Norway is remarkably close by plane - less than 2 hours, but not many people seemed to go there. So we did.
We booked a flight with Norwegian Air, a new budget carrier, out of Stansted to Bergen at 11.50. Now that seems an easy time, but when we began to think about it we realised that it would mean a 7.00am start from home and it would be a stressful drive always against the clock. So I went onto lastminute.com and booked a very nice looking hotel Downs Hall Hotel, just outside Bishops Stortford. 9 miles from Stansted.
Downs Hall Hotel
We got lost getting to the hotel. When we eventually made it. Lastminute hadn’t told them about the booking but no problemo and we got booked in. The rooms were gorgeous - high ceilings, drapes, wood, paintings. The bathrooms were superb with acres of floor space, a massive bath, twin sinks with marble work surfaces and a shower that drilled you into the floor. It was all slightly on the wrong side of faded gentility though with the odd chip in the bath, paint scuffed and paintings dirty (not in the nice sense of rude, but grimy). The hotel staff were polite and helpful, if of a multitude of nationalities.
We went for a wander round the advertised 110 acres, and I’m sure there were that number, but the implication was that there would be something to see and there wasn’t. We retreated to the bar and I requested a glass of Chablis, which I had noticed in the wine chiller. Two soft drinks and a glass of my Chablis came to £14.50. It turned out that my Chablis was £10.50. So I had a couple of beers, afterwards.
To catch the plane we still had to leave at 9.00 am so we left about 9.20 am and promptly got lost again. It was pouring with rain and stress levels were rising fast as we hammered round cute Hampshire villages seeking the airport. We found the airport but there now wasn’t enough time to park in the long stay car park and so we had to settle for mid term. And so we went from car park to bus, to check in, to buy sarnies from Boots, to passport control, to security screen, to shops, to buy wine (too expensive in Norway), to get lost, to find each other again, to catch train to gate, wait at gate, get on plane. Exhausted, already.
We arrived at the Neptun, Hotel Bergen. We were given rooms. We complained the rooms were not as ordered. Get given rooms as ordered. Go up to them. We are not impressed at all by the standard of rooms. False ceilings are dirty, there are scuff marks everywhere, the ensuites pokey. The hotel needs a revamp. The standard of rooms varies. The noise levels from outside can be extreme. One of our rooms has a chaise longue - which is cool. To stay here was only costing £125 per person per night - so by Norwegian standards, presumably it was cheap and cheerful.
So there we are in Bergen at about 4.00ish local. Pouring with rain. We had a wander round the shops. Were generally appalled at the prices. We found the station and bought some Norway in a Nutshell tickets and then looked around for somewhere to eat. We wandered up and down the town, looking at menus and being staggered at the prices. Eventually we settled on the bistro in the hotel, Pascal. 3 main courses and a couple of drinks each, and the bill hit the mid £80’s. Nice food though. We went to bed.
The street outside the hotel is cobbled and v noisy. Woke up and had to rush breakfast to make the train for 8.40 am.
The Train Journey
We got on train and so the odyssey began. The train which is a normal boring electric thing goes through tunnel after tunnel after...... Eventually around 11.00am it pulled into a place called Myrdal and we crossed the platform onto another far more grand train. We had arrived at the Sognefjord and Flam railway. And what a railway! It’s only about maybe 20K long but it took until 1947 to complete. It connected Flam to the outside world. It is truly spectacular. In order to descend slowly enough the train has to go into a tunnel and go through a 180 degree turn to lose some height.
The train stops by a truly great waterfall. We stood and I took photo after photo- then we heard some music and we gasped as out of the spray emerged a lady dressed in a bright red gown singing and dancing among the rocks. Yes it was a tourist thing. But it was spectacular.
The train twists and turns down to the fjord at Flam. There was a full sized ocean going liner in that day. We had a very fancy cheese sarnie (£5) and then wandered around firing off photo after photo until around 1.10 we got on a ferry which would carry us on to a place called Gudvangen. The trip takes a couple of hours. For sheer scenic majesty it is unsurpassed by anything I have ever seen.
The scale of the cliffs that border the fjord is from another dimension. The clouds cling to the rocks in wisps of white chiffon. The higher clouds glower. The slopes are punctuated by gashes of waterfalls where the water sometimes disappears in plumes of spray or drops vertically. And the majesty and the awe goes on and on. The cameras on all sides clicked and whirred. I dashed up and down the stairs of the boat choosing which of the three decks to take the next spectacular vista. Then I think that I must get the snow in on the high ground. Then I just had to photograph the gulls that jet streamed the boat. Then another shot of another waterfall. Then the sun breaking through the clouds. Then another boat coming towards us. And all the while the slopes going from sheer, to cliffs, from stone to forested and back again.
The batteries on the digital camera gave out. I stuffed film after film into the conventional camera and fired shot after shot. It was mind blowing stuff!
The boat ride eventually finishes and a coach takes up the strain to return you the main line station at a village called Voss. The road out of Gudvangen is the steepest set of hairpin bends I have ever seen. The unprotected drop at the side of the coach is scary. By the time we got to Voss we were ready to drop. However in brilliant sunshine we wandered around before we caught the train back to Bergen and the hotel.
Wednesday dawned and it was pouring. We had breakfast and then went out to take the Bergen in a nutshell tour. It didn’t seem to be running. So we went and looked at a church, rode the funicular railway to the top of a mountain. Came down and went for a Mcdonalds.
By this time it was time we could take another tour. The tour went to Griegs house. At the house we had to view a video of his music set against the Norwegian countryside. I fell asleep and my son played his MP3 player. Then we went to a stave church. The rain continued to pour. We got wet and cheesed off.
Eventually about 5.30pm we got back to the hotel. The tour had only, only! cost us £70.
Because it continued to pour we went to Pascals again. Maybe it’s me, but I like my pork cooked. I seem to remember it shouldn’t bleed. Well mine did, copiously. I am now wondering what the night holds. Will I live, will I have food poisoning? I’ll know tomorrow. And if you care to read on (assuming I live to type the next bit) so will you. Meanwhile the creme brulee was jolly nice (and only £10 a pop). 3 main courses, 6 drinks, and 2 sweets £100, a bargain really!
(If you are wondering my tummy felt pretty awful the next morning ”how much of it was in the mind I don’t know. I do not recommend raw pork!)
I must record the prices in Norway. They are not merely high - they are outrageously high. An average glass of wine £8.00. A postcard £1.00. Petrol £1.00 a litre. A small bottle of coke in a 7/11 £2.00 (and there is a tax added as well!) A day trip £76.00. To summarise it rained and rained and poured it down. It was bleedin expensive. The fjords are stunning.