Before we moved to Gothenburg, we had made a list of places we wanted to visit while in Sweden. Norway-specifically the fjords- was on top of that list. We made plans to visit while school had not started for Noor. I made all the bookings from the US before we left for the year. It felt quite disorienting to plan our vacations even before we had left. The trip to Norway was the second trip we took after we got to Gothenburg ( the first was to Copenhagen the weekend before). We took a train from Gothenburg to Oslo. There was free seating on the train so we grabbed a 4-seater section with a table- and not a moment too soon- because the train was packed- so much so that there were people standing in the aisles in the latter part of the journey. As the train started, I had Noor work on Math while I took pictures out the window. There was a Norwegian family with grown kids sitting across from us. They looked at me with amusement as I kept on clicking pictures. They were even more amused that Noor was doing homework! I must say that I have noticed that the Scandinavians are very spare in how they occupy space. In contrast, we had stuff spilling everywhere.
I had packed sandwiches and we ate those, along with coffee from the dispenser in the train, which while expensive was excellent. As mentioned earlier, as we progressed the train became even more packed with entire families standing in aisles. I felt like I was on a farm train. I half expected to see a goat saunter down the aisle. After a while, it got so bad that I pulled Noor into my lap and offered the seat to an "older gentleman" who as it turns out was likely younger than me.
We pulled into Oslo in the evening. It was raining cats and dogs. We took a taxi to our hotel which was the Thon Rosenplatz. Our room was quite large with really nice views of the city. They also had a complimentary light evening meal which we devoured. Noor wanted to feed her new found desire for a pair of "prescription" glasses- and so wanted to go out and find a glasses shop. I think Nayyar took her out for a bit , but it was raining so hard that they came back. I remember feeling a bit out of sorts in the hotel that night- what with the recent move, travel, and the knowledge that I did not know a single soul in the city.
The next morning, after an excellent breakfast at the hotel, we walked to the dock and took a ferry to the Fram museum. The day was lovely , sunny and sparkly. I had no real impression of Oslo except that it was a city by the water. The ferry took us straight to the museum which was on a small island. The museum was fascinating. It was about the ship's, Fram, expeditions to the South pole and the Arctic at the turn of the last century. I found the museum really interesting and informative. They had an interactive room where they had simulated subzero temperatures and wax figures apparently dying of frostbite. Noor was quite scared and talked about the frostbite figures endlessly afterwards.
After spending a couple of hours at the museum, we hopped back onto the ferry and went back to the hotel. We checked out and left for the train station with plenty of time to spare for our afternoon train to Bergen. We had lunch at the station, and then waited and waited and waited some more for the train. The train was delayed.
They kept on announcing the delays in 15 minute increments till it was delayed by 1.5 hours. The only announcement they made was "the train is being prepared". Finally, the train pulled in and we settled in for a 7-hour journey to Bergen. We had packed food for an army I think. The beginning part of the journey was quite boring, but as it got closer to Bergen i.e within 3-4 hours, the view became stunning. We had left Oslo in bright sunshine but now we were looking at snow and glaciers. At Finse, the highest station on the line we were at 1222m altitude, and I saw people wearing parkas and hats! Nayyar went into immediate depression upon seeing the snow.
We then descended into Bergen. The sun set late around 10pm. However, because of the delay in Oslo, we got into Bergen close to midnight in utter darkness. In retrospect, I would have skipped the long train journey and flown to Bergen. The 7-hours on the train seemed a real waste, and the views which become stunning in the last 3 or so hours were lost in the darkness. At the station, there was a mad dash for taxis- which were scarce because of the late hour. We finally managed to get one and arrived at the hotel. We had booked the hotel late, so ended up getting one of the few remaining available rooms at the Bergen Bors hotel. The location of the hotel was excellent, but the room was so dark that I had to write a review on Tripadvisor.
The next day, we had booked the Norway in a Nutshell tour. We had booked an atypical version where we did a round trip from Bergen. We had the morning to ourselves, and we walked around the waterfront. It was rainy, very pretty, and so so touristy. The town is quite small and the waterfront is quaint so it was jarring to see all those tour buses roll in. Anyway we walked around Bryggen, admired the old wooden houses/shops, and then took off for the train station again for the first leg of our tour.
Now the tour is not a guided tour but just a bunch of tickets that one can buy in a bundle. There are various legs to the journey and instead of buying individual tickets for each leg-which one can-the nutshell sells them in a bundle. We boarded the train in Bergen for Voss, which was about a 2-hour journey. The views were stunning. We had missed these the night before. There were lakes, mountains, glaciers.....the whole deal. Noor was not impressed though as evidenced below.
