Saturday, August 25, 2018

Norway (Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Geiranger, Alesund, Andalsnes)

Norway had always felt like a far fetched destination on the map. But this time, when I took some time off between the jobs, I felt it was a perfect time to go to Norway. But when I started exploring I realized this country looks much smaller on the map because of the latitude, but it is actually a very big country and travelling around the country isn't as easy. Hence we settled down for a shorter quicker tour of the country. Here is a brief itinerary:
Day 0: Arrive in Oslo
Day 1: Norway in a nutshell ( Olso-> Bergen)
Day 2: Day in Bergen. Fly to Stavanger at night
Day 3: Pulpit ferry and hike to pulpit rock
Day 4: Fly to KSU(Kristinasund) -> drive via high Atlantic road to Alesund -> Geiranger
Day 5: Ferry in Geirangerfjord -> drive to Molde via Trollstingen. Stay in Molde.
Day 6: Drive to Molde airport and fly to Oslo
Day 7: Day in Oslo
Day 8: Fly out in the evening.

When to go:

Norway countryside
Summers! Of course. Unless you are targeting auroras and want to fly to north Norway in winters. I am not a great fan of winters and can definitely do without auroras, hence the plan to always target summer months in any country we plan to visit. Norway however, we ended up going during end of winters, which was late August. Summers were ending, but winters had not yet begun.

Where to fly:

Oslo is the biggest airport. So you will find plenty of flights getting in to Norway. Even though it might be the biggest airport in this country, it isn't as big as other airports you might have seen. So, we chose to fly in to Oslo, however there are some airlines, like Norwegian and SAS which fly in and out of many other airports in the country connecting other Scandinavian countries. So you could totally fly in and out of different airports if that is how you want to plan your travel.

Drive or fly for intra-country travel:

Norway is a huge country, don't fall in to the trap of their deceptive size on the map. Plus driving around isn't that simple. We realized that it may be better to just fly between cities of interest and drive locally if needed, instead of driving between the cities. And this turned out to be a huge time saver for us. Unless you are planning a road trip in Norway, there is no reason for you to be driving within cities.
Ready for Norway in a nutshell

Arrive in Oslo

We were flying in from Copenhagen, or as you would see on airport terminals, Kobhaven. Yes, it can be confusing, so be prepared to look for Scandinavian names instead of the English names of the cities. We had booked a hotel closer to the Norway central station as we had to board our train for our Norway in a nutshell tour from this station early morning at 6 am the next day. Oslo is in general a safe city and it was perfectly convenient to take an uber or a train from the airport to the hotel.

Norway in a Nutshell

Cruise ships docked in Flam
Myrdal station
This is by far the most convenient and easiest way to get a taste of Norway. If you are here for a short time, I highly recommend it. It had fjords, trains, scenic rides all wrapped into one. Their website offers multiple options, over multiple number of days, but we chose the one day option from Oslo to Bergen. Two things you must keep in mind, first, you must collect your physical tickets for a part of your tour from their kiosks at railway stations and airport which have limited hours of operation. So, plan accordingly. Second, We booked a porter service from Oslo to Bergen, which simply picked our luggage from our hotel in Oslo and transported it to our hotel in Bergen. This way, we didn't have to ferry our luggage around through multiple hops. Super duper convenient. Now about the tour itself, ours was the original Norway in a nutshell tour.
Oslo to Myrdal by train: First leg of our journey was a train ride from Oslo to Myrdal. After the first couple of hours of mundane train journey, the views became better and better as we gained altitude. Last hour or so were very pretty and keep your cameras ready if you have been lucky enough to be assigned window seats. We were!
Myrdal to Flam by legendary Flam railway: This is a very cute scenic ride going through several hairpin bends with waterfalls along the way to the town of Flam located in the fjord. Our train stopped for few minutes midway where there was a performance by a lady dressed in a white gown on some music, keeping up with some old folk tale. Was funny.
Flam: Once you are in Flam, you get an hour or so to unwind, get lunch and enjoy the fjord. There are a few short hikes nearby that you could indulge in. We did a short hike nearby in the time we had after we grabbed lunch. Its a beautiful tiny little valley town. Here is the official site for Flam tourism.
Ferry ride/cruise from Flam to Gudvangen: The cruise takes you through Aurlandsfjord and Naeroyfjord to Gudvangen. The fjord cruises are all very serene and peaceful You see some waterfalls along the way and the calm waters of the fjord. There won't be much for you distinguish between various fjord cruises except for the surrounding mountains.
Gudvangen to Voss
Bus ride from Gudvangen to Voss: This was one interesting bus ride. The roads are narrow with hairpin turns. A couple of times I did have my heart in my mouth while on the bus. The view offered were beautiful though. Lush green mountainous landscapes while you are on a good 15-20 degree downward incline.
Voss to Bergen train ride: The final leg of our journey. Was mostly through plains which were fields and farms and of course green. I dozed off through most of this journey as we had had a long day. But were glad to have discovered Norway in a nutshell.
Once in Bergen, we walked to our hotel Radisson Blu, which wasn't too far from the station and luckily found an Indian restaurant on our way back to dine at, Arti Indik. At our hotel, our luggage was waiting for us and it was time for a nice shower and a good night's sleep.
To Note: Mind you, it isn't a guided tour, just a bunch of tickets that were purchased for you and its simple to follow the route. You could do the same by booking the tickets yourself at the times you find convenient.

