Norway in a Nutshell- Bergen to Oslo (Winter Edition)

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When I planned our winter trip to Norway, I tried to develop an itinerary that was comprehensive and made sense. I mean, we started up in the far north of Tromso to maximize Polar Night. Then we took a cruise down the Norwegian coastline to Bergen and spent a few days there. Now it was time to make our way to Oslo, where we would spend the remaining days of our vacation.

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There are a variety of ways to get from Bergen to Oslo, but I chose the route that seemed the most fun, and gave us the greatest opportunity to see the beautiful Norwegian landscapes, though this choice was far from the cheapest. Tourist offices in Norway offer a wide variety of day trips and multi-day trips, and one of their most popular day trips is called Norway in a Nutshell. There are a variety of versions of this trip, with different routes and itineraries, all of them designed to give the traveler the most bang for their buck and see as much as possible of that route in a given day (though you can extend a trip by stopping in one of the various towns for a day or two).

Norway in a Nutshell-7Norway does a pretty good job of offering winter tours, though for obvious reasons, they aren’t as extensive as summer tours. But they do have one winter Norway in a Nutshell, and you can do it from Bergen to Oslo or Oslo to Bergen. Both itineraries are the same in terms of stops and even in terms of trip length. I booked it in advance with my travel agency, and they took care of everything, including arranging for our bags to be picked up. That option took a load off my mind, because I was just picturing my poor mother dragging her suitcase through the Norway snow and ice (or me dragging both of our suitcases) at every stop and wrangling them onto buses, boats and trains. But nope, you can pay extra to have your bags picked up in Bergen, and they will be dropped off for you at your hotel in Oslo. It’s not the cheapest option, but I would rather spend money for peace of mind and convenience, so all we had to carry were our day packs.

 

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The day trip from Bergen to Oslo starts early and ends late. We left Bergen by train early in morning, just as the rising sun was turning the snowy winter landscape blue. By the time we got off the train at Voss, the sun was completely out. From there, there is a marked bus from Voss to Gudvangen. The bus trip was also very beautiful, as everything was covered in snow (which it wasn’t in Bergen). The bus dropped us off at the tiny, tiny village of Gudvangen. We had some time to kill before our boat arrived, so we took the time to take in the awe inspiring views. We were at the end of a fjord, and the tall, snow covered mountains surrounded us. But to make the view even better, the water was super still and clear and provided these astounding reflections of the mountains. It almost looked surreal.

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Our next part of the trip was an electric boat ride through Naerjoyfjord, which is one of the smallest fjords in Norway. The passageway is rather narrow by fjord standards, but it packs a lot of beauty into such as small area. It was pleasantly chilly out on deck, but the never ending beautiful views made it all worth it. The boat ride lasts roughly two hours and ends at the tiny, but pretty village of Flam, which is off yet another fjord, Aurlandsfjord.

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The town itself was covered in snow, and it looked the picture of a charming, Norwegian traditional village. We had a pleasant lunch and then just walked around taking pictures, doing some shopping and just relaxing.

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It is here that part of me wished I had chosen something differently. See, when you sign up for the trip, you are given an itinerary, with departure times and tickets. Our departure out of Flam via the Flam Railway was scheduled for after 4 pm in the afternoon, which would have been perfectly fine in the summer. But in the winter, it was right around the time it would start getting dark. In fact, the sun was definitely low by the time we departed Flam, and it was completely dark by the time we arrived at Myrdal. Part of me wished we had taken the earlier train out of Flam, just because the views from the Flam Railway are supposed to be spectacular, and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world.

20190123_171941-1But even though we didn’t get to see EVERYTHING, we saw enough and I felt we got our money’s worth. The one fun thing is that there are a couple short photo stops on the Flam Railway, the longest being at the Kjosfossen Waterfall. This waterfall is one of the most popular stops in Norway, and I was worried that we wouldn’t stop at the waterfall, because it would be dark by that point. But fear not, stop we did, and the waterfall was lit up with colorful lights. It certainly looked like it was frozen over, and it would have been fun to see in daylight, but it was still good enough in the dark.

 

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The Flam Railway ends at Myrdal, and from there, we picked up another train to Oslo. We still had some hours to go before getting to Oslo, but at this point, all we had to do was sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. We didn’t arrive in Oslo until after 10 pm that night, so the full day trip itinerary takes over 14 hours. I’m sure it is even more beautiful in the summer, since the sun is out for so long. But I think it is still a worthwhile trip in the winter. If you love beautiful winter landscapes, you will definitely get your fill on this particular day trip. It is probably the most beautiful way to get from Bergen to Oslo, or vice versa.

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Beautiful Blue Light of Tromso, Norway in Winter

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As I’ve talked about in previous blogs, there is something very beautiful and beguiling about the blue light of Polar Night. Since the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, the light casts a soft shadow. Sure you aren’t in pure darkness 24 hours a day, but you also don’t have the sun beaming down on you. So it’s like hours of a soft dawn or a soft twilight that can feel otherworldly, especially in the morning when the initial rising light is a very strong blue that gradually lightens towards mid day. That blue light contrasting with the brilliant white of the snow really does make you feel like you are in some Narnia-style winter wonderland. It’s also the presence of the snow that makes everything look and feel lighter than it actually may be. At the the height of the day, you wouldn’t necessarily even realize that the sun is not actually above the horizon, because it is plenty light, but it certainly doesn’t stay that way for long-only a few short hours. That is reflected in that any day tour activities in Tromso in winter will likely end around 1500, because that is the time it starts getting actually dark. I personally found the long hours of darkness to be very cozy, filling me with thoughts of snuggling by the fireplace or by long walks in the refreshing, bracing cold, but I know that extended hours of darkness can drive some people up the wall.

