Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips: Norway Edition

Well, I have decided to extend the 1 day that the French are given to celebrate Christmas...ridiculous I know...They could at least include Boxing Day...Anyway, because I took some extra time, I find myself with the ability to once again beguile you all with another tale of travel...And failing that...Look a pony!!!

The meat is a little gamey, but it tastes like Skittles and dreams
 Now that that's over with, on to the 2nd of our May 2012 trips, the land of my namesake...Norway!

Locations visited in May, 2012 (2nd half): Oslo and Flam, Norway

Dates of trip: May, 25-28th, 2012
How did we get there: Flight, about 2.5hrs to Oslo on Norwegian Air @ 150€/person return.  That got us into Oslo and then the train from Oslo to Flam was about 5hrs and about 300€/person return...Although I must point out that the train was part of the experience and was well worth it...more on that later.
Where did we stay:  In Oslo we stayed at the Rica Travel Hotel, which was located right off the main street of Oslo (Karl Johans Gate) and so, was close to the palace and also the central station.  We found that, all in all, it put us right in the mix to experience the city, and that the hotel itself was clean and quite nice...for a budget travel hotel.  

In Flam we stayed at the Flam Marina and it was absolutely spectacular!  We had gigantic rooms...actually our room was for 3 but we didn't realize it when booking so we had several beds to choose from...The real selling point however was the balcony overlooking the fjord, that, and the fact that the sun never fully set at night, made for some spectacular vistas over the waters of the fjord.

Spectacular...and this is at 3am
 Let me just start off my recap by saying, I have always wanted to visit the Scandinavian countries and Norway has always been on the top of my list.  So, for me, this was a trip I had been looking forward to for a long time.  I also had a very specific idea of what I wanted to see on this trip, and to be perfectly honest, it wasn't Oslo.  No knock against Oslo, it's an okay's clean, the people are friendly, and the bars are good...but I don't think that's the reason anyone, myself included, goes to Norway.  I wanted to see the country, and mostly I wanted to see the fjords...and that is how I set about planning this trip.

Luckily, I happen to have a director at work who is Norwegian, so I leaned on her a bit to give me some ideas.  In the end, she recommended I focus on the Sognefjord, and that the best areas to do that were either at Flam or Bergen (or both).  As we were severely limited in time (Hello...3 days!), I chose Flam...Half because it was the closest of the 2 to Oslo, and half because it was a small village whereas Bergen is a city.

So, in the end our whirlwhind trip to the land of Vikings looked like this:

Day 1: Arrive in Oslo late after evening flight.
Day 2: Leave early for train...arrive in Flam in late afternoon.  Take in the sights/get the heck onto the fjord!
Day 3: Repeat day 2 then leave in late afternoon for same train trip in reverse.
Day 4: Explore Oslo then depart in evening for return flight to Paris.

I can honestly say that this may have been ambitious planning on my part, however, to this day I cannot think of anything I would have left out to make the trip less hectic...For the sake of this blog not being 25 pages though...I will leave things out...I think I am actually going to give you a day by day highlight reel instead.

Day 1: What kind of highlights can you really say about rushing to the airport after work and arriving at your hotel at midnight...I guess the only thing of note here is to say that if you are flying into Oslo, be aware of the distance from the airport to the hotel!  The airport is seriously the farthest from the city it services of any airport I have ever been through (and that's a large list)...To get from the airport to the city you have 3 options: Shuttle, tram or taxi.  We took the shuttle both ways though in hindsight the tram was probably faster...however, don't take a cab!  Especially if, like me, you are bad at doing money conversions in your head.  To simplify a bit, it was about 850 Kroners to our hotel from the airport (had we gone this route) and at a 7/1 exchange rate that is about 120ish Euros!

