Journey of A Lifetime – Doing the Norway in A Nutshell reversed (1 August 2018)

It’s Day 5 of my amazing trip in Europe and I attempted DIY reverse of “Norway in a nutshell” (NIN) from Bergen to Oslo. I took the train from Bergen to Voss, then on to the bus to Gudvangen, onboard the ferry to Flåm and finally took the scenic train journey from Flåm to Oslo via Mrydal. Sound very complicated right?

To be honest it wasn’t too difficult since with internet I was able to access the trains, bus and ferry schedules. Then it’s just a matter of planning. One can purchase the NIN tour from the tourist office/agents but I prefer to make my own arrangement which gave me the flexibility to custom made my own itinerary. For this leg of the journey I purchased the train ticket from Flåm to Oslo 60 days in advance to enjoy the minipris rates, which was a great savings. I bought the ferry ticket online and the train ticket from Bergen to Voss a day before the journey. I’m glad I did this the previous evening because the queue was super long the morning I departed from Bergen. As for the bus ticket, I bought direct from the bus driver.

I woke up at 5.30 a.m, had breakfast and packed along some sandwiches for the trip. By 7 a.m. I had checked out from the hostel and dragged my luggage to the train station. The objective was to catch the 7.58 a.m train to Voss. The queue was very long, many were on group tour and only a few were independent traveler like me. But most of them were holding NIN tour tickets bought via an agent. When the train arrived, it became chaotic as everybody rushed to get onto the train, it was free seating. I managed to squeezed into the 3rd coach and sat with a group of travelers from USA. They were doing NIN on a day trip returning to Bergen that evening. The train journey from Bergen to Voss took slightly more than an hour, passing through beautiful lakes, waterfalls and small villages.

When we arrived at Voss station everyone rushed to the busses 200 meters away waiting to take us to Gudvangen. With 2 heavy luggage, I was among the last to arrived but managed to get a seat and the only one who paid the fare on board since others had the all inclusive tour paid. We passed a few spectacular waterfall and the final descent towards Gudvangen small port was just breathtaking beautiful.

One of the main highlights of NIN is the 2 hour journey on ferry from Gudvangen to Flåm. The narrow and spectacular Nærøyfjord is surrounded by steep mountains that stretch up to 1800 meters above sea level. Water falls cascade down the mountains and picturesque villages dot the landscape. This is an area that is featured on the UNESCO world heritage list and is considered one of the world’s most beautiful fjord landscapes. It reminds me of Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Jungfraujoch train ride in Switzerland, though in a different form but there were mountains, steep rocky cliff, waterfalls, isolated farms and small villages.

Upon arrival in Flåm, I head straight to the train station and leave my bags at the left luggage. Then I took the bus to Stegastein Viewpoint for a panoramic view of Aurlandsfjord. For 30 minutes ride each way, I found the bus fare phenomenally expensive at NOK300, about RM160 return. However, it is an unmissable sightseeing trip for any visitor to Flåm. The Stegastein viewpoint structure was in itself an extraordinary and spectacular engineering feat. It juts 30 metres (about 100 ft long) out from the mountainside as the land drops away steeply beneath. The end is glass, so you can literally look about 2000 ft straight down. It offers an unparalleled panorama of the fjord, mountains and surrounding landscape, a sight that for a while took my breath away.

I returned on the 5 pm bus and have about an hour to explore Flåm before taking the 18:45 p.m. train to Mrydal where I have to wait 5 1/2 hrs for the connecting train to Oslo. You may ask why choose such connection? Flam – Oslo train journey cost up to NOK1,141 and there were only 2 cheaper options which was the 17:30 p.m. or 18:45 p.m. train from Flåm which cost 42% cheaper at NOK659. The later connection allows me to catch some sleep on the train, thus save me another NOK400 on hostel bed.

The train journey from Flåm – Mrydal is another highlight of NIN. The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest standard-gauge railway lines in the world, with 80% of the journey at a gradient of 5.5%. The train runs through spectacular scenery, alongside the Rallar Road, vertiginous mountainsides, foaming waterfalls, through 20 tunnels and offers so many viewpoints. National Geographic Traveler Magazine calls the Flåm Railway one of the top 10 train journeys in Europe while in 2014 Lonely Planet Traveller went even further, and named it the best train journeys in the world.

When I arrived at Myrdal train station, it started to drizzle and temperature drop. The only cafe at the station was closed. I paid NOK20 for a hot coffee from the vending machine. It’s gonna be a long night. I found a warm cosy corner to sit, and by 8.30 p.m. there were only 5 people left waiting for the 01:06 train to Oslo.