While you could likely rent a car reasonably easily in Tromso (especially if you flew into town), I don’t think it was especially useful. First off, there is the matter of parking, since it’s not like there are vast swaths of parking in town (though, there apparently is a pretty large UNDERGROUND parking lot on the edge of town, in the center of this mass of underground tunnels that help you navigate into and out of the city-a rather interesting engineering marvel that saves the beautiful environment). Plus there is the matter of driving on hard packed snow. Probably because snow is present for many winter months, it is just easier to pack down new snow and not plow it out of the way. This prevents large, unwieldy piles in snow along the road, and just turns the roads into snow roads. I can only imagine that since most Americans aren’t used to or comfortable driving on hard packed snow, it is simply easier to not rent a car and get around town on your own.

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So honestly, it is much easier simply to take a guided tour out to see the Tromso environs. There are many, many offered; you just have to find the one that is right for you. They all see the same essential areas, so you will have plenty of opportunity to see the many, many beautiful fjords, beaches and snow covered hills.  While all of the Tromso environs are beautiful in my opinion, there isn’t a specific must do landscape point or anything like you see elsewhere. It’s all just general beautiful nature. We elected to do another day trip with Creative Vacations, just because their Blue Light tour sounded like what we were looking for in terms of seeing some beautiful Tromso winter landscapes.

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Since there isn’t THAT much daylight during the winter in Tromso, the entire tour is only about six hours long. But those are the six hours where there was the most light. After being picked up by our tour van, we headed out to their studio to get into some snowsuits. At first I was skeptical that I needed a snowsuit. I mean, this isn’t like their nighttime aurora tours where you just stand around in the cold for hours on end. But I soon came to see the wisdom of the snowsuits. It had snowed a fair amount in the days before our tour and there were places by the side of the road where it just naturally piled up high. While we never had to hike far to see some of the beautiful views, we did have to hike some. That often meant hiking through knee high drifts of snow, and it was so much more comfortable to be hiking through that in a rented snowsuit and boots, rather than my own regular pants.

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After getting suited up, we headed out on our sightseeing tour. The bulk of the tour was centered around Kvaloya Island, which is one of the many islands around Tromso. We made many, many stops along the way to take in beautiful fjord views and beautiful mountain views, beautiful snow-covered lake views and eventually we ended up at a beautiful snow laden beach.

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Our guide was pretty good telling us where we were and giving some of the backstory on the sights. She had to manage speaking to us in English and the rest of the tour group in Spanish, all the while she is a native French speaker (which kind of hints at some of the diversity in the seasonal tour guide personnel, since they aren’t all native Norwegians). I know we stopped at a view to see the longest fjord in the area, but I honestly don’t remember the name (it might have been Lyngenfjord, but I don’t know). Of course it is hard to get a good, accurate view of any scale while you are just looking at one part of a fjord. As would become more clear later in our trip, getting a good and photogenic view of a fjord was a matter of careful placement, since it is too easy to just get a flat picture of a fjord without really capturing the true beauty and scale of it.

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Along the way, we saw some reindeer lounging in the snow. It wasn’t a large group or anything, but it was still fun to see some reindeer, not exactly in the wild, but also not really on a farm either. Since we had limited days in Tromso, we spent more time focusing on beautiful nature views, and didn’t take in any of the many reindeer tours that involved feeding reindeer or sludging with reindeer.

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One of the nice things about this tour, and of Tromso in general, is that it is not heavily populated when you get out of the main town. Sure there are some very good roads that ring the fjords, but they aren’t overly crowded, since the small villages that dot the fjord areas aren’t heavily populated (at least in winter, I can’t speak to what it’s like in summer). That facilitated us stopping wherever we wanted along the road (pulling off it so we didn’t become a traffic hazard) to get some really nice views.

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Since it is winter and everything is covered in snow, sometimes it was a question if the vast expanse of snow we were looking at was a snow covered meadow or a snow covered lake. I think most of them were lakes, like the huge Lake Storvatnet we photographed.

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Our turnaround point for this tour was the tiny, beach side village of Grotfjord. We had a chance to relax, walk along the beach and enjoy some lunch. It was also a great place to see what little sunlight there was. Truthfully, this was our last day in Tromso and the sun did rise above the horizon for about 30 minutes. But because of the surrounding hills, we couldn’t see the actual sun (and wouldn’t for another week, until we moved farther south in Norway), but we saw this beautiful pink light very low on the horizon. The combination of the small points of pink light mixed with the surrounding blue light and offset by the pure white of the snow made for an enchanting and scenic landscape background.

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The best views of this light was on the beach in Grotfjord, because the clear day made for some colorful, almost painterly reflective backdrops of the beach and surrounding village.

By the time we got back from the tour, it was pure dark, but it made for a leisurely and beautiful final day in Tromso.