The 5:15am alarm was not pleasant, but the fact that the sun had been up for an over an hour already did help us wake up. We packed up our belongings and went downstairs to check out and wait for our porter. He came right on time at 6am to collect our bags and payment. He confirmed where the bags were going and that we would be arriving the same night, and then he was off again. We had plenty of time to buy some pastries for breakfast in the station and still make it onto our 6:25 train with time to spare. Choosing a hotel connected to the train station was a great idea.
The train started pulling away the second the station clock flipped to 6:25. Being punctual is a big part of life in these Nordic countries, but that also means most things are reliable. Even so, I was somewhat excited that our 6am luggage pickup and 6:25am train departure worked out as smoothly as they did. We had assigned seats for the first leg of the trip, a 5 hour ride to Myrdal. The seats were very nice with a boatload of leg room, and the train had bathrooms, a cafe car, power outlets, and free wifi. Hard to ask for more than that! We slept on and off for the first couple of hours due to the short night, but eventually the scenery got good enough to keep us awake. Everyone on the train was taking photos against the windows. The train announced when we reached the highest point, a town called Finse, and Eric found on Wikipedia that it was one of the locations used to shoot for Hoth in the Empire Strikes Back!
Around 11:30 we reached Myrdal, our first transfer point. We had about 45 mins to use the bathrooms at the station and some people bought snacks. The next leg of the journey was on the Flåm railway. It is listed as one of the steepest standard gauge railways in the world, and hits a 5.5% gradient at one point. The train had a very old feel to it with red fabric seats and and wood paneling everywhere. There was also an audio narration about specific parts of the railway and views in Norwegian, English, and German. The interesting part is that it actually made stops along the way, as if people were riding it for transportation. In reality the entire train was crammed with tourists who wanted to see the views along the route. Half the time was going in and out of tunnels, but every couple minutes we would pop out into a gorgeous view that lasted 2-3 seconds and only the people at the windows with a quick trigger finger would be able to capture it. Unfortunately Eric and I were very much toward the center of the train so we couldn’t get too many photos, but what we did see was incredible.
When we got off in Flåm there were even more people than we expected. Fleets of large tour buses were there along with a full sized cruise ship! We couldn’t even fathom how that ship got in there. It looked very out of place. And the ridiculous sea of people was intimidating.
Eric and I had waited a smidge too long to book the transportation trip in the beginning so we actually got bumped from the standard 8:30am train to the earlier 6:25am train as the usual one had sold out. That meant we had 2 hours to kill in Flåm that we would not have had otherwise, and it turned out that made a perfect time for lunch! We slowly shuffled our way away from the train station and docks and found a little brewpub hidden away from the crowds. We popped inside and got seated for lunch right away. The menu looked decent enough so I tried a “chickpea burger” and Eric got a “pulled pork sandwich”. The reason for the quotes is that they were both open face! We didn’t realize they would be in the style of the smørbrød, the Nordic open face sandwiches! Mine was more like a blob of very soft chickpea dip on top of lettuce, tomato, onion, beets, and one toasted bun. Eric’s pulled pork was a similar soft blob on top of veggies and one bun. They required knives and forks, but they were actually very tasty and satisfying. We also tried a flight of beer from the brewery here and they were also very good!
After lunch we still had enough time to explore the area, walk through a gift shop, and pop into a convenience market. We had hoped to get some sandwiches or something to have for dinner later as we would be traveling straight through that time, but we didn’t find much. We eventually went into a bakery where Eric got a pain au chocolat and I got a skollebolle. We stashed those away for later and got in line to wait to board the fjord cruise. Good thing we got in line 25 minutes early as the line just exploded behind us, and we were able to board quickly and snag pretty good spots on the back of the top deck before the masses crowded on. We were glad to have chairs for the 2+ hour cruise.
Every view on this fjord tour was spectacular. There were tiny towns tucked in the hills, bright green foliage on towering mountain sides, long tumbling waterfalls, and beautiful green waters. We also had perfect weather for the cruise. Occasionally the boat would tell us little facts about what we passed. We passed one town with the smallest stave church in the Nordic countries that seats only 40 people inside. Mostly we saw a lot of cliffs and waterfalls, seagulls and sunshine. It was very relaxing and beautiful.
At the end of the two hours we docked in Gudvangen and were herded onto a fleet of waiting buses to drive us all to Voss. As we boarded the bus the driver gave us all an introduction. He said we would make one stop at the Hotel Stalheim, and then continue on to Voss via a road with an 18% grade and 13 hairpin turns. He said we should all put on seat belts because he didn’t want us rolling into him. What a start. In reality it wasn’t that scary, but it did provide some pretty epic views of a couple close up waterfalls and overlooked a beautiful little valley. It was a fun scenic drive, and then we got on the real route to Voss. Where Voss water comes from!
At Voss we had about a half hour before the train would leave. We went into the gift shop at the station and found they sold little sandwiches and snacks. We had already bought pastries in Flåm, but we decided to get half sandwiches from this shop to supplement our “dinner”. We boarded the train and enjoyed our goodies while we waited to depart. The ride to Bergen was be about 90 minutes and marked the end of a long travel day from Oslo. On the route we had seen many people dragging suitcases and bringing all their luggage with them. While that would have been the cheaper option, it just seemed too stressful and slow to be dragging those around and looking for places to store them on and off each transport. I was so glad we opted to pay for a porter, it was $30 per piece and we were much more mobile without them.
Right on time at 9pm we pulled into the train station at Bergen. Even though we had spent all day just sitting in various forms of transportation, we were pretty tired by 9pm. Maybe it had something to do with getting up at 5:15. We were very ready to find our next hotel. It was a quick 5 minute walk from the train station and through the city park. It was still weird to see people lounging in the park after 9pm but the sun wasn’t going to set until after 11pm so I guess it was still okay.
We got to the hotel and found our luggage waiting for us at check in. That part was great. Unfortunately the room was the worst one yet. It was medium sized, somewhere between the rooms in Copenhagen and Oslo, but it was so sad. No rug or carpet, no artwork or design or paint color other than white everywhere, no light except one small recessed one just over the doorway, only one or two outlets at all and located in weird spots in the room, a dripping shower faucet, a sink that hardly drained, and a huge chunk of tile missing in the bathroom. Definitely the worst quality, which was a surprise given the reviews and the price. On the plus side they provided more pillows than any other hotel so far. We tried to just get used to it and get to sleep.