The most beautiful train ride ~ Norway in the Nutshell from Oslo to Bergen

25 10 2014

Bergen 3a

The famous “Norway in the Nutshell” tour is a “Die Die MUST-DO” (aka Singlish way of saying it is something you should not miss). More accurately, this is not a tour but rather a combination of Bergen Railway and Flåm Railway, the 2 most scenic railways in the world, and the wonderful ferry ride through the Norwegian fjords to take one from Oslo to Bergen. This is the classic route covering the beautiful fjords (how can one go to Norway without seeing the fjords right?) and can be done from Oslo to Bergen or just from Bergen. I will strongly recommend that you do this if you are visiting Norway as this is the “classic” sightseeing route.

There are tour operators selling “Norway in the Nutshell” tour package. This is NOT a guided tour but rather they will help you book the tickets and you still have to navigate the route by yourself. There is NO NEED to book with the tour operations. In fact, it will be much cheaper if you just book the tickets on your own.

I am happy to share my itinerary. Just drop me a note with your email details via the comment if you are interested. For those interested to catch the Northern Lights, Tromso in the arctic circle, is just a short flight away. You can see my blog https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/tromso/ for more details.

 

Oslo: The city of the Vikings

I started my journey in Oslo and believe most of you would as well, particularly if you are flying from outside of Europe. I would say that Oslo is what you will expect of a Nordic city and pale in comparison from the more scenic parts of Norway. Main attractions include the Opera House, Oslo Cathedral, Karl Johan Street with Eidvolls Square, Royal Palace, City Hall, Vikingship Museum, Vigeland Sculpture Park Christiania Square and Akershus Fortress, etc. Since many international flights will fly into Oslo, it is a good opportunity for a short stopover before embarking on the scenic journey along the famous Bergen and Flam railways.

Oslo 2

Oslo 1

Oslo 3

Oslo 5

Tips:

  • To get from Oslo airport to the city center, you can take the NSB train which takes around 25 minutes. It costs NOK 90 and is also valid on all buses and trams for 2.5 hours. There is an express train that goes from Oslo airport to the city center but it is only slightly faster in terms of travelling time and much more expensive so I won’t recommend that you take that.
  • If you are catching an early flight out the next day, you may consider staying at the airport hotel. I stayed at Raddison Blu airport hotel as I have an early flight to Tromso. The hotel is pretty nice (4 stars but don’t expect posh settings like some of the posh hotels). It is only 5 minutes walk away from the airport so you can then check in early in the morning and come back to the hotel for breakfast before the flight.
  • When I returned from Tromso, I decided to stay in the city centre and choose Citybox Oslo Hotel. This is a budget hotel but is nice and clean. It has ensuite bathroom and located just 5 minutes walk from the Central Station and the main shopping area. I will recommend this hotel which is cheap and nice if you are staying just one night. However, for longer stay, I would choose this as they do not have room cleaning services (they only clean the room once a week or upon check-out whichever is earlier).

Food:

  • Due to limited time that I had in Oslo, I did not had the chance to explore the food scene in Oslo. If you are looking at a warm meal, Egon may be a good option and it’s located just outside the Central train station. This is a popular chain in Norway and can be found in various cities throughout the country. The pricing is not cheap but not too expensive, I will say a typical Norwegian standard meal. This is more value for money than just grabbing a sandwich or fast food in the mall.

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From Oslo to Mydral: Europe’s highest train ride

The first part of the “Norway in the Nutshell” journey took me on the Bergen Railway which goes from Oslo to Bergen, passing through beautiful and dazzling landscape. Apparently, this is the highest train ride linking between two cities in Europe. The most spectacular part of the ride is over the Hardangervidda which is Europe’s highest mountainous plateau all the way to Finse, the highest point on the line at 1,222 metres above sea level. At Finse, you can see many travelers with their ski equipment alighting here. So for ski lovers, it is a good stop before continuing the journey on to Mydral to connect to the Flam Railway.

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Flam 1

Tips:

  • Booking: You can purchase the tickets in advance from NSB website (https://www.nsb.no/en/). This is because there are “minipris” tickets which are highly discounted on NSB website if you book early for the leg between Oslo and Mydral thus reducing the overall price of the package. Note that as you book, you can get the tickets from Oslo to all the way to Flam (ie include the Flam Railway).
  • The train from Oslo to Mydral takes around 4 hours. This is the only segment of the whole journey that you can reserve seats.
  • If possible, try to book the seats on the left side. Both left and right provide good view but I find the left side’s view better.
  • There is a porter service which can help to take your luggage from Oslo and deliver it to your hotel in Bergen. This costs around NOK 250 per piece of luggage. If you are not travelling during the peak session, it should be pretty manageable to drag your luggage with you as there are lots of spaces on the trains, ferry and bus. For peak season, you may wish to engage the porter service so that you do not need to worry about your luggage.

