For this first visit of Norwegian fjords, I chose to go through Fjord Tours to directly book a “package”. One of them raised my interest, the Geirangerfjord & Norway in a Nutshell® tour. It is an organized, unaccompanied tour which only includes transportation and covers two of the most popular excursions in Norway: a cruise on the Geirangerfjord and the famous Norway in a nutshell®, which is a beautiful trip from Oslo to Bergen (or vice versa/roundtrip) via Voss, Gudvangen, Flam and Myrdal. Moreover, a visit of Ålesund and a cruise on the Hardangerfjord, second fjord of Norway, are on my “to do list”. I make this trip with a friend and we stay in hotels which provide us some comfort after long days of sightseeing. We eat from time to time in local restaurants and take the opportunity to do some activities on the spot.
For this first part of the trip, we leave Oslo to join Dombås and then Åndalsnes by train, and finally Ålesund by bus. Thus, it is two of the most famous Norwegian railway lines which we are going to see:
– The Dovre line (Dovrebanen) which connect Oslo and Trondheim, distance of 553 km.
– The Rauma line (Raumabanen) which connect Dombås and Åndalsnes, distance of 114 km.
As we were not able to get our train tickets the day before our departure (due to our late arrival), it is very early morning when we arrive at Oslo Central Station. Waiting for the ticket office to open at 07:45 a.m., we buy some supplies for our trip to a 7-Eleven shop. This is our first encounter with Norwegian prices: a sandwich, pasta salad, two apples, a fruit juice and a bottle of water cost approximately CHF 40.-! And I’m talking about a supermarket, not a restaurant…
As we return to the ticket office, we discuss with a few American travelers who we will see again later on during our trip in Norway. They worry that they will just have 15min to get their tickets before joining the platform and boarding the train, which is also our case. At 07:45 a.m., shutters open and we head to the first available pickup window. The employee, apparently half asleep, starts printing the tickets and then explain us how to use them. While the clock is ticking, we smile and patiently listen to his explanations. Finally, we reach the platform and board the train just before it leaves. Right timing!
Dovre railway line – To the North, please !
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So begins our journey through Norway towards Trondheim. From Oslo, the Dovre line take us north to Lillehammer, then follows Gudbarndsdalen valley, famous for its beautiful scenery and vibrant rural communities. The line then joins and follows the Lagen, one of the largest rivers in Norway, before arriving at Dombås. This is where we change train to admire the unique charm of the Rauma line, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Norwegian railways.
As soon as the train leaves Oslo central station, it disappears in a very long tunnel before emerging in one of the suburbs of the capital city, Lillestrøm. It is then at full speed that the train takes us through the Norwegian countryside, along the main road to the north. The train is relatively empty and quiet at the central station, but many passengers board from Oslo Airport (Gardermoen), one of the stops of the line.
The least we can say is that the surrounding countryside is really flat. Few hills here and there, but nothing as fantastic as the mountains and fjords we will see later. Just before the train reaches the city of Hamar, it runs along Lake Mjøsa, the largest of its kind in Norway and one of the deepest.
After Hamar, like all long-distance trains in Norway, a ticket inspector goes from car to car to check tickets. Using a list, he knows exactly where everyone must be seated (reservations are required on long distance trips) and when everyone gets off the train. This is an old method of verification, but simple and very effective!
The surrounding hills are becoming higher, and peaks more pronounced. At the same time, the train is always accompanied by the flat, calm water of Lake Mjøsa, its surface being occasionally agitated by some boats.
The train makes a few stops at different places like Lillehammer (179.5m above sea level), a town at the northern end of Lake Mjøsa, famous in modern history for having hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1994 and Hunderfossen, a huge family park which is open all year round. I was surprised to see such a place in the middle of nowhere, yet the park is very famous and popular, especially in summer! If you travel with kids, what about making a stop here?
As we travel further north, the train goes imperceptibly higher and higher and the air becomes cooler. Just before the next stop in Otta (287m above sea level), the landscape is still very “alpine”, and the nearby Lågen river flows at a leisurely pace. It is very easy to see what is the main industry in this region: wood. Trees in various stages of maturity are everywhere and huge lengths of logs are waiting next to the tracks before being sawed in various boards and beams.
Dovre line then offers a majestic landscape, joined a moment by the main road of the area, before following a valley to the north, through an almost impenetrable wilderness. This is one of many reasons why I love traveling by train: it will surely take you to the heart of a nature that is often invisible from the road.
Arrived on time at 12:04 in Dombås. This is where we change trains for the Rauma line towards Åndalsnes. We barely have 5 minutes to get on the next one, but as it waits for us just on the other side of the platform, it is without any stress that we reach our car before departure.
Rauma railway line – One of the most beautiful train journeys of Norway
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The Rauma line is a fantastic journey from the sea to the mountain (or vice versa) in just over an hour and a half. 114 km of tracks between Dombås and Åndalsnes will take you through a varied and contrasting landscape, combining rugged mountains overlooking valleys, majestic peaks, green hills and turbulent rivers. From the train with large panoramic windows, we can enjoy the beautiful and wild landscape while sitting comfortably. From time to time, explanations are given in different languages via the loudspeakers of the train.
Shortly after we left, we pass Lesjaskogsvatnet, one of the richest fishing lake in Norway, which also delimit the eastern and western part of the country. During the trip, our train passes on no less than 32 bridges (including those of Jora, Stufuflaten, Foss and Skjerve) above the Rauma River, fed by melting snow and glaciers of the surrounding mountains, which explains its unique blue-green color. The railway line uses both sides of the valleys of Gudbrandsdal and Romsdalen in order to descend more and more as the journey goes. One of the key moments of this trip is passing through the Stavem tunnel, a “bend horseshoe” of 1340m which turn inside the mountain to get 19 meters down in the other direction! What follows is the crossing and a photo stop on Kylling viaduct (76m long, 59m high), one of the great arts of genius of this line and a popular landmark of Romsdalen region. Its construction began in September 1913 and ended in 1923.
We can see a few minutes later Vermafossen waterfall and the mountainous Trolltindene (Troll Peaks) which rises to 1’700/1’800m above sea level. Many of the mountain peaks are named after trolls. Indeed, an ancient legend says that the mountains are actually trolls who were turned into stone when caught by sunlight. To continue on this subject, we can admire Trollveggen, the highest perpendicular mountain wall in Europe. With a total ascent of 1’800m from top to bottom of the valley and 1’000m precipice, this fantastic rock formation still defies climbers even after it was conquered for the first time in 1965. You can reach the top by a road that winds through the mountains, called Trollstigen (Troll Path). Troll legends have been an important part of Norwegian cultural history from the 13th century right up to the present days and it is common to hear about it almost everywhere in the country.
We finally arrive at the terminal, Åndalsnes, at 1:40 p.m. The city, nicknamed “the alpine town of fjords” because of the high mountains that surround it, is located on the Romsdal fjord at the end of Rauma River. This is the starting point of many excursions in the region, and will certainly be part of our next trip. Our bus for Ålesund leaves 5 minutes after the arrival of the train, so we have just enough time to put our bags in the luggage compartment, and settling comfortably for a 2 hour drive towards the final stop of the day, Ålesund!