13 October 2011
Myrdal to Flåm
Note: Previous instalment is HERE.
At freezing Myrdal station, 866m above sea level, we continue with our Norway-in-a-Nutshell excursion by changing from the Bergen Railway we boarded earlier this morning in Oslo, to the Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana).
The coach is gorgeous, esp. with the wooden panelling. Flåmsbana started service in 1941 using the standard 1435mm gauge. One of Norway’s most popular attractions, it carries some 600,000 passengers per year, mainly tourists. Virtually all the passengers on this train today are fellow travellers. There are three Thais from Bangkok in our coach, and they carry huge bags which they have to lug around. One tip when doing this excursion — be as light as possible!
There are many hamlets along the route, as the train descends 860m in just 20km of track, which makes a loop just below Myrdal — a technique used to lose or gain altitude quickly and safely, as the train travels the steep mountains. I saw a similar trick when riding the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway last April (see HERE).
Soon after leaving Myrdal, the train descends into the huge Flåmsdalen valley, with towering granite cliffs and numerous waterfalls. It’s sub-zero, so the splattered water forms white ice at the bottom.
A typical scenario — lakes, mountains, U-shape valleys, snow.
There’s a majestic waterfall along the way — the Kjosfossen. A station is purpose-built here for people like us to get off and gawk at the sight. Yeah, not a shabby waterfall at all.
At Kjosfossen station we enter a 1340-metre tunnel, the longest on this line. We are at 670m above sea level. The Flåmsbana is the steepest standard-gauge railway in Europe, with max gradient of 5.5%. The train has two ‘NSB El 17’ electric locomotives, one at either end — today locomotives #2227 and #2231 are on duty, both built in 1987.
We are surrounded by snowy mountain tops as we descend down to the fjord. This looks like a glacier.
More hamlets, still 550m above sea level. Avalanches are common here in winter.
Looking down from the train, many tens of metres below, there’s Flåmselvi river, I believe. The water flows from a big lake up in the mountain, to the Aurlandsfjord, our destination.
As we approach Flåm, more villages come into view, dotting the floor of the huge valley.
We cross the river, and this is Håreina, settled in the 17th century. On the right bank of the river, the Flåm Church dates from 1667.
Håreina’s humble station, at 48m above sea level, 17km from Myrdal, 3km to Flåm.
As we near Flåm, the mountains on both sides tower over us.
We are in a deep valley with the walls on either side of us reaching a height of 1600m.
That hill is easily 1000m high.
Pulling into Flåm, a yellow warehouse with yellow cables. Excellent colour scheme.
Our hardworking locomotive takes a well-earned rest at Platform 4, return uphill trip to Myrdal in less than an hour’s time.
Our fjord boat is just next to the train station …
… but we still have more than an hour to kill before departure to Gudvangen.
This is a new town built solely for visitors, to exploit the fjord, the Flåmsbana and the Bergen railway tourism.
The ochre building is the train station — ticket office, tourist office, tour shop, restaurant, souvenir shop and the all-important toilets.
Next to the station building, there’s a yellow-coloured one — a commercial centre comprising bank, restaurants, souvenir shops and apartments.
Across these two key buildings, the berths for the ships plying the fjords. The waterways are important to access the many towns and villages lining the banks of the deep fjords.
Inside the train station, I spot a map on the wall. Note Myrdal at bottom right, and the black train line going up to Flåm at a finger of the huge fjord. Our boat is to take us from Flåm, go north to the fork in the fjord and come down the left finger to the town of Gudvangen. Just a short-ish cruise through one of the best fjords of Norway, a World Heritage Site as well. The plan is then to catch a bus from Gudvangen to Voss (see bottom of map), where we hop onto a local train for Bergen.
Time to leave, and from the top deck of the boat, I have a nice view of Flåm.
Across the harbour, it’s very serene and peaceful.
In this backwater of the fjords, the water is so calm it’s like a mirror.
One final look at Flåm, as our boat makes its way out of the harbour into Aurlandsfjord. The green Flåmsbana which took us from Myrdal is now gone.
Note the road and tunnel at the back. Most of these towns are now reachable by roads, precariously built along the fjords’ edges. Anyway, our cruise has just started … so bye-bye, Flåm.