Lunch:

  •  You could either pack your own lunch in Oslo before you board the train or buy it from the café on the train. Otherwise, you will need to wait till you reach Flåm before you will be able to find food. There is no fancy restaurants in Flåm and food can be overpriced there too. So unless you are used to having a late lunch and do not mind the price, I will recommend that you eat your lunch on the train.

 

 

Mydral to Flåm: The most incredible train journeys 2014

From Mydral, I hopped on to the Flåm Railway which connects from Mydral to the village of Flåm, located  in the innermost corner of the Aurlanfjord, an arm of the mighty Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord. The Flåm Railway is one of the world’s steepest railways on normal gauge and was regarded by Lonely Planet as “The World’s most incredible train journeys 2014”. Being a train enthusiast, I would say that this is indeed one of the world’s best train ride. The ride takes around 45 minutes and take one through beautiful landscape. The most awe-inspiring sights for the whole ride the stop at the Kjosfossen Waterfall, which was almost frozen during the time that I visited. The best thing is the train stopped and allowed us to get down the train to take photos!

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Flam 3

Flam 4

Tips:

  • You do not need to buy additional train ticket as this is included in your train ticket from Oslo to Flåm.
  • Seating on train: The view is good on both sides and you may find yourself running from left to right and back to left to catch the “perfect shot” if the train is not packed 🙂 If you happen to be visiting during the peak period and the train is fully packed, then I will recommend that you sit on the right side of the train (the front of the train is the direction where the train from Oslo came from). I went during the winter/early spring month so the windows are the fully sealed type. However, I heard that during the summer months, there are some windows at the front and back of the car that can be opened. You want to grab these seats so that your photos will not have reflection.

 

Flåm  to Guvangen: Journey through the fjords

From Flåm, there is a 2 hours ferry that goes through the beautiful Sognefjord to Guvangen. You will be able to grab the best view at the top deck, but the downside is that there is no shelter and hence can be cold. This may likely be the reason why it is less crowded compared to the lower decks which I love. The captain’s cabin is also on the top deck and the captain came out a couple of times to talk to us and show us “special sights” like the “white fox”, wildlife that he sighted, etc. I  managed to befriend the captain and asked him if I could go into his cabin to take a look. He actually agreed and let me “posed” as the captain in front of the steering wheel! I would say I enjoyed the scenery and had so much fun and laughter on the ferry ride. As I disembarked from the ferry, as I waved goodbye to my new found captain friend, a staff asked whether I am friend with the captain haha 🙂

Flam 5

Flam 6

Flam 7

Tips:

  • You can purchase the ferry ticket online (http://www.fjord1.no/eng/tourist-services/flam-gudvangen2) or at Flam itself.
  • During Summer period, it may be a good option to break the Norway in the Nutshell journey and stay a night in Flåm to explore the surrounding regions. There are ferries going to different parts of the fjords and also nice treks around the region.

 

Guvangen to Voss: The cool bus ride

As I reached Guvangen, there were buses already waiting to bring us from Guvagen to Voss. The whole ride took around 45 minutes, with cool switchbacks and passing waterfalls too, so do not be tempted to fall asleep! I suggest grabbing a seat closer to the driver and on the right side for the better view

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Tips:

  • The bus ticket from Guvangen to Voss can only be purchased on board the bus (97 NOK). No worries about not being able to get the bus ticket. There will be sufficient seats for everyone who has board the ferry.

 

Voss to Bergen: Back on Bergen railway

The last part of the Norway in the Nutshell journey brings me back on the Bergen Railway from Voss to Bergen. The views are mostly similar to what you have seen on your journey thus far (certainly not any that will top what you’ve already seen) and you’ll likely be really tired so just grab a seat and relax. For those travelling in the winter, if you are covering the whole journey in 1 day, this leg of the journey will be in darkness. So if you are keen to see “something”, then make sure that you take into account the daylight hours.

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Tips:

  • Train ticket from Voss to Bergen can be purchased from the train station (189 NOK). Somehow, this leg of the journey cannot be pre-booked. You should not have issue getting the tickets unless you are travelling during the peak session (June to August). If so, what you could do is to buy the train ticket at the train station in Oslo (or any other train stations in Norway). Alternatively (which I will highly recommend), you should avoid the timing of the “nutshellers” (ie those that booked the whole “tour package”) by taking an earlier or later train.

 

Bergen: The gateway to the fjords

You may have heard how nice Bergen is.  I would say this is my favourite city in Norway and I am glad that this is the finale of my trip. Though it is known as “the city of rain”, I was really lucky to get beautiful weather while I was there (the best weather that I had in my whole Norway trip). The food (also the best that I had in Norway trip), the vibrant colours of the houses at Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen and many more great stuff made me fall heads and heels over Bergen. What’s more, the food scene in Bergen is great and I had tons of opportunity to eat, eat and eat lol.

