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Trip Report short solo leisure break in Norway

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I need to be working on a project that has to be done within 10 days, but I am still having trouble adjusting to work after my holiday, so maybe a short trip report will help (as good an excuse as any).

I was attending a meeting Lillehammer and added on 5 days of holiday before returning home. It was my second trip to Norway. Last time my husband and I visited Oslo, up to Flam, and back. This time I was on my own.

I fly into OSL and went straight to the train ticket window--15 minutes until the next train, so I was down the escalator and on the platform, ticket in hand. I was placed in the family car that was rather worn and active with children playing with the automatic door to the toilet. The overhead destination sign was not working and the conductor did not make any stop announcements until Lillehammer, but I had my timetable and was ready. Free wifi worked fine after registration.

I was glad to see a shuttle had been arranged for us to the Radisson Blu hotel--it was all uphill from the station. I liked the looks of the hotel and the food, but the room was bad--eye level with the parking lot, odd shaped shower-and the staff unhelpful.

I had a great hike up a path along the stream by the hotel. The signs indicated that the path ran all the way from down by the river through town and connected with longer trail over the mountain. I enjoyed seeing the ski jumps. Nice views of the town and valley from the heights. You can climb up or take a ski lift. A friend visited the Olympic Museum and enjoyed it. I also heard that the park with old buildings brought in from around the country was well done. The pedestrian shopping street was OK, but not special.

At the end of my meeting, I wheeled my bag downhill to the station and caught my reserved train on to Dombas. riding along the pleasant river valley in a better car this time. We were late, so they held the train to Andalsnes and tried to get everyone to hurry at the transfer. The ride down to Andalsnes was scenic with narration and pauses at some scenic views--couldn't get off the train or open windows, so photos were limited.

In Andalsnes, two scheduled buses were waiting to take people onward to Molde and other destinations. I had decided to break my trip here for the night. After the two buses and the train settled, I thought I was in a movie where some unknown menace had wiped out the population. I mean there was no one in sight (on foot or in a car) within the few blocks that constitute the center of town. Fighting an urge to walk in the center of the street in case zombies came at me, I wheeled my bag the two blocks to my budget hotel, the Rauma. Up the stairs to the landing, up the stairs to the restaurant (yes, you are in the right place), up the stairs to the next landing, then up the spiral stone stairs to the top floor and my bedroom with two shared baths on the hallway. I thought I was back in my aunt's attic guest room--sloping roof, bed pushed against wall, corded light attached to wall. My aunt's house didn't have sea gulls screaming outside the window, but it didn't have wifi either. I decided a search for a small hot meal should be undertaken (they were packing up the food in the restaurant downstairs when I checked in), so I walked blindly around town, exercising my legs, taking photos of the late sun over the mountains, and still getting the creeps from the lack of humans. I spotted several people at the convenience store (rents videos) and a few cars roared through town, so I knew I was not alone with the lady in the hotel. I saw two restaurants with full meal menus (too much for me at a late hour), then found the local Chinese restaurant (open until midnight), went in and ordered soup. It was quite good and I had the entire restaurant to myself. The bed in the hotel turned out to be very comfortable and I got a good night's sleep (though I did need earplugs for the seagulls) before a light breakfast and checking out to join 6 other people early waiting for the bus to Geiranger (trusting that there would be seats and we could buy tickets on board because they do not sell in advance). I had thought the ride down the Rauma rail had been scenic. I had no idea what beauty lay before me on one of the two best days of my trip.

I'm feeling guilty and the work won't go away, so I will return later to tell how I spent an entire day slack jawed and thankful for being able to experience such an amazing place.

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    OK, I've got the outline of the workshop on slides, so I think another break is in order.