Day in Bergen

Bergen from the top
City centre
Initially, we had planned that Sumit might go biking nearby, but it was constantly drizzling and biking was ruled out. We also thought of renting a car and driving up to Rosendal, but then we both got lazy and decided to have an easy day in Bergen. We were staying at Radisson Blu which was  an excellent choice. Loved the hotel, the location and the amenities. Breakfast in the morning was sumptuous and I was ready for the day. All we had to do was remember to carry our umbrellas. First, we walked along the cobbled pathways and visited a tiny museum nestled up in a house in the alleys right behind our hotel. Then we walked about to the entrance of the funicular that takes you all the way up to the Floibanen. It offers a bird's eye view of this port city. We just walked around the area and then it started drizzling again, so decided to come back to the city and grab something to eat and drink. After a cup of coffee and sandwiches, it was more walking through the city. Its a very walk able town and we just enjoyed the small tiny little shops everywhere. Then we walked across the port to get a look at the colorful houses, or the Bryggen. Its a little far for taking pictures, but otherwise it offers a good view. Now this side of the city was little more modern and had a mall and some upscale shops.  After strolling for sometime, we decided it was time to get early dinner and take a bus to the airport. We ate at Maharaja and the food was good. Then we picked our bags and got on the bus to the airport which btw, is the most convenient way to get the airports in Norway as most of the airports are fairly outside the city.
There was also an old church we visited, right behind our hotel and there are other plenty of things to see and do in Bergen, which we conveniently skipped for an easy day. You will find more details and  an itinerary for spending a day in Bergen here.


Colorful houses in Stavanger
Our flight from Bergen was on time, but we were reaching pretty late, just before midnight. The airports, like I said are fairly outside the cities, so the best way to get in and out is by local buses if you don't plan to rent a car at the airport, which we didn't. We took this bus service to city centre, and simply mapped the drop off location closest to our Airbnb. Such a safe country, we didn't feel unsafe at all while walking in the middle of the night to our rented location. Our AirBnb was just 10-15 minutes walking distance form the city center. Once we reached, we just dozed off as the next day we were planing on a long hike and a cruise.
Next morning, we were up bright and early and decided to explore the town on foot before our cruise at 12 noon. So, we walked the old town, took pictures near the old church, wooden houses, the tower and the pier after grabbing breakfast. It is a really small town and the old town area is easily walkable and explorable on foot.

Lysefjord cruise and Pulpit rock hike

Lysefjord cruise
I wanted to combine the fjord cruise and the hike and I found a perfect option for that. The cruise left at 12 noon and took us through the Lysefjord, then dropped us off. Here a bus picked us up and dropped us at the base of the hike. After the hike, another bus would pick us up and drop us off at the ferry terminal, Tau, for the ferry to take us back to Stavanger. It worked like a charm. Note that the return from the base of the hike has fixed departure times for the buses, so time your hike accordingly. If you are interested, here is the link to Rodne cruises with which we made the booking.
The cruise through the fjord is like any another cruise, infact I would say the Sognefjord and Geiranger cruises were better. This one was just to get to the base of the hike.
Ready to hike
The hike is challenging though. Pack yourself enough water and snacks. Its not an easy one. It took us 2 hours for the uphill climb and took us 1:45 hours for the downhill. Wear sturdy shoes and be aware of the slipper rocks in between. Once at the top, I absolutely loved it. Some people were brave enough to take picture sitting at the edge, I clearly wasn't. But the flat rock at the top and the view of the fjord from here is absolutely gorgeous and majestic and totally worth the hike. I was so so happy to get this off my bucket list. Here is the official site for details about the hike and how to get there.
Once back the base, like I mentioned earlier, we took the bus back to the ferry terminal which took us back to the city centre. Then we got some good dinner at Delhi restaurant, some really good Indian food in Norway I must say, or may be we were too hungry! Now was the time for an easy stroll back home and crashing for the night.
Made it!

