Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fjords and the Flam

A fjord (or fiord) is a narrow inlet of the sea between cliffs or steep slopes, which results from marine inundation of a glaciated valley.

A couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of the word ‘Fjord’. Now, I have already seen it. August is vacation time in Europe since all the schools have their holidays. Our vacation was due too, we thought about driving down to some nearby country. But that was until a friend (God Bless his soul!) warned us that everyone would be driving down to some place or the other and the autobahns would be clogged. Hence we opted to fly using the cheapest airlines available: Ryan Air. One of the advantages of having a budget (how I hate this necessary evil word) is that it automatically narrows down your choice of places. Oslo was one of the five places that is connected via Ryan Air from Frankfurt Hahn (the nearest airport that is used by Ryan Air, the other being Karlsruhe). Since I had never been to any place more north than Hamburg, Oslo was the obvious choice.

Some basic facts about Norway: It is one of the Scandinavian countries (among others like Denmark, Sweden). It is called the land of the midnight sun because in the Northern part, the sun shines day and night during summer. Since we only spent most of our time in Bergen which is in the south of Norway, we didn’t really see the midnight sun. Oslo, the capital city is one of the smallest capitals in Europe.

We didn’t do anything much in Oslo, except for visiting the Vikings Museum. They have three huge ships known to be the best preserved ships of the Viking Age, if you are interested in that sort of thing. Bergen is a 7 hour train ride away from Oslo. A 10 minute walk from the Bergen Station led us to our hotel which was bang in the middle of the city centre and only a few minutes walk from the famous Fish Market. All the tourist shops and restaurants are located in and around the Fish Market. There are shops selling freshly caught fish, souvenirs, sweaters (a Norway specialty), flowers and plants. Bergen is a city surrounded by seven mountains, the highest of which is called Mount Ulriken. We took a cable car up on Mt Ulriken and had a magnificent view of the city. Those who suffer from vertigo would have to position themselves in the front of the cable car to have only the view of the mountain nearing and not of the growing depth below. I don't have a problem with heights, but Ferose was gripping the sides a bit too hard, wonder why ;-)?

Bergen is also the base for anybody wanting to visit the Fjords. We took a tour called ‘Norway in a Nutshell’. The USP of this tour was the fjords and travel in all modes of transport: Train, Bus, Boat and the famous Flam Railway. The first leg of the journey was by train from Bergen to Voss. Then we took a bus to Gudvangen which went over the hills and we had some beautiful views of the waterfalls. From Gudvangen we took a Boat to Flam. This was the main part where we cruised on the Fjords. The beauty of the Fjords is breathtaking. Luckily it was not that cold, so we could spend the majority of the 2 hour ride on the deck facing the beautiful mountains.
We reached Flam by lunch time. After a heavy meal of pizza and coke, we boarded the very famous Flam Railway. Flamsbana is one of the most beautiful railway lines in the world. It also is one of the steepest. On this train, we saw the magnificent scenery of the wild and mountains. Initially, there was a mad rush by all passengers (including me) to click pictures. But after a while I was content to just sit and enjoy the beauty of the hills. No picture would have done justice to what I captured in my mind. Wish I could take printouts of those snapshots!

The last part of the ‘Norway In a Nutshell’ tour was a train back to Bergen. I was glad that I had taken this very interesting tour. And further glad that I had decided to visit Norway, because it is certainly very different from the other European countries I have visited. One of the best things about Norway is that everyone speaks English and you don’t have to struggle with a foreign language. The people are very friendly and helpful. Bergen's tourist information centre is one of the largest I have seen, with very comprehensive information available. The only downside is that it’s an expensive country and one has to watch the expenses, if one is on a budget.