After leaving Torpo, I had another couple hours on the train to Myrdal, and this time my window was blissfully film-free, so I got a crystal clear view of the stunning countryside. Myrdal is a train station basically pinned to the side of a mountain and, other than selling waffles for the bargain price of $6/waffle to what must be desperately hungry travelers, serves no other purpose other than being a transfer point for the famous Flåm railway (pronounced kind of like “floam”), or one of the world's most beautiful train journeys, and the reason I was in Myrdal at all.
The Flåm Railway
When the Flåm railway pulls into the station, I climb aboard, and find it delightfully old school. The outside of the train is forest green, but the seats inside are red and the rest of the interior is wood paneling. There are coat racks next to every quad of seats that face each other (how civilized!) and a flat screen TV mounted at the front of the car, spitting out a rotating set of Flåm facts (#flåmfacts) in three languages—it really was like stepping back in time.
The Flåm railway begins at 867 meters above sea level, before snaking along the side of the mountain, into the valley, and ending at the fjord, obviously. (In Italy, all roads may lead to Rome, but in Norway my experience is that every road leads to a fjord.) Our ride begins, and I wonder if the Flåm railway also won an award for creakiest train ride in the world, but that’s ok—it adds to the whole charm of the thing. I had high hopes to sit peacefully while listening to music and admiring the scenery, however, not 30 seconds into the ride the loudspeaker comes on and starts spitting out auditory Flåm facts in three languages, at a volume that really embraced the meaning of “loudspeaker.”
Despite the deafening Flåm facts, it was an immensely enjoyable hour-long ride, with scenery as spectacular promised, though unfortunately the sun had already gone down behind the mountains by our 3pm departure. The train travels through a few tunnels, and one of which in particular was remarkable because the train does a 180 degree turn inside the tunnel. So, you see this amazing view on the left side of the train, go into a tunnel, and a few moments later you come out and see the exact same view from the right side of the train. It’s totally disorienting and I still haven’t figured out how the train ever arrives at its destination after that pivot, but I have to assume it has something to do with the much-vaunted Scandinavian infrastructure.
While the scenery is indeed gorgeous, I do think that I probably came at an awkward season for the ride. By early, October, there is no longer the lush green of summer that you see if you Google images of this railway, but there’s also not a blanket of snow covering the countryside that I imagine would also be quite lovely. It was mainly muted tones of green and brown, though I noticed that some of the grasses in the shadows had a weird, hoary cast to them, before realizing in horror that it was frost. Norway. Right.
When we arrived in Flåm, the town was already deep in shadow. I walked the short distance to my hostel, dropped my stuff, and went in search of the Flåm microbrewery. I found it in an old wooden building, and though I generally liked the place, it did have an air of trying too hard. I got a half pour of the house Hefeweizen (.3l for $8) before grabbing one of the seats around the large stone fireplace that was the centerpiece of the room. Once settled in, I looked up to find that in the fireplace were three non-contiguous logs, one of which was modestly aflame. It really seemed like a gesture more than anything else, but I and everyone else were pretending that it was some great, cozy fire, even as none of us had taken off our winter coats.
At this point, it had been nearly half a day since I hadn’t had meaningful human interaction, and my extrovert energy reserves were running low. I wanted to do some writing about my experience thus far, but when I put pen to paper, this is what came out:
Feelings of being wedged in a remote fjord
Very far away from loved ones
Why am I here?
I finished my beer and decided to sleep off the ennui.
A New Day
The next morning I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as I’d hoped, and went for a brief morning photo walk in frosted, shadowed Flåm before getting back to fetch my luggage and wait for my return train. The sun just managed to make it over the mountain tops a half hour before my departure, and at nearly the same moment I found an artisanal bakery, and so at least I was able to devour a fantastic chocolate croissant and coffee on the sunlit dock. The light was quite challenging, shadow mixed with bright sunlight, but here are some photos so you can get an idea of what my morning constitutional looked like.
The return train ride was as fun as the day before, and the scenery was more compelling as it now was sunlit. At Myrdal, I transferred to the Bergen railway once again, for the last leg of my cross-country trip.