A must-see in Bergen is the Bryggen, a historic harbour district in Bergen. This is one of North Europe’s oldest port cities established by the 12th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other sights include , the Fredriksberg Fortress, the world-famous Fish Market (Fiske Torget), St Mary’s Church (the oldest building in Bergen), the Den Nasjonale Scene theater, Mount Fløien Funicular and many more.

Bergen 2a

Bergen 1

Bergen 2b

 

Tips:

  • Like other Norwegian cities, you can take the flybus from Bergen city to/from the airport.
  • Do take the Funicular up the hill to have a panoramic view of the city, the port and the surrounding fjords.

Bergen 3

Bergen 6Bergen 5

Bergen 4

  • For a view of the coastline, you can take the cattamarind from Bergen harbour (just beside the fish market) to Lillisset and back. The ferry departs at 12.15pm and will bring you back to Bergen at 3.55pm. Tickets can be bought at the ferry terminal. Note that you will need to get out of the cattamarind at Lillisset and change to another one that’s bound for Bergen. If you are a student, remember to bring your student card (any student card issued by your institution would do) and you are entitled to purchase the concession ticket.

Bergen 7

 

Food:

  • Restaurant 1877: This restaurant is the number 1 restaurant in Bergen and it is not surprising why. The food is really superb, the service is excellent and the ambience is fantastic. Of so many fine dining restaurants that I have been to in different countries, I can say that this is one of the best and I will highly recommended to any foodie! Price wise, it is similar to any fine dining places worldwide, but using Norwegian’s standard, it is certainly money well spent since everything is also expensive

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  • Pingvinen Restaurant: This is a nice retro café and pub near the Bergen Cathedral, this place serves great Norwegian food and would not be a big hurt to your pocket.

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  • Bergen fish market: It is a “must-go” place for fresh seafood and just next to the Bergen harbour. There are many stalls in the fish market and we ate this stall called “Fjellskal”. You pick the seafood that you want and you can then tell the chef what you want it to be cooked (eg sashimi, grilled, pan-fried, etc). I ordered the seafood soup, crab, cod tongue, scallops, and different types of fish. The food is pretty good (if you are a seafood lover, this is a great place to go), though for the cod tongue, the one that I had at Emma’s in Tromso is by far the best. Though this is a fish market, the price is not cheap, but what’s surprising, this is Norway afterall.

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  • Lido restaurant: This is located beside the Bergen harbour (next to the Fish Market) and by far the CHEAPEST place I have ever ate in Norway. Food is decent and for the price, I will highly recommend this place if you want a warm lunch/dinner without burning your pockets.

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Almost to the North Pole ~ My adventure in Tromso

27 09 2014

The Nordic region has always been on my “to go” list. The beautiful fjords, the mysterious northern lights and the excitement of getting “almost” to the North Pole will add up to what I will call a perfect vacation. So when friends happened to be in Norway, I decided to join them and embarked on my Norway adventure 🙂

Apart from the typical Oslo to Bergen trip through the beautiful fjords (see https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/norwayinthenutshell/), I decided to make a side trip into the Arctic Circle to Tromso, often known as the Paris of the North and the gateway to the Arctic. It was a 2 hours flight from Oslo and as the plane was approaching Tromso, the view was breathtaking with beautiful fjords covered in snow. I would say that Tromso is a nice little city with scenic landscape.

Tromso 1

 

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The city area is pretty small and walkable from one end to another. The most iconic sight in Tromso is the Arctic Cathedral, which stood across the Tromso bridge at the “opposite” band. Built in 1965, the Cathedral is structurally distinct, inspired by Northern Norway’s landscape. When night falls, it is beautifully lighted up and stood like a shining star in the dark Arctic night.

Artic cathedral 1

artic cathedral 2

 

Behind the Cathedral is the Fjellheisen Cable Car that takes one up the Storsteinen Hill which is 420 metres above sea level. I will highly recommend that you do this ride up as it offers breathtaking panoramic view over the city and the surrounding mountains and fjords. For museum lovers, there are many museums in Tromso and they are great places to be in when it is either too cold or too wet. Even for those who are not fans of museums, l will suggest that you check out at the information counter of the “free admission” museums. Trust me you will need them when the weather is just too miserable for you to stay out.

cable car 1

cable car 3

If you have the time, head to the Lyngen Alps outside of Tromso is a beautiful area with awesome scenery. It is about an hour’s drive to the ferry terminal and 30 minutes ferry ride across the fjord to the Lyngen Alps. The Lyngen Alps is a great place all year round for activities. In summer, you could do hiking around the area and in winter, winter activities like snow mobile, snow shoeing, dog sledding and so on. I rode the snow mobile to get around and see the Lyngen Alps, which has beautiful frozen lake, snow cave and pristine landscape. Oh yes, 2 interesting incidents took place during my snow mobile ride. A friend lost control of her snow mobile and fell off the snow mobile. Thankfully she was not hurt but was obviously prohibited from driving the snow mobile after the 2nd fall lol. The other incident was that one of my legs got stuck and buried in the snow while attempting to climb up a hill to find the snow cave and I have to be pulled out of the snow by my friend. Interesting and hilarious experiences haha.

lyngen 2

lyngen 1

I am happy to share my itinerary, just drop me a note with your email details via the comment if you are interested.

