The first thing to say about the Norway in a Nutshell tour is that we were initially very tentative about taking it. After reading a lot of on-line reviews we were concerned about over-crowding, missing connections, not getting seating and generally feeling uncomfortable. Our travel agent made some enquiries for us, and convinced us that taking the tour in the off-season (we travelled in December) would mean that there would be fewer other travellers and no crowding. We took the chance that she was right and went ahead and booked the Bergen to Oslo option, with an overnight stay in Flåm. As you will see below, we were very glad we took her advice.
There are several things to consider before taking this tour. Firstly, it is not an accompanied tour. There is no tour guide. Norway in a Nutshell, book all your tickets. These tickets are sent to you and you then use them to travel on the trains, bus and boat. Finding your way around and getting to the next pickup point is your responsibility. As we found out, this is not difficult. Secondly, consider the time of year you are travelling and if the crowds other people mention will be a problem for you.
The tour can be taken several ways. Bergen to Oslo, Oslo to Bergen, or either of these with a return train trip. There is also an option to stay overnight at Flåm.
Our trip started in Bergen. We walked from the hotel to the train station, for the 8:00AM train trip. We went to the ticket counter and showed our tickets to the staff, who were very friendly. They explained which train to get on and which platform it was departing from. They also told us the connecting bus at our stop was easy to find and people there would help us. Feeling reassured, we bought a coffee and settled down until the departure time.
In December, it was still dark as the train departed, so we did not get to see much scenery until we were almost at Voss. At this stage, there were lots of snow-covered mountains and snowy scenery to be seen. If you think this scenery is good, but can’t get a good photo, don’t worry, there is better to come later.
Arriving in Voss, there is an announcement that this is the departure point for those on the tour. The train station is quite small. We gathered our bags, and walked to the front of the station where six or so buses were parked. Not sure which one to get on, we asked one of the drivers, who pointed us in the right direction.
The bus trip from Voss to Gudvangen was very scenic. The drive goes through many windy roads and past lots of very scenic countryside. At Gudvangen, there is a reasonable stop, with plenty of time for a coffee, snack and toilet break. There is also a gift shop and some displays to look at as well as some of the scenery you have come to see. When the boat is ready to depart (we had the Lady Elisabeth), you all get on board and find a seat. Being winter, most people claimed seats inside where it was warm, and then went out on deck. In summer, it would probably be very crowded and maybe seating would be at a premium, but for us, we had a private table in a corner by a window.
For the first hour, it was very busy on deck, with everyone trying to get the best photos. After this, many headed inside to the warmth. This was the time to be on deck, as you had an uninterrupted view of the magnificent scenery. Going down the Nærøyfjord was spectacular. It lived up to all our expectations. Snow covered mountains on both sides of us and picturesque villages now and then on the shores. The Lady Elisabeth called into one of the villages to let someone off and deliver the mail, giving us a close-up view.
Arriving in Flam a bit after 2:00PM. It was already getting dark. We went to our hotel to check in as we had decided to split the trip up and overnight here. The Fretheim Hotel is very close to the docks and easily walkable with suitcases. There were very few guests staying, as most other people on the tour travelled straight though to Oslo. Once they had gone, we had the area almost to ourselves. The views of the Aurlandsfjord and surrounding mountains was excellent and we enjoyed an afternoon coffee and a snack at the café.
As for Flåm itself, there is not too much to do, but we were there for the scenery and a relaxing break, rather than rushing around.
Our rooms at the Fretheim Hotel were somewhat old and in need of a facelift. The bath/shower was also an accident waiting to happen. Climbing over the bath into the shower could easily result in a slip, so be careful. The lobby was very nicely appointed, and the dinner we had, was delicious. Breakfast was provided as part of the tariff and was plentiful, even though there were not many guests.
Our train departed at 7:00AM, so it was still dark. This made the train platform very atmospheric, with the station’s light and surrounding mountains. The Flåm railway, is famous for its restored train carriages and the rail line itself which wins through the mountains to Myrdal. The carriages really are very nice and have large windows so you have an excellent view of the scenery.
There were no allocated seats, so get on first and get a good seat. For us this wasn’t a problem, as there very only eight of us getting on at Flåm. The conductor, suggested which side to sit on for the best view as well, which was nice.
The views really are great and there are several stops along the way for passengers to get off at other villages. This time of year, there were people with skis. There is a longer stop at the water fall about half way through the journey. This was a great photo stop for the waterfall, as well as the train sitting in the snow near the tunnel.
The Flåm railway terminates at Myrdal, where you transfer to the Bergen to Oslo train. The Myrdal station was unmanned, but there are displays showing train arrivals and departures and which platform to be on. This station was quite beautiful in the undisturbed snow. No one else had been there all morning and the snow was pristine. It probably wouldn’t look so picturesque in summer.
The trip from Myrdal to Oslo was pleasant, but the scenery is not as good as what we had just seen from Gudvangen to Flåm. The train was clean and comfortable. Food is available to buy if you want it as well. The Oslo train station is modern and easy to find you way around. If you want taxis or buses, they are all available just outside.
So, what did we think of the trip? In a word: brilliant. It easily met our expectations and the scenery surpassed them. The ticketing was all in place and worked well. The accommodation was OK, but we were there for the scenery. The main Bergen to Oslo train, was nothing special, but got us to where we needed to be for the boat trip down the fjord and the Flåm Railway.
Would we recommend it? For the off season when we travelled, certainly. It wasn’t crowded and the scenery was brilliant. As for travelling at the height of the tourist season, we can’t say.