GUDVANGEN/FLAM

July 1, 2010 - Flaam, Norway

Today was a very similar day to that of another recent stop we made in Norway, in the sense that we docked twice in one day. And once again, our first port of call, Gudvangen, was made primarily to accommodate those passengers who were participating on the overland excursion. From 8:00-11:30am, the Voyager stayed docked on an arm of the Sognefjord where Gudvangen is situated at the foot of steep cliffs soaring 5,500 feet above the water’s surface and plunging deep to form one of the region’s deepest fjord basins.

Nic had gone on the overland excursion; however, I was scheduled to escort a different tour, once we arrived at our second port of call. Therefore, I spent my morning enjoying the beautiful scenery and incredible views of the snow-capped mountains, green cliffs, and sheer walls of stone and veils of tumbling waterfalls. The town of Gudvangen lies at the head of the narrowest fjord in Europe, named appropriately enough, Naeroyfjord. In fact, the fjord is so narrow in places that during winter the sun does not reach the valley floor and parts of the passage are obscured by shade all year long. Luckily for us, the sun’s rays were shining strong and stretching wide! I spent most of that morning on Deck 12 with Wendy, Michael Day’s wife. I had helped her clear her camera’s memory card by burning her pictures to a disc, and when I went to give her the CD, we ended up chatting and admiring the morning sail out of Gudvangen.

At around 2:00pm and after a beautiful sail through the Sognefjord, which, by the way, is the world’s longest (127 miles) and deepest (4,291 feet) of all fjords, we finally reached the tiny town of Flam. The village of only 400 inhabitants is cast against a backdrop of steep mountains, thundering waterfalls, narrow valleys and deep canyons. Cruise ships began transiting the majestic Sognefjord to Flam in the late 19th century. Today, it’s Norway’s fourth most popular port of call, a fact that can be attributed not only to the beauty of the fjord, but also to the popularity of the Flam Railway, considered to be one of Europe’s most dramatic rail excursions, and fortunately for me – the tour that I would be escorting today!

Welcome to a trip on the Flam Railway!

Discover the Flam Railway – an incredible train journey from the mountain station at Myrdal on the Bergen Railway down to Flam station nestled in the innermost corner of the Aurlandsfjord. Nowhere in the world is there and adhesion-type railway on normal tracks with a steeper climb. Each year, this exciting stretch of track attracts people from all corners of the world, making the Flam Railway one of Norway’s major and most spectacular tourist attractions.

I was very lucky to be on this tour, especially because at the end  of the day when I went back to the ship, I found out that some of the others, who tried to go on their own, were unable to because they had sold out of tickets. We began our ride in Flam and would ride the train all the way to Vatnahalsen, just before where the Bergen and Flam Railways meet, in Myrdal.

CHALLENGE.

It was a major challenge for railway engineers of the period to build a railway track from the Myrdal Plateau, down the precipitous mountain sides, to the bottom of the Flam Valley. The twisting tunnel, which wends its way through the mountain at several levels, is proof of the most audacious and skilled engineering exploits in Norwegian railroad history. The mountain line had to be laid along steep slopes and round sharp bends to enable the train to snake its way up and down the sheer inclines. Almost 80% of the railway line has a gradient of 55‰, the equivalent of 1:18.

As soon as the train left the station I could already tell that I was in for a treat. This is so cheesy, but I felt like I was in Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express. The train didn’t have compartments or anything like that. It was very simple, but the atmosphere and scenery definitely lent itself to the fiction-like surrealism.

20 YEARS CONSTRUCTION.

The Bergen Railway from Oslo to Bergen was inaugurated in 1909. Work on the Flam branch line was started in 1923 to ensure the transport route down to the Sognefjord, and progressed so well that they could begin to lay the tracks in the autumn of 1936. The line was opened temporarily for steam trains on August 1, 1940, and for electric trains in 1944.

The Flam Railway is only 12.5 miles long but definitely a true masterpiece of engineering. The whole railway and working mechanism was very impressive! The train rides an exhilarating route that traverses the narrow, steep valley, climbing from sea level to more than 2,800 feet while crossing back and forth across rivers and through several hairpin bends and many tunnels.

20 TUNNELS.

The train takes about one hour to cover the 20-kilometer long track, through 20 tunnels totaling a distance of six kilometers. Eighteen of these tunnels were excavated by hand, each meter claiming a month’s hard labor from the railroad workers. To avoid areas at risk from avalanches, the Flam Railway criss-crosses the river and the bottom of the valley three times in the course of its journey. Instead of building bridges, the river was led through a tunnel under the railway line.

We passed many stations along the way. Lunden is where the precipitous Haga Mountain drops down to the railway line. Then the railway widened out to reveal picturesque farms and the Flam Church, nestled at the bottom of the valley. Above this next station of Hareina, tower the Vibmesnosi Mountain and the breathtaking Rjoande Waterfall with a vertical drop of 140 meters.

