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Which fjord cruises?

I am joining a RS tour to Scandinavia in less than two weeks. As a photographer, I’m eager to photograph as much of the fjords as I can. The tour does the cruise part of the Norway in a Nutshell tour, but not the train ride from Flam to Myrdal. I am staying one extra day so plan to head back up that direction on my own to catch the train. I’m torn between doing the Norway in a Nutshell and duplicating the two most scenic parts of the Sognefjord on the cruise, or going up the length of the Sognefjord by Balestrand in an express boat, the Sognefjord in a Nutshell trip. I understand the first part of that is not as scenic but it would be different. It only does the Aurlandsfjord, not the Nærøyfjord. Both trips do the train to Myrdal.

As a photographer, would I be better off duplicating my time in the most scenic areas or expanding my area? I need to book this in advance, and there is a chance it could rain the first day. Then duplicating would be great. I could also reshoot things that didn’t turn out well the first time. I don’t think there is a lot of time in small communities on the way up on the express boat in the Sognefjord nutshell tour or that would also be fun to photograph. I only have one extra day so can’t stay over in the villages.

Posted by
2144 posts

When I rode the regional trains of the Bernina Express, RT, I found that the lighting had changed for the return trip, I had slightly different angles, and that the duplication was just icing on the cake of this spectacular scenery.

Posted by
21282 posts

I've spent a lot of time reading about the options in that part of Norway but will not be there myself until June, plus I'm not a photographer, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Are you ending your time in Norway in Bergen or in Oslo? If the connections work right, I think doing a round-trip from Bergen on your last day will be faster than doing some sort of Nutshell trip from Bergen to Oslo.

I'm not clear on exactly what the tour does. This is what the itinerary says:

"After breakfast, our bus will climb the highest road in northern Europe (4,600 ft.) to the windswept Jotunheimen for a panorama of glittering snow and 8,100-foot peaks. We'll then take a dramatic corkscrew drive down to sea level and hop aboard a ferry for a 2½-hour scenic Sognefjord cruise between cliffs and waterfalls (replicating the fjord cruise portion of the "Norway in a Nutshell" route). We'll enjoy lunch on the ferry, then we're back aboard our bus for one more scenic stretch of highway before you're free for dinner and the rest of the evening in Bergen."

Does the tour bus take the same scenic road between Voss and Gudvangen that's part of the Nutshell route, or does it take the road from Myrdal to Flam (about which I've read nothing, but it seems as it would provide scenery at least somewhat like the train)?

Before making a decision, I'd call the tour office to find out what route the tour bus takes to and from the fjords, but the Flamsbana train definitely seems like a great experience.

I haven't read anything suggesting the scenery from the express boat is all that great, and I've found long boat rides in less than exceptional scenery to be boring. I wonder whether there would be something else you could do in the area on your free day if you took the train to either Voss or Myrdal and did the NiN fjord loop. Would there be time for a detour? Could you take a bus to the Stegastein viewpoint from Flam? Or get to the Borgund stave church? Or is there some short, bus-based tour from Flam, Voss or Gudvangen that would fit into your day? It's possible none of those options would work, because transportation in that area doesn't run terribly often. I have read, though, that there are quite a few daily buses between Flam and Aurland

Posted by
17 posts

Pat, I hadn’t thought about the lighting. Also the skies will be different. I could get shots I wish I had. I thought at first adding extra territory was the better choice but since I am crunching this into a day and I can’t stop at any villages, ditching the express boat and duplicating instead is starting to make more sense.

Posted by
17 posts

Acraven, I have checked with Rick Steves. We take that winding road down from the mountains and go to Flam. The cruise then goes to Gudvangen, where the tour bus will pick us up and drive to Bergen. So part of the drive would be a repeat, but the rest of it not on the water would be train vs bus. I’m starting and ending in Bergen. It appears mostly that the express boat up is just that, a quick way to cover territory to get to Balestrand. I do love being on the water so I would still enjoy it, but if I can get more photography in, it would be better.

I’m not sure there is a road from Flam to Myrdal. All focus is on the train. And I don’t think there will a lot of time to do the side trips in one day but I will look into them. They may have to wait til a return trip to Norway! Both Nutshell trips take about the same amount of time, one just uses the train and the other the express boat to cover the territory.

Posted by
17 posts

Another question: again from a photography standpoint, would it be better to take the train from Flam to Myrdal starting at Flam or at Myrdal? Looking down into valleys looking forward from the train or looking back?

Posted by
21282 posts

Google Maps thinks there's a road from Myrdal to Flam. To make things even more confusing, information about the Gudvangen-Voss buses implies there are two routes between those towns. The recommended (supposedly more scenic) Bus 950 takes the more picturesque route; that's a pay-the-driver bus. There's also an express bus that can be prebooked, but it's said the scenery isn't as good. Looking at ViaMichelin.com, I don't see evidence of two completely different routes between the two towns, so I don't know what's going on there. I just know that one of my information sources said Bus 950 was better for a tourist.

In case it's of any help to you: There's a bus between Flam and Gudvangen that takes only 20 min. It appears that at least part of the trip is through a tunnel, so I'm not sure how much scenery there would be. My research showed departures from Flam at 1100, 1300, 1700 and 1800 and departures from Gudvangen at 1200, 1330, 1730 and 1830. Fare is Fr 115 one-way--expensive, but much cheaper than the Kr 570 ferry. I think I saw combo tickets for ferry + bus sold on the NorwaysBest website (which is also where you'd buy the Flam-Gudvangen ferry ticket if you wanted to repeat that ride).

There are two companies running those ferries. It appears the F1 boats are newer and larger; I haven't found a detailed review of the two, but I decided to go with F1.

I'm not sure about the Bergen-Voss (or Bergen-Myrdal) train ticket, but the fare on the Myrdal-Oslo segment can escalate if you buy your ticket late in the game. The best I can tell, the Myrdal-Flam ticket price is fixed at Kr 450, but I don't know whether there's a risk of a sellout. The trains can be booked through the vy.no website. I had no trouble making the purchase, but I had to use PayPal for the payment.

Posted by
17 posts

Acraven, you have done much more individual research than I. I’ve just been looking at the Norway in a Nutshell site. I understand it is more expensive but to me I think it’s worth it. But I will compare the times to what you have found. I really didn’t know if there was a road to Myrdal because the train is supposed to be wonderful. I did discover I could add a short trip out to that special viewpoint if I do NIN, though it adds a couple hours to my day. My flight leaves at 6:05 the next day so that is significant. On the other hand I can sleep on the plane!

Posted by
5630 posts

We did Royal Caribbean's Norway cruise to the North Cape and loved it. Visited 6 ports and amazing fjords. I think Geiranger was the best.

Posted by
7688 posts

There's a bus between Flam and Gudvangen that takes only 20 min. It appears that at least part of the trip is through a tunnel.

I did this to get from Flåm to Gudvangen last summer -- it's almost entirely via tunnel. I seem to remember some moniker of one of the longest tunnels in Norway or something . . .

Posted by
17 posts

Tom, I do not dispute that at all. Hard to take sharp photos from a moving boat. Fast shutter speed! But my current logistics don’t make a car rental viable this trip. I hope to return sometime and do more. I did decide to do the Stegestein Viewpoint tour out of Flam, which will get me looking down along the road as well, so that is something.