I have not written much on the blog for a while partly because I have been bitten by the Netflix and binge watching bug and the rest is due to me just being listless. It’s not particularly uncharacteristic of me slipping in to an ennui now and then, often it leads to a bit of reflecting and pondering. I often find such times far too comfortable and retreat in my cosy cocoon of solitude. It’s here that books, blogging and travelling often help me shake out of my slumber and remind me that it’s a beautiful world out there to be experienced. In England it is that lovely season of Autumn, when the warmth of Sun on your skin feels like a sweet dollop of honey on a warm toast, the Sun rise and set paints the morning and evening skies in spectacular colours, trees with their leaves in beautiful shade of russets, yellows and pinks, and gentle sway of falling leaves on to the ground look magical , I believe it is Mother Nature tenderly nudging me out of the boredom reminding that there is more to life than the binge watching and being glued to screen. Autumn is a season when we travel a bit more.
In early September we travelled to Norway. I found the Nordic Landscape with its serene fjords, majestic mountains, and tumbling waterfalls very mesmerising. Being surrounded by the abundant and picturesque nature, Norway struck the right chords with me.
One of the major tourist attractions of Norway, besides the fjords cruise, is the Flåm Railways or known in Norway as Flåmsbana. It is one of the vintage Railway lines connecting the mountain station of Myrdal to Flåm, a small valley nestled in the innermost corner of Aurlandsfjord, it also connects the Bergen Oslo line. It is considered as one of the world s scenic train routes, offering spectacular views of mountains and fjords .
There was nothing more required to perk my interests up ; beautiful views, unparalleled nature and a train ride. We decided on taking the Flåmbana. I did a lot of research and reading up online to organise this scenic ride. You can combine the Flåm Railway along with a fjords cruise, but I wanted to savour the rail journey and wanted to take in the vistas and explore Flåmsdalen with out much of time constraints. So we decided to dedicate a day to Flåms valley trip. We had ordered an Interrail pass -Norway, for travelling within Norway, but Flåmsbana is not part of Interrail pass. There is a 30 percent discount on the tickets available with Interrail pass, but the tickets cannot be booked online.We booked our Flåm Railway round trip ticket before heading out of London directly on Flåm Railway’s website,which has an option of online booking. It is advisable to book for the rides as they are very popular.
We were based in Bergen, so we planned to take the train from Bergen to Myrdal, and change to Flåmsbana at Myrdal for the magical ride . We had an early morning train from Bergen, we walked to Bergen station, booked a round trip using Interrail for Bergen / Myrdal part of the ride. The ride from Bergen to Myrdal, is quite panoramic, with beautiful views of Fjords and Nordic countryside, dotted with brightly coloured houses. So I was even more excited for the next leg of the journey, which is considered scenic.
It took around two hours to reach Myrdal from Bergen. Myrdal Station is surrounded by the rugged mountains, with nothing else around but wilderness , with not many people around and is absolutely quiet, rendering the place an air of desolation. Myrdal has no connection via road, is situated between two tunnels connected by a train track. We had given ourselves enough buffer time for the next train, our Flåm train was not in another one hour. We walked the length of the platform on both sides, taking in the fresh mountain air and the serenity, we were the only passengers on the platform. Myrdal Station comes alive when a train comes by and stops, and it goes back to its peaceful state once the train leaves. The next train was not in another hour, so we soaked in its blissful silence, sitting on the platform bench gazing at the rugged mountains, drinking coffee and munching on our breakfast, which I had packed on earlier. The station has a waiting area, a cafeteria, and a small gift shop. We bought a postcard from the station s gift shop, to post it back to ourselves. We have a tradition of posting cards from different part of the world, back to ourselves with just one or two lines scribbled on with our experience of the place. It is our way of creating a souvenir of the place. But Myrdal Station did not have post box, but the lady at shop mentioned that Flåm valley had many shops selling postage stamps and there were also functioning post boxes available.