 

Tips for Tromso:
1) You can take the flybus from Tromso airport to the city centre. It costs NOK 70 and takes around 15 minutes to get to the city centre.
2) For northern nights tour, I know many people will recommend the small vans which promise to “chase” the lights. Particularly, Guide Gunnar is highly recommended by friends and family who have been on the chase with him. However, during the time that I was there, he was not available and hence I signed up with Greenfox (a small van tour operator who also promises to chase the lights) and another one with the big bus tour. After chasing 2 nights with different tour operators, I feel that there is not much of a different as big bus tour will chase the lights too and is much cheaper. Also, the big buses will have a toilet on the bus which will come in handy for a long night chase (remember you are out for at least 6 hours). For smaller vans, you just have to use the “natural toilets” aka combat style toilets so may not be convenient for ladies.
3) Friends were asking whether Norway is preferred to view the Northern Lights, or whether Iceland is better. You need clear skies and a good level of activity to see the lights. The general view is that Norway offers a better view, though if the activity is strong, Iceland could also offer equally great view. The weather in both Norway and Iceland are equally unpredictable. Thus, I typically will recommend Iceland if you have limited time as there are more things to see/do in Iceland apart from Northern lights. For Norway, you will need to fly all the way to Tromso or other parts of Lapland and there are fewer things to do there. If you have more time (2 weeks), Norway will be great as you can then combine with sightseeing in other parts of Norway such as Oslo to Bergen across the fjords. For a more stable weather (increasingly your chance to see the Northern lights), you may want to consider going to Finland and Sweden instead.
4) For dog sledding, do note that if the snow is “fresh”, it will be difficult for the dogs to pull and hence you may need to help the dogs by running along with them. This can be physically tiring so if you are not in the best shape, do let the tour operator knows so that they can see how they can help.

dogs 1
5) If you are a student, remember to bring your student card (any student card issued by your institution would do). You will be entitled to discounts on transportation, entrance fees and tours. I managed to save quite a fair bit thanks to my student card 🙂
5) The power voltage in Norway is 250V. So when you bring your travel adapter, make sure it can take up to 250V, particularly for hairdryer. My friends learnt this the hard way by blowing 2 adapters lol. Alternatively (and I will recommend this), ask the hotel whether they can lend you theirs.

 

Food:
1) Many people commented that food in Norway is expensive. I agree and will say that Tromso is the most expensive place in Norway that I have been to! A simple meal of sandwiches and a drink will set you back at least USD 30-40. However, if you top up slightly (say around USD 40-50), you can get quite a decent meal of a nice main course (eg cod, salmon), drinks and possibly dessert. The fine dining restaurants seem to have comparable prices as what you would be paying elsewhere (surely cheaper than Singapore and Australia). So I suggest that if you can, just top a little for a better meal. It is much more worth the value.
2) Do try out Emma’s. It is really a nice restaurant and the price for lunch is super reasonable (around US$30 for a good meal). I highly recommend the fried cod tongue as the starter. It tastes like the fish meat so nothing offensive. Emma (the owner) was nice enough to split our starter into 3 separate portions so that we could share the food. The service was great and Emma came over to chat with us and we made friends with Emma. We find the lunch so good that we decided to go back for dinner for the next evening which is more expensive. For dinner, do try the dried cod (super yummy) as it is one of the signature Norwegian dishes. The steam cod loin and fried Char was good too. I was pleasantly surprised that Emma told her staff to give us free sparkling wine (saw that only our table has it). So it is always great to make more friends haha! Do make a reservation beforehand as it is a pretty popular restaurant.

emma
3) For cakes and coffee, Eli’s cafe is a nice one. They serve sandwiches too and I love their scrimps and salmon bagel.

Eli

 

Accommodation:
I stayed at Viking Hotel Tromso. It is a simple 3 stars hotel, nothing fancy. The room is like the usual Norwegian standard, very small (and I stress again the “very”) but clean. It is slightly a little walk from the city centre (though not too far), around 5 minutes walk to tourist information center and 10 minutes walk to the Rica Ishavs Hotel which is the meet-up point for most tours. The one good thing about the hotel is that it served free waffles and hot drinks in the lobby for afternoon tea. I will recommend this place if you are just looking for a clean room to sleep without hurting your pockets.