we read the signposts and found that the church was founded in 1704.
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After that, we headed back down the hill to a large lake and garden area that we could see from the top of the hill. We enjoyed walked around and seeing the few last roses that were left, as well as marigolds going to seed and petunias.
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There were also several swans swimming in the lake, and a good view of the houses in the mountains surrounding Bergen. It was interesting to me to see how the houses were lined up in rows on the hills, as opposed to being randomly placed.
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The weather was now pleasant enough that we stopped at an outdoor table at a cafe and had our afternoon drink and did some people watching. However the rain soon returned, so we headed back to the hotel. We grabbed the luggage and headed to the ferry terminal. I stayed at the terminal while Katie returned Bruce Jr. to the hotel. Shortly after that, Max and the dogs joined us at the terminal and we all boarded the MS Richard With for our voyage to Bodo.

Posted by maxari 05:11 Archived in Norway Comments (1)

Across the Arctic circle and over the Fjell

rain 10 °C
View Around the Baltic Sea on maxari's travel map.

Coming off the boat in Bodo we had to stock up, so we went in search of the next supermarket. As we had not had internet access in a while we had not had the opportunity to pay off our credit card bill for a while, but we just hoped we still had some left on it. But at the supermarket checkout, our credit card was refused. Great. The cashier was being very nice about it and even showed Max the way to a cash machine and placed our groceries in a refrigerator for us. While Max was walking away to get cash, a Swiss bicyclist knocked at Bruce's door asking Katie if he could trade Swiss Francs for Norwegian Kroner as he had lost his bank card. So, we went back to the cash machine and bought his Francs. He explained that the banks in Norway would not buy his Francs, so he was really stuck. There was quite a difference in his way of travelling and ours. We're glad we could help him out.

We did not hang around Bodo for too long as we would be back by boat. This night we slept by the side of a small pretty lake in the hills near Rokland.
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Wednesday, 11th of September the road started climbing into the mountains and the high plateau landscapes called Fjell. We went along a wild river for a while.
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There were the remains of a 1940s era car by the river quite far down from the road. What was the story there?

Eventually we reached the highest point of the plateau at 680m and soon after the Arctic Circle Centre. We could not resist the lure of the obvious tourist trap and went on a small shopping spree. Soon afterwards, we left the Arctic behind. We would soon come back, however.
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A long and winding road went down at the other side of the Fjell. We left the main road and headed towards the coast again. There were several tunnels (one was 24km (15 miles) long!) and then a big suspension bridge. It was fairly windy and we crossed the bridge carefully. Bruce did not seem to feel the wind, though and we made it to the other side. We stayed in a mostly empty camp site by the fjord near Sandnessjoen with a view of the mountain range called 'the Seven Sisters'. Legend has it that one of the Norse demigods called Rider had his eye on the king's daughter and when she refused him chased her and her seven sisters across the land. The sisters eventually fell down exhausted. But the princess kept running. In anger Rider took one of his arrows and shot it after the fleeing princess. At that moment the king stepped in and threw his hat in the way of the arrow saving his daughter. Where his hat fell is now a mountain called Torghatten which features a 30m wide hole. Once a year the sun can be seen through it.
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The next morning it was rainy and stormy and the Sisters hid behind the clouds. We decided to head back to the main road and make our way south. We had an appointment to keep!

We did a driving day to make some distance. All along we noticed how the landscape became greener and the hills more gentle. We had not seen fields in quite a while!
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That night we stopped at a parking lot at the start of some hiking trails right by the beach. It was very clean there, probably because there were free public restrooms available.
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For our next stop we decided to drive up a very windy road into another Fjell and stayed at a camp site at 1000m altitude. It was windy and very cold. Hats and gloves and several layers of clothes cold. There may have been frost at night.
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The next day we drove through more Fjell country, stopping at a nice lake for lunch.
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At the foot of the Fjell it started raining and it did not stop. We saw a hundred or so waterfalls. Streams coming down the mountains. Some did not make it down as the wind blew the water back up. Several tunnels later we arrived at Undredal, a small village at Aurlandsfjord that could only be reached by boat until they dug the tunnels in 1988. Its claim to fame is Norway's smallest stave church which was closed. Hmm. We found our spot on the tiny camp site in the centre of town and settled down for the night. Outside it was still raining. At night we woke up several times hearing loud noises that sounded like some giant was throwing around boulders, but muffled like he did that under water. The stream next to the camp site was almost up to its banks (Max checked at night, trying to figure out if it was still safe to stay here). And the river was clearly transporting big boulders down stream and deposited them into the fjord. The noise was going all night. In the morning of Sunday, 15th of September the water had come down, but the river looked different. On the way out of town there were two landslides across the road, but not so bad that we couldn't get past. It was still raining. All the rivers and lakes we passed on our way to Bergen were well up to their banks and often over.
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We arrived at Lone Camping in Lone , a town just east of Bergen. The next morning Katie flew over to Oslo to pick up our special guest and Max did some house keeping to get Bruce into shipshape condition.

