On Track in Norway – Scandinavia, Europe
A manic wind is threatening my hair, tossing it from here to there, across my eyes and into my nose. I’m freezing. Unfortunately I have only myself to blame. I make a mental note: summer doesn’t always mean a warm, yellow day.
Just a few hours earlier, unaware of this madness, I reclined in the cosy comfort of the coffee-and-muffin scented Bergen Line. Oslo was barely awake as the train charged out of the city and darted towards the mountains like a crafty trapeze artist, all without a sound or hint of effort. I peeled off my spring jacket, stuffed it in the overhead rack, thinking how bothersome it was going to be to lug it around all day long.
The Bergen Line, running from Oslo to Bergen, is Northern Europe’s highest railway system. Built over a period of twelve years, it is counted amongst the best train journeys in the world. As we pulled away, it became clear why. I sat glued to the window; my camera gently kissed the glass as it tried to capture the brilliance of the other side.
Norway grows around the nature that surrounds it. Giant trees dominate the skyline. Roads are accommodated across forests without scarring the land. Whatever space the mountains and rivers can spare is moulded into idyllic towns and villages. I planned to break my journey at one such stop – Mrydal – and switch trains on yet another scenic route (down a steep valley) to the village of Flam.
Sitting in the viewing gallery, I munched on a perfect hotdog with crispy golden onions on the side. My coffee rested on the little table, not trembling even once. Outside, Norway continued to dazzle: farms with woolly dots of sheep; architectural guide-styled country homes (complete with swing-sets and resting tricycles); an army of trees I couldn’t name. Everything looked so fresh and alive.
Norway is all about drama. Just as I was getting used to the green spell, the landscape changed; the summer greens turned into winter whites. It was the beginning of July, yet the snow showed no signs of moving on. It sat there, pile upon pile, laughing at the sun. My thoughts rushed, as swiftly as the train, to my flimsy jacket on the rack above. Surely, this did not bode well.
That was then, this is now. I am standing on platform 12 at Mrydal railway station. The air is frosty but sweet. My struggle to wean out every ounce of warmth hidden in my jacket is further aggravated by the wood tinged smoke twirling out of chimneys. Looking for distraction, I follow a trail of dusty backpacks (with hikers underneath) making their way downhill. From the other side, the valley spits out bikers with staminas of steel and from beyond the dark tunnel, a loud horn announces the arrival of the Flamsbana.
The Flamsbana, a traditional green carriage train with cardboard cut-out windows, is my ride through part two of my scenic journey along the valley. This 20-kilometer route, through twenty manually crafted tunnels, is laid out on the edge of the valley – quite an engineering marvel. I can’t help sticking my head out; retribution is swift. The wind cartwheels in my hair, but the view outside makes it worth my while.
The train puts on a scintillating show, practically floating past ravines and towards the mighty Kjoss Waterfall, where it breaks the journey for ten minutes. An icy spray welcomes visitors and almost immediately, a beautiful voice rises, draping the valley in a haunting melody. Above the rocks, hanging in the mist, is a woman in a blue peasant’s dress, singing a tragic troll song from Norse mythology. It is slightly surreal, and of course, dramatic.
As the journey to the floor of the valley resumes, the sharp and thundering make way for peaceful and pretty. Gentle streams and flowering meadows spread out across the landscape. Before I know it, Flam makes a shy, quiet appearance, indicating the end of our journey. The train lets out a loud sigh of exhaustion as a rush of tourists and accents descend on the platform; most, like me, wear slightly iced but content smiles – the journey has lived up to its reputation.