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HOME AT FIRST's

ADVENTURE

SCANDINAVIA

GREAT RAILWAY JOURNEYS

What makes a great railway journey? A train with comfortable spaces, big, clean windows,
a personable, attentive crew, and an identity of its own. Amenities like a dining car with picture
windows, cut flowers, and a chef with a stove instead of an attendant with a microwave.
Spectacular, ever-changing scenery incorporating challenging railroad engineering.
Departing with anticipation from one interesting place.
Arriving exhilarated and refreshed in another.

 

============ BERGENOSLO, NORWAY===========

 

O

NE of those few train rides to earn the adjective
"great" is that between Bergen and Oslo, NORWAY on the Norwegian State Railway. Begin

with the route: sea level to sea level via Europe's largest mountain plateau, cresting at 4,000 feet. The climb out of Bergen ascends along and through torturous granite cliffs that line spectacular fjords almost 60 miles inland. In all the 300-mile-long line requires 178 tunnels ranging in length up to 3.3 miles long. Its crossing of the 4,000 square miles of remote, virtually unpopulated plateau of the Hardangervidda National Park involves 60 miles of track at altitudes above tree line in Norwegian snow country. To keep the line open at all times of year, miles of wooden and concrete snow sheds and galleries have been built. The southeastern descent from the plateau to the Oslo Fjord follows cascading mountain streams through great stands of towering pines, at times like a toboggan ride in the North Woods.

Cross country skiers at high Finse station on the Hardangervidda plateau mid-way between Bergen and Oslo. Photo © Home At First.
Cross country skiers at FINSE,
HIGHEST station on the
Hardangervidda plateau
mid-way between
Bergen and Oslo.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

          Ultimately, the six-or-seven-hour coast-to-coast

 

crossing of Norway ends in darkness, as the final approach into Oslo Central Station is underneath the city in a long subway tunnel.
 

===================================================

 

Oslo Skaters. Photo © Home At First.
NIGHT SKATING ON THE SQUARE, OSLO, NORWAY
Photo © HOME AT FIRST

O

SLO. Both terminal cities — Bergen and
 Oslo — are rich destinations. OSLO is Norway’s capital, of course. Protected at 

the head of the great bay called the Oslo Fjord, the city easily qualifies as the most important habitation in Norway: governmental headquarters, home of the royal family, the country’s most important shipping center, seat of advanced education, and national commercial headquarters. Although more than 900 years old, Its broad, tree-lined avenues, grand architecture in neo-classical and rococo revival

 

styles, and prosperous harbor give Oslo the

appearance of a young, thoroughly modern city. Properly, as a Scandinavian capital, Oslo looks south toward Denmark and Sweden. It is tied as easily with its sister capitals, Stockholm and Copenhagen, as with any other Norwegian city of size, and with greater ease to Denmark and Norway than to the distant Norwegian interior and the far north above the Arctic Circle.

===================================================

 

B

ERGEN. BERGEN appears the antithesis of Oslo.
 Its core, built on steep hills rising from several
 fingers of its expansive, westward looking

harbor, looks like old San Francisco or Wellington, New Zealand. The buildings are of wooden clapboard construction, often painted in surprising, bright pastels, and rarely exceeding four stories. The skyline is dominated by wooded hillsides, church steeples, warehouses, fo’c’s’les, funnels, flagpoles, and masts. Harborside you might expect to see the crew of the Pequod setting in for supplies on a whaling cruise, or Roald Amundsen’s expedition returning from a pole. Bergen looks west, away from

Bergen's Bryggen harbor, a UN designated World Heritage Site. Photo © Home At First.
Bergen's Bryggen harbor, a UNESCO
 designated World Heritage Site.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

the harsh Norwegian interior that isolates from the

 

rest of Scandinavia. Bergen has one importance — seaport on the North Sea. Forest products go out. Fish come in. Coastal steamers by the dozens take on and discharge here. It’s likely the Vikings knew Bergen harbor well. Certainly the associated medieval traders called the Hanseatic League did. Scotland seems as close as Scandinavia at dockside. Indeed, the Bergen train station is the closest railhead to Scotland’s Shetland Islands. And Bergen has great trains.
 

