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I'm all fjord Norway

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

Whenever someone mentions Norway, I always think of rugged landscapes, water, and, of course, fjords. If you’ve been around since our time in New Zealand, maybe you’ll remember that fjords are inlets of the sea between high cliffs. Well we definitely couldn’t miss out on the chance to see those while here.

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As I mentioned at the end of my last blog, we took a six hour train from Oslo across the country to the town of Bergen on the very west coast of Norway, right on the sea. The train took us through countless tunnels as we went up over 1200 meters and then back down to sea level, seeing waterfalls, cliffs, mountains, and even some snow. There were also several towns along the way that are only accessible by train – there’s simply no other way out there.

The quiet life

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On arriving in Bergen we didn’t have a whole lot of time to see anything, so we got our things ready for an excursion we had planned for the following day. Getting up early, we headed by train back into the mountains to the village of Myrdal to take what is known as the most scenic railway in the world. The Flåmsbana Railway was originally created to bring cargo up into the mountains from the delivery boats in the fjords below. Although only 20 kilometers in length, it took several years to construct the winding track up the mountain, and 18 tunnels had to be carved out of the rock by hand.

Hello from Myrdal

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Our Flåmsbana rail car

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Today, only tourists are transported up and down the railway, but that’s all right by me. Starting at the top of the route in Myrdal, it took us 55 minutes to cover the 20 kilometers and 900 meters of elevation to sea level at the village of Flåm. Along the way we got to see breathtaking gorges, rivers, mountains, and waterfalls all while learning about the history of the railway. Once in Flåm we snagged some lunch before jumping on a ferry boat for two hours through the Nærøyfjord to our home for the night in Gudvangen.

Views from the train

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Gushing waterfalls

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The village of Flåm

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Our train with a statue of the railway's founder

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While technically just a transport vessel, the ferry to Gudvangen was the highlight of the day for me. It was a bit windy and cold but I stayed out in front of the boat so I could see the mountains rising out of the water, and the waterfalls sending water back down. They say this region is the rainiest in the world, and even though we didn’t have much while there, the waterfalls were reminders that it certainly does rain a lot.

It doesn't get any better than this

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Man holds no candle to the splendor of God

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The boat dropped us in the very small village of Gudvangen on the other side of the fjord from where we started. With very few people living there, we checked into one of the two hotels in town and checked out the equally small selection of eateries. I ended up eating some reindeer with potatoes, which was delicious and the views all around us made it well worth the trip. Some fog settled in late into the evening and created an even more mystical atmosphere.

The village of Gudvangen

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Deer me

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The next morning we took a bus/train combo back up Bergen, where we’d be spending the next few days. We arrived just shy of noon and spent the day whiling around town. Even though it’s the second largest city in Norway (and was the capital for a time), it has a very small town feel and is very walkable. Several old, colorful buildings line the harbor and the area is well known for its fish. With Norway being the most expensive country we’ve been in so far, we unfortunately couldn’t afford trying out some of the fresh fish in the market.

Bryggen (Bergen harbor)

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Bergen town

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On our last day in Bergen we tried to sleep in a bit before heading up the nearby hill some 300 meters to some great lookout points of the city. The main reason we went though were to find some fun kid friendly activities. We were rewarded from the hike with a few different large playgrounds, one of which was even in a cool forested area. There’s a lake we took a canoe out on, and Ethan had a shot at paddling with us. There are even some local mountain goats that hang out in the area that Ethan enjoyed playing with and petting. Once back in the city we further rewarded ourselves with some massive ice creams and then tried to crash a Foo Fighters concert, but to no avail. In the evening we took an overnight train to get back to Oslo.

Bergen

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Row row row your boat

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Goating

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Rope walker

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Let's park here

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Yum

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Arriving back in Oslo bright and early at 6am (bright because the sun had already been up for 3 hours), we checked in to our hotel and were lucky enough to get a room right away. Nothing like getting a nice shower after riding the rails. We were invited to the royal palace by the king… okay, we just bought tickets to get a tour… but I didn’t want to show up all disheveled and smelly just in case. Turns out it was open to a limited amount of people because the king was out of town. Bummer. Even though there was no king and we couldn’t take pictures, it was really neat for us to see. Unfortunately that doesn’t do a whole lot of good for the reader. I’ll still give you a picture of the outside because I’m just that nice.

Norway's Royal Palace

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After the royal palace we wanted to dive into history a bit more, and the history museum was supposed to have a good exhibit on vikings. Although there were some cool viking artefacts from 1000 years ago, the rest of the museum had only small collections from various parts of the world and was quite the letdown. Our saving grace was that the admission fee also included access to a separate museum housing 1000 year old viking ships, which was on our agenda for the following day. Would this additional museum make it worth our while?

The world's only complete viking helmet

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Viking swords

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As planned, in the morning we set out for the Vikingskipshuset. The walk there took us out to a rural peninsula of Oslo where the ships are stored. Three ships are preserved here, each between 1000 and 1100 years old and after being used as seafaring vessels for exploration and combat were laid to rest with one or two notable viking people in large burial mounds. While the burial mounds have been uncovered through the years, they are still one of the only insights into the lives of the vikings that remain.

1000 years old but doesn't look a day over 800

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Amazing craftsmanship

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It is simply amazing that these rather small vessels were even used to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach the American continent around 1000AD. I’m sure you remember that it took Christopher Colombus and the rest of Europe 500 more years to be able to achieve that. I don’t understand how these boats were able to stay so well preserved underground, but looking at the boats themselves and the artefacts they are buried with show that viking craftsmanship was of exceptionally high quality. While the rest of Europe was struggling through the Middle Ages, these guys had explored the Americas and as far east as Baghdad and the Caspian Sea.

What a ship

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They're pretty big too

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I found myself asking what happened to such a strong race of people? The best answer I can come up with is Christianity. Their culture was rooted in their beliefs of Norse gods and this they followed stoically. When Christianity finally made its way to their lands, many vikings converted and drastically changed their way of life. After that, I think they just simply faded into the rest of the culture of the time. I’m sure it’s not so simple, but it’s all I’ve got.

Items found at the burial sites

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As demonstrated by the vikings, all things must come to an end, and that is the case for our time in Norway. In the afternoon we boarded a bus and headed south back across the Swedish border. Our time there and our time in the last Scandinavian country, Denmark, will have to wait until the next blog. Stay tuned!

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