Long weekend in Oslo, Bergen and fjords
This trip was my first ever with Ryanair. For just fifty pounds each, me, Eldrik and John got flights from Stansted to Sandefjord. It seemed outrageously cheap at the time, but later I'd come to see fifty pounds as about the maximum I'd ever spend on flights within Europe.
The journey started painfully slowly. We got a train from Tottenham Hale which stopped at every single station on the way to Stansted. It seemed to take hours, and when we got to Stansted Mountfichet I almost lost it. What the hell is Stansted Mountfichet? Why would anyone want to get off there? But we got to Stansted eventually, and flew north. I was looking forward to visiting my first Nordic country since Iceland three years previously. Our plane dropped below the clouds and a rainy Norway came up to meet us.
The bus to Oslo turned out to be three spaces too small to carry everyone. We stood, and got the journey for free as a result. It was the only cheap thing we would get all weekend.
During the journey, fine weather broke out, and it was sunny and almost warm when we reached Oslo. We stashed our bags at the station, bought tickets for the night train to Bergen, and headed out to explore. We got a boat across the harbour to the Bigdøy Peninsula, and had a look around the museums there. In the Kon Tiki museum, I was astonished at how small the Kon Tiki was. The Fram museum was closed by the time we got to it, but we looked through the window at the ship which Fridtjof Nansen deliberately froze into the Arctic ice, to drift across from Siberia to Greenland, and which took Amundsen to the Antarctic in 1911.
We got a boat back to Oslo, and then got a tram to the Frognerparken. The park is full of the works of Gustav Vigeland, and we wandered through the 80 acres and 212 statues in the late evening light, eventually reaching the 14 metre high Monolith, which took 14 years to carve. Vigeland himself died before it was completed.
After Vigeland Park, we killed a few hours in bars on Karl Johans Gate, spending as little as possible. One pub was selling Caffreys for eight pounds. Coffees and soft drinks were more or less affordable, though. At 11pm we left the bars and got a night train to Bergen.
We arrived in Bergen at 7am. I'd already spent all the money I thought would last me the whole weekend, so our first point of call was a cash machine. I pressed some large numbers, tried not to think about what they meant in pounds, and we headed into town.
Bergen is supposedly the rainiest city in Europe. In 1990, it rained continuously from January 3 to March 26. There was a vending machine on the station platform selling umbrellas, and the skies were grey, but even as we walked into town from the station, sunshine was breaking out. I almost felt disappointed.
We made a trip up Mount Ulrik. The sun had disappeared behind cloud again, and the views from the top were atmospheric. Bergen sprawls around fjords and mountains, and we had great views of the countryside around the city.
In a cafe at the top, we had my old favourite Nordic snack, pølse - cheap hot dog, available everywhere in Scandinavia. I liked it more than its taste or nutritional value could ever justify, but in Iceland, pylsur had been a great source of protein that was within my travelling budget, and I'd eaten them frequently. Cheap hot dogs therefore always triggered happy memories of places all over Iceland.
We had a fun night out in Bergen. The streets were full of students wearing red trousers, in some kind of post-exam celebration. Everything was lively and we didn't get back to the hostel until after 4am. We'd booked ourselves tickets on a train to Voss, leaving at 7.50am, and when we got up at 7, I was not filled with enthusiasm for the day's sightseeing.
I dozed on the train. The skies were dark and I thought we were finally going to have some famous Bergen rain, but it held off, and at Voss the sun began to break through. We then got a bus to Gudvangen, and by the time we got there the skies were clear.
From here, we got a boat to Flåm. It was a stunning ride down the Nærøyfjord, hemmed in on either side by towering cliffs, with waterfalls plunging from the heights. All was still except for the hum of the boat, and the waters were like glass.
We chugged along, and very occasionally there was an isolated house perched on the edge of a cliff. If I ever become spectacularly rich, I'm going to buy one of them. Eventually we reached the end of Nærøyfjord and turned into the Aurlandsfjord. I didn't want to trip to end but after two hours we were approaching Flåm.
The journey continued. We got the train from Flåm to Myrdal, a journey which takes you from sea level up to 860m above sea level in 12 miles. We climbed through snow-covered scenery, curling around corners so tightly that often we were looking right down on earlier sections of the line.
About half way up, we stopped at Kjossfoss. In summertime it's a thundering and spectacular waterfall, so people said, but when we were there it was barely a trickle.
We climbed on to Myrdal. Here we realised that we'd made a huge error not buying lunch in Flåm - we'd thought that Myrdal would be bigger, being a stop on the main line from Bergen to Oslo after all. But Myrdal is not a town, it's just a station, surround by high mountains, with no roads out and serving no purpose except as a place to change trains. We had a two hour wait on Myrdal station before the Oslo train arrived, but we enjoyed the fresh mountain air, blue skies, sunshine and total silence.
The journey from Myrdal took us back to Oslo across the icy wasteland of the Hardangervidda plateau. In the night, on the train to Bergen, I'd looked out and seen huge expanses of snow, and the daytime crossing was awesome. Occasionally in the middle of nowhere we'd spot a couple of cross-country skiers. I listened to "The Sun Always Shines On TV" by A-Ha for some good Norwegian accompaniment. One thing I liked about this bit of the journey was that the plateau starred as the ice planet Hoth in "The Empire Strikes Back".
We got back to Oslo at about 10pm, and made our way to a hostel. We found ourselves sharing a room with an American traveller called Brian, and our arrival woke him up. He'd clearly had a massive Friday night out; he asked us the time, and when we said it was 11, he thought it was 11am on Sunday morning. He was totally baffled to find that it was still the middle of the night. He was too confused to hit the town again, so the three of us left him to recover and went out to check out Oslo nightlife.
In the morning, Oslo was swathed in thick fog. We sat in a cafe for a bit, compensating with coffee for another sleep-deprived night. When we came out, the fog had cleared, so we headed out to the suburbs, to have a look at the ski jump at Holmenkollen. It is one of the oldest ski jumps in the world, and was one of the venues for the 1952 Winter Olympics. We got the lift to the top.
A bit of mist remained from the earlier fog, making Oslo and the surrounding forests look blue and distant. Looking down the ski jump from the top gave me vertigo, and I got an appreciation for what a massive adrenaline rush ski jumping must be. But I definitely felt that ski jumpers must be quite crazy. The angle of the descent was terrifying and I felt sure that if you were actually speeding down it on skis, you would not be able to avoid feeling like you'd just made a very big mistake.
We went to the National Gallery after Holmenkollen, and saw the Scream. I didn't know until then that there are four original versions, two painted and two pastels. This is probably a good thing because it keeps getting stolen. The version in the National Gallery was stolen in 1994, with the thieves leaving a note saying "Thanks for the poor security" in its place. Another version in the Munch Gallery was stolen a few years later.
We walked down to the harbour, stopping for a wildly expensive pub lunch on the way, and found our way to a hillside by Akershus Slott. We sat in the sunshine for a while.
Finally it was time to leave. We headed back to the station for the long bus journey back to Sandefjord. We had had an amazing time, but it was some time before I could even bring myself to check my bank balance. When I did, I decided I would not be returning to Norway for many years.