The road to Flåm from Gudvangen has opportunities for deep sleep. The kind of sleep that is delicious, because like all forbidden things that carry the tag of deep delight, it is not a good idea to nod off behind the wheel and in the middle of a tunnel. For one, you stand the risk of disappearing into another realm – akin to the road safety warnings that pop up all over the Norwegian country. Of a girl fading away. That road sign gave me the heebie-jeebies. You shall spot it in the roll-call of photos below.
There is also the unappetising thought that there would no possibility of a picture-perfect village tucked into a valley encircled by steep mountains, no ooh-ing and aah-ing at thundering waterfalls in close quarters and trying to catch a reflection of the self in the emerald waters of the fjord. Instead there would be a foray into the vast unknown.
The purpose of the extensive prattle is to lay it thick that tunnels in the Norwegian country can and will call upon your patience. We had passed a fair line-up of tunnels starting from Norheimsund that morning. The fatigue was setting in fast as we had woken up at a ghastly hour, when only lost souls and drunks roam the streets of Northampton, to make the journey to Heathrow. As much as it was bang for your buck to take these early-morning flights into Europe, it also meant that we were sleep-starved zombies walking around in a kind of stupor on the first day of all our trips.
The Gudvangen Tunnel stretched out for 7.1 miles, and despite a weakness of finding childlike joy in every little thing that life throws my way, which includes tunnels lit up in psychedelic colours, I wanted to scream with frustration. You see, we had to take the tunnel twice over. Now the tunnels lead into each other in quick succession often, cutting through hills, and there is no space for error while driving on these roads. Part of the fault lay in the fact that we could not identify Gudvangen and kept wondering if we had missed it along the way.
By the time we got to Flåm (pronounced ‘Flaam’, where ‘aa’ is enunciated as in London), we were two wilted humans. It was the sight of the man and the woman sitting on the bench by the fjord with their cups of coffee that made us sit up. The pretty yellow cottages with their red roofs beckoned to us. Somewhere inside one of those cottages life-affirming coffee awaited us. And a bite to eat possibly. The deal with eating in Norway is that your heart shall be in your mouth. I know I repeat myself if you have read one of my earlier posts. But a medium-small pizza marked up at £25 (roughly 270 NOK) is enough to send anyone’s blood pressure rocketing up. But what needs be must be.
Flåm by itself is an unassuming village made up of a small bridge, a handful of eateries and a public toilet, all of which stand at the end of an arm of the second-longest fjord in the world, the Sognefjord. But the most important thing that you need to know is that it is a gateway to a world of unparalleled beauty.
First on the list is the Flåm Railway. It has been touted to be one of the world’s best train journeys. It spans 12 miles cutting through mountain tops while offering you spectacular views of fjords, ravines, waterfalls and mountain farms. The whole gamut. We could not take it. It is on my mind that we shall return to Flåm, take the Flåm railway into the mountains and hike to Trolltunga.
The second possibility for all you lovers of hiking is to go up into the mountains and explore Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord, known to be the world’s narrowest fjord. Imagine standing on the cliffs and peering down into the glassy waters of the fjords. It is bliss. I can vouch for that. If there is one hike you want to do in Norway, however, make your way to Pulpit Rock. You shall remember it forever, as long as you live.
Bikers have the option of setting off on the Rallarvegen, an old works road that runs along the Bergen and Flåm Railway. It is called The Navvies’ Road because it was the construction road used to build the Bergen railway tracks. Bicycles are available for rent at Haugastøl, Finse and Flåm and accommodations too. You would possibly want the option of resting tired muscles out on a 50-mile long route. Just keep in mind that the season is between July to September.
It is only when you find yourself in a certain situation that you appreciate words that have been spoken by another person in another age. You identify with a complete stranger. Flåm put me in mind of Lord Byron. For he had observed: “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more. Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. Nature always wears the colours of the spirit.”