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Fjords Norway Trip Report Aug 17-28

Hi all — will attempt a trip report, which I am usually not too good about submitting! This is for Fjordland Norway, starting in Bergen and ending in Ålesund, with stops in Balestrand, Flåm, and Fjaerland in between.

I had a direct flight from CDG to Bergen on Air France (I bought two separate one-way tickets as the price and times etc worked out better that way. My return is on SAS from Alesund with a stop in Oslo).

Anyway the arrival here was fine until I discovered that someone in baggage handling had obviously let my small Bric’s soft side suitcase (would be a carry-on for most people, but I always just need that little bit more) fall off à truck and then drag it around and run over it a bit. Not a fun way to start a vacation discovering one’s favorite bag all eaten up, but that is what I get for checking it and not doing that “enveloping in plastic” thing at the airport.

Bergen still isn’t running its Flybuss in from the airport, but I took the light rail, Bybanen, which was great. 309 NOK (about 4€), took about 50 minutes into town.

Then I walked to my hotel, the Clarion Hotel admiral. I had chosen counterintuitively ACROSS from the colorful Bryggen site and was pleased with my choice. The hotel’s breakfast room had a fabulous VIEW of the Bryggen, and was about a two-minute walk to the fast boat to Balestrand, which I would be taking the next day.

I paid about €118 for a single room - small but nicely appointed with everything I could need , and breakfast included.

(Edited to correct price paid for the room since the payment cleared my bank today finally.)

Posted by
2793 posts

I'm so sorry about your bag but am enjoying your report.

Posted by
2048 posts

Sorry anout your bad too, I have 2 Bric purses, they are great quality. Also enjoying your report.

Posted by
1785 posts

Hi Kim, glad you made it to Norway. Enjoyed your report. We were there in 2018, seems like a lifetime ago!

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6527 posts

Ok - so I made it to my hotel, which allowed me to check in, and headed back out to see what Bergen has to offer. The historic center is ridiculously easy to get your bearings in, as everything is centered around the harbor.

The sun was shining, so I found a lunch spot in a little plaza behind the harbor. They might have had better options, but I chose the “scampi wok,” which was a mistake. It was okay but not tops. But the atmosphere was pleasant and it was nice sitting outside. Then I went and walked along the iconic colored facades of the Bryggen, the old port buildings. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and they were showing themselves off to advantage. My French guidebook had warned me that unfortunately the Hanseatic museum was closed. (Note- I was working from three guidebooks - an old RS Scandinavia that I have had for years; a French Guide de Routard that I had borrowed from the library; and a Rough Guide Norway. )

I then took the Floibanen funicular up to the top, where, given the glorious day, the views were wonderful. After a while up there, I followed the advice from Rick’s guide to disembark at an intermediate stop on the way down (Promsgata) and walk the steep winding lanes admiring the residential architecture. Nearly at the bottom, I made a stop at Den Lille Koffeekompaniet to treat myself to an iced tea flavored with blueberry and a slice of carrot cake.

One funny thing to note is that the town was FILLED with groups of kids/young adults, some in matching t-shirts, who would join together in boisterous chants or burst into song and cheer. The groups were mixed sex, so my first thought of this being a Girl Scput or Boy Scout gathering was off.

I went wandering in the direction of the Art Nouveau National Theater — again, crowds of kids gathered in clumps here and there. The next day I had a university student giving me a tour, and I asked her. She said it was the start of the university year, and older students who wanted to help welcome/integrate newly arriving students were grouped off with them and this all this cacophony was bonding for these students.

For dinner, I found the Bergen branch of a pizzeria I had liked in Oslo a couple of years ago. It was fine but didn’t have near the charm of either of the Oslo outlets.

I went home to the hotel and composed my email to the baggage handling folks at Bergen airport per their notice in the office window. And then to bed !

