Nordic Tracks

One traveler gets a taste of Norway in a Nutshell

By: Roger Allnutt

The majestic Norwegian fjords are a wonderland of stunning scenery, small towns and tiny villages clinging to the edges of steep mountainsides above the brooding waters of the sea.

There are many ways to see the fjords including the amazing Hurtigruten, where clients join a local steamer on its 11-day voyage along the coast of the remote communities in the Arctic north.

However, clients who don’t have time for this trip can get a similar experience by joining one of the many variations of the Norway in a Nutshell trips offered by the rail lines. The trip packages combine rail, bus and ferry travel from Bergen and Oslo to the spectacular fjord area.

Only in Oslo
Oslo, the bustling capital of Norway, could warrant at least a day’s stopover. The pedestrian-only shopping street, Karl Johan’s Gate, stretches from the railway station to the Royal Palace and includes the attractive Stortinget (Parliament House) and National Theatre. The Akershus fortress and castle built at the end of the 13th century, dominate the city’s harbor. Dungeons and banquet halls are found in the buildings once used as prisons during World War II, and a nearby museum offered a look at the Resistance Movement during the war.
History buffs can take a 10-minute ferry ride to Bygdoy, a peninsula jutting out into the harbor where visitors will find three excellent museums, one about Thor Heyerdahl’s raft the Kontiki, another about excavated Viking ships and the third about polar expeditions.

Riding the Rails
At the train station in Myrdal we boarded the Flam Railway for a fantastic hour-long trip. The famous rail descends 12 miles on the Oslo-to-Bergen railway to Flam along the placid waters of Aurlandsfjord, a branch of the largest fjord in the world.

The railway was completed in 1940 and used by the Germans during World War II to move troops and supplies. Now one of Norway’s most spectacular tourist attractions, the route winds through 20 tunnels and provides panoramic views of the Norwegian mountain landscape. The journey is anything but straight: One tunnel does a complete 360-degree loop within the mountain.

Ferry Me
After a short time in the village of Flam (the small railway museum is worth a visit), we boarded the large hydrofoil ferry and sailed back to Bergen with a number of stops at fjord-side villages.

On our tour, we only had a short journey down the Aurlandsfjord to Balestrand on the main Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord, cutting inland more than 112 miles. There, we spent two nights at the majestic, old-world Kviknes Hotel. While the hotel had its heyday before World War I when the German Kaiser summered there, it’s still a great place to stay. The buffet dinner includes a lavish spread of salmon, prawns and herring.

The arms of Sognefjord are narrow with the steep mountainsides dropping precipitously into the dark waters. From Balestrand a boat tour takes you along the lovely Fjaerlandfjord past tiny farms to the port of Mundal.

We then took a bus to two different sections of the mighty Jostedalsbreen glacier. Standing at the foot of the glacier you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sheer size and hidden power of the ice. The tour also stopped at the Norwegian Glacier Museum for a hands-on look at glaciers including an IMAX-style “flight” over the glacier.

The last place one would expect to find a bookshop is beside a fjord, but the tiny village of Mundal is a book town (similar to the famous Hay on Wye in England). Warehouses, shops, private houses, roadside stalls hold more than 200,000 books; one shop contained an amazing collection of English detective stories.

Beyond the books, the landscape around the fjords ranges from the dramatic to an English-like gentleness. Large orchards of apples and pears wait outside Balestrand, and inside the town, surprisingly, is St. Olaf’s Church, a remote outpost of the Church of England.

From Balestrand, the ferry calls at some small villages before arriving at Bergen’s beautiful harbor. The attractive city of Bergen features a large fish market at the head of the harbor and also serves as the area’s focal point. The hills around the city provide panoramas of the harbor and the buildings in the historic Bryggen area, a place rooted in the Hanseatic traders of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Sights in Bergen worth visiting include the 12th-century St. Mary’s Church, Rosenkrantz Tower and the Gamle Bergen Museum. Music lovers may want to include a tour of composer Edvard Grieg’s house in suburban Troldhaugen.

While some Norway in a Nutshell trips can be done in a day, I recommend spending at least three days to savor the region’s wonder and drama.


Oslo Tourism

Bergen Tourism

Flam Railway

Kviknes Hotel, Balestrand