We pulled into Voss and made a mad dash for the bus which would take us to Gudvangen. There was confusion about where the bus was. We finally found it and boarded. There was a last minute issue as there were more passengers than seats on the bus. An Italian group refused to get off till everyone had been accommodated. I thought people were going to start sitting in each other's laps. Finally a second bus pulled up, the passengers redistributed, and we took off. The bus took hair bending turns down the valley- and boy was the scenery spectacular!
We went down to the valley and boarded our cruise ship. The cruise ship was modern and well outfitted- with dirty and stinky bathrooms. There were multiple decks and walkways where one could hang out. Everyone jostled for the best views inside the lounge till realization hit that there were better views outside. The trip started and basically our jaws dropped. Even the most jaded jaws! The cruise was down the magnificent Aurlandsfjord and on the narrow Nærøyfjord. Words -at least mine-cannot do justice to the scenery.
We floated down on our way to Flam, which is a transportation hub- albeit in a very picturesque location. There were little hamlets along the way - the prototypical red huts that one sees in images of Scandinavia. It was quite windy for part of the trip-so much so that someone's little backpack flew off board. Noor again remained unimpressed. In Flam, there was a playground in the most amazing setting- tall mountains, water, moody clouds. Noor played there for a bit while we ate pizza. She latched onto these cute kids from the UAE, and kept on telling them that she spoke Arabic. Then we headed for the famed Flam railway. We asked the ticket checker which was the better side to sit on- we were told theright side- and I think we were amongst the last to get right sided seats. Everyone else seemed to be in on the secret beforehand. However, there were no bad views. The Flam railway is one of the steepest standard-gauge railways in the world—almost 80% of the journey has a gradient of over 5%—with views over the Sognefjord. The train ride was approximately an hour long and was supposed to drop us off in Myrdal, from where we would catch the connection back to Bergen. I must say that after the fjords, though very pretty, the views were not as spectacular in comparison. The train stopped for a bit at the thundering Kjosfossen waterfall. Everyone got off to take photos. Then a woman in red -dressed as a fairy-appeared at the top of the waterfall and pranced around for a bit with loud background music. I found it quite hokey- but tried to get Noor all excited about it- but to no avail. I think she was on to it that this was just a show.
By the time we pulled into Myrdal, it was twilight. Our train which was coming from Oslo was late-again! We all piled into the waiting room, where there was no water, functioning vending machines, or coffee. At least the bathrooms were functioning. The biggest urgency amongst the passengers was finding charging stations. There were none except a couple high up on the walls- 9 feet above ground level. People took turns standing on each others shoulders to charge their phones. There was a kind Bangladeshi family who lent us their mobile charger so I was able to get some power on my phone. In the meanwhile, the station masters were running around in a panic wondering what to do with all the passengers. There was a train standing at the station, and they finally asked us to pile into it so we could go to Voss and wait there, since there were more facilities in Voss. The rest of the journey was kind of a blur. We were pretty much trained-out by then. We got onto the Bergen bound train- promptly cursed the non-functioning on-board charging station, and arrived in Bergen late at night and promptly went to bed.
The next day was lovely; shiny and sparkly with a few sprinkles scattered through the day. After breakfast, we strolled around Bryggen, popped into Ting where Noor bought the cutest tape measure. Afterwards, we ate at Bryggeloftet & Stuene along the waterfront. This was recommended by the hotel and had pretty decent food. Afterwards, we took the Fløibanen Funicular up Fløyen Mountain for panoramic views and hiking trails. The top of the mountain gives one an appreciation of the size of Bergen, which is the second largest city in Norway. There is a playground at the top, where Noor spent an inordinate amount of time playing with other kids. We hiked down the trails, and it really was magical, with sun dappled trees, streams, moss covered rocks...the works. The walk was just perfect.
Once down in the city, we made our way to a cafe-recommended by our hotel- for dinner. I cannot remember the name. The place was packed , but the food was mediocre at best. We ate quickly and left to take another stroll around town.
The next morning we flew to Stockholm and then home to Gothenburg. In retrospect, I am glad that we made the trip when we did, even though I had pushed back a bit when Nayyar had recommended that we visit the Fjords straight off the bat. Norway was spectacular, and this trip was just a teaser. We hope to be back before the year is out.