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6527 posts

And of course in addition to the guidebooks, I consulted the Norway section of the Forum, and posed a question that got good responses !! - and yes Tammy I believe I took some info from your experience.

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6527 posts

The next day I had the departure on the fast boat for Balestrand at 16:30.

I have to admit I didn’t even get myself down to breakfast — instead I made myself a cup of tea in my room and had a massive cinnamon bun that I had picked up the evening before. Then I called Air France — the Bergen airport people had provided my baggage damage report in response not too long after I sent my email, and they said the next step was calling Air France. Of course I was on hold for a while, blah blah blah.

Then I got my stuff together and checked out of the hotel, leaving my stuff in the luggage room. With little real time in Bergen, I knew I couldn’t see everything I would like to, so I simply went to the TI office and asked what walking tours were happening. Given the day and timing, the staffer said there would be one at the Hakonshallen at noon, so I decided to head over there. I stopped at a few shops on the way, and then headed for the military installation where the Hakonshallen is located.

To my surprise, there was a military band formed up in the courtyard, some officers reviewing them, and a crowd of a few veterans and others on hand for some kind of ceremony! So I stood and watched, wondering what in Norwegian military history had happened on August 18 . . . It turned out (I learned later) that a new commander was taking over the command, so this was the handover ceremony. So fun to see all the regalia and flags and listen to the band !

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6527 posts

So - I was the only person there for the Hakonshallen tour, so I had a private tour! The staffer was also a university student, and as Rick’s book indicated, the tour made the ancient hall come alive. It would have meant nothing to me without her insights and stories. My ear caught mention of the son, King Magnus, and all of a sudden I remembered — wait — was this during the time that Orkney was under Norwegian rule? and indeed it was, so here was another point of interest for me.

After the guided tour, I walked back and saw the Mariakirke and then went to the Schotstuene - I thought they might have some of the exhibits from the closed Hanseatic Museum (they did not). The Schotstuene entrance seemed expensive compared with my private tour visit to the Hakonshallen but whatever. The Schotstuene museum recreates several examples of the Hanseatic meeting rooms — the only places in Bergen (or wherever) where there were allowed to be fires — and ales, etc. It was interesting to see but was just a quick stop.

Afterwards I went back towards the center in search of lunch and settled on an outlet of the local chain Godt Brod. I picked the ingredients and the employee behind the counter made me a tasty sandwich; I got a bottle of local lemonade to go with it.

I then had a couple of little shopping errands to take care of before going to get my luggage, then went to wait to board the boat. We could start boarding at 4 pm for the 4:30 departure. I knew from reading somewhere that we left our luggage but really didn’t understand how it worked. Basically we boarded and to the right was the big seating area, but immediately to our left were some shelves for luggage — different sections of the shelves were marked with the boat’s different stops, so I found the Balestrand section and put my bags there and went to find a seat. I was easily able to get one by the window.

One thing that had happened in my planning is that I had printed out all the fast boat schedules from Norled (norled.no) and had certain ideas of how I would put my trip together. Then when I was finalizing things on August 6th and looking to buy the boat tickets, I saw first that ONLY the 16h30 sailing was available from Bergen to Balestrand — NOT the noon sailing. Well, that suited me just fine, as that was what I had wanted to do, but how, I thought, had I let ALL those other tickets get sold out from under me? And then, when I looked for the boat ticket from Balestrand to Flam that I had planned to take — it wasn’t available at all!!! I almost gave up on my trip planning there and then, but ultimately figured out a way (combining buses and car ferries and walks) to get where I wanted to go. But I felt foolish for having waited too long and for the tickets to have sold out.

Well, when I got to Bergen, I realized that wasn’t what had happened at all. There was a sign posted on the side of the boat terminal that basically said that due to a lack of tourists, they were going to move to the “winter” boat schedule sooner than expected — August 16. So — while the timetables that I was consulting on line said that they were good until whatever date in late August or early September — in reality, the company had decided that selling those two routes a day wasn’t economically feasible for them. That’s also why the Flam boat disappeared. They didn’t sell the boat that went on to Flam after August 16.

