It’s 3 am in London UK, my body has arrived in Europe but my mind is still in a time zone somewhere across the Atlantic and I’m restlessly searching for a good Ted Talk to soothe my insomniac state. I come across one titled “The world’s most boring television … and why it’s hilariously addictive”, it sounds just like the lacklustre talk I need to lull me into a peaceful slumber.
However, quite to the contrary it captivates and I end up in an almost transcendental state between wakefulness and sleep dreaming of snow-covered plateaus, gushing waterfalls, peaceful fjords and enchanting forests. Rather than boring me into inertia, it plants a seed that feeds my nomadic yearnings. Admittedly it doesn’t take much to cultivate these hankerings, yet ever since watching this talk about ‘slow TV’ I’ve been fascinated by the Norwegian Bergensbanen; the train that makes the 371km (approx. 7 hour) trip from Oslo to Bergen, linking Norway’s two largest cities by journeying through some of it’s most spectacular and dramatic scenery.
Fast-forward to the following summer and I’m giddy with excitement sitting on-board the famed train armed with a gourmet picnic, google maps loaded to track my journey via the complimentary on-board wifi and camera ready to snap the highlights of the next 7-hours.
It takes a good 30 minutes or so to get out of the greater Oslo area with very little at first to differentiate it from any other train journey. Not long out of Drammen though and we start to leave the suburban landscape behind. I begin to see snippets of the Norway I’ve seen painted on postcards; the classic Norwegian red houses framed with white gable and windows, set against a background of dense foliage. I ponder as to why the houses are mostly painted red and I later learn that historically, red paint was the cheapest to produce created by mixing ochre with vegetable or animal oil and thus explains why the classic red houses are so abundant in the pastoral landscape.
We soon arrive into Honefoss with it’s beautiful yellow station building and a solitary station conductor strolling along the almost empty platform. This sight almost feels emblematic as if in journeying from east to west from a faster-paced Oslo to a sleepier Bergen there is a need for a halting, slowing of the journey on the way.
Upon reaching Gol the weather changes dramatically. Thick clouds have formed above and the atmosphere becomes staunched in humidity threatening to burst open any minute. Ultimately, the pressure gives way and the rain puts on a spectacular show; raindrops obscure the view before being whipped off the window by the force of the wind created by the speed at which we are travelling which just serves to make the journey that bit more theatrical.
Both Gol and Gielo I learn are popular ski towns in the winter and I imagine what these scenes would look like blanketed in snow with people skiing off from the platform edge as is rumoured to happen.
My ears start to pop and I know we must be starting to climb. Up and up we appear to go as the train chugs on. Undulant landscapes are sporadically plunged into lengthily darkness as we traverse through the mountains. I feel a flicker of irritation at having this picture perfect view intermittently obscured before catching it and instead using these moments of oblivion to admire the feet of engineering. I watch as the bucolic pastures roll on by, catching glimpses of the greenery between the tunnels as if someone is spinning a zoetrope in front of my eyes. At last I have equalised the pressure in my ears and we have reached our highest destination 4000 ft above sea level – Finse.
Beyond Finse we are treated to even more spectacles, this time the drama of the rain coexisting at the same time as the sun bursting through the clouds, treating us to the sight of a delightful double rainbow. I can see sparkling fjords to my left and even more epic landscapes on my right, I can’t decide which side of the train to stand on, as soon as I’ve caught one extravaganza out one window, I’ve missed another – a dizzying experience. I settle on the left and am treated to ominous glacial views. I spy a lonely shepherd’s huts juxtaposed against a vast plateau, magnifying the sense of desolation that must be experienced here throughout the winter months.
After about the 7 hours we arrive into a distinctly cooler and moody Bergen, the gateway to the Fjords. A dense blanket of fog hangs over the city which will stay with us as a permanent feature of our time in the Fjords.
What strikes me most about this voyage through what feels like all four seasons. We leave Oslo in sweltering heat, hit rain in Gol, traverse the snowy mountain peaks of Finse before lastly springing into Voss as the sun-breaks through the clouds. It truly feels as if we have been to the end of the world and back in just a mere few hours.
- Book in advance for cheaper fares. What is interesting is that for such an expensive country the trains are comparatively cheap – probably one of the cheapest activities we did on our whole trip!
- I opted to pay the extra 90 krone for the ‘Komfort’ – for this you get your own table, power outlet and free tea, coffee and newspapers. Given I wanted the guarantee of being able to charge my phone and camera batteries if needed I thought this was worth it for the 7-hour trip and I definitely took advantage of the free hot drinks J
- As you would expect food on board is expensive, grab a sandwich or picnic food at the supermarket (ideally from outside the train station) before boarding.
- Alcohol is served on board (at a hefty price!) but it seems they are quite strict about where it is drunk and can only be drank in the dining cart itself. I don’t believe you can BYO as you can do with food so I personally didn’t try. Has anyone else tried this?
- Do watch the Ted Talk – I found it be both a meditative journey and highly entertaining