Europe editor Kenneth Kiesnoski traveled across Norway from
Oslo to Bergen just before Christmas via rail, bus and fjord
cruise. His report follows:
hat on earth are you doing here
now? That was the incredulous question on the lips of many
Norwegians when they discovered I was an American on an off-season
tour of their country.
Despite locals' amazement that anyone would travel 3,600 miles
to tour chilly, dark Norway anytime between September and May, I
found winter ideal for both urban and rural explorations of the
I started my sojourn in Oslo, a relatively quiet city at any
time of the year, but more so in winter. All the better for
sightseeing, I found.
I had the towering slope of the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, the
statues of Vigeland Park and the halls of the National Gallery and
Munch Museum largely to myself.
Of course, opening hours are reduced in the off-season, and some
attractions, such as the 19th century Royal Palace, were closed
during my visit.
I particularly enjoyed the Viking Ship Museum, where the only
other visitors were a handful of schoolchildren who seemed to find
my English-language conversation with my guide as interesting as
the intricately carved Norse ships, sleds and artifacts on
Entrance was free with my Oslo Card; renamed the Oslo Pass this
year, the visitor card still offers free entrance or discounts at
some 45 attractions, restaurants and shops.
Not so empty were Oslo's restaurants and shops, packed with
Yuletide celebrants and holiday shoppers. The apparent anomaly of
my visit was a real icebreaker with barkeeps, clerks and patrons
Another good spot to mix with locals was the ice rink, set up
annually in the Spikersuppa park across from my hotel, the
Norlandia Karl Johan (see Room Key below).
Eager to see Norway's famed fjords, I soon embarked on the
venerable cross-country Norway in a Nutshell rail-cruise-bus tour
After a six-hour ride on the Bergen Railway through
winter-wonderland landscapes, I arrived at snowy, mountaintop
Myrdal Station, where I switched to the privately run Flamsbana, or
The railway is the world's steepest to run on regular train
tracks and descends via 18 tunnels to the tiny port of Flam on the
Aurlandsfjord, a half-mile below.
As I began my descent, the sun broke through gray skies,
illuminating huge, frozen waterfalls clinging stubbornly to the
Within an hour, we had reached the Flamsbana's terminus on the
Soon, I and four other brave souls boarded the Fjord Lord, the
smallish ferry that makes the two-hour Flam-to-Gudvangen fjord run
in less popular off-season months.
Although an early sunset meant the last half of our sailing took
place in darkness, the first hour or so -- past towering cliffs,
tiny fishing villages and Viking farmsteads -- was
The cold, I felt, lent a welcome authenticity, and I spent much
of the trip on the prow.
Leaning into a biting wind, I did my best Leif Eriksson
impression until finally driven below deck for hot cocoa by a
particularly bitter arctic gust.
The final two legs of Norway in a Nutshell are wasted on the
westbound winter traveler heading to Bergen in one day.
Though the trip can be broken up with stays in Flam, Voss or
other towns to maximize daylight sightseeing, I undertook both the
supposedly hair-raising Stalheimskleiva mountain bus ride to Voss
and the connecting train trip on to Bergen under cover of
On the "bright" side, I was able to nap en route and arrived in
Bergen refreshed and ready for a night on the town.
Though not a fan of Renaissance fairs and the like, I enjoyed
dinner at the medieval-themed Olde Hansa restaurant in Bergen's
historic Brygge district, built by German merchants during the
The next day, I awoke to sunshine and set out to tour relatively
balmy Bergen, which -- in contrast to snowbound Oslo -- had been
spared anything worse than a few recent flurries.
I wended my way up and down through the city's forest of painted
wooden houses to top sights such as Fisktorget, or the fish market;
Hakon's Hall; St. Mary's Church; and the Hanseatic Museum.
As in Oslo, entrance was free with a Bergen Card, the city's
visitor discount pass.
Norlandia Karl Johan Hotel
Address: Karl Johans Gate 33, Oslo, Norway
Phone: (011) 47-23 16-1700
Fax: (011) 47-23 42-0519
Reservations: (011) 47-23 16-1700
Manager: Bjorn Hulaas
Rates: Rack from $200, single ($107 on weekends),
to $230, double (weekend, $143). Also, special summer rates.
Built: Late 1800's; renovated 2001.
Rooms: 111 rooms, 10 suites.
Location: On Oslo's main, city-center shopping
Facilities: Restaurant, bar, meetings rooms
Noteworthy: Top-notch location, great breakfast
Not worthy: Oddly spartan feel to rather large