Day 2: This day saw us jumping on a train to Myrdal and then a connecting train to Flam.  I must point out that these are not just any trains, in fact, the one between Myrdal and Flam is considered to be one of the nicest train rides in the world...and it doesn't disappoint!  For me, the most impressive parts of these train journeys was simply the change in environment as we traveled.  Within the 5 hours, we went from lakes and oceans (not unlike in NS), to rugged snow covered highlands (not unlike AB) to the lush green fantasyland that is the bottom of the fjords (not unlike a nature enthusiasts wet dream).  The one downside I would note about this is that, not unlike every other cool thing in Europe, the train from Mrydal to Flam was absolutely jam packed...and this kind of lessened the impact of the ride for us...although we lucked out on the way back up. 

Just a bit full...yeah...
Finally, when we did arrive in Flam we were greeted with a beautiful clear sunny day and the most amazing vistas I have ever seen.  I took hundreds of photos to try and capture it, but honestly, the fjords, more than anything I have photographed this year, cannot be captured in an image.  When I close my eyes I can still picture the cliffs rising 360 degrees around me all the way to the sky and 100s of waterfalls flowing down over them from the glacial literally gives me chills.

We spent the rest of the day really just exploring the town and surrounding area.  I rented a bike and did some hiking, while Juls and our 3rd traveler, Andrea walked around the town.  Later at night we went to a local viking beer hall (AEgir...Don't ask me how it's pronounced) for some viking ales in what still ranks as one of the coolest bars I have ever been in.

Day 3:  This day saw us finally get out on the fjord...and I mean the water.  We took a fjord safari jetboat tour that crisscrossed the fjord for about 20kms.  It was incredible and Julia still claims it as one of...if not her favorite travel experience of this year.  I can't really sum this one up except to say that it's magical...If I was Norwegian, I would never leave the fjords.

Let's go fjordin' now, everybody's learnin' how...
After the ride was done we then decided to rent some bikes and go for a spin around the fjord on land.  Again the vistas are really the impressive part here, and I am running out of adjectives to describe them, so I won't...I'll just say, biking is fun...stay in shape kids.  Once this was done, we were pretty much done in Flam and had to catch our 5 hr train back to Oslo.  On y va!

Day 4:  Our final day saw us exploring Oslo finally.  I hate to downplay this part of the trip because Oslo is a very pretty city, with lots to offer.  But after you have been jet-boating on a fjord, cities just don't sparkle the same...Needless to say, we did hit the highlights in our 2/3s of a day there and honestly, I think that was enough.  I would say my own personal highlight was the Viking Ship Museum where we saw the 3 oldest viking ships in existence...the history nerd in me rejoices!

Finally, after the exploring was done, we hopped on the plane to return to Paris...another successful trip in the books. 5?
1.  Freaky singing girl show at the gigantic waterfall halfway down on the train to have my attention Norway...go on.
2.  Sitting on a bear pelt, drinking beer on a bench carved from wood with dragon heads on either end, and a gigantic fire pit in the middle of the beer hall...If that doesn't make you feel like some pillaging, nothing will!
3.  Jet boat on the fjord...nuff said.
4.  Beer on the patio overlooking the waters of the fjord at 3am while there is still some light out.
5.  That first moment when you are at the bottom of the fjord and look around at the absolute majesty surrounding you.

Flam (and the fjords):

Affordability: 5/10, Norway is NOT cheap
Entertainment: 10/10 if you like nature, otherwise 3/10 (what are you doing there?)
Ease of Travel: 7/10, there may be no quick or easy way in, but there is a slow and beautiful way, if you have the patience.
Overall: 10/10, this is a must do for anyone who is a nature lover...absolutely, without an ounce of doubt...must do.

Affordability: 5/10, allow me to reiterate, Norway is NOT cheap
Entertainment: 9/10, as with any big city, Norway has plenty to do and see.  Although, it may have a bit less than some of the larger European centers.
Ease of Travel: 9/10, surprisingly easy and cheap to fly to Oslo from Paris.
Overall: 6/10, as an entry point into your fjord adventures it is great, but I can't imagine going to Norway to visit Oslo alone...

One final shot...

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