Norway in a Nutshell, in a Nutshell

I was just looking at my photos from the fjord cruise I did in Norway in June, trying to pick the best ones for the photo book I’m finally getting around to make.  And it made me think back on the very long and expensive day we spent on the fjords.  When reading this, keep in mind that I live in coastal British Columbia.  One of the most spectacular stretches of highway (the Sea to Sky) is within 20 minutes of my house, and the Indian Arm which is pretty much like a fjord is also close within reach, as long as you’re pals with someone who has a boat.

Rick Steves raves about Norway in a Nutshell (NIN…no, not Nine Inch Nails, who I am coincidentally going to see tonight) in his Scandinavia book, giving it the coveted 3 triangles.  NIN is basically a string of public transit tickets that the tourism Norway people have put together in one easy to purchase package.  It will set you back about $250 pp (CAD) and be prepared, because if you do it in one shot like we did, it’s a very long day.  I looked around, because I thought I was going to get ripped off on their flashy tourism website, but after checking things out thoroughly I was satisfied that it wasn’t a racket.

This post isn’t intended to persuade, or dissuade anyone from going on the NIN tour.  I’m extremely glad we did.  Because it was so hyped up in the guide books I had high expectations, and was a bit disappointed.  We had really crappy weather the day we were out, and our fjord boat was fully packed with pushy loud asian tourists.  They were more interested in feeding the seagulls than enjoying the peaceful beautiful surroundings, so that was annoying.  What I’m saying is manage your expectations.  If you do decide to book NIN as part of your trip to Norway here are some tips to make the day more enjoyable.

The Sognefjord (from Flam to Gudvangen).
The Sognefjord (from Flam to Gudvangen).

Book ahead!  We were there in mid June and bought our tickets in late March.  If you have a set day you need to make the trek to fit in with the rest of your travel plans, definitely book it in advance.  You can pick up your tickets the day before you travel in the central station in Oslo.  Don’t wait until the day of, as the ticket window opens after your first train leaves Oslo.  The same is probably true if you make the journey in reverse, starting in Bergen.  It’s possible to stay overnight along the way in one of the very small towns.  Not sure I’d recommend it.  If you get bad weather (which is possible any time of year due to the geography of the area) you’re going to be stuck in a crappy hotel or hostel with nothing to do.  Mydral, Flam, Gudvangen and Voss have very little in the way of amenities.  If you’re prepared to hike, paddle, cycle or whatever in the rain, then stay in Flam, it seems to be the most set up for tourists.

Flamsbanna (waiting in Mydral).
Flamsbanna (waiting in Mydral).

Pack a lunch!  We did the journey from Oslo to Bergen. It’s a 12 hour day.  Because the towns you go through have so little in terms of amenities, and you’re essentially spending your day on public transit, there’s not much to offer food wise along the NIN route.  Eat a big breakfast and bring a ton of snacks with you.  You can get stuff on the train from Oslo to Mydral, but it’s expensive crappy train food.  Your best bet for food is in Flam, there’s a Co-Op grocery store there and a couple small restaurants.  We packed along some simple cheese and cucumber sandwiches, tomatoes, yogurts, croissants, bananas, apples and a bag of chips and we pretty much burned through that by the time we hit Flam.  With our arrival in Bergen not scheduled until 8pm, we also needed dinner, so we re-stocked at Co-Op.  If you’re not a picky eater, and you don’t mind over priced food, then you’ll do fine with a few light snacks to see you through.

Flam
Flam

Dress in layers!  It was a pretty warm morning when we left Oslo, but after passing through 3 or 4 different climate zones, we arrived in Mydral, which is very high up in the mountains. There was snow on the ground in June!  You wait here for about 45 min. for your train to Flam, and not everyone can fit inside the tiny station, so you’ll want something warm in case you get stuck outside.  Mittens and a toque are a must on NIN!  The fjord boat was also very chilly.  Even though it was a little rainy, we wanted to be outside to get better pictures.  Inside was also packed with families and people who were unprepared for the conditions and I feel like that probably really spoiled their time.  And again in Voss, we waited outside, for an hour, as there was nowhere to sit in the station.

IMG_4262

Pack light!  You’re luggage will be with you the whole day.  There is no porter service so a rolling suitcase will be a huge hindrance on this journey.  We always backpack when we travel, for numerous reasons, and this was one instance we were really glad to be able to just run around with our lives on our backs.

Be patient!  If your tour is crowded like ours was, remember that there’s a seat for everyone, they don’t oversell this tour.  The only exception we found particularly challenging was the train from Myrdal to Flam. There are a lot of people who take the scenic train (Flamsbanna) roundtrip from Flam, so the train doesn’t empty when it arrives. If you don’t get on it, you won’t make it to Bergen that night.  So don’t mess around in Flam, be ready to get on, and try to get a window seat, because this part is spectacular.  There are no reservations on this part!  Also, when you get off the fjord boat in Gudvangen there are busses (plural) waiting to take you to Voss.  People were pushing and shoving, because they thought there was only one bus, which isn’t the case.  The Voss-Bergen train is long and kind of boring, so find somewhere on that one to rest.  You’ll want to go out when you get to Bergen, it’s fun!

Fjord boat arriving in Gudvangen.
Fjord boat arriving in Gudvangen.

That’s pretty much my version of Norway in a Nutshell, in a Nutshell.  It’s a great tour, the scenery is amazing, and it’s a must do if you’re in Norway.  Unfortunately due to the cost and overall experience I had in Norway, it’s not on my list for a repeat visit.  But, I’m really glad I went!  You don’t have to want to go back to everywhere you travel!

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