For four months, I studied abroad in London, England. These notes are select entries from my experiences in the United Kingdom and Western Europe from that time.
Sunday, December 6 –
I woke up around 6 a.m. for a big day ahead. I have learned some Norwegian words including god dag (good day), takk (thanks) and snakker du engelsk (do you speak English?). Most people not only speak English well, but do so well with more of an American than a British accent.
I walked to Oslo Sentrallstasjon and reserved my seat on the 7:45 a.m. train towards Bergen for a small fee. Most trains in Scandinavia require reservations. I put my large bag in a locker in the station and caught my train towards Bergen.
The train was incredibly modern and comfortable inside. I think it’s because Scandinavians are tall, so they give you a lot of legroom! The train ride, known to be one of the most beautiful in the world, lived up to its reputation. I grabbed a baguette on the train for breakfast with orange juice and was intrigued to see that sunrise didn’t occur until 9:30 a.m. The train had a free special magazine describing the journey – which was a huge feat of engineering, uniting the two main cities, Bergen to Oslo. It all happened shortly after Norway became a nation in 1905 after gaining independence from Sweden.
The train passed through some very impressive mountains, deep snow, mostly frozen mountain lakes, and huge glaciers. In order to keep the famous train line open, extensive use of snow tunnels and regular tunnels were implemented. One tunnel we traveled through, at 12 kilometers long, was the second-longest tunnel in Europe after the Chunnel. We climbed to about 5,000 feet along the journey. The mountains are not as high as the Rockies, but are just as impressive because of the sheer vertical ascents from valleys.
I disembarked the train at Myrdal and took the famous 20 km train ride to Flåm that descended 1,800 meters to a spectacular fjord. The scenery was unbelievable as we passed frozen waterfalls, sheer cliffs, snowy firs and very high mountains covered in glaciers. When the train finally snaked its way to Flåm through 20 tunnels, I grabbed lunch (snitzel, salad and fries in the restaurant) and bought some film. Then I took a 65 kronor ($10) cruise on Aurlandsfjord north and then on to the Nærøyfjorden. This was probably the highlight of the trip and was so stunningly beautiful. It was cold outside but I made myself stay on deck for the wonderful sights. I couldn’t help but think of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” as we passed these typical Norwegian sights. I had hot chocolate in the cabin of the ship and then went back on deck with some British girls.
The sun set before we reached the town of Dumaygen at the end of the fjord. I then awaited the 17:15 p.m. bus to Voss. On the bus, we snaked up through the mountains until we arrived at the train station at Voss around 18:15 p.m. There I learned I would have to leave on the midnight train to get back to Oslo. As I learned in London from Prof. Murphy, flexibility is the key!
I decided to take the 19:00 p.m. train to Bergen and arrived at 20:15 p.m. This city on the north Atlantic is the second largest city in Norway. Because I only had a couple of hours, I grabbed McDonald’s there for supper. Scandinavia is expensive as evidenced by a Big Mac, fries and Coke costing more than three times the amount in the U.S.!
Even with limited time, I had a chance to walk around the harbor on the shore of the Byfjorden. I saw the fish market area and a number of beautiful buildings in the old wharf which is called the Bryggen. Colorfully painted wooden buildings – some 61 of them – and most of them were trading buildings from the pre-Hanseatic period. I then toured Bergen Domkirke (Bergen Cathedral), the seat of Bergen’s diocese of the Church of Norway. Outside in the moonlight, I could see the seven mountains that famously tower above the city.
Afterwards, I left the waterfront and returned to the train station at 22:30 p.m. I grabbed a delicious piece of chocolate cream pie along with a whipped hot chocolate before catching the 23:00 p.m. to Oslo. On board, I slept in car of young military men and women on their way to Oslo. I reclined my chair back and slept on the train during the eight-hour voyage. Oh well, at least I was saving a night’s worth of accommodations. And today was arguably the best of my trip!