FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE
My second visit in 1992 was with Hamish, the first of what were to become regular overseas trips together.
For the start of the trip we were joined by our old school mate Lang with our first new destination being Bergen in Western Norway.
After a couple of nights in Copenhagen, most memorable for a free beer frenzy following the Tuborg Brewery tour, we took an overnight train to Oslo.
Investing in berths in a four bed compartment (the hoped for Scandinavian twenty-something beauty did not materialise!), we slept soundly. That is Hamish and I did. Lang proclaimed himself shattered and got straight on the next train west to Bergen, our next planned destination.
After a day in Oslo, we opted for the overnight version of the train that Lang had caught earlier, but awoke in time to see the glacial landscape that the train tracks cut through. It was snow and ice for as far as the eye could see, an amazing winter wonderland complete with newly formed icicles dangling down off the train roof.
I was again transported back to my school geography lessons where we studied glaciation. Back then glaciers were left to teacher’s description, a poor sketch in our text book and our imagination, but here we were in the presence of a real one. I strained my eyes for eskers, dummets and tarns, but all I could see was ice.
As well as visiting the atmospheric city of Bergen, we had another purpose. We were to visit a Norwegian chap called Terje who we had all met the previous year during a beach holiday in Bulgaria.
We had some hours to kill in Bergen and happily dumped our rucksacks at left luggage and set about exploring the sunny city.
The harbour area is well known nowadays for its beautiful multi-coloured buildings, as Bergen is cheap to fly to. Back then we felt like pioneers, having no prior knowledge to call upon.
Breakfasted, we visited the Grieghalle, the concert venue named in honour of Bergen’s most famous son, Edvard Grieg. I vowed to return one day to hear a recital of Peer Gynt, his most famous work and my all-time favourite classical piece.
We then decided to take the funicular that climbed one of Bergen’s hills. The view from the top was spectacular, the winding walk back down less so, but at least it saved a few quid.
It was now time to meet Terje and indeed Lang. Despite the fact that Lang had stayed overnight in Bergen, we had no way of knowing where he was and of course were unable to contact him in those mobile phone free days.
We had pre-arranged to meet Terje at midday outside the main station and he and Lang had already reunited when we showed up.
Man hugs all round and we were soon off in the direction of Terje’s flat that he shared with Nina in a small town on the awe-inspiring Songefjord.
We took a ferry part of the way and then had to ask Terje to stop several times en route so we could stop and admire the stunning views. Nice to have an obliging taxi driver!
A couple of days were spent in Terje’s prefab house. Pretty much the whole town was made of wood and metal with all houses following one of four prefabricated designs. So that’s where IKEA got the idea from!
The location was simply stunning. Natural beauty beyond belief framed by perfect blue skies over the majestic mountains. Only Scotland has delivered anything close to this for me.
A memorable highlight was when Terje took us out onto the deep blue fjord, surrounded by the soaring mountains that cradled us into believing we were actually on a lake. We dabbled in some fishing and amazingly I caught a bright blue fish, the like of which Terje had never seen before and which none of us knew the species of.
With fish safely returned, we motored back for a last night party featuring lots of red wine bought from a state run off licence, the only place at that time that you could buy take-away alcohol.
The return trip to Bergen saw us a little ‘landscaped out’ and a lot hungover. Lang decided he would stay with Terje for longer so he could nurse his sore head, leaving Hamish and I to continue without him.
We took the train back to Oslo, but enjoyed an amazing break in our journey.
The short train ride from Myrdal down to Flåm, situated on a tributory of the Songefjord known as the Aurlandsfjord, is often bracketed with the world’s greatest rail journeys and with good reason.
In another amazing feat of engineering, the tracks descend a 1 in 5 gradient, corkscrewing down the mountain. The whole carriage was animated in a photographic frenzy, apart that is from a couple of non-plussed locals.
As we twisted this way and that, passengers moved from side to side, straining to get the best view and shots.
We all disembarked half-way down by an impressive waterfall. From there you could see different sections of the train track wrapping around the precipitous mountainside. Awesome!
Click here to see a you tube clip of the ride.
We continued down to Flåm. Whereas Myrdal was a nondescript railway junction, Flåm was geared up for tourists with souvenir shops selling trolls of all sizes and restaurants selling over-priced fare.
There was even a cruise ship docked which eventually swallowed up most of our fellow train passengers.
This meant that the journey back up was far less frenzied and subsequently we were able to pick and choose our views pretty much unencumbered.
From Oslo we followed the same route as in ’89, Trondheim – Fauske – Narvik.
Hamish wanted to go to Hell, so I found myself there once more. I looked into whether a bus went there as I was keen to take the Road to Hell, but train it was to be again.
Everything was similar about the route we took from Trondheim to Narvik – breathtaking once more and something that I plan to repeat with Mrs Wilbur one day soon.
Taking the Ofoten Line again above the Artctic Circle to Kiruna and Gallivare in Sweden, this time we ventured into Finland, eventually finding ourselves in Helsinki and Turku before taking a ferry to Stockholm.
Click here to see a short part of the scenic journey….
My Eastern European train orientated book (available now on Amazon for less than £3) details our next steps as we took the ferry and train from Malmo to Berlin and then inside the old Iron Curtain proper for the first time proper, save for less than an hour in former Yugoslavia in ’87 (click here to read about this memorable episode, which culminated in me and my travel buddy being escorted out of Yugoslavia by armed guard!).
Nowadays you can buy a Norway specific inter-rail pass for 3 days in a month for £132, 4 days for £150 and up to 8 days for £226 (cheaper if you are lucky enough to be under 25).
This sounds like the ticket for me, flying to Bergen and home from Narvik via Oslo. I have started planning already in fact!