I was waiting with anticipation for the train to arrive and I was delighted when I saw the silvery engine dragging the green carriages coming out of the tunnel and making its way towards the platform. There was a flurry of activity on the platform immediately, on the other side of the platform another train pulled in on Bergen Oslo line, with plenty of tourists arriving on to the platform, and heading towards the green carriages and vice versa. We made our way in to the train, to find a nice spot by the window. The interiors of the train had a lovely vintage look, with wood panelled walls and bright coloured seats. My research on internet had lead me to believe, that sitting on the left hand side would offer best views, while heading down from Myrdal to Flåm, although the announcements on the train suggested that both side have equally beautiful views. Once the train started it’s journey, people were constantly running from one side to another for looking at the beautiful vistas and capturing it on a camera. And my husband was one also of them, who kept asking me “are you sure, we have to be on the left side.?I think the view is better on the other side”, and kept switching sides. I believe both sides give fantastic views of the picturesque valleys, mountains and waterfalls. Each carriage has a screen displaying information and history of the place. The train and the train line in itself is an engineering marvel, it takes one hour to cover the 20 kilometre long track, through 20 tunnels , and 18 of them are hand excavated. And the line had to be laid on steep slopes and around sharp bends. Most of the line is on a gradient of 5.5%. The line cris- crosses the river and the bottom of the valley three times during the course of the journey to avoid areas at risk from avalanches. The engineers also had to divert a river in to a tunnel under the train line in order to avoid building a bridge, given the challenge of steep rocky cliffs and gorges. The train stops over at Kjosfossen waterfall, to take a closer look at the waterfall, admire the scenic nature and take pictures. Before the train stops, it is mentioned that these mountains and waterfalls are home to a mythical creature called Huldra, a siren who lures people with her beautiful voice in to the mountains and casts a spell. The waterfall is beautiful and welcomes everyone with mighty roars tumbling down from a 90 meter fall, and then suddenly a music starts playing , a mysterious lady in red; Huldra appears trying to lure you in to mountains with her voice, but I can safely say no one from this train fell under the spell of the siren . After a few minutes the music stopped and you can hear the wonderful mighty roars of the waterfall again, everyone went back in to the respective carriages, smiling and making sense of the mythical woman who suddenly appeared.
The train made its way down to the valley, passing through tunnels,rivers, and ravines, giving view of the zig zag road created as an access for the construction workers, now used as cycling track, with severe twists and turns.
It takes about one hour to reach Flåm valley. I found the valley picture perfect , a pretty town at the foot of the mountains, with beautiful views of the Auralandsfjord, a branch of the Sognefjord and tiny colourful houses dotted around the valley. It is an instagrammer’s paradise, if you want to cut on the screen times, it is still a paradise. I could sit there watch the world go by. We visited the Flåmbana museum, which gives you information on the construction of the line , insight of the people involved in building the line and the many challenges encountered.
Flåm visitor centre offers details on various activities available around the valley, and offers tickets for the same. We took a bus from Flåm to Stegastein View point. Stegastein viewpoint is part of the Norwegian scenic routes and the road from Flåm goes via Aurland village, is also called Snow road. It is a very picturesque road but very narrow and has many tricky hair pin bends. I was very glad we were on a bus and my husband was not driving on this road. I found the road a bit treacherous, but the bus driver managed to manoeuvre the bends and twists very well. The view point is spectacular, it is a walkway which juts 30 meters out of the mountain, build of steel and pine, and is 650 meters above Aurlandsfjord offering exceptional views of the surrounding landscape. It gives stunning views of the fjords, mountains and terrain, making it one of the most photographed place of the area. Another ‘fun’ fact as per visitflam.com is that the toilets of the viewpoint was awarded “The most beautiful toilet” by a Design Curial Magazine in the year 2015.The view from the platform is absolutely breathtaking, and the day we visited, even though was an overcast day, but was a very clear day with extraordinary views.We could see far ahead in to the distant mountains. It was worth going through those narrow roads and treacherous hair pin bends.
The bus dropped us back down at Flåm. We sat on one of the wooden benches dotted around, eating our lunch, gazing at the beautiful fjord, watching a cruise ship arrive at the port, carrying tourists. There were some who were staying on in Flåm, some taking the ride on to Myrdal on the scenic Rail-route. I am glad we did the Flåm rail journey independently, it gave us the opportunity to enjoy the train journey and the place at our own pace. We walked around a bit more, taking in the scenery, looking at the colourful houses and surroundings. We headed back to Myrdal on the vintage train, this time we sat on the right side of the carriage to see the other side of the line. We got down again at Kjosfossen waterfall stop and to hear the siren again but she did not lure us this time as well. When we arrived at Myrdal, there was a train waiting on the other platform going towards Bergen. We boarded the train back to Bergen, enjoying the scenery from the windows, watching the majestic mountains and fjords rolling in and out of view.
We walked back to our accommodation from Bergen station, discussing the days events. The Flåm railways is the most popular and considered as one of the most attractive and scenic routes. I personally found the train ride from Bergen to Myrdal equally scenic. The entire train journey from Bergen to Flåm, including the ride on Flåmbana, was perfect to unwind; a slow and vintage train travel with gorgeous vista, passing through tunnels, cascading water falls, winding rivers and ravines, and hearing mythical stories. There is an enigmatic appeal to a slow paced train journey, which is wonderfully romantic ; has a sense of adventure and mystery, it’s pace gives you a chance to unravel this chaotic fast paced modern life , filled with gizmos and devices, speeding across mindlessly. It reminds you, lift your head up dear, gaze outside the window, look at the fleeting scenery, there is a whole new adventure waiting for you at the next station.
“There is something about the sound of a train, that s very nostalgic, romantic and hopeful.” – Paul Simon.