One dark February night, watching the credits of my latest Scandi noir serial roll across the screen I fell to thinking that whilst I’d seen any number of box sets, read a shelf of Nordic thrillers, danced to the music of Abba, shopped at Ikea, eaten plenty of cinnamon buns, semlor and Dime bars, I had never visited Scandinavia.
So, as is the way these days, I opened my laptop and began my search to rectify this. I’m prone to scouring the internet at night while my husband snores beside me. I book flights, holidays, villas in the small hours, not always successfully once finding I’d booked us two trips that were happening simultaneously and for both chosen the cheaper, no refund option.
Logically I decided to start on the left with Norway and see how it went. But how to get the most from this trip, where should I look? Staying well clear of Tripadvisor, tempting though it is to check “Top hotels in Oslo” I looked at the Inntravel site , I had used this relatively niche travel company once before and was impressed with their deep knowledge and their quiet efficiency: they would book our trip dealing with tickets, checking connections, organising hotels and once that was sorted, on dates that suited us, we would book our flights and most importantly to me, be self-guided. I have a horror of organised trips, my worst nightmare is to be standing by a coach or cruise ship with my bags at my side awaiting my fellow travellers.
It proved to be a canny move as I was able to discuss exactly what I was looking for directly with Inntravel and so finesse and tweek their suggested itinerary. For example in Oslo we chose an neighbouring hotel to that offered in the brochure as the Thon Rosenkrantz was, justly as we found out, famous for its breakfasts. We also secured water front rooms at the hotels in Balestrand and Bergen. My justification, to my husband, for the added expense was that I wanted to fully immerse myself in the landscape of the fiords, something that has fascinated me since I was a child. We then sat back, discussed what to take: gin definitely for a pre dinner drink on our balconies, eye masks for the 20 hours of daylight and clothes that could be layered, the weather is unpredictable.
Six or so weeks before our trip tickets, passes and full instructions arrived in the post and simple as that we were off, the hard work done, with nothing for us to do but repack our cases for the hundredth time.
It was when we were travelling that I realised we genuinely could not have done better ourselves: Two days in Oslo, exactly enough time to visit the national museum and immerse myself in Munch, walk up through the Vår Frelsers Gravlund and visit both his grave and that of Ibsen, visit the Mathallen food hall and eat fish and chips then in the evening gorge on a gigantic seafood platter at a waterside restaurant.
The Oslo to Bergen train crosses Norway through lakes, woodlands and glaciers, the views are spectacular. We had bought sandwiches and spent the four hour journey to Myrdal awed at the vastness emptiness . We then picked up the Myrdal to Flåm railway: hairpin bends, magnificent waterfalls where nymphs trill and falling nearly 3000 feet in 20 kilometres. Not to be missed.
Each part of our journey was planned to allow enough time between connections to avoid anxiety but never so much you tapped your fingers waiting for the next leg. Arriving in Flåm we had plenty of time for a comfort break and a trip to the excellent bakery for cinnamon buns and coffee before boarding our boat.
The Boat ride from Flåm to Balestrand up the Sognefjod was utterly breath taking. I’m not sure what I was expecting but gliding on mirror calm waters surrounded by magnificent mountains, green, not snow covered, I know but I did say I watched too much TV, was hypnotic. Sipping a pre dinner drink on our balcony at the Kviknes Hotel ,where we spent three days, I was awed not only by the beauty but by its sheer remoteness, I live in the heart of central London and here we were a day’s travel by boat from the nearest airport.
The ride from Balestrand to Bergen was over five hours of bliss, this from a woman who has avoided boats her entire life. I loved it: the water, the air, the absolute serenity and then the frequent stops to drop off this person and pick up that one. The Norled Flam to Bergen express boat is a life line for people here linking the towns on the banks of the Sognefjod, alongside us tourists there were children going , reluctantly, to the dentist, friends on shopping trips and local people returning home are a weekend break.
And then you arrive in Bergen, beautiful, beautiful Bergen. We stayed for two nights at The Admiral Hotel , our room right on the fjord, and throwing open the shutters and seeing the Bryggen opposite, the boats in full sail, the sun on the mountains I began to think maybe we’ve saving the best to last. Though that would be unfair on the rest of Norway, it’s simply that Bergen is very special.
An international port for centuries, headquarters of the extraordinary Hanseatic league whose colourful lodges line the quay, Bergen is well used to foreigners: small enough to feel welcoming, exciting enough to fill your days and nights it’s lovely old houses still stand in the port area and the town. Cobbled streets lead to alleys just begging to be explored on foot. Don’t miss the fish market ( we ate here at Fishme ), take the Fløibanen funicular up the mountain and look down on the port. Be sure to watch out for the large horned goats who roam wild in the woods.
The fish in Norway is specular and while much else is served I think a love of fish prerequisite for ultimate enjoyment of this trip. We ate salmon, king crab, lobster, prawns, more salmon, more prawns, halibut and more salmon and more prawns. All delicious and all served with charm. Wine is very pricey so I was pleased I’d packed a small bottle of whisky with the half bottle of gin for pre and post dinner drinks, though I’m sure my liver benefitted from the enforced rest.
My two pre-trip anxieties were that I speak no Norwegian and that I’d heard everything was expensive. We found that everyone spoke perfect English and yes, Norway is very expensive so we decided we really didn’t need to take home any gifts or souvenirs, just memories and photos of a special place filled with light and air with not a trace of Scandi Noir.
I took the Inntravel trip Bustling Cities and Serene fjords and paid for in full for the trip.