With a free week in the middle of summer, and a craving for fresh Scandinavian air, expansive nature and a country I’d never seen before, we found ourselves booking late-July flights to Oslo. That was the easy part. Then came the challenge of working out how to “see” Norway in a week, how to transport ourselves between distant and difficult-to-reach places and how to make the most of our time. After much rearranging of dates and timing, we came up with the perfect formula, which will hopefully provide some travel inspiration if you’re planning on venturing there yourself.
If I had to pick one piece of advice for Norwegian travel, it would be to combine your transport with something else. For example, on our first night, we turned our 7 hour journey to Bergen into our accommodation for the night, by taking the sleeper train from Oslo S. This was also a great way to reduce costs. If, like me, you’ve never experienced a sleeper train, then Norway’s will leave you very pleasantly surprised. The cabin was adorable, with bunk-beds, chocolates on the pillow, fluffy towels and bottled water. I actually found the movement of the train incredible relaxing, although apparently it agreed less with me, as I woke up to a violent nosebleed and the awkward 6am task of explaining to the conductors why our compartment looked like a crime scene.
Immediately after arriving in crisp, early-morning Bergen we pulled off another travel amalgamation, this time combining our transport into the fjords with the essential activity of seeing the landscape itself. This was really what had drawn me to Norway as a destination, and the 4 hour journey allowed us to see so much before we settled for three days in our first stop, Balestrand.
Another challenge while in the fjords is choosing a specific area to make your ‘base’. We considered heading north to Alesund, (which by Norwegian standards isn’t even that Northernly) but in the end, we weren’t particularly longitudinally ambitious, and chose Balestrand for its proximity to Bergen and position on Sognefjord. The beautiful and historic Kviknes Hotel was our home for the weekend, and arriving by boat to see it nestled idyllically amongst the mountains was wonderful. Our aim was to spend the majority of our time here outdoors, and Balestrand offers plenty of opportunities to do so. Over the next 48 hours we rowed onto the fjord, hired bikes to cycle to the neighbouring town, hiked our way to the best view of the area and swam in the surprisingly not too freezing water. Side note: if you have the opportunity, fill up your water bottle at one of the waterfalls surrounding the fjord, it tastes amazingly fresh and you’ll feel like you stepped into a Romantic ballad.
Our last dinner in Balestrand was at the highly acclaimed Ciderhuset restaurant. Surrounded by lavender-filled gardens and orchards where the family grow their own fruit for cider, seasonal herbs and keep bees for honey, the Cider House is a unique environment. It was actually such a beautiful place that I resisted ruining the moment with amateurish jokes about rules and Tobey Maguire. The food is very light and mezze-style, with lots of seafood, and I recommend the flight of ciders, brandies and other spirits from their cellar – it’s a great way to try some homemade alcoholic treats that you don’t encounter every day.
Our next stop was a quick overnight in Bergen. The evening atmosphere here was bustling and lively, with an excellent seafood market by the harbour where we enjoyed crayfish and tried whale meat. The next morning, we stopped by the KODE museum to see the Rasmus Meyer exhibit, which included a unique Edvard Munch collection featuring a pen and ink sketch of The Scream amongst other delights.
Then it was time actually to be awake for the breathtaking Bergen – Oslo train journey. My advice is to upgrade to NSB Komfort (similar to 1st Class), it’s only around £9 extra with really spacious seating, unlimited free coffee/tea and unbelievable hot chocolate. Don’t worry about which side of the train you choose, if you think the people opposite are getting the amazing views at one point, your time will come.
For accommodation in Oslo we chose an area of the city called Frogner, home to the beautiful Frogner Park and about a ten minute walk from Karl Johans gate, the main street in the city. We had outstanding sushi here at St. Raw, the sushi bar in our hotel and a very popular restaurant in its own right. In terms of sightseeing, Oslo provides a lot of choice, and we visited the Akershus Fortress, the Viking Ship Museum and the Munch Museum. The highlight, however, was the Ibsen museum, situated in the apartment where he lived for the last 11 years of his life and wrote his last two plays. Everything in the home is authentic and it’s a simply beautiful space.
Our last meal in Norway was at the famous Grand Café, favoured since 1874 by artists, academics and diplomats. It’s an elegant and vibrant setting with excellent food and cocktails, along with an impressive historical atmosphere.
I could easily have stayed in Norway for the entire summer, it’s a unique and varied country which also brought a curious feeling of being at home. If you’re suffering from a little St. Andrews claustrophobia this year, the remedy could be right next door.