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Flam to Oslo - Australian Times Feature

Luke McCormick discovers the waters of Norway and explores the appeal of this magnificent Scandinavian country.

Luke McCormick discovers the waters of Norway and explores the appeal of this magnificent Scandinavian country.

Tucked neatly between a seemingly endless concertina of snow-crowned mountains cut by the deep glacially-fed, green waters of Norway's most majestic fjord, lies the quaint village of Flam.

The postcard-perfect village is blessed with a superb location where the waters of the Aurlandsfjord - a main arm of Norway's longest and deepest fjord: the Sognefjord - are brought to a definitive halt by the natural barrier of the mountains and the man-made, reinforced Flam port complex.

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In days gone by, Flam was put on the map as an important trade junction and served as the conduit between the great western fjords of the Atlantic and the Oslo-Bergen railway, the connection only made complete after the construction of the impressive Flamsbana railway in 1927.

As engineering feats go, the Flamsbana stands in unique company as one of the steepest gauge railways on earth, rising a staggering 863 metres in just 20km, at a gradient of 55%, from the Flamsdalen valley to Myrdal, high on the alpine pass above.

The incredible stretch of track was opened in 1940 after engineers spent 20 years cutting 6km of tunnels - erecting 20 separate tunnels in total - into the sheer-faced mountains, the workers even diverted a river during the unprecedented construction.

Today the Flamsbana is one of the most spectacular railway lines in the world and the stunning Norwegian landscape awes: alpine farms clinging dizzily to the slopes above; powerful waterfalls cascading down cliffs; the criss-crossed river coursing toward the fjord; and the ever-present, precarious vertical-drop beside the steel carriages leaves you clutching the platform rails on disembarking the train.

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Flam is divided between the railway station and marina area, a purpose-built complex designed to handle the large crowds offloaded by cruise ships and tour operators in summer, and old Flam village which hugs the river further up the valley and is centred around a charming stave church.

Clearly marked walking trails make discovering the village and surrounding valley a delight and the Brekkefossen waterfall cuts a neat arc down the mountainside providing the perfect natural feature to keep bearings in check.

Other popular pursuits in the Flamsdalen area include hiking, cycling, kayaking and fishing, which are encouraged by all the local hotels, and of course organised ferry trips along the magnificent fjords themselves.

Norway's famous fjords are the result of ancient glaciers receding into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, creating a heavily-indented coastline - one of the longest and most rugged in the world - with over 50, 000 islands scattered throughout the territory and countless fjords snaking majestically throughout the country.

A ferry trip along the western fjord system, culminating at the Naeroyfjord arm, is a sure fire way to produce much neck straining, and a possible visit to the local physio on return to London town, from gazing upward as the imposing 1200-metre-high peaks are virtually squeezed on top of one another (as the name suggests) into a narrow passage.

Here, villages remain cut off from the world in virtual isolation. The lingering mist and silence do nothing to stem the eerie atmosphere created by this private, secluded location reached exclusively by water.

A local fisherman and former merchant navy sailor from the area said it was these very waters that 'make this place the most beautiful in world'.

''I have been all over the world with the Norwegian navy, but I was always happy to sail back to these fjords, to my home,'' he said.

''It is the water from this place you know'', he explained as the reason for the distinctive and wonderfully invigorating atmosphere of the place.

''We have the best water in the world, it flows down from these mountains above us and provides us with everything we need,'' he concluded before devouring the remainder of his lunch, a dish made up of local seafood and off-looking meat.

What Flam seemed apparently to lack in the culinary stakes was more than made up for by the view outside across the sparkling waters and toward a landscape containing innumerable natural treasures.

To gain a glimpse of the source of these waters it was necessary to again ascend to the high mountain passes above these valleys and join with one of the most picturesque and stunning stretches of railway in Europe, the Oslo-Bergen line, which cuts an East-West traverse across the country.

The journey back toward Oslo over Northern Europe's highest mountain plateau included a stop at the highest train station on the line at Finse (1222m), the alpine outpost overlooked by the sparkling blue ice of the Hardangerjokul glacier.

This followed by a cannonball run through Geilo, where snowmelt quenches the thirsty valley lakes, creating a speckled tundra-like landscape of ice-melt and rock, the surrounding mountains morphed effortlessly into the grey, horizon-less sky above.

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Back in the Oslo environs, a fairytale scene of red-timbered, A-frame farmhouses set amidst rolling green meadows and pine-bunched forests signaled a return to life in the low country of Norway.

Oslo is a great finish to any visit to Norway, and taking a drink in one of the many brasseries dotted along the cobble-stoned Karl Johans Gate is a treat, with trams and pedestrians jostling gently in the background.

The main district of the capital is manageable, cosmopolitan , and very sure of itself, with plenty of shopping, museums, mainly dedicated to the countries rich viking past, and palatial residences for the sightseer in us all, it is a great base for a few laid-back days in one of Europe's more pleasant capitals.

The compact city's port area is a find and a real pleasure; enjoy a lazy lunch in one of the boardwalk cafes; stroll up to the once impregnable Akershus fortress; or simply kick back and watch the tall ships, ferries, and ocean liners come and go, while all around a richly-coloured blue blanket of crystal clear water.

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Posted by Luke Mc 17:34 Archived in Norway Tagged train_travel

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