The train to Oslo had arrived bang on time but someone was sleeping on my reserved window seat. Not wanting to make a deal out of it, I sat at another available seat. It’s been a long day and all I want was to catch some sleep.

Journey of A Lifetime: 3 days in Bergen (29 – 31 July 2018)

After a good rest the previous night, I looked forward to start exploring Bergen. Nothing too strenuous as the aim was to adjust to the different time zone and eliminate any effect of jet lag.

The hostel I’m staying has a kitchen, so guests staying here may cook their meal. A compulsory facilities for a budget traveler like me especially in a country like Norway where eating out is SO expensive. After a simple breakfast of coffee and oatmeal, a short self guided walking tour of Bryggen, a UNESCO heritage attraction, was on the card. I grabbed a city map from the hostel reception and after breakfast I headed straight to the harbour, which is only a short 10 minutes walk from the hostel.

My first stop is the Fish Market. Set near the harbor, it’s a lively place where one can find not only fish but also fruits, vegetables and flowers for sale. It’s also a culinary treat where locals and tourists alike come here to grab a bite to eat. The atmosphere is a bit like the agro/night market back home in Malaysia. Walking around the market, I past countless stalls selling giant lobsters like the one seen in the Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel, salmons, caviars and every other imaginable netizen of the North Sea waters.

In one of the stalls, I saw a sign “Hvalkjøtt” with chunks of dark smoked meat beneath it. I asked the woman behind the counter what is it? She told me it’s smoked whale meat, and when I asked what it tasted like she told me very much like beef. She then cut a tiny sliver off and handed it to me. It did taste much like salty beef with fishy taste. The whale meat will set you back NOK590, about RM300 for 1 kg.

Then I came to a stall selling boiled shrimp. Very pricey but again the lady behind the counter offered me to taste the shrimp. I can taste the sweetness of the fresh shrimp and it was really yummy! 😋.

From the Fish Market I walked along the wharf. Next stop was Hanseatic Museum. The building was built in the 14th century by German merchants as their trading office. There’s an entry charge of NOK 150, about RM80 (1 NOK = RM0.55). I just had to pass on this one.

Bryggen showcases a lovely row of traditional wooden shops facing the harbour. Reminds me of Amsterdam and my hometown Malacca except that the buildings here are very colourful. Today the shops mainly sell souvenirs aiming at the megacruise tourist market. I’m afraid window shopping is the recipe of today. Everything seemed VERY expensive.

At the end of the wharf stood Rosenkranz Tower and Haakon’s Hall. The tower was the residence of King Eirik Magnusson, who was the last king to hold court in Bergen, until he died in 1299. It has been converted into a city museum. Entry charge is NOK 80, about RM45. Something more palatable for my pocket for a bit of history but unfortunately it’s partly closed for major maintenance.

As I continued wandering behind Bryggen, I passed Mariakirken, said to be the oldest church in Bergen, dated back in 1180. Then I must have taken the wrong turn. For a moment I was lost trying to get back to the wharf and came across a residential neighbourhood, Kroken Street, a charming, cobbled pedestrian lane lined with wooden houses. There was a lovely small park with large old trees and benches. I continued exploring the neighbourhood and came across some street arts, art galleries and nice little cafes. Overall it’s a delightful walk which had to end abruptly when the rain started pouring.

On the way back to the hostel, I dropped by at a small groceries shop and to my delight they sell “halal” meat. I bought mince meat, milk, fruit juice, eggs and some vegetables enough to last me for 3 days. Oh my!!! I had a shocked of my life when the total cost is almost NOK300 😲. Well I had been warned…

Back at the hostel, I prepared a simple pasta dish for dinner and planned for my 1st hiking in Norway. Well that was the plan anyway.

The weather did get worse the following day. It was cold and windy with intermittent rain. I decided not to go up Mt. Ulriken but instead on the second day I explored the picturesque Nostet neighbourhood.

Later that day I hangout around the harbour, overlooking Bryggen with Mt Floyen in the background. What a feeling when the sun finally broke out through the thick cloud.

On my last day in Bergen, the weather still did not let up. I was disappointed because I couldn’t attempt the Vidden trail from Mt. Ulriken to Mt. Floyen. But I did take the funicular up to Mt. Floyen. The condition still not ideal for a short hike. It was too windy and the wet and slippery rocky path was too risky for my weak knees. Despite the foggy condition, the view from top of Mt. Floyen was still breathtaking.

Before returning to the hostel, I dropped by at the train station to purchase the next day train ticket to Voss using the vending machine. I’m glad I did, but that is another story to tell.