Posted by: Ryan | September 28, 2007

Norway-Iceland, Day 2

We woke up early and had a delicious buffet breakfast at our hotel. After ending the first day with such a lousy dinner, it was great to chow on all-you-can-eat belgian waffles with blackberry and strawberry preserves, smoked sausages, scrambled eggs, melon wedges, meatballs, and fresh bread… Yumm. That was when I was glad we were staying at a business-class chain hotel, and that we’d have three more nights there before we went back to the states.

Karl Johans Gate

We left the hotel and took Karl Johans Gate to Oslo S, and got some nice pictures of empty downtown Oslo on a sleepy morning. The train ride to Myrdal was about 4-5 hours long, and we enjoyed the scenery of green Norway as it rolled past our window. Our Rick Steves guidebook referred to this railway (the Bergensbana) as “simply the most spectacular train ride in northern Europe.”

Hoth

Green fields eventually turned into forests, which thinned out as we got higher, and we broke out above the tree line at the 4,266-foot apex of the trip, where the landscape was covered in snow and short grasses, and raging meltwater streams cascaded down the hillsides. The hamlet of Finse (pictured above) was where the Hoth scenes from The Empire Strikes Back were filmed (in winter, of course). Mere minutes later, after a couple long tunnels, we disembarked at the Myrdal train station (below) and waited for our ride on the famous Flåmsbana (The Flåm railway).

Train Station

The Flåmsbana is advertised not just as a way to get to the town of fjord-side town of Flåm, but as a tourist attraction itself. The 60-year old rail line drops the 2800 feet from Myrdal to sea level at Flåm in 12 miles, and 55 minutes. It travels through 20 tunnels, and twists and turns past many beautiful waterfalls as it descends first one side of the Flåmsdalen gorge, and then crosses to the other.

Kjosfossen

The Flåmsbana stops at many small stations on the way down, but its most famous stop is at a waterfall named Kjosfossen. This voluminous waterfall is right off the line, and as the train stops, everybody gets out and walks onto a wooden platform beneath the falls to snap pictures and soak in the spray. As a special tourist delight, the train company even hires a dancer to perform amid the mist and ruins of an old building by the falls, as the tourists snap away (me included), and enchanting music plays in the background. With the music over, everyone gets back on the train and enjoys the view on the rest of the trip. Gleefully, I take a picture out the left side of the train, then spot another amazing waterfall on the right side, and hurry over to take a picture of it too. Imagine the waterfall below, but repeated over and over and over again on the descent to Flåm.

Another Foss

The Flåmsbana ends at the small village of Flåm, with less than a thousand inhabitants, on the shore of the arm of the Aurlandsfjord. Every time we came through Flåm, at least one mighty cruise ship was anchored off the dock, absolutely dwarfing the small town. Here we bought cheeseburgers for lunch (ridiculously expensive) and waited less than an hour for our expressboat down the Sognefjord.

Flåm

Our expressboat zoomed down the fjord, stopping first at the small town of Aurland. We passed the beautiful Nærøyfjord on the left, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that we’d tour later in the trip. The fjord slowly widened as it joined other arms, and then became known as the Sognefjord, the longest fjord in Norway. The rocky mountain cliffs and the shimmering blue waters were amazing in the sunshine. We stopped again at Leikanger, and finished our cruise at the beautiful little town of Balestrand.

Sognefjord

Balestrand, population 1500, has views of Sognefjord to the east and south, views of the short Esefjord to the north, and a magnificent glacier-topped mountain to the west. We caught a ride from our hotelier, who gave us a tour of the central area of town from the dock, and then drove us the half-mile to our hotel. Once there, we relaxed for a while and Kim struggled to brush her hair that had gotten tangled during the windy expressboat ride.

Grrr

St. Olaf's

We went “downtown” for an evening stroll, and went inside the colorful St. Olaf’s church, a tiny Anglican church built in 1897. We ate lunch at Gekkens Cafe (our entire cuisine in touristy Norway seemed to consist of hamburgers and french fries), and then took an after-dinner walk along the Esefjord for a great look at the mountains and the marina.

Tjugatoten and Esefjord

As I sat back on our balcony and absorbed the beautiful view of the mighty fjord we’d come down that day, it was impossible not to smile at what a lucky place we’d be spending the next three nights.

More pictures here (Ryan) and here (Kim)!

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