Norway in a nutshell

To Norway with love

Thanks to Bollywood, I have seen enough of Switzerland. But this piece is about Norway, not Switzerland. All my life, I was made to believe that Switzerland was the most scenic place on earth or it had the most charming mountain tops with beautiful railroads. But I have been wrong. If this world has a ‘most beautiful place’ then Switzerland isn’t the sole contender. Norway was even better if not equal. My friends, this is Norway in a nutshell for you!

I think I owe a few words to this amazing place because Norway brought back the sense of euphoria I thought I had lost long ago. There could be two reasons why I was so surprised to see the wilder side of Norway.

One, every travel article about Norway begins and ends with nothing but the fact that Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Nobody talks about what it has to offer.

Second, no photograph can justify its unmatched beauty laid out in front of a pair of naked human eyes.

I would like to think that life is a bed of flowers in Norway but then I remember harsh winters

I would like to think that life is a bed of flowers in Norway but then I remember harsh winters

I was at a loss before this much-awaited trip. The google maps were useless as they haven’t done much mapping in Norway yet and there wasn’t much information about the weather as well. A a result, we ended up with inadequate clothing and too many misconceptions about the country.

The expense factor is there of course. But having stayed in Finland for quite some time, we found the prices almost equal and that is why bearable.  Had I made that trip back from India I would have cried a river for the notes we spent there. It is true that the prices in Norway are pretty steep but this post is not about the expenses either. What nobody tells you about Norway is, nature in Norway comes for free.

Yes, you heard me it’s free. So would you really mind paying for a modest apartment or a hotel room and getting unlimited and complimentary views from your window? And nobody dies of hunger in Norway. Like us, you can always stock up food from any supermarket. Once in a while, we indulged in modest dinners and luncheons at random restaurants.

The rest of the meals were managed from our frugal stock. Thanks to instant noodles, coffee pouches and supermarket snacks we survived Norway and pretty much alive to share our Norwegian adventures with you.

This is Norway in Summers/ If you don't want to die from Hypothermia then pack woolens

This is Norway in Summers/ If you don’t want to die from Hypothermia then pack woolens

To begin with, I was amused to read that it rains in Norway so much so that they had once installed umbrella vending machines all across Oslo. The idea failed for no particular reason, but I guess they already  had enough umbrellas, both the local residents and the tourists.

And I thought only Germans were crazy enough to come up with such awesome ideas. I saw this water clock in a Berlin mall which was an amazing invention as you could actually see time flowing in drops.

Oslo didn’t surprise us when it welcomed us with a gloomy sky like a sulking child on the verge of tears. The heaven broke loose as soon as we entered our Air BnB apartment. Renting an apartment on a vacation is the most convenient thing to do while on a budget. The price range is wide and you get to cook your own meal. But this is strictly not for those with a habit of being waited on.

Since we don’t have such fancy habits, we were happy cooking our own meal and watching the rain drip down our windowpanes.

Storybook train stations! A train station in Oslo-Myrdal rail route

Storybook train stations! A train station in Oslo-Myrdal rail route

The same rain followed us next morning to the Oslo Central Station from where we were to take a train to Myrdal and eventually to Flåm. Forget having any knowledge about these places, we didn’t even know how to pronounce their respective names. Later, I found out, the ‘a’ here is pronounced as ‘o’. I was excited because this was my first train ride in Europe and soon I began my series of ‘awws’ as the train made an exit from Oslo.

Gradually, the concrete houses were replaced by wooden cottages and marsh mellow like hay rolls covered with white sheets. Verdant lakes and green hills rode along was and I thought the best of Norway was spread in front of my very own eyes. How wrong I was!

The best was yet to come and my illusion broke only when the green mountains gave way to snowy mountains and glaciers. It came as a shock because nobody warned us about freezing cold spells in the summers. We froze in terror thinking of death caused by hypothermia as the train ran along vast stretches of frozen rivers and valleys.

When the train finally stopped at Myrdal, a pretty little station in between snow-capped mountains, we had tired ourselves from all the excitement. The red train against the backdrop of white snow took me back to certain typical Bollywood movies where a scantily clad heroine and a heavily dressed hero break into a dance for no apparent reason.

