Norway: Oslo and the Bergen Railway – June 2018

After a wonderful cycling tour along the Elbe from Dresden to Magdeburg, and visiting Berlin, the four of us (Liza, Robert, and Tom and Diane) flew from Berlin-Schoenefeld to Oslo for a week in Norway. We spent a whirlwind day and a half in Oslo before embarking on one of the great railroad journeys of the world, the Bergen Railway. This is the second of three posts.

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The Scream, Edvard Munch

We arrived in the early afternoon, and took the speedy Flytoget train from the airport to our Thon Vika Atrium hotel near the Aker Brygge neighborhood. From there, armed with my trusty Rick Steves’ Snapshot Norway (as an e-book, no less), we set out to see what we could see in such a limited time. As it turns out, you can jam quite a lot of Oslo into a day and a half. We went to the National Gallery, to get our fix of Edvard Munch and other Norwegian artists. We strolled the Aker Brygge neighborhood, full of people gleefully enjoying the unseasonably warm sunny weather. Rick Steves’ “Welcome to Oslo” walk covered the heart of Oslo, around the central train station, city hall, opera house, and the harbor.

A ferry took us from the harbor near the city hall to the Bygdøy peninsula, where we visited the Fram (Nansen’s and Amundsen’s arctic/antarctic ship) and the Kon-Tiki (Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 balsa raft). (No time for the Viking Ship Museum – next time!) Public transportation got us out to Vigeland Park, chock-full of statuary by Norway’s greatest sculptor, Gustav Vigeland.

The focus of going to Norway, though, was the Bergen Railway, one of the great railroad journeys of the world. We booked two separate “nutshell” tours: Hardangerfjord in a Nutshell, which was the main journey from Oslo to Bergen, with stopovers in Voss and Ulvik; and Norway in a Nutshell, a day-trip out of Voss (up on the Hardangervidda plateau) down to Flåm, at the end of the Aurlandsfjord.

The scenery en route was nothing short of spectacular, especially with the sunny skies. The Flåm day-trip included the Flåmsbana, a scenic railway that connects Myrdal (on the Bergen line) with Flåm, dropping ~2800 ft in 12.6 miles. From Flåm, we had a two hour cruise along the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord to Gudvangen, where we took a bus back to Voss.

From Voss we went onto Ulvik for a couple of nights. Not a great deal to do there, but the hotel did have bike rentals, and we had an incredibly scenic ride along the Ulvikfjord and Osafjord. Ulvik is also known for its fruit and cider; Diane and I took a walk up the “cider route” and stopped in at one farm, buying cider and apple juice.

Ulvik to Bergen was the “busiest” part of the Hardangerfjord tour, as we took a boat to Eidfjord, a round-trip bus to Vøringsfossen that also included a stop at the very nice Hardangervidda Nature Center, a boat from Eidfjord to Norheimsund, then a bus from Norheimsund to Bergen. That was the only day we felt like part of a tour, actually, moving around with a group and keeping an eye on the clock.

Our time in Norway concluded with three nights in Bergen. Liza liked Bergen better than Oslo, but both have their charms. Bergen has the harbor, Bryggen (the old wharf), the Hanseatic Museum, the Bergenhus fortress, and the Fløibanen funicular, to name just a few places. (The Rick Steves’ Snapshot Norway again was quite handy.) We enjoyed a tram ride out to the Fantoft Stave Church (stave churches are medieval wooden Christian church buildings once common in north-western Europe), as we hadn’t managed to visit a stave church elsewhere to that point. And a real highlight was a tour and a lunchtime concert at Edvard Grieg’s home, Troldhaugen. Liza was also endlessly amused to find out during the tour that Grieg’s family background is part Scottish, the name originally being MacGregor, then Gregg, and finally Grieg.

Closing out Norway, we’ll just say here briefly how wonderful the “nutshell” tours are, offered through Fjord Tours. While normally Liza would like to book everything on her own, these folks made it very easy to link all the transportation (train, bus, boat) and make the hotel reservations at each stop. Great service.

From Bergen it was on to Iceland! A subject for our next post.

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