The difficulty that lies in picturing a country so far removed (distance, culture, language and all) from Singapore is the scenery that Singapore lacks and that Norway has in abundance. It is not far from the truth when visitors to photogenic Scandinavia return home raving about what Norway has and what Singapore does not have.
Welcome to stunning Norway, an unbelievably expensive country that quirkily has half the male population whose first or middle name is “Olav” as a distant reminder of their Viking past.
The western trek across Norway’s Hardangervidda (Hardanger Plateau) is so obscenely picturesque that this particular journey has been packaged to great success as a popular tourist itinerary known as “Norway in a Nutshell”.
I vowed that I would do this journey again sometime in the future, even if it meant selling my soul.
In all, tourists who opt for this popular package are herded across an exhaustive and bewildering (but rewarding) combination of a train-boat-bus-train connection in the space of 12 hours that brings them from Oslo to Bergen across the Western Fjords. It is not a bad trip at all, and the dramatically altering landscape is a geologist’s Mecca.
Determined not to join the puffing hoards, Lonely Planet and I chose Norway without the Nutshell, opting instead for the boat tour across the Sognefjord and veering off in the direction of Balestrand to avoid the tourists who have chosen the nutshell route.
The train cuts through the gentle sloping areas of alpine villages and heavily wooded areas. Its inconspicuous and gradual ascent into the plateau goes unrealised until you suddenly find yourself a thousand metres above sea-level, with melting glaciers and snow for the touch a few steps away from the Finse train station. The snow disappears in the later part of the summer and people start biking across the plateau.
Norway’s glory unfurls in stages, and provides passengers with teasers now and then – occasional glimpses of a snow-capped peak far away titillate the eye and are sufficient to usher in excitement among unsuspecting passengers who twitter about the first sight of snow.
This excitement is all pervasive. Suddenly I found myself talking to the person sitting beside me – we shared a mutual admiration for the snow. I learned she was a Japanese lady who was traveling alone. Further blatant inquiry led me to discover that she travels alone constantly without her husband, a hater of traveling, who goes only to Honolulu annually for some kind of marathon which is unsurprisingly, incredibly boring for her.
She then fished out an egg from her bag, telling me that she stole it from the hotel. I was stunned by the irrelevance of the information. Nonetheless, the striking scenery had bonded us, and I found to my horror that I was starting to enjoy her strange interjections more than I thought I would have.
The landscape’s brilliance reaches its peak (pun intended) when the train finally comes into full view of the surrounding snow-capped bumps of the plateau, so imposing that it stretches for hundreds of miles visibly from the air – heralded also by the non-stop clicking camera actions by the passengers on the train.
I waited with barely-contained excitement for the downward trail with the Flaamsbana (The Flam Railway), but was somewhat disappointed to see greenery once more!
There I was, locked in the heart of Norway, and probably the only Singaporean around for miles. What more could I want but Internet connection? Unfortunately, the night in Flaam was more like a night spent in a pine prison cell with showers that worked when coins were slotted in.
The following morning was spent talking to a cat that was wandering around the supermarket area, with hours to spare until the next boat to Balestrand.
Wondrous Balestrand more than made up for the dull day in Flaam. There were many times when I simply stopped in the middle of the road to admire the scenery, much to the amusement of the locals. Pity it lasted merely a day and a half before the catamaran left for Bergen.
After the catamaran wove its way through the flattening landscape to hilly Bergen, I could then gleefully claim: this was my own nutshell, hauled around by train and boat, but thankfully, not quite so madly condensed.