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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Norway: In A Nutshell

Norway is a notoriously expensive country to travel in. Just looking at prices for accommodation or food can put the fear into any budget-conscious travel heart and as a result there’s understandably a tendency to make trips to this country shorter rather than longer. Unfortunately, though, Norway is also not a country that easily lends itself to short trips: Many of Norway’s most famous sights are very far from each other or pretty much any place that is convenient to fly to and so one weekend would hardly be enough time to, let’s say, drive up to Geiranger or go hiking in Jotunheimen. Luckily, though there are still some ways to discover what Norway is so famous for when you’re short on time:

If you have ever done any research on travel in Norway, you have probably come across the (in)famous Norway in a Nutshell tour. Norway in a Nutshell is a tour offered by the Norwegian Tourism Board that attempts to showcase the essence of Norway in just one single day. The tour starts either in Bergen or in Oslo and consists of a terribly scenic train ride followed by a possibly even more scenic cruise through one of Norway’s most famous fjords. The tour can be extended with an overnight stay in Flåm, a small town at the shores of a fjords, which is especially recommended if you’re making the trip from Oslo, but if you’re coming from Bergen one day will probably be just fine.

Calling Norway in a Nutshell a tour is stretching things a bit far – it’s really nothing more than a ticket for Public Transportation that saves you the trouble of having to buy separate tickets for the different types of transport. Prices from Bergen start at 1220 NOK (about 140 €), which is hardly a steal, but if you’re a student I would recommend that you just buy the regular public transport tickets since there are usually student discounts available. We were able to save a nice chunk of cash this way!

After buying our train tickets at the train station, we set out on a two-hour train journey with the Bergensbanen to Myrdal. Connecting Bergen and Oslo, the Bergensbanen is one of the few long-distance trains in Norway and while I never went on the full ride during my time in Norway, I loved getting a little glimpse of the journey.

As the train wiggled its way deep into the interior of the land, we could occasionally spot the Veafjord peeping through the trees. People got out their cameras to capture the deep blue of the sea water, but the moments passed so quickly that we remained seated and only tried to commit the image to memory. Around us, the mountains started to rise while the landscape grew increasingly wild.

We switched trains in Myrdal and quickly leapt onto the Flåmsbanen to grab window seats. The Flåm Railway is definitely aimed at tourists and hence keeps a slow pace that makes taking pictures easy, but unfortunately I wasn't feeling too well because I was coming down from a cold and so I handed my camera to my boyfriend who played our photographer for most of the day.

The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest railways in the world and also rumored to be one of the most beautiful - a claim that I don't have trouble agreeing with! On the way down from the mountains, we passed tumbling waterfalls, steep walls of rock and incredibly green valleys that went as far as our eyes could see. The landscapes in Norway never fail to blow me away: Who knew that places like this exist in Europe?

When we arrived in Flåm, a small town at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, we were greeted by the view of a giant cruise ship. Never expect to have one of the major fjords in Norway to yourself - there will always be a cruise ship! Wiggling our way through a supermarket-sized tourist shop, we found the local tourism office and bought tickets for the next ferry to Gudvangen. We had a few more hours to kill and knowing that commercialism wasn't the reason we were in Norway, we set off to explore the village and its beautiful surroundings a little bit.

Flåm may not be the most exciting place in the world, but it definitely can boast with a spectular scenery. The farther away we went from the train station and the harbor, the quieter it became until you almost forgot the hundreds of other people that you were currently sharing the village with. We passed big bushes of berries lining the streets and tempted by the sweet fruits, bought a basket of raspberries from a little self-service shack in front of one of the farms.

Eventually, we made our way back to the shores of the fjord and boarded the ferry. The boat was absolutely packed with people and we only just managed to squeeze into two seats on the main deck, so make sure you don't arrive last minute!

As the small boat cruised through the deep waters of the fjord, the temperature quickly dropped while the scenery got more and more magical. I will never get tired of the view of the Norwegian mountains - there is just something about them that has absolutely captured my heart!

At the end of the Aurlandsfjord, the ferry turned into the Næeøyfjord that I had already visited a couple of weeks earlier. That first visit had been on an uncharacteristically sunny day, so it was interesting to see just how different a feeling the fjord exuded with thick, grey clouds hiding the peaks of the mountains and the water gleaming in a deep green color. The wind was blowing harshly through our hair, but the sheer wildness of our surroundings still made us smile broadly.

We had planned to take a direct bus to Bergen from Gudvangen, but the long-distance buses had stopped running because there had recently been a fire in a nearby tunnel and so we only just managed to catch the last bus to Voss from where we took the train back to Bergen. I was exhausted from the long day, but did appreciate one last view of the mountains:

So, would I recommend Norway in a Nutshell? It's definitely a great day-trip option from Bergen that allows you to see and experience a lot of different stuff. I loved the Flåm Railway and the Nærøyfjord should be on every Norway Bucket List, but the thing is: It gets super busy. The crowds don't really take away from the beauty of the landscape, but if you're reasoning to visit Norway was to escape into the wilderness than Norway in a Nutshell is probably not for you.

That being said, the great thing about Norway in a Nutshell is the variety of things you get to experience in one single day: My favorite mountains and my favorite fjords may be in different parts of the country, but they're so far apart from each other that you would need at least a week to properly see them, so this trip is definitely more convenient for people that don't have that kind of time.

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