It is cold and wet. Standing next to Myrdal, Norway’s railroad tracks—a tiny town that is about a four-hour bus trip from Oslo, I am lost in a crowd of about 500 people. But the weather and the crowds can’t dampen my spirits. I am about to embark on the Flåm Railroad.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You are a train buff and there is not another ride like it.
- You have heard this is one of the most exciting attractions in Norway.
- It’ll be your first answer when people ask, “How was your trip to Norway?”
- This trip is perfect for families, as well as adult travelers of all interests.
The Adventure Begins
This is no ordinary train ride. During its one-hour, 20.5-mile run, it will spiral around the mountain and snake through 20 jagged rock tunnels passing stunning, rugged terrain. Its final destination is the hamlet of Flåm, on the edge of the Aurlandsfjord.
After being swept onto the train with the crowds, I go from car to car looking for my seat. The engine starts but instead of beginning to roll, the engineer spends some time testing the brakes. Good idea since the track has a 5.5% gradient, descending 2,838 feet (30 meters) on the steepest normal gauge tracks in Northern Europe.
As the train picks up steam, my eyes dart back and forth between the large TV screen, explaining the train’s history, and glances out the window of the Norwegian scenery. Originally, the track was built to connect some of the inner part of the country with the rest of railroad line. It took 20 years to complete this engineering phenomenon. 18 of the 20 tunnels were carved by hand out of the rock.
I am barely settled in when we stop at Vatnahalsen. Oohs and aahs echo throughout the train car. Snowcapped mountains are the backdrop for this lush green wooded area. For almost 120 years, Norwegians have come here to bike, hike and ski.
We move on and roll by Reinungavatnet Lake and into the first tunnel. Even with the interior lights on, it is a bit unnerving when the train does a 180-degree hairpin turn inside this huge cavern. Through an opening, I catch my first glimpse of the Flåm Valley. Its rippling streams, waterfalls, steepled churches, twisting roads and red houses are picturesque enough to appear on a jigsaw puzzle.
About 10 minutes later, the train makes a stop. Outside my window is Kjosfossen, a waterfall about 2,195 feet (669 meters) above sea level. Fed by Reinungavatnet Lake–which we passed before the first tunnel– the waterfall tumbles 310 feet (94 meters) down a rocky mountain.
Everyone gets off the train and stands on the platform. Along with the sounds of thundering water, there is music. I look around and realize it is coming from loud speakers on the train. Nothing else is around.
Alongside Kjosfossen’s top edges stand two ladies with outstretched arms. the ladies start moving gracefully down the slippery rocks. The combination of the mist brushing my face, the roar of the water, the music playing, and the dancing ladies are mesmerizing. Everyone cannot take enough pictures.
Back on the train, everyone is chattering about Kjosfossen and the dancing ladies. I have been so busy looking out the window, I hardly noticed how many nations are represented in my car — lots of Europeans, some Americans, South Americans and Asians. I strike up a conversation with three Chinese women.
The train continues to hum along. After another tunnel at Pinnelia, there is a jaw- dropping view of the Flåm Valley. I look upward and see a road that looks like about 10 letter S’s are piled atop one another. It is the popular hiking and biking road that leads back to Myrdal, where we began our journey.
Just after Pinnelia, the train enters the Nåli tunnel, the longest one on the railway. At 4,430 feet (1,350 meters), it seems to go on forever. Then we see goats, hundreds of them. The sloping landscape is the perfect environment for goat farming — and not much else.
The Town of Flam
The trip ends at Flåm, but the scenery does not abate. The tiny hamlet sits at the edge of Aurlandsfjord, where a cruise ship sits in its harbor. The land is dominated by the Freiham Hotel, where each room has a view of the fjord or the mountains. The rest of the town consists of a couple of B &Bs, some souvenir shops and the Aegir Brewery. With dragon heads decorating its roof and a 29.5-foo high fireplace inside, the Viking-styled brewery is a unique building in the area. Sipping some of the brewery’s hand-crafted beers, we while away a good part of the afternoon talking about the ride.
When I get home, I face a challenge. If I don’t stop talking about the train, the waterfalls, the dancing ladies, and the drop dead scenery, I will lose my friends.
- A one-way ticket for this thrill ride is about US$50 (208 Norwegian krone). Purchasing a Norway in a Nutshell package (www.fjordtours.com) is a better deal.
- Visitors can choose to take the train down and then take a fjordland cruise or vise versa.
- Dress in layers and bring an umbrella. No matter what time of the year, Norway can be wet and chilly.