Interlude: Katie and special guest take the train from Oslo to Bergen
Next destination: MS Richard With, Bergen to Bodo

Posted by maxari 03:13 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Lofoten Islands

semi-overcast 6 °C
View Around the Baltic Sea on maxari's travel map.

Coming from Tromso we took the road south and inland to Laksvatn (not like in our travel map where it shows whatever biggest road is available) and stopped early on a tiny road at a nice campsite near Brostadbotn. We were the only ones there and the owner was somewhat surprised to have guests. It is clearly not tourist season anymore!

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The next morning, Wednesday, we took a couple bridges, tunnels and a ferry to get across to the first few islands of the Lofoten archipelago. It was raining a bit and we got to see some more water falls.
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After some windy roads, mountain passes and wind swept coastal stretches we found a little parking lot (swamp) to stay for the night right by the water of Gullesfjord. We were pretty sure nobody else would join us there for the night.
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Following the only road we soon started seeing mountains in the water and landscapes reminiscent of those in Switzerland.
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There is a Viking museum half way down the Lofoten which we visited next. The story goes that a local farmer had bought a new plow for his tractor that went a few centimeters deeper into the soil than his old one. As soon as he used the new plow, he unearthed the remains of a Viking long house, which was inhabited around 500 AD. Archaeologists dug up the whole area and a replica of the longhouse was built. This is the longest Viking house in all of Norway. The museum tells a dramatic story of love and war and there are lots of activities to take part in (only in the summer months), but it was mainly a tourist trap. We would have preferred to learn a bit more about the Vikings and their culture.
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It started raining again and we drove on for a bit to spend the night at Camping Brustranda (?) near Valberg which was situated on an island at the end of a fjord. There we decided to take a rest day and bide our time for better weather. Then we drove across the island to visit some beaches that had been described as having outstanding natural beauty in the guide book.
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There was a surf school in the water and Max was very tempted to join them, but the waves just didn't seem big enough to actually let him surf, so we headed on to the next beach. These beaches are all separated by mountains and the villages on them have only relatively recently been connected to the road network via tunnels blasted through the rock in the late '70s to early '90s. Before then people had to climb the mountain or use a boat. Seven year old children were expected to follow their older siblings to school in the snow across the mountain pass in the Arctic darkness!
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If you zoom into the last picture in the very centre an ermine (Hermelin) is hiding and looking at our dogs suspiciously.

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It was so beautiful here that we decided to stay another night. Of course, we had to leave eventually. Via small narrow and very windy roads. So much fun!

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We drove all the way to the end of the road at Å (pronounced Ohh), and the landscape remained incredibly beautiful. We visited a Fisheries museum explaining the history of fishing for cod and the cod liver oil and the industry revolving around the oil. Quite interesting, and they had a authentic bakery using 1800s techniques which had delicious cinnamon buns!

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We went back up the road a little bit to Moskenes where we would take the ferry to Bodo in the morning. From here we could see back along all of the Lofoten islands. And we were so lucky with the weather again. The ferry would save us about 700km on the road.

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On the ferry and arrival in Bodo.
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The Lofoten islands sure are a Norwegian jewel. The down side of this is that many, many tourists come here (including ourselves) and sometimes that shows. We do not even want to imagine what the islands are like in high season. We are just glad that we had luck with the weather and got to marvel at the stunning beauty of this very special landscape.

Next destination: Bergen in the south of Norway, where we will be boarding a Hurtigruten ship with a special guest

Posted by maxari 01:31 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Tromso - city of Polar expeditions

sunny 8 °C
View Around the Baltic Sea on maxari's travel map.

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Norway is a magical place!
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Boats and glaciers. Waiting for the ferry.
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Tromso bridge in the distance.

After a long drive along the scenic coast from Alta crossing several Fjords (by ferries and bridges) we finally arrived in Tromso on the Monday evening. We checked into a rapidly filling City Camping and got ready for the night. The forecast did not look good. This was just another day rain was forecast with falling temperatures. We got woken by sunshine (!) the next morning (and Rory, who has a habit of climbing into our bed when she thinks it is time to get up). Our plans were quickly scrapped over breakfast and new ones made. We would drive over to the cable car parking lot first, ride up to the viewpoint and have reindeer burgers for lunch. Then we would walk across the Tromso bridge and visit the town proper and the Polar Museum whenever the rain would arrive. The Arctic Cathedral we would visit on the way back to the parking lot. So much for Plan B and the rainy forecast.