It doesn’t matter if it is at a crowded European train station (Switzerland most of the time) or a horribly frozen mountain, you will find them dancing to random Bollywood beats. Considering the fact that we we didn’t have adequate warm clothes, we almost felt like those Bollywood actors.

If you haven’t seen such crazy stuff yet I urge you to do so. I bet, it is as good as seeing a unicorn. In fact, this could actually be the magic you needed in life!

The prettiest train station I have ever seen. Myrdal- Flam rail route

The prettiest train station I have ever seen. Myrdal- Flåm rail route

At Myrdal, there wasn’t much to do except for watching Japanese tourists clicking pictures and smiling at them. When the second train arrived I almost ran to grab a window seat. As much as I am ashamed of this act now I was feeling proud of my endeavour at that moment. I was about to ride on one of the world’s steepest railroads after all. But we were making a downhill journey.

This one hour ride was probably the most amazing experience of my life as my jaw dropped when the train stopped by a colossal waterfall. My jaws dropped not because of its enormity but the surprise it had in store for us. Being a slave of smart phones, we were watching everything through our cameras.

Suddenly sweet music filled the whole atmosphere and on my screen appeared a woman in a red robe dancing atop the fall. Perhaps, it was the weather that had this magical effect or it was the music, the whole setting was somewhat surreal. For a few moments, I was confused.

The woman in her red robe along with the cottony clouds and milky white waterfall gave me the magic I had been looking for all my life. I was no longer a part of this world.

Kjosfossen Falls located somewhere between Flam and Myrdal

Kjosfossen Falls located somewhere between Flam and Myrdal

If you are wondering what it was all about we need to dig into some Scandinavian folktales. According to the legends, mysterious creatures (called Huldra or Hulder) roam around the mountains and enchant human beings with their sweet songs. They are more like forest fairies who protect friends of the forests and captivate the bad ones with their music.

The story dates back to an unknown time in the past when there lived a woman with many children. One day God came to visit her and she wasn’t done with her housework yet. She hadn’t even cleaned some of her children. In panic, she hid the dirty children in a closet and presented the clean ones in front of God. Disappointed, God cursed the woman that the children she had hidden from him would be hidden from humanity forever. Thus, Huldras came to roam around the mountains always hiding and only appearing to those they want to harm or help.

Watching the dancing woman I was tempted to jump into the fall and submit myself to captivity if all of this was only real. Kudos to Flam Railways for this tribute to the mountains and their legends. If verdant valleys, frozen rivers and gushing waterfalls weren’t enough, you gifted us the most amazing memory to cherish for the rest of our lives.

Compared to this surprise, the rest of the train ride was nothing but down at the valley awaited us the much talked about Norwegian fjords.

Flam train station. This sleepy little village is famous for one of the steepest railroads in the world

Flåm train station. This sleepy little village is famous for one of the steepest railroads in the world

And the clouds welcome you like this. Does dead people arrive in heaven like this?

And the clouds welcome you like this. Do dead people arrive in heaven like this?

My husband is on a mission to make this bag travel the whole world. Just that the bag is borrowed from a friend.

My husband is on a mission to make this bag travel the whole world. Just that the bag is borrowed from a friend.

Flåm was a sleepy little village with extra cute red cottages including the train station. As we waited for our boat ride to Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, we lunched on fresh fish and chips; fish picked from the fjords and potatoes I don’t care where are they from as long as they are crispy. Sitting in silence at an unknown station and watching the thick clouds looming over our heads, we were finally able to grasp the reality.

The weather was rainy and it gave a ‘Jurassic Park’ like feeling. The fjords were fascinating yet intimidating. The green was of the darkest shade and the water looked like a thick blanket ready to engulf our tiny existence. Interrupting the silence of Songenfjord, world’s deepest and longest fjord, we were inching towards heaven. After about five hours of hypnotic ferry ride when we were making an exit from this fjord, we were waved goodbye by a rainbow.

