Tag Archives: Sognefjord

Listening for the Siren on the Flam Railway

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.

I’m Dreaming of a White Sognefjord

When I had a chance to see the fabled fjords of Norway last spring, I naturally chose the longest and deepest one: the Sognefjord, which stretches for 127 miles and is 4,291 feet deep. (That’s the better part of a mile).

We settled in a beautiful branch of the King of Fjords, the Nærøyfjord. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. We chose to stay in Aurland, a peaceful small town a short drive away from the cruise-ship commotion of Flam.

Instead of taking the famous “Norway in a Nutshell” tour and being herded from boat to bus to train on a hectic schedule, we were lucky enough to rent our own wheels. There were six of us, and the rental company proudly announced they had upgraded us to a nine-person van. Well, OK, but did the van have to announce to all the world that it was a rental?

And did it need to have about a hundred dings and dents which we had to document before we set off?

Once we were under way, the van worked out fine. All our luggage slid right in, and everybody had a personal window to watch the scenery from. My trusty Garmin GPS cheerily followed (and led) us up and down highways and tiny dirt roads with no names. (My son finally understood why I plunk a big extra screen on the dashboard instead of just checking Waze on my phone. There’s no phone service out in the wilds, but the satellite reaches everywhere).

The best choice we made was to stay at the Vangsgaarden, a venerable historic hotel in Aurland. We rented two of the six new little waterside cottages. The cost was reasonable, considering how expensive Norway is in general.

The almost-midnight sunsets in early June were spectacular.

The older buildings date from the 1700s, when wealthy people began venturing into the fjords for vacations.

The place reminded me of old-fashioned Minnesota lake resorts, the ones where I spent long summer days with sand between my toes.

I like old stuff, even old technology stuff.

I felt as though I’d arrived at the cozy home of a kind elderly aunt, one with time to spend reminiscing about the old days.

There was even an attention-seeking cat named Lotus, spiffy in his springtime lion cut. He liked to push all the brochures off the table and watch a human put them all back. We obliged.

Norway felt like home. And in fact, my brother once tried to track down family connections from the Norway fjords. Sadly, it seemed no relatives were left.

I thought the hotels, boats, buses and trains would be closed all through the long dark winter, but I just read an article by a woman who did the Norway in a Nutshell tour in January and lived to tell how spectacular it was. Now I’m plotting a return, maybe to the opposite shore of the Nærøyfjord. I’d like to see Balestrand, and I think it sounds livelier than Aurland. In winter, I think there would be more going on and it would be equally beautiful.

I’m envisioning recitals and Christmas services in little churches, like this one in Flam.

But I don’t envision driving on icy mountain hairpin curves. They were challenging enough with dry roads in June. That’s a typical one above, just below and to the left of the waterfall.

After the rest of the family left, my husband and I took the scenic 8-hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo. (He was glad to be done white-knuckle driving that van). In June, there was still plenty of snow in the wild country high above the fjords.

I would like to see Bergen and the fjords in winter. Maybe there will be a tempting airfare and I’ll do it.

I wonder if I can get the grandchildren out of school. Surely this would be an educational trip?

Meanwhile, it’s a nice winter dream. And it’s on my travel wish list.