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

Photo © H
ome At First

Bergen looks west, away from 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 © H
ome At First

T

HE RUN. There are usually four departures for Oslo daily from Bergen. One is a night train, offering
sleeper service on the 7.5-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 Standard (second) class coaches, with one or two Komfort (first) class coaches, a café car with snack bar, and a family car for parents with children. All Komfort class passengers sit in spacious

 

seats equipped with individual tables, power outlets for

personal electronics, and receive

 

complimentary coffee/tea and newspapers. Komfort class passengers get larger windows, too — the improved view of the outstanding scenery may be the best reason to upgrade to Komfort class.

          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 Komfort class car, and had half a 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 café car for lunch on the eastern slope of the Hardangervidda. We plummeted through the forest while dining on reindeer steaks, sandwiches, and other snacks. 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 café car, we retired to a very civilized naptime in our Komfort class car.
          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 plunge into darkness for the last

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 © H
ome At First

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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