===================================================

 

 Hardangervida Cabin photographed from the train. Photo © Home At First.
PARADISE, NORWEGIAN STYLE:
Hardangervidda Cabin
photographed from the train.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

T

HE RUN. There are four or five departures for Oslo daily from Bergen. One is a night train, offering
sleeper service on the 8-hour overnight run to the

capital — ideal for businessmen, but absent of some of Scandinavia’s best mountain scenery. During the long days of summer, all of the daytime trains traverse the route in daylight. In high winter, none of the trains makes the crossing without experiencing some portion of the line in darkness.
          Modern, sturdy, high-tech equipment makes the run seem easy. The electric engines resemble some of the diesels that operate on the isolated White Pass & Yukon in Canada and Alaska, and no doubt the common geographic conditions of the two lines results in the similarity. Though well-equipped, the red trains of the Bergen line were not luxury land cruisers like the Orient Express. Most of the consist is second class coaches, with one or two first class coaches, a café-diner (with kitchen!), and a special first class/lounge combine on the rear. All first class passengers

 

receive complimentary coffee/tea and newspapers.

Extra-fare first class passengers ride in the

 

spacious lounge with 2-and-1 seating, some swivel captain’s chairs, glass picture windows, complimentary fruit, lap-top work tables and power, plus a free meal (without beverage) in the diner.
          Norwegian Rail celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009 by producing and showing the complete Bergen-Oslo journey as a 7˝-hour video documentary watched — at least in part — by almost 25% of all Norwegians. Norwegian TV and the railway have enthusiastically made highlights of the digital film available to the public through its website,
http://nrkbeta.no/bergensbanen. What follows is 9˝ minutes of the documentary shot at the highest section of the line in winter, with tunnels and snowsheds occasionally blacking out the image.


A NORWAY STATE RAILWAYS' HIGH-SPEED, TILT-
COMPENSATING TRAIN SET LIKE THIS ONE CARRIED
 US FROM BERGEN TO OSLO. SADLY, THEIR
ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY WAS NOT AN ADVANTAGE
ON THE SNOWY, WINDING BERGEN LINE, AND
THESE SLEEK TRAINS HAVE BEEN REPLACED
|BY HEAVIER, CONVENTIONAL TRAINS.

 

   

“Bergensbanen” – NRK

 

===================================================

 

 
 
MAP OF THE BERGEN RAILWAY

          On a recent trip, we opted for the extra-fare opulence of the first-class lounge, and had the half-car all to ourselves. The crossing was made all the more spectacular because we had the freedom to dash from window to window to soak in the scenery. Along the way we watched as skiers boarded and departed the train at tiny outposts on the treeless, snow covered plateau. In this land of no roads and few habitations, the train is for many the only way in or out.

 

The few stations along this highest

rail line in Scandinavia serve as trading posts and communications centers for the hardy souls who come to this paradise for cross country skiing in winter and for hiking in summer. Despite the desolate beauty of the region, there was rarely a moment when someone’s family hideaway — usually not more than a tin-roofed shack set among the boulders — was not in sight. This country captures the imagination of the Norwegian folk, probably the most dedicated outdoors adventurers to be found in the West. Life — rudimentary and rugged — in such surroundings is for many Norwegians an idealized state, combining freedom and athleticism in ways that are both innocent and isolationist. A two-hour hike in snowshoes from the nearest rail station might bring you to your family cabin. Fours hours later you might have it dug out of the drift you found it in. Two more four-hour round-trips on snowshoes will bring in enough supplies to support life subsistently in this wild place. No electricity. No hot water. No automatic heat. But then, no bosses, no traffic, no pollution,

no TV. Paradise!
        Using the punch card security keys we were issued, we locked our belongings in the lounge and walked forward three cars to the diner for lunch on the eastern slope of the Hardangervidda. We plummeted through the forest while dining on beef stroganoff and pork and red cabbage. The endless blur of snow-heavy Norwegian firs was as entertaining as the Aussie Shiraz we drank with lunch. After a very jovial 90 minutes in the diner, we retired to a very civilized naptime in the lounge.
        The glint of the setting sun off a mirror lake blinded me awake. Houses. Factories. Roads. A school. Oslo’s coming. Then, in a half-hour or so, a

Dinner in the Diner. What could be finer? Photo © Home At First.
DINNER IN THE DINER, WATCHING THE
WORLD GO BY. WHAT COULD BE FINER?

Photo © HOME AT FIRST 

plunge into darkness for the last ten minutes.
Emergence underground at Oslo Central. Escalators, crowds, noise, stairs, smells, luggage, traffic. The Anti-paradise!
 

More information about travel to Norway and throughout Scandinavia.

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