Way back in January my parents and I decided to book a summer holiday in Norway to celebrate my Dad's 60th birthday. As I'm the runaway son living here, it was left to me to sort it out. I considered a week in Bergen, a road trip around the country, an Arctic voyage to the midnight sun, but in the end I picked Flåm, a delightful little village on the Aurlandsfjord. It's famous for being part of the Norway in a Nutshell tour, but I booked everything independently to retain complete flexibility, and save money!
“It is better to travel well than to arrive”
My parents love train journeys. They've travelled across Canada and South Africa by rail and have frequently declared those journeys to be their ultimate travel experiences. I'm also a bit of a transport nerd, I love planning journeys whether it be by air or by rail or even by bus. So I won't deny that part of the reason I chose Flåm was for the journey there.
I'd showed my parents plenty of images and video from Flåm and the nearby Nærøyfjord to whet their appetite, but I kept relatively quiet about the astonishing train journeys to come. We'd be riding not just one famous train, but two, the Bergen line and the Flåm Railway.
This was to be my third time on the Bergen line. The first time blew me away, the spectacular scenery yes, but it was also my first experience of freezing temperatures and snow in Norway! My travelling buddy Chris went as far as to say the journey will change your life.
My second trip was with Simarjeet and Nicola and we enjoyed the journey in full winter glory, including speeding through a whiteout. With those two experiences under my belt, I fully expected to be a little bored on our trip to Myrdal, where the Flåm Railway begins. I wasn't.
We were joined on the train by a Brazilian family visiting Europe for the first time. They had lost their luggage a few days before in Sweden, but rather than dwell on it and let it ruin their holiday, they chose to press on. Oslo is not the cheapest place in the world to shop for clothes, but one credit card later and they had a brand new wardrobe. Good for them! On the train the mother was studying a “Português-Ingles” phrase book and took great pleasure in being able to practice with my mother, much to the embarrassment of her fluent English-speaking daughter.
In between the chatter, my mum was behaving in a manner reminiscent of my first journey on this line, bouncing around the carriage, taking photos and pointing at little wooden cabins in the wilderness! At one stage she said “Oh David this is wonderful” and I just smiled and replied “You ain't seen nothing yet”.
Snowball Fights in July
Norway, like the UK, hasn't had much of a summer. The low temperatures across the Norwegian mountain ranges mean it's not just the peaks that are dusted with white. Whole slabs of last winter's snow remain, waiting for the thaw that isn't going to come.
When we pulled into Myrdal, almost the entire train emptied over to the Flåm railway platform. Not wanting to spend an hour doing a sardine impression, my Dad suggested we stay in the area and take a walk. Now, Myrdal isn't known for anything other than its train station, a B&B and a cycle hire shop, but it turned out to be a lovely decision.
We took a walk along the valley for about a mile and were rewarded with some beautiful scenery, a tempestuous river and the perfect spot to eat our lunch, overlooking the Flåm valley. My Dad even tried to start a snowball fight…
After an hour or so, we made the trek back up to Myrdal station, not realising quite how far downhill we'd walked! There was just time to catch our breath and grab a coffee before the train to Flåm pulled in and – despite all the amazing sights we'd seen so far – the highlight of the day could begin.
The Flåm Railway
I knew the facts about the Flåm railway. A one-hour journey from 866m above sea-level down to just 2. A 20km track with just one passing point, many tunnels, a bridge and spectacular sights all around. I knew all that. But until you get here and experience it, you don't realise what an impossibly great feat of engineering this thing actually is! It was built during the 1920s and 1930s, with no computer aided design, no modern engineering techniques, no heavy machinery. As we wound our way down, through and around the valley, I could think of little else.
At one point the train stops, allowing you to take in the majestic Kjosfossen waterfall. Here you realise here how much of a tourist route the Flåm Railway now is. Before the stop, a story is told of a local legend named Huldra, a woman-beast who lures men into the mountain with her song.
And of course, when you're outside taking pictures of the waterfall, a beautiful woman appears high up the waterfall from behind a rock, dancing and waving her arms, trying to lure some of those Japanese tourists into her lair… (Important note: I should point out the woman in the picture below is not the Huldra, it's my mother…!)
We finally reached Flåm at about 4pm, our senses overloaded, our minds and bodies exhausted. But it had been well worth it, every minute! As for Flåm itself? I'll tell you all about it next time 🙂