The rainbow vanished within seconds but not before reminding us how lucky we were. Back home in India, we always associate rainbows with luck.

Songenfjord, world's deepest and longest fjord.

Songenfjord, world’s deepest and longest fjord.

Our friend Nishith trying to measure the width of the fjord

Our friend Nishith trying to measure the width of the fjord

Speaking of luck, the taxi driver in Bergen fooled us and we ended up paying about 30 euros for a walkable distance. To make things worse, we had a hard time finding our apartment but God bless that friendly man who helped us even when his pizza takeaway was getting cold in the Norwegian chill. Hope a Huldra would reward this man some day for being so helpful.

Bergen

Bergen, Oslo’s little sister/ Can there be anything prettier?

Begren presented a contrasting sight as we were approaching the port. Tall buildings atop mountains looked unusual especially after seeing so many pretty little cottages on our way. But being one of the most important cities in Norway, Bergen had to accommodate such contrasts.

Despite all the modern buildings, one can never fail to spot a small stretch of yellow and red wooden cottages from a distance. That is Bryggen, the old Bergen for you. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the wooden cottages speak of life from the 11 the century. History has it as the one of the oldest trading ports in Northern Europe.

Bryggen World Heritage site/ One of the oldest sea ports in the world

Bryggen World Heritage site/ One of the oldest sea ports in the world

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Crazy tourists harassing a fish!

They say, when in Norway you got to visit Bergen and when in Bergen you got to hike to Mount Ulriken. Short of time, we took the cable car to the mountain top, but I would have loved to hike. The weather was very bad and we didn’t see any view and almost froze to death at the top, but the whole feel  is definitely worth a visit.

View of Bergen from Mount Ulriken, the highest of the seven mountains surrounding the city

View of Bergen from Mount Ulriken, the highest of the seven mountains surrounding the city

At the top of Mount Ulriken/ If you happen to visit, don't forget some cover for your ears

At the top of Mount Ulriken/ If you happen to visit, don’t forget some cover for your ears

Love this kind of haze. Makes it so surreal

Love this kind of haze. Makes it so surreal

Yes, yes. Agree.

Yes, yes. Agree.

Beyond these, Bergen stole my heart with its pretty houses, seafood stalls and streets musicians except for the worst Indian meal I have ever had in my life. Karahi Paneer with coconut? Never heard of that before. For budget travellers, there are decent pizza places strewn all over the town. We binged on the largest pizza I have ever seen in my life just for about 16 Euros.

Then again, size and price are relative matters. Simple advice- when in Bergen just try sea food.

Confused? Just try everything

Confused? Just try everything

Thus, stuffed with Norwegian nature and pizza, we marched back to Oslo by an overnight train. The train passes through glaciers and the whole sight looked eerie at night. I was convinced that the train would stop in the middle of nowhere and we would be under some zombie attack. Too much fiction I read!

This whole journey was so amazing that I don’t feel like writing about Oslo anymore. I am still drunk on the wilderness.

We were lucky to arrive in Oslo on a sunny day and regretted not bringing our shorts. Whereas, a day before we were cursing ourselves for not getting many warm clothes.  You see, Norway is all about contrasts. Tell me if it doesn’t drive you crazy, in a happy sense of the word.

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In Oslo, don’t skip The Vigeland Park, world’s largest sculpture park

The most famous 'angry child' sculpture at The Vigland Park

The most famous ‘angry child’ sculpture at The Vigland Park

We made it to Oslo on a sunny day! View of/from Oslo Opera House

We made it to Oslo on a sunny day! View of/from Oslo Opera House

Some distractions at Oslo Central Station/ while waiting for a train to the airport

Some distractions at Oslo Central Station/ while waiting for a train to the airport

Have you been to Norway already? If yes, which parts of this fascinating country you have been to? I would love to go back to Norway again and explore more. Drop your suggestions in the comment section below.

1 Comment

  • In pictures: Bergen, Norway – A Thousand Diversions July 5, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    […] deserves a separate post. I am not going to talk about the place as I have already done that in my post. Just posting a few photographs to celebrate this special trip. I will never get over those pretty […]

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