Pravin Gandhi’s travels – footloose in Scandinavia – fjords of Norway
This a description of two fantastic journeys in Scandinavia, i.e. Norway and Sweden.
I arrived at Oslo, the capital city of Norway in the morning, from Copenhagen, where I had left my luggage in the cloak room, carrying a tote bag containing a change of clothes. As advised by other youth at the youth hostel I boarded a train to Bergen the next morning. I met 4 young travellers – one of them was John – and 3 girls. One of them taught at a school for deaf and dumb kids and we had impromptu lessons on sign language. We shared our frugal meals, I had picked up bread, milk and a cake from the station before boarding, for lunch. The girls said they were going to a place called Flam, which they had heard was a heavenly place. We quickly researched our “Europe on $20 a Day” and John and I decided to join them.
Meanwhile, the train ploughed through snow fields stretching as far as the eye could see, interspersed with pine trees. Stations on the way were just log cabins, with no village or town in sight, so civilisation must be at a distance from the stations. The blanket of snow was thick, covering the tracks too. Click here for picture.
It being the onset of winter (October), it got dark pretty early, and so it was pitch dark when we got off at Myrdal even though it would hardly have been 3-4 pm. What’s more, it was snowing furiously. The station itself was a small, warm cabin of Norwegian, fine-smelling wood, with a very welcoming vending machine for hot chocolate, and one teller. Click here for picture. There was a narrow-gauge mountain train of 2 cars waiting in the side. The toy train descended into the valley, terminating at the village of Flam. We stayed at the Brekke family home, a large fine house. Mr. and Mrs. Brekke shared some time chatting with us before retiring to their private part of the house.
In the morning, I woke up to a most picturesque view from the window of my room. It was a quaint, small village, at the foot of mountains on 3 sides and the head of a fjord (a winding waterway) on the third. The air was pure and crips,tingling the cheeks; there was a smell of fresh snow and pine. The day was spent lazing around the village, taking a walk to another village 4 km down, and fooling around in the house and preparing food in the kitchen.
At night we bid goodbye to the Brekkes, writing raving remarks in their visitor book. Early next morning we left for the fjord-head to catch the boat that would take us through one of the most famous and prettiest sights of Norway – the Norwegian fjords. The fjords are water bodies that wind through interlocking mountains. The boat was a small ferry, with a heated cabin and hot chocolate vending machine. We stepped out to the open deck to catch the breathtaking scenery, but it was bitterly cold and everybody was content to enjoy the view from the inside of the cabin. Except me. I stepped out every few minutes, dressing up head to toe with a scarf, coat and cap. It was an unforgettable experience. Click here for picture.
It was time for the group to separate. The girls were going to go back to Flam and stay a bit longer. John and I disembarked at a jetty at Gudwangen, where a bus was waiting for passengers. We five had become good friends, and we were very chatty and jovial as we sipped hot choc in the warmth of the cabin, enjoying the view, so the farewell was all too sudden. The boat tooted impatiently and our arms were waving as the boat set off. The bus started on its journey, while our thoughts were still with the friends we left behind, never to see them again. Sigh, this would happen several times before I reached my home in Mumbai.
The bus climbed steeply on the road through thick forests and villages of 2-3 houses few and far between and dropped us at the railway station of Voss. on the main railway line which we had left at Myrdal.
John and I took the train to complete the unfinished journey to Bergen on the coast of Norway. It was dark just as we reached Bergen. We left our tote bags in a locker in the station and set off to explore the town. It was a busy commercial port city, but like all European cities, very traditional and quaint; we ended up in a pub where John befriended a girl and wanted to stay back. He looked at me questioningly and I nodded. We walked back to the station and took our tote bags from the locker and it was time to say goodbye for the second time that day. I boarded the night train back to Oslo alone, passing Voss and Myrdal in the night in my sleep, with everlasting happy memories of the place, the day and the friends. Were it not for some quick thinking during our original journey, I would have passed Myrdal and missed this heavenly sojourn in Flam and the equally heavenly journey on the fjords.
Postscript: Back in Oslo, I did run into John at the Vigiland Monument and chatted over a coffee. I would run into him one more time at Garmish-Partenkirchen in the German Alps. Among other things, I saw an Ice Hockey match; and visited the room in the Oslo City Hall where the Nobel prize for Peace is awarded and stood in awe at the podium from where famous world statesmen received the Nobel Prize. In the next post, I shall write about the next fascinating part of Scandinavian journey, though I will not reveal what).
Oh, and one more thing. Here’s this week’s artefact on the way to the shredder: the back of a postcard written from Flam by a friend in the US who took my recommendation and followed my itinerary to Flam “of course, on my favourite fjord”: he would smile knowingly and nostalgically when he reads this blog.