All Aboard the Bergen Railway! First stop: Torpo

The first week of October we had a week off from classes in order to work on the myriad of individual and group project assignments, so I jumped at the chance to hop on the Bergen Railway, which was going to skip me right clear across the country, from Oslo to Bergen, then back again. I’d planned to make some stops along the way and arrive in Bergen in time for the Swingin’ in the Rain Lindy Hop festival there.

A Small Mountain Town

My first stop was Torpo, which is an itty little mountain town halfway between the two other itty little, but better-known, mountain towns of Ål and Gol (pronounced “ghoul”) to stay with a new friend of mine—an American swing dancer that married a man that’s from Torpo. The Bergen Railway is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in Europe, if not the world, and I was eager to take it. I had read that the left side of the train had the better view, so I booked my seat on the left. When I sat down, I was distressed that there was some sort of white film on the outside of the glass that made the view slightly obscured—not ideal, but I could live with it. But then, as soon as the train pulled out of the station, the white film caught the sunlight and became completely opaque. And, as I was traveling east to west in the Northern hemisphere on a cloudless day, I quickly calculated that the sun would be shining on the window for the whole 3-hour journey to Torpo. Here is a picture of my view (you can be assured that the scenery on the other side is lovely):

My window was the only one affected, and the train was full up, so I couldn’t switch to another seat. Luckily I was getting off in a few hours and hoped that my train the next day wouldn’t have the same problem. The second half of the journey was supposed to be more beautiful, anyway. Disaster averted.

A Small Stave Church

My friend Rebecca met me at the train station, and we went to the Stave Church in Torpo. Stave Churches are totally nutty looking, almost Dr. Seussian structures, very old—the one in Torpo is from 1192! It is small, but I was completely captivated by it, in the sunlight it looked like it was glowing, and it had such presence. Unfortunately it wasn’t open to the public, but maybe next time. I'm not so pleased with these photos, but it at least gives an idea.

She also took me to see her in-laws, who have a farm just a few minutes away. Her brother in-law showed us his sheep, which were adorable, and for some reason it hit me for the first time that sheep grow their own sweaters. As an unabashed sweater enthusiast, I am embarrassed that I never quite put it together this way before. We then went to her mother- and father-in law’s house, and he showed us his cows, which were cute and curious. They (the in-laws) welcomed us into their beautiful, wooden-cabin home, with large windows giving a view of the valley—the husband had built it himself when he was 20! Though their English was minimal, they were very sweet hosts, and the mother-in-law sat us down and gave us tea (after I had declined on coffee) and three different kinds of cake. I think I have mentioned how nuts Norwegians are for cake, but it is amusingly consistent that whenever more than two people gather, cake appears. It's great. We watched some Norwegian television, which I was fascinated by, before finally heading home well after dark.

The King of Cats

As we were heading to Rebecca’s car, we saw something dart out of the light spilling out from the porch. It was so huge, I was sure it had been a raccoon or small bear, but Rebecca knew better. She followed it into the shadows, and after some wrangling, produced a magnificent Norwegian Forest Cat. This was really exciting for me, as seeing one was on my Norwegian Bucket List. I love cats, particularly large and fluffy cats, and Norwegian forest cats are just that. For those that aren’t familiar, I like to describe them as cats that look like they eat Maine Coon cats. This particular cat was a bit squirmy, but I was able to run my fingers once or twice through its glorious coat, which I treasured.

It was cold in the valley, but the sky was clear and full of stars, and the lit up houses on the mountainside looked like a second set of constellations. 

Lungsdalen

The next morning, I woke up before sunrise and, after unsuccessfully raiding her kitchen for caffeine, contented myself to watch the sunrise from their living room.

Once the sun was a bit higher, I went for a (very cold!) photo walk about the property.

After Rebecca woke and fed and caffeinated me, and herself, she took me on a very special drive through an area called Lungsdalen. We drove for over an hour along a desolate, single-lane road, which ultimately ended at some mountains by a lake with some empty sheep pens. The sheep in the area are allowed to roam free all summer, before being rounded up in pens and sorted out by owner to be brought back before their shearing and slaughter. There were cabins scattered along the road, sometimes in clusters but more often alone. It was a bit late in the year for these cabins, but there were a few people still there squeezing the last bit out of the season. This road closes at the first snow, which could have been any day then. Rebecca said that the town organizes a concert there , just over the pass, every year. It’s not accessible by car, so everyone has to walk, including the people with all the audio equipment! I love that this little town puts on

It was so strange, and so cool, to be so alone out there. The road rises above the treeline and felt a bit like it was taking us to the end of the earth. My photos aren’t so good from this drive, as there was cloudless, shining sunlight, but here is one that shows what it was like.

On the way home, we stopped at the most adorable wooden house in the world, owned by a Dutch potter that Rebecca is friends with. She invited us in for coffee, and we cozied up in her sun-drenched living room with brightly painted walls and bookcases stuffed floor to ceiling. I was shown such hospitality in Torpo, and enjoyed how secluded it was, but I had to continue on my journey. I plan to return though, when it’s proper winter, which actually shouldn’t be so far away now!

Next top along the Bergen Railway: Flåm.