Drive High Atlantic Road to Geiranger

We had our flight booked from Stavanger to KSU(Kristinasund) on SAS airlines in the morning. But, our flight was cancelled and we were put on another flight to KSU via Oslo. This totally disrupted our plans for the day as we got in 2-3 hours later than expected. So we decided to see how things panned out and make a call accordingly. Luckily, the days are so long in summer.
We rented a car at the airport and drive straight to the High Atlantic Road. There are some spots which give you a very view of the road and once you are underwater, I was so freaked out, but apparently this is totally common in Europe. I just felt that the tunnel is going to collapse by water weight at some point. But nothing happened, of course. There are a few spots, where you can stop and take pictures and enjoy the sea.
High Atlantic Road
Eagle Road to Geiranger
We decided to skip Alesund and drive up to Bud and then turn to Geiranger as we were already very behind on our schedule. Else, the plan would have been to go to Alesund and get lunch there. But we took a break in Molde instead. This is a bigger town which is a popular stop for cruise ships. From here there are regular ferries (for people and vehicles) to cross the water bodies. I was totally in awe of these car ferries. Saved so much time going around instead, Just drive in your car on to the ferry. Get out, get coffee or something, and then just drive out! So cool. So we took two ferries, one from Molde to Vestnes and another one to Valldal.
Our route
The drive was pretty from Vestness to Geiranger. Some areas were narrow and curvy and a little challenging to drive, especially the Eagle Road, but nothing unmanageable. And this road offers the best views of the fjord. We reached geiranger pretty late in the night. And it was all very quiet. Luckily we had gotten some dinner to go in Molde, so we didn't have to look for food that late in the night. All hotels offer a very pretty view of the fjord and are located at the very end of the fjord. Postcard worthy views of this town and the neighboring areas. Lots of hikes to explore too.


View of Geirangerfjord from our hotel
Next morning, we had a pre booked tour of the fjord. Many options for the fjord cruise. There are quite a few hikes and you could get dropped off at the base and hike all the way up get the bird's eye view of the fjord. We didn't explore that option and simply opted for a regular cruise in the fjord. The town if so picturesque that Sumit opted for an early morning run before the cruise. The town is located at an elevation, so I am guessing any activity would be a little more tiring than usual. The cruise was one of the prettier ones and this fjord is definitely one of the better fjords we saw in Norway. The drive up to the town and the fjord itself are very unique. After our short cruise, we got lunch, did some souvenir shopping, ice cream eating and picture taking before heading out of the town.

Drive to Molde via Andalsnes and Trollstingen:

We drove back through the Eagle Road, this time stopped again to take pictures and take one final look at the Geirangerfjord. From here we drove straight to Trollstingen. What a beautiful road with such curvy hairpin bends. Its one of the bucket list items for cyclists. I had tried so hard to convince Sumit to rent a bike and give it a try, but he had no enthu and I really wish to go back for him to try this out. You will see a lot of bikers on your drive and I can only imagine the euphoria at the end of the climb.
Trollstingen is a proper tourist spot, with an area to park cars and then walk up to the vista points. Some of them offer picturesque views of the entire valley.
From here we drive to Andalsnes, which is another popular tourist town and had lunch at Bakgarden Thai, good Thai food. And then had coffee at Sodahlhuset. A very tiny coffee shop with excellent coffee. That's the things about such family run coffee shops, they have unique settings and give excellent coffee, such a refreshing change from your regular Starbucks.
We then drive to Molde, again via an underwater tunnel, less nerve wrecking this time. We reached early evening and had some time to walk around the city. Explore some fountains
, streets, a very old church and then grab dinner at a local restaurant, Egon. Next morning, was our flight to Oslo from Molde airport,  this would be our final stop, before our vacation ends.


Hello sunshine!
Our walking map
Welcome to a city! Well connected public transport, a big city center and lots to offer. We reached very early in the morning, so we had planned to store our luggage at the airport instead of checking into our hotel. Super convenient option once you find the lockers. Then we took a train straight to city center. Our touristy day in Olso began with visit to a cathedral in the city center. Like we all know, I love cathedrals! The city has too many museums and halls to offer, so pick the ones you would like to visit. Here is our rough walking route to just explore the city on foot.
We walked from Central station to Oslo Cathedral. From here we walked through the Karl Johans street all the way to the National Theater. From here we walked to the Nobel Peace Center. Then hung out by the pier and the street with lots of cafeterias and restaurants for some time Then walked to the Akershus fortress and spent sometime walking around this area before finally walking to the Opera building. We didn't really go inside most of the museums, except for the Nobel Peace prize one. From here, we took a bus to the Viking ship museum. I was really curious to explore that for some reason. Was pretty cool to see the typical viking ships. You see them in movies and pictures, but I was happy to see them for real. And then we were back to our hotel to call it a day on our very interesting and a picturesque Norway vacation.
Viking Ship museum

What else to do:

Who knows, a kiss might turn a troll into a prince!

  • Fjord Cruise: A lot of people explore Norway Fjords on a cruise. Definitely a great option to combine cruise experience with fjord tourism. I never though about it because it needs a minimum of 10 days or so and I was also interested in other activities.
  • Hikes: Norway boasts of hiking as its national sport. So, yes, there are quite a few hikes in this country which a world famous. Mostly Pulpit rock (the one we did), Trolltunga and the Kjerag Boulder. Google for them to see the fascinating pictures. This is best site to explore your options and decide which ones work for you.
  • Tromso: Northernmost town. Well, the sun wouldn't set here in summer and this is a popular town to see the northern lights. But we decided to totally skip it because we realized unless we were planning to go see northern lights, there wasn't much to see up north
  • Svalbard Islands: Polar bear viewing. There are cruises to the island from other cities. You can see polar bears roaming freely on ice covered lands on these islands. So much so that polar bear spotting is guaranteed. But it would have taken a few more days and we weren't that eager to explore these and we had to leave something to bring us back to Norway.