An outdoor lovers dream....
The author Roald Dahl, speaking of his parents’ birthplace, said “Everyone has some sort of a boat in Norway. Nobody sits around in front of the hotel. Nor does anyone sit on the beach.” Whilst mainly referring to Norway’s maritime tradition, his comment also hints at the Norwegians active nature, all a result of the remarkable environment that they live in. This is especially so as Northern Europe moves towards winter, when daylight becomes a precious commodity and it seems frivolous to waste a second of it relaxing. For a holiday with fresh air, exercise and spectacular scenery, Norway is an excellent choice.
One of the oft-cited reasons to avoid a holiday in any part of Scandinavia, other than climate, is the expense. It’s true that if culinary adventure and nightlife are your main requirements in a holiday destination and you don’t have an inexhaustible bank balance, you might be better off elsewhere, but if you’re happy to eat shop-bought food whilst curled up with a book in a warm hotel room after a day of admiring magnificent landscape, Norway could be the perfect destination.
The key to a trip to Norway that won’t blow the budget in a few days is planning. The “Norway in a Nutshell” tour allows you to see a large part of South Norway with travel between Oslo and Bergen by train, bus and boat for around £140 one way. The trip can be done in a day of nonstop travelling or spread out over as long a period as you like and you don’t have to pre-book your seats, although this may be advisable in peak season. Pre-booking hotels for stop offs along the way, although not allowing spontaneity, does mean you won’t be in for a nasty shock when being forced to pay extortionate rates at the only hotel with a room free.
Most hotels and hostels in Norway will provide a breakfast of bread, cheese, ham, boiled eggs, fish and very strong coffee (you’re unlikely to experience any other kind of coffee in Norway) as part of the cost of a nightly stay and will also offer a costly separate evening meal.
Most travelers to Norway will arrive in Oslo. As a capital, Oslo is a low-key city when compared with the rest of Europe and, although containing buildings and landmarks of interest, has a surprising feeling of being close to nature, with plenty of green open spaces. The best example of this is the beautiful Bygdoy peninsula, containing a couple of beaches and a number of museums, most notably the Viking Ship Museum which contains three excavated Viking ships, along with an open air folk museum and other museums containing artifacts of Norway’s maritime tradition. The peninsula is easily reached from central Oslo by bus, ferry or foot.
A trip to Vigeland Park, home of nearly 200 bronze and granite sculptures by Gustav Vigeland is also well worth the 30 minute walk from the city centre. The sculptures are almost exclusively human in form and express a huge range of emotions and actions. Some bodies intertwine with each other to make shapes, others hold each other in embrace, whilst others fight and struggle. The centerpiece is a huge column of writhing bodies representing the cyclical nature of life. Some of the bodies seem to be consumed by the mass whilst others emerge, blinking in the daylight.
Moving on from Oslo, the first leg of the journey to Bergen takes you by train, past glistening lakes and bottle-green pine forests, toward the snow blanketed station at Myrdal, nearly a kilometer above Oslo. The ascent is gradual and the fall in temperature becomes apparent as you go. The first indication of the increasing altitude is ice around the edges of lakes, then entirely frozen lakes, followed by rivers that have stopped flowing as the ice constricts them. Patches of snow on higher spots eventually becomes frozen tundra, punctuated only by the occasional brightly painted railway workers hut.
From Myrdal, the steep Flambanen railway takes you 20 kilometers down, past huge waterfalls to Flam, a small, though popular village at the head of an enormous fjord. From the beach are views of thin sheets of cloud, split in half by the towering mountains that tumble all the way down to the calm water, where tiny boats sit motionless. It’s well worth ignoring Roald Dahl’s advice here and spending an hour or two taking it all in.
The next stop on the trip to Bergen is Voss, capital of the Hardangerfjord region and a small town that gets overtaken every winter by skiers and snowboarders. To reach it, a boat takes you out into the fjord, past Aurland and Undredal and then into Gudvangen before getting a bus on to Voss.
In Voss, a ski lift will take you to the top of Mt. Hangur which is a popular mountain with skiers due to its proximity to the town. If the ski lift isn’t running, it’s a pleasant walk as the ascent is not too difficult, with a well maintained pathway most of the way up, leading through pine forests and over rocky outcrops. During fall, spring and especially winter, short hours of daylight make it very important to always time your progress and give yourself enough daylight to get back to where you started.
The final leg of the journey takes you to Bergen. The first thing you will be told about Bergen is that it rains, a lot. Europe’s rainiest city sees 2.25 meters of rain falling every year, spread over 275 days of the year. Even if you’re lucky enough to be there on a dry day, the steeply sloping roofs on most houses and the lush green trees surrounding the city are testament to what Bergen’s residents endure.
In the 13th century, Bergen was a major player and port in European trade. The Hanseatic League, a German trading alliance, had one of its main offices abroad in Bergen. A line of colorful wooden buildings remains as a reminder of the scale of the operation along the Vagen harbor, one of which contains the Hanseatic Museum. The museum shows the sort of living and working conditions that Hanseatic merchant sailors and apprentices had to put up with, and the relatively luxurious life enjoyed by the managers. The unstable look of the houses is a result of an explosion in the harbor in 1944 that shifted the foundations, causing them to lean.
Close to the harbor is the start of the Floibanen funicular railway which takes you up to the top of Mt. Floyen, giving panoramic views of the colorful city. You can also hike into the forest on one of the many marked trails that begin from the station. One of the options is a three-hour walk south, to the peak of Mt. Ulriken, where a cable car will return you back down to Bergen. The cable car doesn’t operate in high winds though, so do check it’s running before you decide to do this. Another option is to take a winding track from the Floibanen station back down to the harbor.
This glimpse of Southern Norway is a wonderful inspiration to explore more of this great Country. Perhaps a cruise along the fjords or a trip to the Northern reaches of Norway to see the spectacular Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.
You may not return from a trip to Norway and remember the climate or the wonderful food but you will feel refreshed, relaxed and exercised. The scenery is stunning and the air crisp and clean.