Winter arrived with a vengeance this week in northern Europe. Heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures have swept across the region causing disruption bordering on chaos for the last few days in the Netherlands. I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to return from a month-long trip to Argentina and Uruguay, where temperatures of 30ºC and deep blue skies were daily companions. The weather put me in mind of a previous trip to Bergen in Norway in the depths of winter.
On our first day in Bergen we were greeted by fierce winds and horizontal rain, the town seemed nothing but grey, cold and miserable. We popped into a local bar to take shelter from the weather and cheer our gloomy spirits, only to realise that Norwegian alcohol taxes don’t allow for gloomy spirits to be cheered. At least not by much. The frenzied buying of duty free alcohol by people getting off our plane at Bergen airport suddenly made a lot of sense.
Bergen is a pretty town situated in a fantastically picturesque area of western Norway, it’s also notorious for being one of the wettest places in the country. As we ventured back into the streets we were battered by more rain and wind, but made our way to the tourist office to discover what indoor activities were available in case it rained for the entire weekend. The tourist office staff were clearly used to damp tourists showing up looking for hope, and they cheerily told us the weather would improve. We booked a trip to nearby fjords for the next day.
The Norse Gods smiled on us and, as we headed to the train station for the first leg of our trip, the weather was bitterly cold but dry. There were even occasional spots of blue sky. The Norway in a Nutshell trip is less a tour and more a well connected set of public transport. It takes you on a train to the town of Voss, a bus then drops you at a harbour at Gudvangen. We boarded the M/S Gudvangen for a two-hour cruise along Nærøyfjord, an UNESCO World Heritage protected landscape that is outstandingly beautiful, until we finally arrived at the tiny town of Flåm.
The journey through the fjord was little short of spectacular. The Nærøyfjord is famed as one of the narrowest and most beautiful fjords in Norway. It’s towered over by vast mountains, their massive bulk reflected in the dark waters of the fjord. Dotted along the banks of the fjord are a number of tiny villages with brightly painted houses that, especially in winter, seem like the most isolated communities on earth. The landscapes were truly amazing, and I’d have spent more time outside taking photos but for the fear of freezing to death. It was incredibly cold.
The penultimate part of the trip is a 20km train ride connecting the village of Flåm and the railway junction at Myrdal. This is one of the steepest and most famous train routes in the world. We had a short time to regain our land legs before getting on the train and starting the zigzag ascent up the mountain. The train makes a short stop at Kjosfossen waterfall, which probably looks more dramatic when there’s less ice, before depositing you at Myrdal. We had a short wait on the snowy platform before a train arrived to take us on the two hour trip back to Bergen.
This being Norway in winter, it was already dark before we got on the final train of the day. Bergen is known as the gateway to the fjords, but in winter most of the trips that you can do aren’t available, all except the Norway in a Nutshell trip. The trip takes most of the day – you start in darkness and end in darkness – and despite the cold, it’s a great introduction to this beautiful and extraordinary region. It certainly made me want to return in warmer weather and take a few more trips through Norway’s fjords.