Friday, 1 June 2012

BERGEN TO OSLO - NORWAY

27th - 29th May 2012

I dernt nerr hooo. Knut Knutson maybe.
A day and a half to kill in Bergen, and a very pleasant little city it is. It is the second largest city in Norway and about the size of Nether Wallop. Table 16 arranged to meet up for drinks and dinner to bid farewell to each other. RV 6.30pm at Chris and Pamela's hotel suite to polish of the remaining 'smuggled' booze and then on to what will no doubt be an expensive restaurant for supper. Everything in Norge is expensive.

Left: The first notable thing I saw in the harbour was  this German submarine,  a U-boat, 'das boot', which was 'just visiting'. Didn't they say that in 1941? I noticed several crew members staggering on board carrying large boxes which may have contained either beer ( doubtful, considering the prices in Norway ) or dried fish ( equally unlikely in the close confines of a sub ). Maybe stuff for their enigma machinen. So I don't know.






We went on a tour of the city. Lots of pretty wooden buildings, as per pic, which were mainly reconstructions from the Hanseatic period in the 15th century. Bergen was an administrative town for the old Hansa trading nations. Bergen has suffered at least one major fire when most of the original wooden buildings burnt down and, more recently, on 20th April 1944, coincidentally Hitler's birthday, a vast explosion when a Dutch ship carrying 120 tons of explosives accidentally? blew-up in the harbour. Many buildings were destroyed and 150 people killed, 5000 injured.
As mentioned earlier, Bergen was in the middle of a rare few days of warm sunshine. There are a lot of very pretty blonde girls in Bergen as was evident by the number of them bikini clad and sunbathing in every available park and garden. They were making the most of this almost freak meteorological phenomenon. "Phwooor...What A Scorcher!" as the Current Bun might have said.


Left: I found this delightful little 'pension' to stay at for the couple of nights I was here. The Skansen Pensjonat is it's name. By Norwegian standards it is cheap ( medium price by our standards ) and excellent service by a charming lady owner. It has received good write-ups in the Daily Telegraph travel supplement amongst other rags. Only draw-back is it is 'only' 200yds behind the funicular station at the end of the quay/city centre but that 200yds is up a 45ยบ hill with zig-zag roads, so towing big luggage is exhausting. Better to take the funicular up one stop and let the luggage pull you down, as I discovered.

Right: Relaxing under an elk at another wooden shop. There is a strict no-smoking law in place here as you might imagine from their previous experience with fire in the town. Having said that there are relatively few days when the place is not seriously wet.


Left: There is a 'goood viooowe' from the station at the top of the funicular, and on the way up/down. Only £18 for a return journey. Cheap at the price for a 5 minute ride. It takes 20 mins to walk down.

We duly met for drinks and dinner, and the Californian Vikings came along too. A jolly evening was had by all.
Another day to be spent here and then on to Oslo by the stupendously panoramic and scenic "Norway in a Nutshell' route.
I will stop this blog here, and just leave a few photos of some of the journey to Oslo by train, bus and boat.
I will fill in the gaps when I have time and continue the next edition from Oslo. The reason for this hiatus is that I have just been called away on an urgent 'Top Secret and Dangerous Mission' ( TSDM ) which will interrupt my planned travels for about a week. You may hear from me after the 8th. Pip Pip.


OK. Back unscathed from TSDM and raring to go. Writing this in retrospect.
Self, Chris and Pamela decided to do the 'Norway in a Nutshell' trip from Bergen. This involves a rail journey from Bergen east across some fairly mountainous terrain and through many tunnels to Voss.  Then on by bus to Gudvangen followed by ship up a fiord to Flam. Then by a private train up the Flam Valley to Myrdal where I would take the train on to Oslo and Pamela and Chris would return to Bergen. Right: Our start point; the pleasant Bergen railway station. The train left at 0840hrs.




The train passes some picturesque lakes and fiords on the way to Voss, and normally you run into a tunnel just as you see a scene worth snapping. It is then by bus up steep terrain via the stunningly located Hotel Stalheim where, back at the beginning of the 20th century, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany always used to spend his holidays and other wealthy people still do. It really does have magnificent viooowes. We didn't stop at the hotel. This area is a classy skiing venue during the winter.





The drive down the other side negotiates a spectacular series of 30 zig-zag bends. One is left hoping that the driver has checked his brakes beforehand. It is only one-way; not possible to drive up the hill. Horses used to pull small carts up here and the passengers were asked to dismount to save the poor beasts too much effort.








Left: There are lots of vertical cliffs with waterfalls as per this one. There are even more vertiginous and sheer cliffs which are used by intrepid 'base jumping' parachutists in the summer. Eventually you get to the village of Gudvangen on the shore of a fiord ( which connects to the sea somewhere ) and board a smallish ship.












Right: Pamela trying on a bit of local millinery before boarding the ship.






Left: A view up the fiord at Gudvangen. It was all very scenic and many views like this. We were lucky with the weather.












Right: A sister ship of ours going t'other way. Good bar and restaurant on board ( restricted eating and drinking due to Norwegian prices ).












It was about a two hour cruise up the fiord passing a few villages and other boats en-route. Left: Approaching Flam where a large liner was docked.











Right: The liner turned out to be this one; the Costa Fortuna, which it undoubtedly did to travel in it ( silly name to give a cruise liner if you ask me ). Interestingly, this Italian vessel is a sister ship of the Costa Concordia. You know, the one which did a sail-past a bit too close to the shore somewhere off the Italian coast, hit rocks and sank. Maybe it is in hiding up here, but I saw passengers getting onto it. I bet they have double checked their life-boat stations.




There is a railway museum and some smart bars and refreshment facilities at Flam. The Flam to Myrdal railway took twenty years of back-breaking work to construct. It was finally completed in 1920 and is one of those switch-back railway systems negotiating steep gradients up the spectacular Flam valley. It is operated now by a private and very tourist orientated company. Left: The train. One of two because we passed the other coming in the opposite direction. The museum tells the story of the line's construction.




Right: An example of one of the seriously steep zig-zag roads leading up a part of the valley. The railway did a bit of zig-zagging too, as well as going through lots of long tunnels. It must have been a right bugger of a track to lay. I think the train journey took about an hour and a half ( at slow speed ), and the railway took twenty years to build.





The 'commentator' was banging on about some beautiful sirens or nymphs who allegedly haunt the valley and seduce travellers. At some point we stopped and were encouraged to get out for a smoke break. Left: Lots of Oriental tourists on board who leapt out with their cameras....








.......to photograph this stonking great waterfall. There was some supposedly haunting music playing and eventually I noticed a woman prancing about on the top of the ruined building to the lower right of the photo. ( enlarge to see ). I assumed it was one of the more lunatic tourists who had decided to fling herself into the foaming brine a la 'darling Clementine'. I was later informed that this was an attempt to enact the behaviour of aforementioned mythical 'sirens' of the valley. Hey Ho!
The train then continued on uphill to Myrdal. It was indeed a remarkably impressive and comfortable journey. Recommended.
The train on to Oslo took five and a half hours and that too went on further up into the mountains, well up above the snow line. It was another impressive journey with majestic scenery before descending towards Oslo. As with all these Scandinavian trains ( that I have experienced ), they are more comfortable than the UK models. Many less irritating announcements, a smooth ride, good buffet and/or dining car and noticeably much more space in the seats and greater leg room. Very relaxing.
I got into Oslo Central at 2230hrs. More to come from there.


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