Norway has always held a fascination for me. Perhaps it is images of Vikings sailing over the seven seas or the fiords cutting their way through the shoreline. Regardless of the reason, when the opportunity to visit arose I jumped at the chance.
I landed in Oslo and immediately began to explore this fantastic city. The sun was shining as I trekked to the top of the mountains surrounding this Scandinavian city, in an effort to gain a bird's eye perspective of the metropolis with more than 600,000 inhabitants.
The waterfront has been totally renovated and is a haven for culinary experts. Relaxing casually on an outdoor patio, watching ships go by while sipping on an aperitif is a pleasurable way to spend an evening.
For the true tourists there are many things to experience, including the Olympic ski jump, the Viking ship museum, which houses ships dating back to ninth century and the 12th century Stave church at the Norsk Folkemuseum and of course, a visit to Vigeland Sculpturer Park is a must.
Designed in the 1940’s by artist Gustaf Vigeland the park is filed with hundreds of statues depicting people engaging in various human pursuits: running, wrestling and dancing, Acres of lush green lawns, act as a backdrop for this famous Oslo landmark. In its centre stands the Monolith totem, a tribute to the Circle of Life, which stretches 17 metres into the sky.
There is, however, more to Norway than Oslo and a trip to this Scandinavian country would not be complete without a cross country adventure to the west coast. When I first arranged transportation I had no idea what was involved and soon learned that trekking across this mountainous landmass is not an easy task.
First on the agenda was securing a rail ticket. I arrived at the train station an hour early and it took me 45 minutes to locate the track from where I was to depart. (Signs show city names in Norwegian, but my ticket read in English).
I found the platform and waited patiently. A conductor asked to see my ticket. She studied it and explained it had been changed. She handed it back to me and told me to wait where I was. I obeyed, but when the train arrived I did not want to miss its departure and stepped onboard.
My window seat offered a splendid view of sights speeding by as the train left Oslo station. We began to climb leaving the lush greenery (as well as civilization) behind. The trees began to disappear and the mountains rose. Valleys became lakes and rivers ran like ribbons everywhere. As we gained altitude the population dwindled until, when we were near the summit there was little more than a few wooden dwellings with grass covered roofs. Snow began to replace lakes and glaciers were becoming commonplace. I looked in awe as I was suddenly facing one of the most remote regions I have ever been to.
Finally we came to a station where we were to change trains. Rucksack over my shoulder I made my way to the platform and did my best to secure a spot which would allow me to board the next train. In eavesdropping on other passengers and officials I soon understood the necessity of changing trains. It was due to the steepness of the next leg of the journey – not a very comforting thought.
The train I was waiting for was specially constructed to maneuver along the mountainside in what is billed as the steepest train ride in the world. It would only last an hour, but the trembling in my knees had already begun and when I heard the whistle blow in the distance and saw the headlight of the locomotive appear around a corner I swallowed the lump in my throat.
I boarded and found my seat, again next to a picture window. The train began to move and I immediately heard the squealing of the brakes as it began to descend. Beautiful vistas passed us by and dozens of waterfalls cascaded along the mountains. I was enjoying the experience and had temporarily forgotten about the rate of descent until the train stopped in a tunnel.
An announcement was made and people stood, making their way to the exit. I naturally followed, for I did not want to miss this evacuation. I found myself walking along side of the train through the dark tunnel and was amazed at what lay on the other side. A monstrous waterfall was thundering downward and passengers were snapping photos non-stop. The experience of standing next to this massive wonder was breathtaking.
The train continued without incident and when we completed our journey I left the platform for the remainder of the trip: a boat along the fiords. Suddenly I was dwarfed by mountains and hundreds of waterfalls. Sheep dotted pastures and small houses stood solitarily among nature's majesty. I was in awe as I looked in every direction for the duration of the entire trek.
At last we reached land and a short bus ride took me to Norway's Atlantic city of Bergen. Not well known outside of northern Europe, Bergen is an extremely picturesque town. The old city of Bryggen is the place to be. A trading port, dating back to the 1600's has been totally restored to its original splendour. Restaurants and gift shops now occupy what was once warehouses and doorways, windows, facades and interiors must be maintained in the original fashion.
The rows of buildings appear to be out of an Anton Pieck masterpiece. Their reflection in the adjacent fiord makes this area a photographer's paradise. Restaurants are plentiful and, although quite expensive by our standards, the food is superb and Norwegian hospitality is pleasurable.
If you ever have an opportunity to visit Scandinavia make sure Oslo is on your itinerary. Once there seek out the cross country trek to Bergen. In a nutshell, Norway has to be on your bucket list.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com