Norway on the gentle route: traveling by train, bike and boat – along one of the most beautiful railway lines in Scandinavia.
Now, very slowly
Blomheller is perhaps the smallest train station in the world. Yellow wooden house, bench in front of it, two meters curb on the track bed. There we are, two hikers in bright-colored outdoor jackets waiting for a train, quite wet.
Clear thing, actually. The train comes, brakes, the engine driver looks at us. Then he accelerates and drives away. And we stay back in the south of Norway nowhere and look at us like two tourist Seppel who just have no idea what they did wrong.
In general, you can not go wrong in Norway. Things are in order, the pace is moderate, people – if you meet some in the empty land outside of Oslo – are nice, help further. There are only a few things to know. For example, that you have to signal a train driver by waving if you want to ride.
Unbelievable 35 years ago, I was in Norway for the last time, Interrail after high school graduation, five 18-year-olds between school and future, especially interested in not having to do anything. We took the train pass through the country, and I remember one route in particular, the sympathetic names of its terminus: Myrdal, a small town on the edge of Hardangervidda, the largest plateau in Europe, and a little further north: Flam.
Only 17 kilometers are between the two places, but 860 vertical meters – which makes the attraction of the route. An old wooden railway, the Flambahn, was working its way down the plateau very slowly, with slow-moving brakes, waterfalls cascading past the window that plummeted more than a hundred meters into the void, and ridges where we scraped so close that we passed them could touch through the pulled down windows. We drove through dozens of narrow tunnels that had blown man into the rock a hundred years ago with dynamite.
Through the most beautiful landscapes of Northern Europe
The track still exists, but this time I do not just want to go by train, I want to get out and experience this fabulous nature on foot. The Flambahn is part of the Bergen Railway, which connects the city of Bergen on the west coast, 516 kilometers from Oslo – where our journey begins – and is famous for leading through one of the most beautiful landscapes in Northern Europe.
Actually, the Bergen Railway is a normal long-distance train between two major cities, but a deliberate and plushy red seats in the dining car. In front of each station, the friendly announcement announces that you will arrive at the next station in five to six minutes, so that no one has to rush to get his things together.
For a while we drive through dingy suburbs of Oslo, then, suddenly, the landscape turns into the finest Norwegian cliché: we see lakes whose surfaces are so clear and calm that the shore reflects in it as if it were hanging upside down in the void , The higher the mountains, the lower they seem to sink into the water. The train rumbles at a pace that raises the question of whether it really wants to arrive.
Finally, after about 300 kilometers, we reach Finse, four inhabitants, 1220 meters high, or, to be exact, 1222, because this is the only hotel in the village, “Finse 1222”. It is so breathtaking that we decide to first enjoy the glacier ice sun reflected on the hotel terrace and to eat in peace the freshly baked raisin bun, which is there at the check in.
“Finse 1222” was once a small shop that supplied the workers who laid the rails of the Bergen Railway through the mountains of Hardangervidda in the early 20th century. A narrow gravel road runs partly next to it, partly at some distance from the tracks: the Rallarvegen, 86 kilometers long, today a nationwide popular hiking and biking trail.
It is especially recommended to run it in the early and late summer, if it is still snowy or too smooth for cycling. Otherwise it is like everywhere where pedestrians and cyclists share the road: coexistence is not always straightforward.
The Rallarvegen starts right at the hotel
Finse is located above the tree line, in the south perched the Hardangerjökulen, a nearly 1900 meters high glacier, whose ice licks like a tongue towards Finsevatnet. Sir Ernest Shackleton trained here in 1914 for his Antarctic expedition (which was to make him the hero of a spectacular survival battle in the Arctic Ocean); Today, especially companies train their employees here in team building by letting the employees climb the glacier together.
Our photographer Severin Wohlleben and I hire mountain bikes and set off, the Rallarvegen starts just behind the hotel. It is wonderful, the bike is easy, the road is easy to drive. Waterfalls foam down the ridges; Water is the only thing we hear for hours, sometimes it falls steep and thunderous, sometimes whirling, sometimes just trickling and trickle-sized. We cycle through moss-green Viking landscapes with rocks diced by Hünen; the area is rough and wild and at the same time tender and peaceful.
I try to look past the cliché to discover something like the hidden soul of the country, but I can not manage it, it’s too beautiful and coherent. Maybe Norway is just what you would expect.
Another cliche fits: The next day it rains. So much so that a land avalanche on the open track has temporarily paralyzed the Bergen Railway. The train has to travel one hour detour, but we only want to go one station further to Hallingskeid, where the most beautiful part of the Rallarvegen starts. We are the only ones who actually get out there. “You’ll walk – sure?”, Asks the conductor amused. No one walks here and certainly not in this weather.
And yet we are happy about our pace. Hiking, it is said, restructures thinking. Cycling, even if it’s fun, rather the muscles. The trail is easy to walk and an experience even in the rain. Naked, towering rocks over a soft lake landscape, which narrows after a few kilometers in a gorge to a wild river. Behind it, below the tree line, nature calms, greens, in an enchanted way. Dense, ferns and lichens ingrown forests; Trees clawing at weathered rocks, their roots dangling freely. Reed drives like women’s hair on small streams, toadstools curl with innocent red on the wayside.