Anyway, the four-hour ride to Balestrand went smoothly, and I had an idea that the Kviknes Hotel, where I would be staying, would be pretty easy to get to from the dock. But I had no idea HOW easy! It must have taken me at most 30 seconds — okay, maybe 45 — to walk from where the boat dropped me off to the check-in desk of the hotel.

I checked in and went nervously to my room. I was “splurging” on a single room in the old part of the building — would it be worth it? Would it have the balcony mentioned in the listing?

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6527 posts

I was absolutely delighted as I opened the door to my room — I could see the fjord through the French doors — via the balcony, which was pretty dang big and had a low chair and table. The room itself was charming - a pink candy-striped wallpaper, a wooden desk and chair,, a rattan chair, a wooden single bed and bedside table. The bathroom unit looked like it had been plopped in in the 1960s — but the door closed to it, and the shower and other bathroom entities worked perfectly even if they weren’t the fanciest to look at. I was in heaven with where they had put me.

My room looked out across a narrow “mini-fjord” to a small cluster of buildings including a white wooden church, ,a red barn . . . I mean you couldn’t make up a more picturesque view!

I had four nights (three full days in Balestrand). I got lucky with the weather. There was a little rain but not much - and the one time it rained with any intensity, I was in my room. I took things slowly the next day and explored the gorgeous hotel salons and grounds, and then walked along the fjord-level road out to see the fjord, some of the beautiful villas, the light, the water, etc. etc.

I knew from Rick’s book that the smorgasbord in the Kviknes hotel was something to be experienced. I didn’t plan on having it every night, but wanted to experience it once. Well, again, apparently the “lack” of tourists put the kibosh on the smorgasbord - they weren’t offering it while I was there. Instead, in the dining room, you had a three-course prix-fixe dinner for around 65 euros. (I will note that it doesn’t seem the smorgasbord was nixed for Covid reasons, as the breakfast was still served in grand smorgasbord fashion every morning.)

The three-course dinner is just too fussy for me, so I figured i would take advantage of the bar menu, which was available up until 7 pm each night. I ended up being VERY pleasantly surprised and dined there all the three nights I had.

The first night, there was a nice cod dish, the second a local trout that so resembled salmon that I thought it was salmon. The third night, hungry after hiking, I went straight for the burger and fries, which were also excellent. None of this was cheap, but I allowed myself a glass of wine (or a beer) each night, and I do have to say, considering that it was Norway and that the food was SO carefully prepared and beautifully presented, I thought it was worth the money (remember, I am a bit picky as my husband works in the restaurant business himself!!!).

So basically I would get up each morning, have a hearty breakfast, not really bother with lunch, have an apero on my balcony after hiking, and then eat early at the bar for dinner. That worked well for me.

The second and third days, I did a couple of hikes up above the hotel. I got the basic map at Balestrand Adventures (the tourist information office being closed), and the hotel receptionist assured me that the trails were well marked (which was indeed that case) and that I wouldn’t need to buy another, specialized map.

The first day I did an “easy” trail and the second day a “moderate” trail. The funny thing is that it took 30 minutes or more (and an ascent of about 80 meters) just to get to the starting point, but oh well. I had gorgeous views and met grazing sheep up close on both hikes. And the second day, there was a kind of hike-race, so I saw these people RUNNING up the trail I had just huffed and puffed my way up (luckily I started just enough ahead of them that I was enjoying a rest at a view point as they passed). A local journalist there to cover the race even interviewed me and took my picture - I wonder if he ended up using it!

I enjoyed Balestrand very much and didn’t drive myself crazy trying to do things. I would have liked to have taken one of the rib boat outings, but preferred hiking. I loved the hotel and the town. Two big thumbs up.

Posted by
263 posts

What a great trip! Thank you for all the detail. So very helpful.