BREATHTAKING SCENERY.

The Flam Railway is one of the world’s most attractive and spectacular railway lines. The train journey from Myrdal to Flam provides a panoramic view of some of the wildest and most striking examples of Norwegian mountain landscape. Rivers cut through deep ravines, waterfalls cascade down the side of steep, snow-capped mountains, and mountain farms cling dizzily to sheer slopes. At the foot of the mountains you can enjoy the natural beauty of the Flam Valley and admire the majestic Aurlandsfjord, a branch of the world’s longest fjord, Sognefjord.

Every new station we’d pass was as if we just turned the next page in a fairytale. The views were incredible, picture perfect! At the Berekvam station, halfway between Myrdal and Flam, you can see the dramatic Berekvam Ravine, where the Flam River cuts deeply through the narrow gorge. We also had to stop here briefly because this is the only section of the railway with double tracks, enabling the trains from Myrdal and Flam to pass one another.

The train actually made a full stop at the next station, Kjosfossen. We were able to get out of the cars and get pictures in front of the mighty Kjos Waterfall. It felt so good to be out of the stuffy train and close to the gushing waterfall spraying the cool mist. It was hard to get a great picture because of the crowds, but I think I managed.

Once we re-boarded and continued up the tracks and through the Pinnelia Tunnel, you could see three levels of the Flam Railway spiraling up the steep mountain side. You can also see the Rallavergen road with its 21 bends zigzagging up towards the Myrdal Mountain. It was like looking at a Looney Toon set between the Road Runner and Wiley Coyote.

Shortly after that, we arrived at the Vatnahalsen station, where we stopped at a hotel with the same name for some refreshments. They served tea, coffee or water, and very similar Norwegian-style waffles that I had at Nordkapp in Honningsvag. And just like there, they were served with sour cream and raspberry jam. It was at this point of the tour that I was also able to meet up with Jessica, my friend from Destinations (previously Reception) who was also escorting the tour. Once we helped ourselves to something to eat, we both headed outside to take a stroll around and enjoy the view of the valley far below.

It reminded me of the Grand Canyon a bit, except of course, with a completely different landscape. But we were very high up looking down into this incredibly breathtaking valley. The other major difference was that this valley had waterfalls cascading down its sides creating light prisms in their reflections of sunlight. It also was equipped with railway tunnels and tracks, almost camouflaged, yet so obviously apparent, jetting abruptly around the curve of the steep cliffs. It was definitely a very breathtaking scene, and there we were, at the very height of it all.

We spent about an hour of free time at the hotel before our train was back and ready to reload its passengers. Once back onboard, we reversed directions and now, instead of climbing, we were descending the winding tracks through the now familiar scenery. And this time, it was even better because Jessica and I were able to sit with one another. It was a good thing too because, regrettably, we ran into an issue on the way back.

We were sitting next to each other in our chairs, across from a couple of passengers who we were talking to when I saw a woman in the car in front of us throw her arms up in hysterics and lunge herself across her seat. Immediately realizing something must have happened, I got Jessica’s attention and we made our way to see what had gone wrong. This woman’s husband was lying on the floor, apparently unconscious. While Jessica stayed with the passengers, I ran through the rest of the train and asked for any doctors. Thank God, there were about five and all of them quickly came to assist. To make a long story short, the man was fine. He had just suffered some heat exhaustion and passed out, but it was definitely a dramatic way to end the day. In all the tours I’ve escorted, this was the first where something major like this has happened and I hope that it never happens again.

Aside from the health scare at the very end of the excursion, the ride on the Flam Railway was a truly spectacular journey, just as all the brochures had said! Norway is quickly turning into an area of the world that I will definitely recommend to any future, nature-loving travelers!

Love,

Erich

 


Pictures

Gudvangen - Flam
Gudvangen - Flam (2)
Gudvangen - Flam (3)
Gudvangen - Flam (4)
 
 

2 Comments

MAMA:
July 21, 2010
The train ride sounds spectacular and it must have been so unreal to see all those landscapes and all. Like a fairy tale with different scenes is how you described it. I can only imagine how many wonderful pictures you got of this adventure. I am glad there was nothing horribly wrong with the gentlemen passenger, but I am sure you never want to experience that again!! It is amazing how you react when you have to do something quick. I can't wait to see all of the pictures and hear your explanation to all of them.
Jim:
July 21, 2010
SO NOW YOU'VE BEEN TO THE FARTHEST NORTHERN REACHES, ANOTHER ICE BAR (WHICH I FIND TOO COOL), AND THE TRAIN RIDE SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A FANTASY OR MURDER MYSTERY NOVEL.
KEEP ON POSTING, WE'LL KEEP ON WISHING WE WERE WITH YOU.
LOVE YOU, UNCLE JIM
Fuzzy Travel · Next »
Create blog · Login