Visiting the tourist port of Flåm and riding the Flåmsbana train
After another stormy night with heavy rain, we slipped quietly out of the surprisingly empty aire in Bergenshallen around 10am and headed back around the mountains surrounding Bergen, east in the direction of Voss.
We stopped for an hour in Vossevangen, Voss for short, as we were hoping to organise a cycle ride. We were very keen to cycle the Rallarvegen route, an 80km mostly downhill off-road route, rising from Haugastøl (1000m) to Fagernut (1343m) then down to Flåm (2m). We unfortunately discovered that we were still too early in the season, the third week of June, to complete the entire route as the high passes were still blocked with snow. Disappointing.
We continued, through high-sided valleys and alongside turquoise lakes, on to the cruise ship port of Flåm, where we planned to spend a few quiet days. We checked into the only real option in town, Flåm Camping, and perched ourselves in a corner plot on a high plateau with spectacular views over the port and surrounding mountains – that’ll do nicely, we thought. A huge floating hotel was moored in the harbour, utterly dominating the view and town.
We relaxed a while after our drive to take in the view, before we headed out to investigate the town. We looked around the interesting Railway Museum, housing informative displays and old railway equipment. The rest of town turned out to be a collection of souvenir and tax free clothes shops, all geared to serving the needs of the cruise ship passengers who descend on it in swarms, like colourful, waterproof-wearing locusts. There are predatory tour operators lined up, ready to rush paying guests away for any onshore activities or sight-seeing trips they fancy.
The main event here is the Flåm railway trip up the mountain, called Flåmsbana. Touting itself as the World’s most beautiful train journey, it’s a steep 60 minute trip from Flåm up through green waterfall-strewn valleys, and twenty tunnels, to reach the remote train station at Myrdal, 867m above sea level. This station connects with the main line from Bergen to Oslo, so is often used as a connecting link for cruise ship passengers to move on to visit the cities. Most visitors in Flåm book a return ticket, taking the train up and back down, to see the valley in both directions.
Despite the online booking system telling us all trains were fully booked, we easily purchased single tickets to Myrdal from the ticket office in the port. Rather than returning by train, we had the intention of walking the 21km back to Flåm along the old navvies’ road. We had originally intended to cycle this as part of the Rallarvegen route, but the damp weather and the logistics of bringing our own bikes up made the decision for us – walking back was simpler.
The weather was quite dull and overcast as we walked down to meet the train, and we expected to get drenched at some point on our return walk. The train itself was only about half full, at least the carriage we were in was, as only the seats adjacent to a window were in use – the first three carriages were all reserved for cruise ship tour groups. The low cloud and wet weather precluded fantastic views out of the train, so the journey was rather a disappointment, in comparison to others, but we can’t legislate for weather.
The in-carriage televisions showed beautiful photos and gave some interesting commentary on the route, including a history of the legends surrounding Huldra; seductive, beautiful forest creatures who lured and tormented miners as they constructed the many tunnels through the mountains. Halfway up, the train stopped to view a wide, gushing waterfall, and as passengers hopped out to the platform, folk music began to play and a long-haired lady danced provocatively over distant rocks in a flowing red dress, clearly meant to be one from the mythical Hulder race.
We reached the top at Myrdal soon after passing the famous hairpins of the Rallarvegen, the route we would soon be walking down. The platform was total carnage as we disembarked, as the Bergen-Oslo train was also in the station. Many people with heavy luggage were trying to ensure they made their connection. We sat out the rush before walking to the end of the platform and following the well-signed path down into the valley.
The weather had brightened and warmed, and the clouds lifted, so we lost a few layers and settled in for a pretty walk back to base. One elderly couple who looked like novice cyclists had hired the very expensive bikes from the shop on the platform, and were slowly wobbling on or pushing them down the path. So nervous were they that we kept overtaking them, even with photo stops, right until the bottom of the stretch of hairpins where the path levelled out to a more manageable gradient.
We passed many waterfalls as we dropped, following the wildly flowing river that seemed fit to burst from all the recent rain and assumed snow melt. One waterfall had a frozen base of ice, with the falling water passing behind and under, reminding us of how short a summer season this region of Norway has. We crossed many bridges and passed small, colourful homesteads on the way, all the while surrounded by high, rugged cliffs. Several groups of cyclists passed us coming down the path, and a few keen sadists even passed us going up – chapeau!
The valley widened and opened out into a wide grassy plain, and there sat Flåm town, positioned quietly away from the port. We wound our way down to river level again and approached the town, where major works were underway to retain the main road and provide further flat building plots for future development. We stopped to look at the neat, black timber church with its white picket fence before returning home. The walk took a little over four hours to complete, including lunch and photo stops, and it was all much prettier on foot than from the train.
We spent a couple of further days relaxing around Flåm, one that was entirely washed out with heavy rain, another which was bright and dry and allowed for a few additional local walks. We wandered around the coast a little then followed a path over the small hill behind the hotel to enjoy a different view. We considered a kayak trip along the fjord, but other than the fjord itself, there didn’t seem to be much of interest to see and it didn’t grab our full attention; our recent kayak trip in Greenland may have spoiled us somewhat. The valley was undeniably beautiful and the walk back from Myrdal a worthwhile highlight, but it was definitely time to get our lazy selves moving again.