The Flåmsbana & Express Boat

In September 2012, I went to Bergen and one of the things the guidebook had strongly recommended was to take a ride on the Flåmsbana, which Lonely Planet chose as one of the Top 10 Scenic Railway Journeys in Europe in 2013.

I set off on the Bergen-Oslo mainline train nice and early in the morning and got off at Myrdal, the southern terminus of the Flåmsbana, a station up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere two hours later. Here was where I had an unexpected shock (well, how many shocks are expected?)

I’d been planning to use my card to buy my onward ticket to Flåm from Myrdal. But the only machine was cash-only and the information desk was unmanned. I was in the middle of nowhere, with an hour or so to kill on this little platform in the mountains. There was no cash machine. This was back in 2012 when there wasn’t free wifi absolutely everywhere, mobile internet was prohibitively expensive abroad and to cut a long story short, I spent that hour or so up on that scenic platform in the drizzle panicking about how I was going to get down from here if I didn’t have either a ticket onwards to Flåm or one back to Bergen.

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Eventually, the horrendously expensive internet advised me that tickets can be bought by card on the Flåmsbana. I didn’t believe it for a moment, but it was the only option I had.

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About half an hour before it was due to depart, the train from Flåm came chugging in. I’d been kind of expecting some kind of heritage railway, maybe with a steam locomotive and original coaches but no, this was a big green electric loco with elderly but not original carriages. Having taken enough photos, I boarded, somewhat nervously.

Well, in September, the Flåm Valley is somewhere between green, yellow and a hint of brown. It takes the train somewhere between fifty minutes and an hour to wend its way down, via ten stations, twenty tunnels and a bridge, with a quick stop at a nice waterfall. And I learnt that you can indeed buy a ticket by credit card while on the train and it was no problem whatsoever.

I had a little time to kill when we arrived at Flåm – not enough to get bored, just enough to not have to worry about missing my boat. I took photos, ambled around the little souvenir shops, invested in an absolutely authentic stainless steel Viking ring and had some lunch among the sparrows.

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My express boat was called Vingtor and we were going to fly up the Aurlandsfjord to join the main Sognefjord, at 127 miles the largest fjord in Norway and possibly the second longest in the world. It’s not quite as spectacular as the Geirangerfjord, which is the famous one with the sheer cliffs, but it’s pretty good-looking. From the mouth of the Sognefjord we would make our way back to Bergen via a lot of islands.

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Unfortunately, shortly after we departed, the weather closed in a bit and it began to look quite dark and misty and threatening and when that cleared, it began to get dark, in that early way that Norway has when it’s not the height of summer.