August 5, 2012
When we thought of Norway, we imagined majestic fjords and beautiful coastline. Unfortunately, we did not have the budget to cruise down the coast and see the fjords by sea. So we pieced together an overland itinerary that would maximize our land travel along the coast, so as to see as much of this scenic country as possible.
We entered Norway via a train from Kiruna, Sweden. The train ran along lakes with snow-dotted mountains behind them. When we actually crossed the Norwegian border, we traversed through several tunnels, emerging along a gorge. At this point all the occupants of the train car crowded to one side to admire the view.
The train left Kiruna 90 minutes late and we had a connection to make in Narvik, Norway. The scheduled connection time was a little over three hours, but once we finally arrived in Narvik, it had dwindled down to less than one hour. Narvik was symbolic to us in that it represented the farthest north that we will journey on our entire 14-month expedition. After taking a few pictures in front of the 68°N latitude monument, we headed to the tourist information office inside the train station to verify the walking directions to the bus depot.
After a ten-minute walk through the city center, we arrived at the bus station and boarded a bus to Bodø, which would take about six hours. This drive was spectacular, weaving along the fjord coastline. Several times we both said an audible “Wow!” to each other. The scenery just got better and better and culminated in the bus actually boarding a car ferry for a half-hour trip across a fjord (so we did get in a little cruise!). It was raining by that time but we still took the opportunity to get out of the bus to admire the view as the ferry made the crossing in the windy and stormy conditions. Because we were so far north it was still light when we arrived in Bodø at 10:30pm. The low light cast a pleasant glow on a fjord as we approached the city.
We spent a day in Bodø to break up the long journey down the Norwegian coast. Bodø, with a population of about 48,000, is one of the largest cities in North Norway. It was pleasant to explore. Our trip further south continued with an overnight train to Trondheim. The first hour was spent traveling along a beautiful fjord before the track turned inland for the night. In Norway, the sleeping cars are comprised of two-person compartments. This was the nicest overnight train accommodation that we have had to date. In fact, we wished that the train trip was longer than the 10 hour duration so we could have spent more time in the compartment!
Arriving in Trondheim at 8:00am the next morning, we were now below the Arctic Circle for the first time in 12 days. Perhaps it was our imagination but it seemed much warmer to us here, especially since the sun was out. The third-largest city in Norway, and a major university town, Trondheim is made for walking and cycling and we did both. Its location on the coast, with a river winding through it, provided great background to the rows of quintessential Norwegian wooden houses. We enjoyed taking pictures in the morning light.
Our final stop in Norway was in the capital city of Oslo, a seven-hour train trip from Trondheim. Here we actually experienced darkness at night for the first time since we left Riga, Latvia, almost four weeks ago. We found that we actually slept better and felt more refreshed in the morning. Our hotel location provided easy access to the central city and its sights. Ironically, after our land odyssey through Norway, while in Oslo we decided to visit museums dedicated to the sea. The Viking Ship Museum displays three preserved ships from the 9th century that were used as burial vessels for their upper class owners. During the Viking age it was the custom to bury the dead in boats.
These ships were buried on land with their deceased owner inside. The ships included items for the owner’s use in the afterlife, including sledges, wagons, beds, kitchen utensils and small boats. The excavated ships were discovered between 1867 and 1904. Each ship was on display, along with the artifacts that were recovered from the various Oslo area farms where they were found. It was like viewing a time capsule of everyday life items, all over 1,000 years old!
The second museum we visited was a little more contemporary. The Fram Museum houses the ship by the same name that was used for 12 years of Arctic and Antarctic exploration. This culminated in the Fram’s support of Roald Amundsen’s first successful expedition to the South Pole. The museum houses various displays and allows visitors to board the actual ship. Fram means ‘forward’ in Norwegian and we found it amazing that a wooden ship could traverse the icy and inhospitable areas of the top and bottom of the world.
Now, after a week of traveling over 800 miles by train and a little less than 200 miles by bus, we too will move forward by leaving Norway tomorrow to journey to Denmark. Then we will return to the sea by boarding an overnight ferry later this week to cross over to Poland and the main European continent.