We’re up early enough that not only can we catch the first train of the day to Bergen, but we can also stock up on provisions beforehand. Our efforts to minimise our luggage haven’t been entirely successful, but we’re not totally weighed down as we ghost through Oslo’s silent early-morning streets.
The train, as before, is smooth as silk as it pulls out of the station. Before long, we’re slipping through a countryside of trees and farms, gently rolling at first and then giving way to steeper terrain. It’s not perceptible for the most part, but we’re climbing towards the spine of Norway, the highest mountains here in the south.
The south side of the carriage seems to be the one to be on. Sadly, we’re assigned seats on the north, and taking photos of the increasingly dramatic scenery requires a fair amount of moving back and forth. Gentle hills give way to rocky slopes, and tree-lined valleys to waterfalls coursing steeply down. These falls are aided by an unwelcome guest – by the time we reach our stop at Myrdal, it’s bucketing down.
Myrdal seems to be not much more than a stop carved into a narrow valley, but it’s an important turning for us. We’re not heading straight to Bergen. Instead, to make our trip more interesting, expensive and awkward, we’re heading north to the fjords. The first part of that trip takes us along the Myrdal-Flam railway.
If the Oslo-Bergen line was impressive, Myrdal-Flam is something else. The downslope is always perceptible, and if there are a few too many tunnels, they always open out to reveal something worth seeing. Raging rivers, massive waterfalls and trees clinging to every slope that’s slightly less than vertical. Despite the continuous rain, we keep the windows cracked open, all the better to load up on photographs. By the time we get to Flam itself, on the shores of a branch of the mighty Sognefjord, my camera is starting to show signs of exhaustion.
We have a little time before the ferry leaves for Balestrand, so we venture into the local museum, a shrine to the work of the men who carved the rail line we’ve just travelled out of the mountains during the early part of the 20th century. Perhaps the most poignant story is that of a track inspector, who rode up and down the rails on a modified bicycle and met his end when he encountered a train “he was not prepared for,” as the translation laconically notes.
Despite the rain and wind, the catamaran ferry taking us from Flam to Balestrand provides plenty for my camera to take in. The by-now expected, yet still stunning mountains rearing above the fjords are decorated, courtesy of the rain, by serried ranks of waterfalls streaming down their sides. The ferry even pauses at one of the more permanent examples of these, offering a few rain-splattered photo opportunities. For the most part, though, we stay below decks – we’re a long way from being done with Norway’s finest landscapes.
Balestrand comes as something of a relief after a day that’s seen us travel over and across Norway. It’s a smallish town clinging to one of the gentler slopes beside the Sognefjord, at a point where numerous smaller fjords branch off from the main trunk, Norway’s longest fjord. Kviknes Hotel is the centerpiece of the town, but we’re staying at the more modest Midtnes, which lacks the waterfront position but is notably cheaper. We survey the English Church, a stave-type church next door, and a small photo museum of Balestrand’s history, recording its heyday as a stopping off point for cruises, when Romanticism made its wild landscape the height of fashion among Europe’s moneyed types.
Given that the next day will bring yet more traveling, the most important part of the evening is dinner – a very tasty elk patty for myself offering a first real collision with Norse cuisine. The rain spoiled the views across the fjord a little, but we were hopeful for better things the next day.