22 - 25 August 2008
Bergen is the gateway to the Norwegian fjords, a spectacular area of scenery which shouldn't be missed if you like the great outdoors. The usual suspects took a 3 day Sognefjord in a Nutshell self-guided tour to Norway's longest, deepest fjord, Sognefjord, via train, jet boat, kayak, hiking and cruise ship.
Our introduction to this notoriously expensive country was a 30 minute ride from the airport which cost us about 1000 NOK. The only consolation was that we would have been unlikely to find our accommodation through the shadowy, steep, cobblestone streets and when we arrived at reasonably comparatively cheap Amalie's Guesthouse (1600 NOK) we found it to be clean, spacious and homely, with a gigantic bathroom (heated floors!). In a bid to save our precious cash, we bought some duty-free wine and sat around the loungeroom chatting over Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
A group of Londoners awoke in wonder at clear blue skies and sunshine and breathed in fresh Nordic air. Our 10:28am train from Bergen was a hassle-free, scenic ride through still fjords and rivers, forested mountains and small hamlets.
When we disembarked in quiet Myrdal, we discovered it wasn't even a town, just a railway outpost, but we explored it to its fullest extent by walking down to the clear stream and scooped fresh, clean water into our mouths. It was like being in the middle of a Norska Fresh advertisement.
The Flam railway is considered one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world. Unfortunately, any serenity was marred by a large group of excitable Japanese tourists on our train. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful view as we trundled downhill, passing a waterfall on the way. The train company had obviously planned this photo opportunity well, as all of a sudden majestic music swelled and girls with long blonde hair and dressed in medieval clothing danced under the waterfall with their arms spread wide in ecstacy. It was extremely cheesy, but I actually think (sans music) it was quite effective, as the girls looked like they were embracing the mighty rushing water.
Flam was an adorable little town, nestled in the grand cut of the Sognefjord. It was bustling with activity (so many souvenior shops, so many opportunities for bad sartorial photoshoots) but you could easily step into a green patch of land and soak in the scenery. Our apartment (2200 NOK) was spacious and tastefully decorated. To take advantage of the views of the fjord from the balcony, we enjoyed our lunch outside and tucked into bread, cheese, smoked salmon, salami and cinnamon rolls from the nearby supermarket.
The best way to see the fjord is on the water, so in the afternoon we took a 1.5 hour mini-safari on a jet boat. The padded Beastie Boys style flourescent jumpsuits offered many hilarious photo opportunities, but they proved to be necessary as it was really cold skimming along the water. We were lucky to spot the sineous curves of diving porpoises and seals bobbing their heads just above the water or languidly sunning their camoflauged bodies on rocks. Being so close to such animals in their natural habitat was magical.
Dinner at Flambrygga Hotell involved indulging in a Scandinavian gastronomical tradition - the smorgasbord. There was salmon done twenty ways, herring, mackerel, crayfish salad, mysterious meat dishes (reindeer?) and a selection of rectangular gelatinous desserts. If you have an appetite like mine (especially for salmon), it's not bad value at 275 NOK.
A breakfast of yet more smoked salmon and very salty scrambled eggs gave me the energy for our morning 4 hour kayak and hiking trip. Once again the weather had a pleasant surprise for us, which meant that kayaking through the water's clear, metallic stillness was a joy. We spotted silvery porpoises, kayaked right up to waterfalls trickling from the tops of the mountains, and hiked through mossy forest to a waterfall, ending with a quick, invigorating dip in a clear icy pool.
Lunch was at the Toget cafe, a charming railway carriage converted into a restaurant and outdoor eating area. Once again, fish platter for me!
Our final leg was a 5 hour Express Boat trip from Flam to Bergen. To be honest, not the most pleasant ride - it was really stuffy, noisy and the scenery remained much the same except when we went out into the open water.
Our accomodation for the night was a large airy artists studio (1200 NOK) as the accommodation I'd booked had been double booked. It was like school again - six kids all sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
Unfortunately no sunshine for our day in Bergen. I had a just-out-of-the-oven cinnamon bun from Baker Brun for breakfast, and then an organic chocolate bun from Godt Brod. We had a a quick wander through UNESCO World Heritage listed Bryggen, the old docks area with lots of shops and alleyways, diverted into a quick visit to the fish market for an open crayfish sandwich (30 NOK), and then trekked across town (and a big hill) to the United Sardine Factory, which wasn't what we'd hoped for.
Lunch was at the Cafe Opera, a very pleasant studenty cafe, and then more trekking as we took thefun-icular for a panoramic view of Bergen and then trooped back downhill through neighbourhoods of white weatherboard houses.
With our reserves of NOK running low, we indulged in one last hot dog and McDonalds buffalo wings (Jenny and Huy developed a strange fetish for them over the weekend).
Amalies Guesthouse: Ole Eides gate 1B, 5031 BergenT: +47 (0) 93452641
Flåm Guide Service: 5742 Flåm, Norway
T: +47 57 63 33 23
Flamsbrygga Hotell, Furukroa, Flamstova Restaurant, Aegir Microbyggeri: Boks 44, 5742 Flam
T: +47 57 63 20 50
Toget Cafe: Toget Cafe Flam, 5742 Flam
T: +47 57 63 21 55
Fjellsiden Guesthouse: Ovre Blekeveien 16
T: +47 55 32 17 91
Baker Brun: Bryggen (and other locations)
Godt Brod: Vestre Torggate, Bergen (and other locations)
T: +47 55 56 33 10
Stiftelsen Kulturhuset USF: Georgernes verft 12, Bergen
T: +47 55 23 03 15
Cafe Opera: Engen 18, Bergen
T: +47 55 23 03 15
Fløibanen AS: Vetrlidsallmenning 21, N-5014 Bergen
T: +47 55 33 68 00