By Jim Ferri
Norway in a Nutshell seems like an odd name for a tour, but now I was on it and entranced by the little houses that clung to the hillsides above the fjord.
From my vantage point they looked like tiny red houses from a Monopoly game, set amid green pastureland and forest, all capped by clouds slowly wafting down from the mountaintop.
I was on a ferry in Norway’s stunning Naeroyfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site where spectacular scenery clings to sheer rock walls that in places rises almost a mile high. And from my small ship I had a front-row seat on this incredibly beautiful panorama, one that I had hoped to see for years.
“Norway in a Nutshell” Tours
It’s easier now than ever to visit the spectacular Naeroyfjord, and many other places in Norway, on the aptly named “Norway in a Nutshell” tours, which let one experience the best of the country in prearranged packages. There are 10 packages and each allows plenty of flexibility regarding length, cost and time, helping you to see Scandinavia on a budget.
Since I wanted to see both the fjord and take a ride on the famous Fläm railroad, I chose the Fjord Cruise and Fläm Railway tour. You can take the entire tour from Oslo to Bergen, or vice versa, or only segments of it. The railway is a private company and If you have a Eurail Pass you’ll receive a 30% discount on train ticket.
Since I was already in Bergen I planned a one-way nutshell trip to Oslo, departing Bergen at 8:40 in the morning and reaching Oslo at 10:45 that night. The entire trip turned out to be flawless and well executed.
Off to the Ferry
On the hour or so train ride from Bergen to Voss to meet the bus, the rhythmic rocking of the train kept lulling me off to sleep. I kept fighting my drowsiness since I didn’t want to miss a minute of the beautiful landscape. I was also intrigued by the picturesque little towns we were stopping at, as well as by their train stations, all as picturesque as the scenery.
Since it was mid-September I had hoped for good weather. But as the bus from Voss passed from one valley to another the weather continued to morph between rain and overcast.
Nevertheless, I was surprised I found the bus ride so enjoyable. All along the way I occupied myself studying the little towns we drove through, peeking in windows to get a feel for how people live here. Out in the countryside I viewed long slivers of waterfalls cascading off rocky cliffs cleaved from the mountainside as well as the occasional grazing cattle and sheep. It was a beautiful pastoral setting I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like here in winter.
The Stunning Naeroyfjord
The bus brought us up to the dock in Gudvangen, where there was there was a tourist shop filled with people awaiting departure. Like the train and bus that preceded it, the boat left exactly on schedule.
The ferry was large enough to be quite comfortable and most passengers sat next to the large windows watching the amazing scenery drift by. Despite the rain it was a beautiful cruise up the fjord – and despite it still being late summer in the distance I could see snow forming on some mountain peaks.
Sliding along on the mirror-like waters on my tour, we passed a little village, possibly only 10 houses are so, punctuated by the steeple of a little white church next to a cemetery. The entire village appeared to be out in the middle of nowhere, seemingly lost from the rest of the world.
The cliffs and mountains along the fjord were a majestic pallet of greens speckled every now and then with little red and white houses and barns, some so miniscule in the distance you could just about make them out. Everywhere you looked there was water cascading down the mountainsides, some in rivulets looking like little white ribbons running among the trees, others in more stately waterfalls. The picturesque moments kept coming in rapid succession.
Arriving in Fläm
When we arrived at Fläm a cruise ship was moored near the ferry dock. Since I didn’t see any passengers I assumed they had taken an excursion on the famous Flämsbana, the Fläm Railway, up to Myrdal were the line meets the Oslo – Bergen rail line.
Fläm is a tiny little place, really just a grouping of souvenir shops, a few cafes and a restaurant, a railroad station and a co-op market. The souvenir shops do a brisk business off the ships and the ferries as well as those who come in via bus or train, many on these Norway in a Nutshell tours. It’s a peaceful little place where if you don’t feel like shopping you can take a walk in the hills.
Those who arrive by ferry have a two-hour stopover before the departure of the Flam train and many of them do go for walks up in the hills. They are easy walks, in low rolling hills where a few horses graze beneath the massive mountains surrounding the fjord.
I headed first to the small red hut near the tracks to divest myself of my luggage (“just ring the bell and someone will show up in a few minutes,” the woman in the little tourist office told me). It cost 40 crowns (about $6.50) per person which I happily paid before wandering off to investigate the souvenir shops. Not seeing much I took a walk and then came back to the little museum near the station where while awaiting the train I learned a bit of history about the the building of the railway.
The Ride on the Fläm Railway, the Highlight of the Tour
A trip on the Fläm Railway – described by some as a take-your-breath away trip – is one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. While the ride from Fläm to Myrdal is only 12½ miles, it takes 50 minutes to go from sea level to 2,800 feet, on switchbacks and through 20 tunnels on some of the steepest “normal” tracks in the world. It’s one of the more popular Norway in a Nutshell tours.
One of the things that make this Norway in a Nutshell trip so rewarding is your proximity to the incredible landscape. While on the previous train, as well as the bus and ferry, we viewed the magnificent Nordic scenery from afar; the Fläm Railway brought us right into it.
After leaving Fläm the train ran up the valley that spilled down from the mountains, through a few tiny villages before being thrust into a world of rock and forest where roiling rivers and cascading waterfalls seem to be everywhere. It was an incredible tour.
The train was comfortable and, as on the earlier part of the tour on the ferry, there were TV screens in each car that showed our location as we made our way around curves and switchbacks as we moved further up the mountainside, stopping en route at Kjosfossen Waterfall, which has a free-fall of 305 feet alongside the tracks.
We soon continued on to Myrdal and when we detrained there many of us milled about the station’s little café, grabbing a coffee or sandwich, while awaiting our onward connections. I had a five-hour ride to Oslo ahead of me, which turned out to be an incredible trip across Norway’s and Europe’s highest mountainous plateau.
But to tell you the truth, at that moment I would have gladly hopped back aboard the Flämsbana for a ride down to the fjord.
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