Posted by
64 posts

What a lovely trip report! I could picture so many of the scenes you described. Thank you for taking the time to share!

Posted by
2731 posts

I am enjoying these reports of your solo trip to Norway. Did you have any worries hiking alone…this is one area in which I am a coward, but working on it.

Posted by
6527 posts

Wray, no, I didn't have any worries, I just think it is so safe here, and I was on very “used” trails and not out very far. The weather was excellent too. I guess a couple of times I did think about some crazy story I had read or something but they were only fleeting thoughts.

Posted by
2048 posts

Kim, love your reports. Norway is on my list and you may have moved it up a notch or two.

Posted by
416 posts

Hello Kim. I am enjoying your trip report. I was in Bergen this same time in 2019.
I had an enjoyable week but your trip report makes me want to return and do so some of what you're doing.
That hotel room with the view of the fjord sounds like a great place to relax and unwind and I have made a note of it :-)

Posted by
1871 posts

the tour made the ancient hall come alive.

If there is one piece of advice that I give to anyone that will listen is that tours are worth it just for this reason.

On another note, I'm glad someone is getting out and about. My wife and I took our first vacation in two years last week and did a lot of moderate hikes in jasper, Alberta. Can't wait to be let out of our cage and go somewhere a bit further.

Posted by
4703 posts

Thanks for this, Kim, it's entertaining and informative. I hope writing it doesn't take too much time away from the trip itself!

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6527 posts

Ok — after four nights in Balestrand (three full days), it was time on Sunday morning to head to Flam to take the Flamsbana.

Unfortunately, since the boats didn’t have enough business to keep their summer schedule, instead of being able to take the 1.5-hour fast boat direct from Balestrand to Flam, I had to piece together a couple of bus rides, which ended up taking about 3 and a half hours. (There were times, due to the non-summer schedule, as I’ve said, that i had difficulty putting the pieces I wanted together, and almost gave up on the trip a couple of times.) But in the end, the bus ride was also fun, and since all I really cared about doing in Flam was taking the Flamsbana up and back, it was fine.

I had checked out the bus a couple of mornings before to make sure I understood where it would stop etc (I couldn’t understand why there was only a bus stop going in “one” direction in Balestrand - but it’s because all the traffic comes in one way and goes out another — so no matter which way you are headed out of town, the bus stops — right next to the pier and the hotel — at the same place). The bus arrived right on time for the 10:05 departure for the Sogndal skysstasjon, where we were due to arrive at 11:20 so I could catch the 11:30 Bergen-Voss bus for the trip on to Flam.

It was a beautiful day, and I sat on the right-hand side of the bus, which basically had fjord right on my side all the time. The bus took a ferry during our route, so that was fun to see how that worked too. Of course rolling on, waiting for the ferry to take off, and rolling off took longer, but the actual ferry ride itself was short — only 8 minutes.

We got to the bus station in Sogndal just in time for my second bus, which was right there and easy to find. There were a lot more people on this bus — maybe even kids heading to college as I saw at least one young man get on with some serious luggage stowed underneath.

On this bus, we also did a ferry crossing. This one was all of 14 minutes. This time, I got off the bus (following the driver’s lead) and went to check out the cafeteria, seating space and restroom (nice clean restroom, yay). The bus stopped in Aurland and then we arrived in Flam a little bit after our scheduled 13h10 arrival. There were a lot of people waiting to get on the bus as we disembarked.

I had reserved a room in the hostel at Flam Camping for the night and had seen the campsite as we rolled into town. It was only about 300 meters from the big parking lot where the bus let us off (which was also home to the Tourist Information Center, the big mall of Norway, the Flamsbana etc). Since Ihad indulged a little bit on my rooms on other parts of the trip, I wanted to sleep in Flam more economically, so I reserved a twin room with its own bathroom — this cost me about 95 euros. When I reserved, there was also an option for a single room with shared bathroom for 50 euros, so I could have done that. So I guess I was still “splurging” a bit in paying the extra 50 euros for my own bathroom.

