Nobody goes to the Sognefjord without riding the Flam Railway. It’s only 20 kilometers, but they’re all vertical kilometers. The average gradient is 1 to 18.
The math meant nothing to me until I got on the train and looked out the window.
The trick is to avoid crowds. Going off-season helps, but there are still cruise ships. In early June, we bought tickets only after asking the friendly agents for advice. They know exactly how many cruise passengers are getting off their boats and clamoring for seats at any given time.
Our reward was having plenty of room on the train to spread out and rush from side to side of the compartment to take in the ooh! and aah! views.
The 50-minute trip snakes through 20 tunnels, each one a feat of Norwegian engineering. But it’s pretty much impossible to get a good picture of a tunnel. The train is privately run now, but it’s not just a tourist train. When it was opened in 1941, it made tiny mountain settlements accessible and provided much-needed connections to main railway lines.
The ride passes countless waterfalls, but the highlight is the Kjosfossen. The train stops for a few minutes and passengers step out onto a platform for a photo op with 93 meters of watery spectacularness. OK, I made up that word, but it fits.
Who knows how many gallons of water roar past the platform, especially in spring when snow is still melting at higher altitudes? We took pictures.
Then, Twilight Zone music started blaring from loudspeakers and a lady in red emerged in the waterfall mist above us, dancing and beckoning. She must have had her own dancing platform, halfway up the waterfall. An amplified voice proclaimed a legend about a water sprite who tries to lure men to join her in the Kjosfossen–a Norwegian siren.
The sirens of Greek mythology were beautiful women who tried to lure sailors with enchanting music, crazing them into crashing their ships on rocks.
I hoped the siren’s platform was dry and she didn’t slip. And I wondered if the job paid well. It looked like fun. And she probably didn’t have to hear the blaring music above the roar of the falls.
At the top of the train ride, at Myrdal, some people got out to connect with the Bergen-Oslo train. My son realized that he could rent a bike and ride the switchback road back down the mountain to Flam. I handed him my gloves and hat and sent him on his way. Later, he reported that the bike ride was actually pretty gentle if he took it slow. He said it was the bike ride of a lifetime. If I went back when the roads were clear, I’d do it.
The scenery on the trip down was the same, with no stop at the Kjosfossen.
While we waited for our biker in Flam, we amused ourselves in various ways.
Flam has a lot of shops, cafes, and an excellent historic railway museum.
Is the Flam Railway really worth all the Norway in a Nutshell hype? Well, this part of the Nutshell only takes a couple of hours if done independently, and I would do it again. I’d like to see it in the deep snows of winter, and I’d like to do the bike ride down in good weather. But I would not like the train ride in lockstep with a big group, which is what you get if you book a Norway in a Nutshell tour. I can’t stand the feeling of being herded from one place to another. Still, I know the tour would be an efficient and exciting way to get out into fjord country.
Really, though, I was happier when we were wandering on our own around the Sognefjord. There’s stunning scenery and hundreds of waterfalls everywhere.
And I like to spend time with the locals, including the sheep.