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Published: July 12th 2016
We had been going to do two activities in one day when we initially planned our time in this part of Norway but yesterday we got one of those activities done. That is, we took our cruise on the fjord and now just have the world famous Flam Railway to ride. And hopefully with just one cruise ship due in port at Flam, according to the website we found showing us port arrivals there today, we shouldn’t have too much difficulty getting tickets for the train ride.
We decided that the afternoon was probably the best time to ride the train when there should be slightly fewer people. This is taking the cruise passengers who need to be back on board their ship in plenty of time for departure and also the bus tour groups who are not staying in Flam after their train ride will need to move onto their hotel for the night. Well that is our theory and we shall see how it works.
We had a bit of a lie in and left late morning to drive the 45 km to Flam. Of course we had already driven part of the road yesterday when we
went as far as Gudvangen for the cruise so the countryside or should we say mountain views are becoming second nature to us.
The area where we are staying at Myrkdalen on the D13 must have a bit of a micro climate for although we are over 500 metres above sea level pasture for grazing seems to do very well in the near alpine valley.
One side of the valley is steep and forest covered but the other where the hotel is located is less steep and behind us is a collection of houses amongst a ski lift that of course is not currently operating as there is no snow at this level. There is snow not that far away on some of the ridges and down the mountain sides with northerly aspects and it is hard to see that totally gone before summer is over towards the end of August and the chance of early autumn snow returns.
Last night coming back from our cruise expedition we noticed a pathway to a waterfall that we hadn’t seen on the way to take the cruise. We put this down to the fact that the directional signs weren’t
at all visible if you were heading towards Gudvangen. This seems a shame because unless you were looking for the waterfall you would miss it altogether.
We were very pleased we found it and took the 900 metre walk from the highway car park through the forest to the base of the 120 metre drop of the waterfall.
The water in the river that ran from the waterfall was crystal clear which we put down to there being little in the way of soil in the immediate area for water reaching the river to have to pass through. Everything almost around us was granite coloured rock.
Around the base of the waterfall there was little in the way of any green growth and there were no trees. Information on the origins of the pathway we walked on to get to the waterfall said that the constant spray of water from the waterfall meant that trees could not get established to grow. The pathway had been part of the original coach road used by the early settlers in the area to get up and over the mountain. Today of course you drive through the mountain by way of
a 1.4km tunnel in no time at all.
We arrived into Flam and sure enough there was just one cruise ship in port and it wasn’t as big as the two that were here yesterday. So our assumption of being fewer passengers for the rail journey might just work out.
However that assumption took a bit of a knock when we entered the ticket office at the Flam Tourist Information building (all tours are sold by the local tourist board) as there were queues at each of the six counters.
There were indicator boards advertising the times of the remaining train trips for the day and there were still 4 although the next around 2pm was already full and the one at 3.50pm had less than 30 seats available. There were further trains at 5.25pm and 6.40pm which were less attractive to us because we would have been later getting back to the apartment than what we really wanted to be.
So we decided on the 3.50pm and crossed our fingers by the time we got to the person attending to our line there would still be two seats at least left.
And bingo! There
were just two seats left our salesperson told us and we had them!
To put things into perspective a bit. The summer season is around 3 months with the peak being in July. And although people do visit the area in the winter too by far the majority come in the summer.
We were quite amazed to be told that there were 3 million visitors a year to Flam this tiny village and cruise port at the end of a very long fjord 200km inland from the sea. That is close to the number of visitors that come to New Zealand in a year!
The cost of the train trip which takes just over 2 hours is not a cheap exercise at around NZ$70 each for the 40km return trip. However, it is supposed to be one of the best train rides, scenically, in the world and we pass this way only once, probably.
We left the booking office happy that we had tickets for the next available train and we decided that we would be there to get aboard a good half hour before the departure time as the seats were not allocated and it
would be’ first in best dressed’. We had figured out going on a trip that this one of us at least should have a window seat.
We had a couple of hours to wait so we drove around to Aurland, the administrative town for the area where we planned to have lunch.
The day was pleasant with partly cloudy weather and we are still experiencing an almost total lack of wind or breeze which means the cooler temperatures of around 15C do actually feel like 15C.
We sat at a table and ate lunch and then took a stroll along the water’s edge of the fjord to where there had been a sort of swimming pool created by an area being dug out and water from the fjord could flow in to where there had been a sort of swimming pool created by an area being dug out and water from the fjord could flow in and out, not that the tides do much being so far from the sea. Gretchen thought she better check out what the locals swam in when they felt they needed to be part of summer and tested the water. She declared
it was very cold and almost fresh tasting even though the fjord empties out to the sea albeit 200km away! The huge amount of fresh water from melting snow and ice coming into the fjord through the numerous waterfalls and streams and rivers would reduce the usual saltiness of the water.
We drove back to the car park near the railway platforms and sat watching some locals playing soccer on the local ground which had a surface of smooth crushed shingle rather than grass. We should have remembered our Kindles to pass the time until our planned time to head over and expect to be at the front of the queue for the train trip.
We should have parked facing the platforms because when we headed over to the platform half an hour before departure time there were already crowds of people waiting.