The gift that the constant rain makes us, is a dramatic sight: steaming fog envelops the valley in which Vatnahalsen lies, our stage destination for this day. We walk around the last lake and look forward to the dry things in our luggage, which has sent our previous hotel here before. Wanted to advance. Only it did not arrive. Someone put it on the platform and forgot it. For seven hours. Nothing in my bag is still dry, not even dry socks I think. Good that hiking restructures thinking. I would otherwise have thought in various s-words.
The strengthening in between is also taken care of
Among the beautiful rituals of outdoor life in Norway are the fat steaks that you make at the hotel after breakfast. No one has to smuggle his food out of the breakfast room in his trouser pocket; there are even bread rolls and bags for transport. The freshly baked bread is still warm, I prove it thick with Brunost, the sweet brown cheese for which whey is cooked until the milk sugar caramelizes; it’s the kind of cheese you just like or really can find disgusting.
So prepared we start the way to Flam. It is a short distance from Vatnahalsen to Myrdal, the starting point of the Flambahn and the sounding memorial of my Abi journey. We work our way down the narrow loop, descending steeply for several hundred meters, through a dripping wet nature that is still saturated with winter snow even in late summer. The water trickles and rises from all the pores, the stones, the grass, the roots and the mosses. Above us, like Jim Knopf’s railroad, the flagship rides along a ridge line like a line, it looks like it’s about to go down.
I remembered Flam as a quiet, lovable place. Now it is full of pubs, food trucks, has a souvenir-laden “Mall of Norway”. Cruise ships dock in the harbor, three-quarters of a million day-trippers come annually. We flee on our express ship to Balestrand, a small town on the Sognefjord, the longest and deepest fjord in Europe.
Balestrand is worthwhile, in addition to the beautiful fjord location, above all for an overnight stay in the “Kviknes Hotel”, one of the most dignified and oldest wooden hotels in the country; in its old part, it reminds of a palace, but also of the film “Shining”; old painting hangs on the walls, in the bar plays an aged pianist, who once performed at Carnegie Hall, operetta melodies. More modern is the kitchen: Chef Alfred uses local produce and freshly caught halibut from the fjord.
Balestrand is picturesque Norway pure
Balestrand is picturesque Norway pure, with a small wooden church, mown lawn, apple trees and raspberry hedges. Once again we go off, climb up to the viewpoint Orrabenken, 370 meters in altitude through mixed forest, torment us a bit, because the legs are still heavy from the past tours. Then Orrabenken gives a breathtaking view over the bay, big and wide, as if the world were limited to two elements, water and mountains, forming and holding each other. It’s picture-perfect Norway, it does not help, cliché again, but it does not matter to simply rejoice that this idea of a pure, essentially essential world really exists.
Photographer Severin knots his hammock between two logs, I sit on a bench, put my feet up and look over the tops of my hiking boots over the bay. Below, a ferry chugs through the fjord, from here it looks like it’s moving in slow motion.
The travel tips for Norway
BEST TRAVEL TIME
These are definitely the months of May to September. The coastal areas are warmer, but rainier than the interior.
On the way on the Rallarvegen
Ameropa offers the seven-day journey “Rail-Hiking Fjord Norway” along the Rallarvegen, from Oslo via Finse and Balestrand to Bergen. Highlights include a spectacular glacier hike, mountain rail rides, a fjord cruise and express boat rides. 6 nights in the hotel, including breakfast from about 1560 euros, half board about 139 euros extra, without arrival, daily starts from 1.7. until 25.9., ameropa.de/norwegen
Finse 1222 : Finse is located at the highest point of the mountain railway, the view is spectacular. This historic, stylish hotel with great cuisine is open from July to September during the summer season, as snow can be up there until June. DZ / F from about 279 Euro, nse1222.no
Kviknes Hotel : A house like a swan- white castle, one of the most magnificent in Norway and family-owned for generations. Highly recommended are the rooms in the old part of 1913. The dimension of the restaurant is getting used to, the food was very good. DZ / F from about 203 Euro, kviknes.com
THE SOUNDS OF HEAVEN
A great weather app for Scandinavia is Yr ( www.yr.no ). You scroll through animated sky images, the predictions are very reliable and updated for Norway every 7.5 minutes
STEP BY STEP
There is a collection of photos of the Bergen Railway and its route on commons.wikimedia.org, booking of tickets is possible via nsb.no. Everything about the Flambahn, including hikes and bike rides on the idyllic route, on visitflam.com
FOR THE COUCH
Perfect to get yourself in the mood for the trip: the “Geo Special” magazine “Norway”, 9.50 Euro
An article from BRIGITTE Woman 04/2019
By train through Norway. This awakens memories with our BRIGITTE editor
Glacier-like summer The summer looks more like winter along the Rallarvegen hiking trail in some places. Luckily, author Meike Dinklage has a warm jacket
Feet up Our author enjoys the view over the Sognefjord.
From above gable of historical hotel “Kviknes”