There’s something about trains (and train stations) that make them the most romantic mode of transportation, a place where greetings and farewells have occurred over countless decades, and where stories like the one above have likely played out innumerable times. Trains somehow manage to carry this amorous appeal wherever they go, and adventure is never too far away either as my heart rate always seemed to bump up a notch as I boarded. Perhaps it’s the sensationalism brought about in popular movies depicting train rides delicately hugging twists and turns as they snake towards the final destination (I’m talking to you, Harry Potter.) Whatever it may be, as I boarded and deboarded trains from Norway into Sweden through Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, I fell in love with the rail, specifically Rail Europe.
With my Eurail Select Pass, I could choose extensive rail travel on the national rail networks of four adjoining countries connected by train or ship, of which would be Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany (before arriving to Switzerland where my Swiss Travel Pass would come in handy). I was traveling from north to south in two weeks time with nothing more than a carry-on, a camera and a huge sense of adventure.
The Itinerary Part One: Norway
After landing around 9pm in Bergen, Norway, I was exhausted yet wired to be in a new country – one of which I’ve always dreamed of seeing. I was disappointed at our arrival time. I figured it would be dark, unable for passengers to see much of anything. As it turns out, it doesn’t get completely dark during the Norwegian summer season, and the sun actually never sets north of the Arctic Circle. For a couple of months the sun is visible 24 hours a day, a natural phenomenon called the Midnight Sun. This was mind-blowing to say the least. If I wanted to go on a brisk walk at 2am, I’d feel somewhat comfortable doing so. As a 20something female traveling alone, however, I got cozy in my hotel room and fell fast asleep. (Mom and Dad, that one’s for you.)
The next day was busy. I don’t believe I could’ve packed anything else into it if I tried, except for maybe that 2am walk. I was scheduled to take the Norway in a Nutshell trip from Bergen to Oslo by way of trains, boats and automobiles. The variety of adventures in some of the world’s greatest natural settings had me ecstatic as I frantically took picture after picture of the magical Norwegian fjords.
But what’s a fjord? If you read the above paragraph and couldn’t revert back to your robust knowledge of geology from yesteryear, don’t worry – I’ve got you covered. A fjord is a glacially overdeepened valley, usually narrow and steepsided, extended below sealevel and naturally filled with seawater and formed when a glacier retreats, after carving its typical U-shaped valley. Yay, geology!
Without further ado, here’s Norway in a Nutshell…
Train from Bergen to Voss (1 hour): Note* Sit on the lefthand side for best views. Bergen is known as The Gateway to the Fjords, which in turn, translates to The Gateway of Heaven on Earth.
Bus from Voss to Gudvangen (1 hour)
Fjord cruise from Gudvangen to Flam (2 hours): Note* You’ll have time to meander around the ship during the two hours onboard, but beware – it gets crowded so be prepared to politely ask people to move over for your photos. UNESCO World Heritage fjord Naeroyfjord and the Aurlandsfjord will be seen.
Train from Flam to Myrdal (1 hour): Note* Sit on the righthand side for the best views. Get in early as this is one of the most popular attractions in Norway!
Train from Myrdal to Oslo (5 hours): Note* Even in “summer” this place is a tundra. Bundle up!
As long as my trains, buses, and boats had windows — and, well, they all did — my view was undoubtedly spectacular. Norway has it all: gorgeous mountainsides, quiet countrysides, glaciers, forests, and colorful villages, but what’s incredibly unique are its mesmerizing fjords. These mystical formations lend an aura of mystery to the Norwegian landscape, leaving travelers feeling as though they are a world apart…making everything so Instagram worthy!
When I arrived to my Oslo hotel with tired eyes and hardly any battery left in my camera, I looked at the clock and computed how many hours of sleep I’d get before my Oslo city tour the following day: 5. Functional, but not exactly comfortable. I couldn’t complain. It was only day #2 of my Rail Europe tour and I was so happy to be in Scandinavia for the first time, even if I didn’t pack enough warm clothes.
The next day, I was escorted through the city via guide extraodrinaire, Mr. Stian Hansen Rivero. I was short on time, and he showed me the most picturesque and interesting parts of Oslo. Towards the end of the day, my adventurous spirit was in full force as we headed up to the Holmenkollbakken, a large ski jumping hill that poses as a modern attraction of steel and concrete where many athletes have tried their skills. As it turns out, there’s a zip line up top, so naturally, I gave it a go.
The easiest way to get to the ski jump is via underground subway. Take the westbound underground marked Frognerseteren, and don’t expect a short trip. With a population of roughly 565,000, Oslo is Norway’s largest city.
And with everything there is to see, why rush? I traveled the routes of the Vikings through mighty glaciers and deep green forests. I ferried between the fjords of Naeroyfjord and the Aurlandsfjord. I made tracks to Oslo’s Royal Palace and basked in its adventure sports. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget Bergen, one of Norway’s prettiest cities encircled by seven mountains. And though 95% of Norway remains forested or uncultivated, I found Rail Europe train travel completely civilized. In fact, with all their itinerary expertise behind me, I was able to do something the Vikings never did: Conquer Norway.
Denmark, you’re up next!