A large portion of Norway’s northern region falls within the north of Arctic Circle. The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon where the sun shines throughout the day in the summer, mostly June and July. The population of Norwegians living north of the Arctic Circle is about 400,000 and is considered the highest concentration of people living in the Arctic Circle. This has boosted tourism with millions of people visiting Norway each year. Norway’s unspoiled natural beauty and famous fjords, mountains and scenic railways attract loads of tourists. Bergen, the second largest city in the west, is the epicenter of tourism because of its proximity to fjords and one of the world’s best scenic railway routes.
It was my first time to Norway and was a solo trip. It was a while since I ventured on a solo trip so I was a bit nervous initially. It was an unplanned trip and I was in discovery mode, not having much information beforehand. This was different to how I usually travel, but then there is always a first time. It was the end of winter and beginning of spring so the days were already long but I still needed warm clothes and at times two layers. I flew to Oslo and then Flytoget to Drammen, which was my base. Wondering why I chose Drammen and not Oslo? Well, as always, my preference is to live in the smaller city to experience the local culture and remain connected on the rail network. In my opinion, the best way to travel in Norway is by train as driving takes much longer in the mountain terrain. Of course, it is beautiful and scenic to drive but is also proportionally heavy on the wallet. I chose accommodation that was a 10-min walk to Drammen train station and a stones throw from Ypsilon Bridge. Drammen is beautiful city with a small market and the Skansen Ridge that makes for a good hike. A local friend was kind enough to drive me through Drammen Spiral which is probably the main attraction. The view of Drammen from Skansen Ridge is spectacular. I was also fortunate enough to experience russefeiring a traditional celebration for high school students on the cusp of graduating. The russ is a month-long celebration with drinking, party buses and wacky challenges.
Stunning view of Drammen from Spiralen Mountain that can be reached through 5,000 feet long helix shaped tunnel built in 1961.
My local friend offered to give me a tour of Oslo, the neighboring capital city to Drammen. After driving within the buzzing city center in and around Kvadraturen, we headed to Holmenkollbakken. This is a gigantic ski jumping hill and famous for hosting Ski Jumping World and Winter Olympics. It attracts the best ski jumpers from around the world during the annual Ski Festival in March. The hill has been rebuilt 19 times so far. A steep hike to the beautiful ski museum at the top is recommended followed by a stroll around the entire stadium that will take about 20 minutes. Our next stop was the Opera House, which is located at Oslo Harbor. It is an angled structure that appears to rise from the water and you can climb all the way to the top of the building. View of the city from the top is spectacular but huge cranes in the nearby construction site obstructed my view.
Holmenkollbakken is a 440 feet high ski jumping hill stadium with hill size of HS134 and a capacity of 70,000 spectators.
This, being an unplanned trip, I was still figuring out my itinerary for the rest of my trip. As usual, I was looking to do and see something unique and rare. My local friend suggested a 3-day cruise to Denmark and Sweden and another expat friend living in Stavangar offered to host me with an alternate option to visit the fjords and Bergen. Me being me, I chose the fjords! I went to Oslo and made my bookings (including train, cruise and bus journeys) to Bergen. The train was going south so I can catch it from Drammen itself. I spent the rest of the day doing what I love, walking around and soaking in the sights and sounds of the beautiful city and sampled some of the awesome street food of Oslo.
The contemporary architecture of Opera House with 1,100 rooms in an all out territory of 49,000 square meters.
All pumped up for my adventure, I reached Drammen train station the next morning, and surprisingly discovered that I was not the only tourist. The 500-kilometer long Oslo-Bergen line was started in 1909 is Northern Europes highest stretch. The rail line passes through open countryside and picturesque wooded valleys before crossing steep snow-covered Langfjellene and Hardangervidda mountain ranges with the highest altitude of 4,000 feet at Finse station. Fortunately, the train was not full so I could move from side to side capturing the beauty on my camera. The first stop to disembark was at Myrdal.
A quick capture from the train: Fresh water Tyrifjorden lake is a landlocked fjord covering 139 square kilometer area.
Using my interpersonal skills, I developed a good rapport with one of the crewmembers on the train. With her help, I would hop off the train at each station to experience the beauty of the place and capture some photos, hopping back on at her signal that the train would move.
An adorable bright station of Nesbyen (built in 1907) while in transit to Myrdal.
The train stopped at Geilo station (Geilo is famous for winter ski activities) where the sky lovers off boarded the train to indulge in their favorite sport. We continued on our way passing through Ustaoset and Haugastl, both are popular cabin villages. Cabin holidays in mountains and near the lakes are popular weekend activities for Norwegians. The rail lines were surrounded by colorful cabins that looked inviting to stay for a couple of days in the tranquility. Then we passed through Finse, the highest station and a popular paragliding area. The last phase of the journey to Myrdal passed through many tunnels built inside the mountains and it was time for a short siesta.
Bergen Railway line passes through snow covered mountains and colorful cabin village of Ustaoset at 3,200 feet.
I had a half-hour layover at Myrdal before boarding a classic old style Flam Railway. Myrdal is a picturesque station at 3,000 feet altitude nestled between snow-covered mountains. Flam Railway is a masterpiece and runs between Myrdal and Flam with a gradient of 5.5% (1:18), the steepest normal gauge railway in the world. It passes through 20 hairpin tunnels with 180 degrees turn inside the mountains, spanning 6 kilometers, 18 out of them were built by hand. The 1-hour journey descends from mountain plateau through picturesque Flam valley and is one of the most visited tourist attractions serving 300,000 passengers each year.
