Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Norway - Fjords around Flåm

The post has been delayed by about three weeks because it's already July. Okay, here's my promised post about Flåm.

So, before I start: what is a "fjord"? It's basically a narrow inlet surrounded by steep cliffs, created in a valley carved by glacial activity (thank you again, Wikipedia!). To be honest, I did not know anything about fjords until one day before I came to Norway (and that was when we planned and bought the tickets for the trip to Norway).

We bought tickets from the Tourist Office in Bergen's city center (next to the Fish Market). It's definitely much cheaper to buy the discounted student tickets at the Tourist Office than to buy online, so if you are a student and you plan to travel to Flåm from Bergen, don't forget to bring your student ID. Here's the detailed pricing of the whole trip, as organized by Fjordtours.com for "Norway in a Nutshell" tour:

Bergen --> Voss (student price): 138 NOK
Voss --> Gudvagen (bus ride with NSB): 55 NOK
Flåmsbana (the panoramic train ride in Flåm, student price): 280 NOK
Myrdal --> Bergen (student price): 209 NOK

If I remember correctly, if you buy online the trip will cost around 1000 NOK. So 825 NOK is definitely a huge savings :D

(By the way, it is EXPENSIVE nevertheless).

So first we rode a train to Voss. This part of the ride was a little boring since there was not much panoramic scenes viewable from the window. The fun starts on the bus ride to Gudvagen:

The first 10-20 minutes of the bus ride was a little boring because you'll only see similar looking sceneries of small towns, but after we went further and further away from civilization, the view became increasingly spectacular. One fun part, for me, was when the bus was going down steep slopes.

I bet my mum would squeal (or even scream) if she's there. She's a little bit afraid of steep curves and roller coasters.

It's a shame that I don't know the names of the roads or waterfalls we passed on the bus ride. They're magnificent!

Five minutes after we arrived in Gudvagen, we rode the ferry boat, named Skagastøl, heading towards Flåm, and of course, this was the main highlight of the entire trip to Flåm.

The ferry had three levels, and of course, the highest deck was the best place to see the surrounding sceneries in full view. Only if you wear enough layers of clothing to warm you up and protect yourselves against the chilly wind. I brought a thin blanket I got from riding the night train from Oslo to Bergen, and it's definitely really helpful if you want to sit down and enjoy the scenery without moving too much :)

When we were on board, there were flocks of seagulls surrounding our ferry. One bird in particular was crying really loudly as if it was calling its comrades:

For a moment I felt a little cautious with my mixed seafood sandwich that I bought from the Fish Market back in Bergen, but they never attacked me (phew!).

We took lots of photos on the ferry, and occasionally I would just sit down and enjoy the views because I know taking 100 pictures on the same view is pretty much useless and time-consuming.

It was a little chilly and windy even though it was early June (supposed to be summer), so dress well if you plan to go for this trip.

There were some sport activities going on around the banks surrounding the water.

And before we reached Flåm, we passed several small towns (and stopped there for a few minutes to load and unload passengers).

The rest of the ferry ride gives you magnificent views of the fjords and of the different shapes of cliffs.

Oh, and also, waterfalls. Not all of them were as tall as this one, though:

 On the boat, I tried this Bacalao stew.

The flavour of the fish was very strong. My Argentinian friend told me that Bacalao is readily available in their country. I haven't heard of the name considering that I was born and grew up in a country of islands where seafood is abundant. Bacalao is basically dried, salted codfish. For a moment I thought it was so similar to cakalang, a type of lean fish with similar texture to Bacalao. Well, they turned out to be different after some Googling around.

Well, after about 2 hours on the boat, we had a little free time in Flåm. The town is very small, filled with mostly souvenir shops. There is a small supermarket, ICA, close to the souvenir shops, and ICA sells goods normally at reasonable prices.

After about an hour or so, we took the panoramic train Flåmbana from Flåm to Myrdal. This train was special because it could go up quite some elevation.

More about the panoramic train will be covered in this post :)

The trip, as I mentioned earlier, was really costly, but I think it was worth the money. We saw the Sognefjord (the "King of all fjords"), which was one of the world's longest and deepest fjords. Basically, we discovered several towns and landmarks like the Styvi farm (one of the first places to have a public mail delivery system in Norway and where people have lived since the Viking era), Dyrdal, Sagfossen waterfall, the Nærøyfjord (the narrowest and best known of many arms of the Sognefjord, with steep mountainsides, hanging valleys, towering fields, etc), Stigen, Undredal (famous for the production of goat cheese), Aurland, Otternes, and the Aurlandsfjord.

Ah, but we had an unfortunate incident. We came a little bit late to the Tourist Office to get the tickets, so the only available excursion started at 1 PM and supposed to end at 11 PM. When we reached Myrdal, we were told by the conductor that the train from Oslo to Bergen was disrupted, and thus the same with the train from Myrdal to Bergen. Basically, we could not go back to Bergen using the original route. Fortunately, they arranged a bus ride (for free) from Flåm to Bergen. Not only we had to go back to Flåm using the same route for another hour (at this point, most people were tired and could not be bothered to take pictures of the scenery anymore), but we also had to wait for passengers from the Oslo-Bergen route to arrive in Myrdall for about an hour.

Then the worst part came: with so many passengers on the train, there was only one bus available. Naturally, people rushed to get in the bus. My friend and I encountered some... selfish people who reserved seats for their friends / family who were still somewhere around the souvenir shops. In the end, we managed to get on the first bus (and the guy sitting next to me was terribly pissed because he had to leave his friend, but I was thinking of how selfish he was to abandon his friend like that). Anyways, we managed to get back to Bergen, but at much later time. There was not much problem for me, but my friend who was staying at a hostel in Montagna could not go back. The last bus there was at midnight, and we reached Bergen at around 2 in the morning. And we had so little cash left: in combination we had 120 NOK left. The taxi ride to her hostel was around 250 NOK (we asked a taxi driver about it). Fortunately, with some negotiations and finding another passenger who wanted to go to the same direction, we managed to bargain the price to 145 NOK. And the taxi driver was really nice that he would let my friend ride to her hostel for 120 NOK because we told him we didn't have anymore money.

All in all, problems were solved. At the end of the trip we were dead tired. After all, sitting down on trains and buses for hours was literally a pain in the ass.

Lessons learnt from this? Better planning for the next trips ;)

*Edit: more photos added!


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