I’m told travel writing requires a hook – something to hang the story of your journey onto. They say focus on one main feature rather than romp though the whole holiday saying, ‘we did this, we went there, we saw the other’. But then surely one also needs some facts, maybe some history and geography, reminders for yourself, as well as something to encourage a reader to go themselves.
I’m left wondering what I could single out as my Norway hook? How could I choose between the fjords, the fish, food and beer, the views and mountains, the snow, water, sun and rain, the history, art and music? (Of course not forgetting the short nights and the cost of living!)
Bergen’s quays and the wooden houses of Bryggen (UNESCO World Heritage Site) were wonderful – and so was listening, from behind the fences, to Phil Collins playing live in the park nearby.
After a very traditional fish based meal on our first night, the second night we wanted a change and ventured out to the ‘Royal Gourmet Burger and Gin bar’. We had gorgeous gin cocktails and ate different burgers (one chilli beef and one pepper and Halloumi), surrounded by young locals, with not another tourist insight.
That day we’d hidden from rain in the KODE museums and enjoyed an insightful Munch exhibition. The rain stopped and we walked the streets, people watching and viewing the abundance of street art.
Leaving Bergen by train, we took the journey up the mountains then along a panoramic branch line to Flåm, passing endless waterfalls and dramatic rushing rivers. We stayed in the historic Fretheim hotel at Flåm, once a guesthouse for English gentlemen who like to go fishing.
From the famous hotel the view to the Aurland fjord was only spoiled from 9 am to 5 pm by the giant cruise ships that mooring each day and discharging tourists into the village and onto coaches for their day trips. Once 5 pm came peace was restored.
Whilst in Flåm we took a trip on a much smaller boat down the fjord and round to Gudvangen. From the decks we had magnificent views of more waterfalls, rugged rock faces, with distant mountains and remote farms on the nearer hillsides – this was the Norway we went to see. We stayed a couple of days in rural Norway, walking and climbing the lower hills, catching the views and watching the birdlife.
Then we were back on the train, travelling eastwards, over the highest point of our journey, through bleak landscapes and snow, then more watery lands on our way back down to Oslo.
Oslo had so many highlights it’s hard to know where to start. The Opera House must be number one. Every single visitor photographs the amazing Opera House (completed in 2007 and covered with marble and white granite) and of course we walked up its magnificent angled slopes to reach the top.
But then there was so much more to do and see. The Holmenkollen ski jump, made famous by the 1952 Winter Olympics (though there was a ski jump hill on the site long before that) was spectacular, exciting and slightly terrifying in terms of its height.
The Vigeland sculpture park was beautiful and far more interesting than expected.
The modern art installation called SALT on the waterfront was quirky, and on our last day it was a real privilege to visit the Town Hall, where the Novel Peace Prize is given in the great hall
On our last night we had what was probably our most interesting meal in Oslo, and that will stay in our memories, not necessarily because of the food and wine, but because of the atmosphere, the people, and décor of the place. In ‘Christiana’ (the old name for Oslo) the menu was I guess what you’d call fusion, not overwhelmingly big on choice, but extensive enough to entice. I had a panko scampi dish for starters and an Asian duck salad full of lovely flavours for my main course. Okay, you say, nice but not unusual.
We sat by a wide, curved window watching the world go by sipping our (expensive) wine. It was airy with a nice buzz of conversation from an interesting bunch of diners and delightful waitresses who looked after us. We asked if we could take photos of the artifacts that covered the walls and curiosity cabinets that surrounded us – one full of plastic dolls heads, one like a Victorian dressing up box, and another full of old bottles and tins.
The heads of mannequins in hats and wigs looked down on us. Odd palm trees stood in front of unrecognisable wall posters. We were told this was the private collection of the owner – now that’s a Norwegian I’d love to have met on our railway journey across Norway.