The greater numbers were in groups and were either from the ship or part of bus tours. The situation was a shambles with so many nationalities all wanting access to the platform to board the train.
We thought we were in the clear to get onto the platform itself when we were redirected
to another person ‘who had information for us’.
This sounded ominous!
And sure enough the train was overbooked. It seems their computer system when we were buying tickets hadn’t been able to keep up with what was being sold and perhaps tickets sold on the cruise ship to passengers hadn’t been added in as well, who knows.
The result was we were ‘bumped’.Yep, no train ride for us at 3.50pm.They were clearly keeping the available seats for the groups from the cruise ship and bus tours. And in some ways you can appreciate that as they are their bread and butter when it comes down to bulk bookings.
The alternative was to reschedule onto the next train at 5.25pm.We were assured there would be plenty of room on this train. And we would receive a small souvenir for our inconvenience.
So it was back to the ticket office where the young Norwegian woman who served us looked harassed and had to go away and check what was going on. She came back and simply wrote on the tickets the new train time. We asked whether she should be putting our booking into the computer to
confirm it but she said that the 5.25pm was being held ‘fully booked’ for those who had been ‘bumped’.
So it was back to the car and more watching of the soccer on the adjacent field which included a penalty shoot out to decide the winner. Gretchen had a look through the souvenir shop and aside from a restaurant there is not a lot else to do other than to people watch or take a trail up one of the mountains which we didn’t feel up for in the time we had to wait.
Five o’clock came and we lined up again. There were still a lot of people including a number of groups who took up the last 3 and first 3 carriages of the 8 carriage train.
Seating in the carriages was in 2’s and 3’s as this is wide gauge rail so the carriages are wider than we have in New Zealand.
We didn’t get a window seat but noted that the two people taking the window seats were only going up to catch a train to Bergen and therefore we would nab the window seats for the ride back down the mountainside
which might actually be a better experience as far as views are concerned anyway.
The electric engine jerked out of the station almost as if the load of passengers was too great for it and we were on our way.
It was certainly a steep climb up to the station on the plateau where the main line between Oslo and Bergen passed through.
There is a cross over about half way into the 20km journey and we met the down train there. There weren’t many places a double track could have been such was the gradient and available flat ground as the track wound its way around and up the mountain side.
The views out over the valley that the line follows were spectacular with numerous waterfalls on the opposite side of the narrow valley to admire.
The speed of the train didn’t get much above 20kph due to the gradient and sharpness of the curves.
The train takes a stop at a waterfall that is very close to the rail line and you have a chance to get off onto a platform area that has been built to give everyone a view of
the water tumbling down.
As we stood there admiring the scene music started to play. Looking around there was no obvious point that the hauntingly sounding music was coming from. And we along with everyone else spotted a blond woman dressed in red that appeared from behind a rock part way back to the waterfall and danced to the music.
We learned from our information on the train that this represented the mystical things that happened according to mythology in the area.
To make the final kilometre or so to the top station the line takes a sort of spiral to get over the even steeper gradient that it is faced with and at times we could see the line passing in the other direction above us which is not dissimilar to the Raurimu Spiral on the main train line in the North Island at home.
We stayed on the train for the short 15 minute stop at the top so we could secure the window seats for the ride back down the mountain side.
Quite a number of people took the ride just the one way with some catching trains to either Oslo or
Bergen while others with bicycles were going to cycle back down the steep valley on the old trail that used to be the way over the mountain before the rail line was built in 1941.
We watched a couple of woman who had been sitting opposite us embark on the trail down beside the train and it appeared as though their tyres on the bikes weren’t big enough to cope with the fairly rough surface of the track as they couldn’t put their feet on the peddles for fear of losing balance. They rode out of sight of us with their feet dangling next to the peddles and holding on for dear life. And this was the top where you might expect the track to be at its best.
The journey on the train down the mountain side was really no different as the way up and our window advantage didn’t make much difference to what we could see.
The train made a stop again at the waterfall but the blond maiden in the red dress didn’t appear. Perhaps she was only paid for so many performances a day.
We passed the last train up at
the crossing point and the journey was over before we knew it.
We never did get our free souvenir and although Gretchen did think about going into the ticket office she finally decided against it putting it down to the woman who had ‘bumped’ us being under pressure and promising something she hoped we and others she mentioned it to, might forget.
Would we rate it amongst the best train rides in the world? Perhaps yes but then there are some fine train journeys even in New Zealand too.
We decided as we drove through the 8km tunnel just out of Flam on the way home, for the third time, that we had had enough of long road tunnels and rather than doing this road back again tomorrow when we move on we will continue on the D13 and take a different ferry which would still get us to our destination of Olden.
Tomorrow though we start to slum it as for the next two nights we have cabin accommodation where the shower and toilet will be shared in a camp type situation. One bonus though is we will still have our own cooking facilities and
as both the locations of the cabins are out in the countryside there probably won’t be any restaurants nearby.
PS:we were 'travelling light' today so we think the song from our fav Cliff Richard on Youtube was quite appropriate,enjoy
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