Posts Tagged ‘Oslo’

For those of us who live near the equator, it is rather baffling to sit down for dinner at, say, 9 pm and find that the sun is still shining bright outside the window. The digestive juices go in for an initial phase of revolt and the stomach refuses to accept any offerings coming its way! One somehow persuades oneself to gulp down a  few mouthfuls so as to keep the body and soul together. The sun reluctantly sets at an hour close to midnight and is cheekily up again at 4 am, waking one up in a rather befuddled state of mind!

Well, this is what happens when one visits a country near the Arctic Circle. The days tend to be much longer – upto 20 hours long – and the nights shorter. Also, the night sky never turns pitch dark. It always retains a dusky-hued feel to it. That is how, a country like Norway is also known as ‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’.

A short trip to Norway – tucked away as close to the North Pole as one can imagine (between latitudes 57° and 81° N ) – was overdue for us for quite some time. Frankly, the Land of the Midnight Sun did not disappoint us! Like most of Europe, we found it to be immaculate, spick-and-span, and highly organized. The two cities we could visit during our sojourn were Oslo, the capital city, and Bergen, a commercial hub. The trip gave us a first-hand feel of the great country, its rich culture and traditions, and its warm and helpful people.

Norway has a geographical spread of 3,85,252 sqkms, which makes it somewhat larger than, say, Rajasthan in India. Population-wise, at close to 50 lacs, it happens to be smaller than Himachal Pradesh. As the largest cities in Norway, both Oslo and Bergen are small by international standards. Oslo has a population of around 9 lacs and Bergen has a population of only about 2.35 lacs.

 From Oslo to Bergen : An Enchanting Journey

The train journey between Oslo and Bergen is said to be one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys. One goes throughbabuji_028 awesome countryside with a stark beauty that is typical of Norway – endless forests, placid lakes, swamps, red-painted houses, cottages with grass roofs, and at the top, a trackless, desolate snow-covered mountain landscape interrupted by the odd frozen lake, even in mid-summer. Often, a single house quietly enjoying its isolated glory whizzes past us, surrounded by snow on all sides for miles together.

On the way, we get to experience the warmth of the people. A train conductor who sees us trying to get some coffee from the machine on the coach of the train finds us fumbling for coins of the right denomination. He comes up and offers a steaming hot cup drawn out of his own money. When we offer money, he refuses to accept it, saying we are his guests! We learn that Indians do not have a copyright on atithi-devo-bhavah!babuji_041

The mountains here rise to 1,300 meters; the Hardangervidda is the highest mountain pleateu in North Europe. It also houses Norway’s largest national park. There is a lovely biking trail through here, part of which is parallel to the railway. Eventually we arrive at Myrdal, a small hamlet boasting of few houses in the middle of nowhere that is the junction for a narrow-gauge railway to Flam.

The Flamsbana train is a star attraction. It runs up to 15 times a day, and takes an hour to descend more than 850 meters to sea level, down a steep-sided valley studded with cliffs and waterfalls. A taped commentary in several languages and overhead screens tell us all about it as we pass through. The train actually stops at one point, between two tunnels, so people can get out to view a stbabuji_043upendous waterfall. It is the Kjosfoss, that too in a frozen state!

The Breathtaking Fjords On The Way

At sea level, the first thing we see is a vast cruise ship, completely dominating the little settlement of Flam. It is on one of the innermost arms of the famous Sognefjord which is 204 kms long and up to 1,308 meters deep. Flam has become a popular cruise terminal with lots of tourist amenities, a superb little railway museum, hiking trails and a wide choice of sightseeing tours by coach and boat.

As the cruise ship navigates through the fjord, we marvel at Mother Nature’s virginity on offer. Crystal clear waters, mbabuji_047ajestic mountains with mirror-perfect images down below, absolute stillness and peace, pristine beauty, small hamlets surrounding beautiful churches after every few kilometers, and the  single odd house precariously perched – either on mountain tops or jutting out of the dizzying slopes. Occasionally, we pass by some magnificent waterfalls, their cascading waters making the only sound audible in the immediate vicinity.