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Can you spot Bruce?
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Something wrong with your eyes?

We are having so, so much luck with the weather on this trip. It is almost like we know someone in the weather service who owes us some favours. We could have sat up on that hill for hours just watching the landscape and the boats moving by slowly under the bridge. A cold wind was blowing, though. We headed into the station and got second breakfast with a hot drink to warm up again.

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Back in the parking lot we started walking towards the bridge across the fjord and got our first view of the cathedral. The weather was still good and we got to take some pictures of the oldest house in Tromso (1789).
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The Polar Museum was right next door. Whaling harpoons outside.
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The museum is very well done, although it would be nice to have more English descriptions. Some information was only available in Norwegian. There are two main topics in the museum, reflecting the history of Tromso: the exploration and the exploitation of the Arctic. On the one hand almost all of the great Arctic and Antarctic expeditions started in Tromso. On the other hand all of the whaling and sealing boats and the Polar bear hunters set sail here to the northern islands (Svalbard/Spitsbergen, Russian islands, etc). It was common for some hunters to stay the winter on an island and return after 6 months of bitter cold and darkness. The expeditions were really well described with two national heroes, Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, being examples par excellence. We got sucked into the museum and emerged hungry at 13.45, way past lunch time. Strolling through town we found a nice little Bistro. One of our goals was to try a reindeer burger. Unfortunately, they didn't have any, they were out of Elk burger, too. The reindeer sandwich and fish of the day were really good and made up for it.

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We crossed back over the bridge to visit the Arctic Cathedral.
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After that we drove along the coast for a bit and decided to stop early to relax a bit. Camping Solberg in Brostadbotn.
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Next destination: Lofoten Archipelago.

Posted by maxari 06:02 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Inland to Finland

sunny 10 °C
View Around the Baltic Sea on maxari's travel map.

Saturday, 31st of August we headed across the border into Finland to visit the Saami Museum www.siida.fi in Inari. It presents Saami history and culture both in exhibitions indoors and out of doors. The permanent exhibition in the main hall revolves around the year, month by month, explaining the Saami way of life of following the reindeer on their migrations. We thought it was very well done and we learned a lot about the only European indigenous people. One of the best museums we have seen so far on this trip. Outdoors pictures only.
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Max trying out his Saami lasso skills on a training reindeer. Let's just say he won't give up his day job just yet:
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Just when we left the museum Katie heard some clip-clop noises on the road:
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A stag and doe being slightly worried about our dogs (they were leashed and we turned around). Both male and female reindeer grow antlers. Males shed theirs after the rut. Females, especially pregnant ones, keep theirs longer so that they can secure the best feeding spots for themselves. We learned quite a few interesting details about reindeer. A very adaptive animal to a harsh constantly changing environment.

We went north western towards Karasjok (Norway) to visit the museum there, too. Travel distances are long in Scandinavia, so we stopped for the night at a little campsite near Kaamaasmukka before crossing back into Norway. It was said that there might be a chance of seeing the Northern Lights that night. We set an alarm for midnight, but couldn't see anything despite there being almost no clouds in the sky. Another alarm at two in the morning showed that the clouds had moved in. A night of little sleeps and definitely no Aurora.

Arriving in Karasjok in Norway on a Sunday meant that the knife manufacturer Max wanted to visit was closed. The Saami museum there only opens at noon outside the season (this is September 1st) and we still had a long way to Tromso. The decision was made to better just head on and make some way. On the way almost out of town we drove by a gigantic teepee - the Norwegian Saami parliament. Not open today. Oh, well.

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We were on the way to Alta where we would join the coast again. In the museum in Inari Max had spotted a potential path on a map that would get us to the biggest canyon in Europe. We wanted to press on, though. Three months on the road and so little time to do and see it all! Then, after a bend in the curve Max spotted the sign to said path and just had to try it out. It was a bumpy snow mobile track about 20km long. At the end of the road there were other cars parked on a big slab of rock. We started our hike from there leaving our eldest (Athena) in the car by the heater.

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The hike was about 5 hours there and back. Rory did really well, crossing streams via planks she was clearly afraid of using. Running twice the distance exploring and sniffing things. When she got a bit tired she was allowed to have a few bites of Max's granola bar. Other times we had to have a stick chewing break. She was a really good girl on this hike.

We fed the dogs in the parking lot, then drove along the track that soon turned into a paved road. We were hungry after the hike and there was a convenient lodge that served tasty dinner (Gargia Lodge, Alta). While we were waiting for our food Katie found a not too serious book about Norwegians. We laughed and learned a few things. Later we found a quiet path into the woods not far from Alta where we stayed for the night.

Next destination: Tromso

Posted by maxari 04:50 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

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