Flam Railway Stop at Kjosfossen waterfall viewpoint at 2,000 feet height, well known for a legendary Huldra dance performance with Norwegian folk music during the summer.
I had about an hour to spend in Flam before boarding the cruise to witness the King of the fjords. I visited the railway museum, shops and restaurants near the sea. Fjord boat departed from Pier 1 and thus began our journey to Sognefjord, one of the worlds largest and deepest fjords. The fjord is carved by glaciers during the ice ages. The boat first sails through Aurlandsfjord and continues through narrow Nryfjord to Gudvangen.
Cruising through Nroyfjord, the most profound fjord of the world is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A journey of more than 2 hours is breathtaking as you pass through steel mountains with snow covered tops and glaciers in the distance. The boat makes a few quick stops at nearby colorful villages with population less than 100. You can move around the deck to have a closer look while listening to the narrative to enhance your knowledge. The eyes dont blink as you pass through spectacular waterfalls, vertiginous mountainsides and melding of colors from wooden farmhouses with animals meandering along its front yard.
Dyrdal, a lively small little town based on the fjord in 1926 with its own school yet no streets.
After this enriching experience, we got on the bus near the harbor of Gudvangen, a tiny village with 120 people to take us to Voss railway station to continue the final leg of my journey to Bergen. The bus takes the steep Stallheimsklevia road with a gradient of 20 percent to descend to Nroyfjord valley. This breathtaking drive has 13 sharp hairpin bends with 140 meters tall Kjelsfossen waterfall on one side and Nroyfjord River flowing at the valley. We had an adventurous and scary drive down the steep descend thanks to the carelessness of one of the passengers, but like they say, all is well that ends well. Our highly-experienced driver managed to drive us safely to our destination in time to board the train to Bergen, a 1-hour journey.
A perspective on Nroyfjord River from steep Stallheimsklevia road built in 1846.
I reached Bergen, The city between the seven mountains at 8 pm with bright sunlight offering a long shadow, my first such experience and it was still winter and I was in a layered clothing. This being a solo trip, I wanted to keep a low profile and be a backpacker. I checked into a hostel with a shared room for my stay in Bergen, saving money. This was the first time I was staying in a hostel after graduating from college 20 years ago. It was a memorable experience. Exhausted, I thought I would sleep like a baby but it never turned dark the whole night and daylight kept streaming into my room through the windows. This was the first time I slept in the night with daylight. The sun was completely out as early as 4.30 am and nudged me to get out and explore the city.
BRYGGEN Wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage Center reduced to ashes during the great fire of 1702 and then rebuilt on same 12th century old establishments.
There are many things to do in Bergen like museums, markets, mountains, cycle tours, etc. My favorite way of exploring the city is walking in the city center and hopping on and off the bus. The location of my hostel was ideal and within the old city. I got some tips from the front desk and took to the streets marching towards the post office, being a philatelist. I wandered through many places like famous fish market and Bergenhus Fortress and then to Bryggen wharf. I was contemplating a guided bus tour when suddenly I saw a bright red train engine with a couple of coaches attached to it. Initially I thought it is a toy train but it turned out to be a self-guided tour called "Bergens Expressen". I ditched the bus tour for this train tour and guess what? I was the only passenger on board!
"Bergens Expressen", a 50-minute self guided tour from the harbor to Mount Floyen.
The tour passes through old city gate, fish market, wooden houses at Bryggen and then up to the hillside road "Fjellveien" to Mount Flyen, where it stops for 10 minutes for a view of Bergen city center and the harbor. The built-in announcement system narrates the story associated with each place as you pass by. Then we start the descend among the small and curvy roads to "Mariakirken", "King Haakons Hall" and the "Rosenkrantz Tower". The 50-minute ride gave an overall idea where exactly I wanted to spend more time and explore.
Ulriken is the highest (2,000 feet) among the seven mountains surrounding the city. You can take a cable car to experience the city and the surrounding mountains and fjords in an easy and accessible way. For the more physically fit, there are walking trails as well. Ensure that you enquire before you plan the tour in the cable car.
However, my favorite spot to hang out was Mount Floyen at 1,300 feet, the second highest mountain. This is one of Norways most visited attractions. It has a weathercock to indicate direction of the wind for sailing ships. I took Floibanen, a funicular railway from the city centre to reach the station on top. It carries 1 million passengers each year. Floytrappene is the best viewing platform for a panoramic view of the entire Bergen city and the spectacular mountains and fjords. I decided to walk along paths and paved roads to come down, as there are many viewpoints on the way where I could stop and click some amazing pictures. Immersed in the natural beauty, I lost my way and wandered into a small residential area. Got a chance to enjoy a residents house party and was also guided through a shortcut that goes through their private property.
An 850-meter uphill ride in Floibanen (started in 1918) to Mount Floyen with postcard view of Bergen.
When leaving Bergen, travelers always muse that their stay was too short, and I was no exception. I took the same Bergen Railway but this time not through fjords and Flam but a straight 6-hour journey to Drammen as I had a flight to catch from Oslo the next day.