The fjords were carved out during the ice age by melting water pushing its way under the ice, forming deep valleys in the mountains. The result as we see  today is a spectacular landscape. Glacier capped mountains rise more than 2,000 meters, steep above the fjords. Waters run as deep as 1,300 meters and we can easily navigate into the open North Sea. Between mountains and fjords, people have lived their lives since before the viking-ages.babuji_065

The ship eventually drops us off at another place, from where a bus whisks us off through enchanting countryside to a small town by the name of Voss. We  board the waiting train there and finally reach Bergen after another short and comfortable ride.

Bergen, A Commercial Hub

Bergen is a UNESCO world heritage city, partly because of its unique waterside, the Bryggen, which has been photographed so often it has become iconic. Originally a Hanse port settlement, it was run by German merchants, and no Norwegians – or women – were allowed on the site. On the neighborhood quay is the world-famous seafood market. And there are so many round trips to Fjords on offer that one is literally spoilt for choice.

Bergen is a lovely city, with a brand new tram line connecting new suburbs to the city centre, a spectacular fort, museums, beautiful parks, a new opera house by an artificial lake and a fountain, and so on. We visit an aquarium where sea lions, penguins and several other creatures of the ocean frolic about in their respective enclosures. The flower of Bergen is the rhododendron – there are about 300 different species and they love it here because of the mild climate and the rain.

The city is surrounded by seven mountains. There was a light drizzle, so we  take the funicular train up to Floyen, from where the view is inspiring as well as invigorating. It is fun to ride in coaches with a glass roof, affording a great view as the train takes us up 320 meters above sea level. The floors of the coaches are at an angle of close to 40 degrees, and it is interesting to get in and out. Once on the top, we appreciate how well the outlying islands protect Bergen from the North Atlantic weather. There is a restaurant and a well-stocked souvenir shop. Incidentally, all the places we ate at in Bergen made a point of serving only local produce in season – talk about sustainable living!

Oslo, the Capital City

Central Oslo has a typical big city feel about it. The architecture is imposing and the infrastructure is elegant. There is the Kon-Tiki museum, the Viking museum, several art museums and lots of parks and squares. It is easy to move around, as the city has an integrated transport system. We exercise the option of buying only a single ticket at a standard price; it is valid on trains, buses, metro, trams, boats, or all five.

The national gallery has wonderful landscape paintings. There is the Oslo City Hall where the annual Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. We also see the Royal Guard with military band parading up the main street to the palace for the changing of the guard – a stirring sight!

We are told that for a breath-taking overview of the city, one can take the tram all the way up to Holmenkollen where the newly built ski jump is. A climb up the viewing terraces leads one to the ski museum (the oldest in the world and absolutely fascinating). The adventurous can then take a lift to the very top. As well as a dizzying view down the run itself, there is said to be an impressive view of greater Oslo and a wonderful panorama of the bay with all its islands and headlands, as well as the surrounding mountains.

Major Tourist Attractions

Eastern part of Norway has stunning mountains and the Jotunheimen National Park. Northern part has the Arctic Circle and the Sami people, who are the original inhabitants of the country. For those who are fond of fish, there is salmon fishing.

Above all, one can not miss the spell-binding wonder of Aurora Bouraelis, or of  Northern Lights! Alas, due to bad weather, we are forced to cancel a visit to Tromso to witness this unique natural phenomenon. Also, on this trip, we miss meeting any lovable Viking a la ‘Hagar, The Horrible!’

We leave these attractions behind, hoping to come back once again and continue exploring The Land of the Midnight Sun on a future date!

General Information

Most people in Norway speak English as their first foreign language. The currency is the Norwegian Kroner. Even compared to other European countries,   things are pretty expensive. Both Oslo and Bergen offer tourist cards giving you free or reduced admission for museums, cultural events, tours, restaurants and parking, as well as free use of public transport. There are quite a few hotel chains which also run a line of budget hotels.

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