I am on the balcony of my room at the Balestrand Hotell, trying to focus on what I’m typing but distracted by the view of the Sognefjord in front of me.
There’s a bit of evening chill as we’re in the shadow of the mountains behind us, but the sun is still shining brightly onto the hills and mountains and villages across the fjord. I’ve got a cup of tea, and I’m pretty sure this is as close to heaven as you can get and still be on earth.
Actually, I feel like I’ve spent the entire day getting closer and closer to heaven. It was still grey and gloomy in Oslo this morning, though not raining for the first time in two days. The train to Myrdal departed at 6:25. For the first couple of hours nothing changed; we went past some nice scenery, but nothing to prepare me for what was coming.
Gradually we started climbing in elevation, and at the same time blue skies began to appear above snow-capped mountain peaks. Before long we were at tree line, which at this latitude (about the same as Anchorage, Alaska) isn’t very high, ultimately climbing to 1222 meters (a little over 4000 feet).
Here are the places we stopped along the way. Feel free to check on a map.
- Haugastøl (where we had a ten-minute stop)
- Finse (the highest point on the journey; 15-minute stop)
- Myrdal (after a 10 km tunnel)
(Interesting side note: on all the public transport in Norway, announcements are made in both Norwegian and English.)
I took pictures at each stop, and I took multiple pictures at the stops where we were able to get off the train.
Myrdal is close to 900 meters in elevation, and here’s where we got off the train, a little before noon, and waited about a half hour for the train to Flåm. There is nothing in Myrdal, not even a town, just a train station and a couple of cute cabins. I took some pictures.
Flåm is on the fjord (so essentially at sea level). The Flåm Railway descends that amount over 20 kilometers, slowing or stopping several times at stunning viewpoints. At the biggest waterfall, there is a large viewing platform. Everyone got off the train to look at and take photos of the waterfall, and then music started (this folk-like melody with singing) as a woman in a red dress did a dance, then hid behind the rocks, then popped up again closer to the waterfall before ultimately waving good-bye and jumping in (all done with multiple performers, of course). It was cheesy and silly and perfect. As all the other gorgeous scenery passed by, everyone was getting up and going from one side of the train to the other to see it all (and it was a very full train, so it wasn’t easy to do, but I did take a lot of pictures).
By 13:15 we were in Flåm. The boat to Balestrand was scheduled for 15:30 departure, so that gave me plenty of time to get the experience of Flåm. I found a place to check my luggage, got a sandwich for lunch, and then went for a hike back to one of the waterfalls we saw on the train, but with a much better view than I could get in a crowded train. It was a two-hour hike all the way up to the waterfall and back, so I didn’t have quite enough time to go all the way, but I did get some great pictures, which I’ll post later. (Are you sensing a theme here? Pay attention, because it becomes relevant later.)
Flåm is located at a very pretty place at the tip of the Aurlandsfjord, a branch of the Sognefjord, which is the longest fjord in Norway and second longest in the world, but it has exactly one purpose: to connect people from the Flåm railroad to various forms of water transportation. There was one very large Holland America cruiseship docked there, plus a smaller cruise ship, plus various ferries, and, well, buses too because not everyone travels by train or boat. The town consists of the train station, several cafes and lots of souvenir shops, included one called “Mall of Norway,” and another called “Norwegian Outlet Store,” which had the exact same prices as at the mall. Some people stay in Flåm on their way to or from somewhere else, and there are some good hiking and biking trails. In fact, it’s possible to hike the entire route of the railway, or any portion of it, as it stops at several stations along the way.
But Flåm was a place out of which I was happy to get. Unfortunately, the express boat that goes from Flåm to Balestrand and then on to Bergen is essentially a big bus that goes at high speeds on the water. But after a while they announced that it is possible to ride outside, so I went to the front of the boat and was battered and buffeted by the wind as we sped through the fjord. Still, it was amazing, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere. Eventually, though, I moved to the back of the boat, which was much less windy. I (and everyone else) took tons of pictures and, for the first time on this trip, my camera battery died. But happily, I brought a spare camera battery with me! Hurray! More pictures!
The boat slowed as we passed the entrance to Nærøyfjord so we could take pictures. It also stopped by a truly impressive waterfall so we could take pictures there too. I actually have a lot of pictures from today (from the entire trip, actually). I will post them when I get home. It probably have 20 or 30 pictures of the entrance to Nærøyfjord and about the same of the impressive waterfall. Many duplicates. Lots of sifting to do when I get home.
We arrived in Balestrand just before 17:00. A nice couple I met on the front of the boat when we were all being battered by gale-force winds are also staying at the Balestrand Hotell, along with one other couple. The owner met us and loaded our luggage into his car, and we walked the short walk up to the hotel.
I went for a walk before dinner, and the owner of the car rental service brought the car over for me for tomorrow. I had a nice dinner of fish soup and salmon at one of the three or four restaurants in town (there were two other people eating there when I got there; then they left and it was just me). And now as the sun is just about to set and only a few faint rays are lighting up the tips of the mountains across the fjord, it is getting quite nippy out here on the balcony. (It’s 22:30. Sunset is officially at 22:38.) So I will sign off, but I hope you are drooling with anticipation for all the beautiful photos I’m going to post eventually.
I might take some more tomorrow.