Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Norway in a Nutshell"

I've been waiting these last couple weeks to write another entry until we went on our first trip. 
So this is going to be a big one!!

Gino only gets a few days off every month and had his November break this past weekend.  Since he was only given two days off from practice, we decided to stay in Norway and explore the Fjords.  For those of you who are not familiar with a Fjord it's basically an ocean inlet surrounded by mountains/cliffs that shoot straight up from the water.  Here is a link that can give a better description.

We found a tour online called "Norway in a Nutshell", which is an unguided tour from Olso ( East coast) to Bergen (West coast).  On the trip you take a couple different trains, a boat cruise and a bus ride.  The tour is about 12 hours, with alot of stops built in so you can sight see and take pictures.  Gino and I love to take scenic trips, so this was right up our alley.  Our train left the Lillehammer station at 5:30am on Sat and we arrived in Oslo, for the start of the tour, at about 7:45am. WARNING: You will not be seeing much greenery in any of these photos.  We are officially in "Winter Wonderland" country.

Walking down to the train station in the SNOW
 [SIDEBAR] We opted not to have our tour tickets mailed out to the apartment because one, it would have been an extra 100 NOK, about ($20) and two, we were a little nervous they wouldn't arrive in time for the trip.

 We had to arrive at the train station early enough to find the "Norway in a Nutshell" ticket office, pick up our tickets, and get on our next train at 8:11am.  Not knowing the train station at all, we were a littler nervous.  But right as we walked off the train, we ran directly into the ticket office (oofta!), picked up our tickets and still had enough time to grab a cinnamon roll and a coffee. 
Ready to go!
The first leg of our tour was about 4 hours and took us through the beautiful Norway country side.  We had specific seats on this train and sat in a 4 person spot where we sat facing 2 other people.  These two other people were speaking Spanish and were completely spralled out on there seats/common space leaving us very little leg room...for 4 hours! That was ok, we were busy enjoying the scenery (and playing alot of scrabble on the Ipod Touch).  For the most part, the trains are very nice and the interior is comparable to airplanes.  Taking the train is such a great way to see a country, I wish we had more of them in the US.  It's a fairly cheap way to travel.  Most people use it as there main form of transportation in Europe.  Here are a few of our "Polar Express" photos...

There was an area somewhere between Oslo and Myrdal that was very foggy and the sun was behind the clouds. It was like we were viewing landscapes from a calendar or something.  Here are a few of those photos.

Once we arrived at Myrdal, which was basically just a train station, we hopped on the Flam railway.  The Flam is one of the worlds steepest railways that travels through the mountains and very close to the edge of cliffs!  That portion of the trip was only 1 hour but  the train made frequent stops along the way for photos.  The scenery was amazing, lots of waterfalls, tunnels, little towns built in the valley's, rivers, etc.  Although, most of the waterfalls were frozen to the rock... It was still gorgeous! I can't imagine what it would look like in the summer.

What the ride looks like in the Summer
The city of Flam is located smack dab in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountains and is also the beginning of the Sognefjord boat cruise.  I shouldn't even call it a city...It was basically a very small port for boats with a hotel, little school and a souvenir shop.  I'm guessing most people live in the mountians surrounding the Fjord.  What an amazing site to see evertime you wake up and look out your windo!  We had about an hour to kill before hopping on the boat so we went into a couple of souvenir shops and grabbed a snack, then boarded the boat.

For some reason troll memorabilia is popular in Norway...
Fjord cruise boat

The boat cruise lasted about 2 1/2 hours and had 3 decks that you could look off of.  One being covered and heated.  We stayed on the top deck for as long as we could before almost freezing!  That's where we were able to get the best view.  Gino and I were like kids in a candy store running from one side of the boat to the other trying to capture everything we were seeing.  The water was so deep and very still, it reminded me of thick tar.  The pictures just don't do it justice and we had forgotten to charge our video camera before the trip (AHH!) so I tried to take a few video's from my camera, you will see one below.

Our boat crusie ended at about 5:30pm. For the last 40 min of the trip it was pitch black outside!  We couldn't see 5 feet in front of us.  So we waited inside the heated deck until we stopped at Gudvangen to pick up the bus to Voss, which was about an hour ride through the mountians. I was a little nervous because it was snowing/sleeting and the bus driver said he had to turn off the lights inside the bus so he was able to see the road.  I didnt like hearing that as we were winding around cliffs on a huge coach bus!  But luckily, we made it saftley.   The 2nd to last stop was the city of Voss where we picked up the train to Bergen, about a 2 hour ride.  When we arrived at the train station in Bergen (about 8:30pm) we were bummed to find out it was raining!  I guess that may be a little better than snow.... But since we had no clue where our hotel was located and we weren't about to walk around a city the size of Minneapolis in the rain, we grabbed a cab.  Little did we know, our hotel was about 3 blocks away, so we probably could have walked...oh well! 
The hotel was nice with a cozy lobby/seating area with a fire and piano.  We checked in and went to find the elevators up to our room.  When we got to the elevator it was alot different than our elevators at home. Instead of an electric sliding door that opens and closes on its own it was a door with windows that you had to push open.  When you move up or down to a new floor, the door disappears and all thats left is the wall and you.  I wish I would have taken a picture now!
When we got into our hotel room the TV had a personalized greeting on it! Kind of a neat touch.

We were so exhausted and hungry that we quickly changed and headed out to dinner.  The main walking/shopping district was about a block from our hotel and overlooked the harbor.  The streets were busy with people going out on the town and we passed by tons of restaurants and pubs with live music.  Coming from our quiet little town of Lillehammer, this was almost too much for us! haha.  Its funny how comfortable we have gotten with the low key/low maintenance lifestyle.  The next day was Sunday and unfortunately...a rainy Sunday! That wasn't about to stop us from exploring the city.  Most cities in Norway basically close down on Sunday's.  We opted to save about $200 and booked the overnight train on Sunday night back to Lillehammer so we had the entire day in Bergen.  We were anxious to see what was actually open!  We ended up sleeping in a bit, heading down for breakfast in the hotel and checking out at about noon.  It was nice we were able to leave our suitcase locked up in a luggage room at the hotel so we didnt have to lug that around in the rain. 

Crazy alley we ran into (reminded us of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter!)
After exploring the city for a bit, we walked over to the Floibanen Funicular station to ride up the Floyen mountain overlooking Bergen.  This is a huge tourist stop for the city.  At the top of the mountian there are spectacular views of Bergen's 7 mountains surrounding the city...yes 7!  and a bunch of hiking trails and a restaurant.  Here is a link describing the Floibanen  We stayed at the top of the mountain for lunch overlooking the beautiful city!

 Here it comes!

Heading back down the mountain
Once we got back down from the mountian we headed back to the hotel to pick up our suitcase and start the hike back to the train station for our long overnight train ride back to Lillehammer.  It was a great first break and we cannot wait for our next one!

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you guys had a beautiful trip! Did you know that there is a shopping area in Oakdale called Bergen Plaza, after Bergen, Norway? It's not nearly as cool as the real thing. ;-)