The person who checked me in at the campground was super nice, gave me the sheets and towel and my key ,and sent me to the hostel building, an orangey-yellow two-story building up under the cliff. I passed several car campers on my way up, and again, the apple trees were laden with fruit. My room was on the ground floor so it was kind of open to the public but anyway i wasn’t going to spend a lot of time in there. I got my stuff down, ate my sandwich I had made and brought with me, and headed back out to take the Flamsbana.

It was a nice sunny day for taking the Flamsbana up and back; there was plenty of space on the train, i.e. it seemed pretty much like every party had their own seats to themselves, even me as a solo traveler. The views were gorgeous and the engineering so fascinating. I wished my dad could have been along for the ride.

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6527 posts

There was a cheesy part when they stopped the train so we could get out at the waterfall viewpoint. Right before departing, they had told a story of the mysterious women who legendarily lived in the mountains — and sure enough, as we watched the waterfall, some piped-in new agey music started blasting, and a “woman” in a red dress with long flowing blonde locks pranced and danced around, appearing around the old ruined stone building and at the edge of the waterfall. To me it was too cheesy for words, but looking back on it, it was pretty funny as it was so tacky !!!!

When we got tot he top, some people got off, and some people I guess transferred to the Bergen-Oslo train, which was there, and some people were going to bike down as Balso had recommended to me (we saw plenty of bicyclists on our way up). However, the day before I had done for me a decently demanding hike that was particularly demanding on the downhill part, and i just didn’t want to deal with downhill again. So I just took the train back down, sitting on the opposite side of the train (there were plenty of my fellow passengers, most even, it seemed like, who went back down).

We got back down into Flam about 5 pm. I went and got an ice cream and sat on the dock, and then picked up a couple of things at the grocery store before it closed (it is now OPEN on Sundays until 6 pm),and went back to my campsite/hostel. I guess I could have tried the Viking brewery/restaurant but I felt like it was going to be a tourist trap, and I didn’t want to spend that kind of money.

So I just went back to my room, had dinner, read, and went to bed. I had an early bus in the morning for my next destination.

Posted by
552 posts

Thank you Kim for that great report. Your experience of "huffing and puffing" reminds me of our week hiking in Balestrand and Solvorn. My husband and I would huff and puff only to be passed by smiling, laughing kids running up the trails during their lunch break.

Posted by
1956 posts

Great report, Kim. I read with interest as I’m going to Norway next year on the RS Scandinavia tour.

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6527 posts

On the next day, Monday, I had another incredible journey. This is one of those things that you could never put traveling companions through, but you can do to yourself.

I had gotten the idea that I had to go to Fjaerland, as there was a hotel I really wanted to go to there. During a regular tourist season, this would have been easily done by boat from Balestrand, but alas, not this time. So anyway in my planning I fit the trip into Flåm in between. Now I basically had to go back where I came from — while getting in a cruise on the Naerøyfjord.

I took an 8 am or so bus to Gudvangen from Flåm- it only took 10 or 15 minutes, basically entirely through tunnels. There were a couple of things I had to figure out here — first was, the bus dropped at “Gudvangen E16” - how far was that from the ferry dock? Was it walkable ? Second was, it was a car ferry I was planning to take from Gudvangen to Kaupanger. Could I do that as a foot passenger ? I found the answers — both positive — with a little bit of Googling.

The main issue I had was that my bus arrived in Gudvangen at 8:25, but the ferry didn’t depart until noon. No problem, I thought. I’ll find a coffee shop and sit with my book.

Except — Gudvangen is barely existent, it has one hotel but that didn’t look open for outside guests at that time of the morning. Heck, at first I couldn’t find even a bench to sit on!! Finally, right at the dock I found a picnic table and sat down for the three-hour and something wait.