    We lucked into a great Fjord1 bus driver for the small group leaving Andalsnes that morning. He was a safe driver, spoke good English, and seemed to be enjoying his work. He said the traffic was light and the weather was good, so he was happy. The initial drive through the valley was just an introduction. I had read how the Trollstigen (Troll's Road) was a "must do" and I must agree. The bus stopped briefly at the base of the waterfall, paused on the bridge, and then stopped for ~ 15 minutes at the visitor center at the top. Stunning is the only word I can think of for the view back down the switchbacks to the valley below with the gushing waterfall (manipulated by man). I could have settled here for longer just soaking in the view. Some of the passengers did leave the bus here, maybe catching a later bus on or back or else hiking.

    Our small group was all smiles as we continued through the rugged snow capped mountains and down to the town of Valldal where we dropped two more passengers who were catching a later bus back to Andalsnes. That left 3 passengers on the bus--a private tour. On we go to a small ferry ride during which go outside and snap photos. Then back on the bus and on to one of those "wow" moments when we first popped over the mountain and could see Geiranger Fjord in bright sunshine, one cruise ship at dock, and several small boats and ferries plying the water. Thank goodness the bus stops once or twice at viewpoints for photos else we might have jumped our lovely driver and forced him to stop. Switchback after switchback, he paused and accelerated, dancing with the many campers driving in the opposite direction. After the drive up from Andalsnes and this drive down, I was reassured that leaving the driving to someone else more experienced while I gaped at the scenery was the right (and safe) choice for me. Rarely am I disappointed when a bus trip ends, but this was one of those times. But not to worry! I asked the driver where to catch the bus up to Dalsnibba for the 2-hour roundtrip. I didn't want to risk missing the view by waiting until the next day when clouds might come.

    I waded through the cruise ship passengers milling around the small shopping area and pulled my suitcase uphill a short ways to the Geiranger Hotel where my non-view room was not ready yet--a sign yet again that I should get on the next bus up the mountain. Leaving my bags behind the bar, I waded back through the cruise wanderers to the visitors center where I purchased my ticket for the roundtrip to the top (1 hour to wait) and did the only reasonable thing--bought an ice cream, sat on a bench and soaked up the view. The contrast with Andalsnes was stark--smaller town, but 1000% more people because of the cruise ships (now 2 in dock). I enjoyed watching the car ferry come/go (taking the other 2 people from my bus onward), the cruise ship launches, the 2 guys in bear suits (What the?) talking with their heads lifted up, and listening to universal family arguments no matter what the language (No, you cannot buy that. We signed up for this day trip and you are going on it.) I only saw one woman screaming at her husband and waving her arms. My Spanish skills did not suffice for the details, but her body language spoke well enough.

    Back on the bus, but different driver, different fellow travelers, and the influx of cruise ship passengers makes for a quite different experience for this leg of the trip. But I'm not letting anyone dampen my spirits. The fjord and mountains are too beautiful for that!

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    The last time I was in Norway I had to drive to Oslo just to see some human beings. When we got there we realised that Olso has the lowest density capital in the world and there was no one there. Aaargh the zombies...

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    Marg,
    That is a good description and not Chamber of Commerce oversell!

    The 2-hour roundtrip Fjord1 tour bus to the viewpoints above Geiranger runs 3 times a day and was full at 12:30pm. (There is also a competitor offering a tour at a slightly lower rate on a showier bus.) This is ticket you have to purchase in advance, not from the driver. Our driver started off OK, but went downhill with the road. He told us we would go up to the top first, then down to the lower view because the lower view was crowded (it was his second run of the day).

    Traveling solo, I sat with an interesting woman born in Croatia who studied in the US and now works in Sweden in medical research. She was staying at the Hellesylt Hostel that I had considered for the next night when Hotel Geiranger was full. She said it was a great budget hotel up a hill from the ferry dock, but she thought they were spending their savings on ferry tickets, bus, etc.

    The ride up the switchbacks rivaled the Trollstigen and the view back to Geiranger were even better. We reached the snow covered summit and the bus driver released us with the instruction to return when he beeped the horn. "How long do we have?" "Until I beep the horn." 5 minutes? 5 hours? Here is where the problems began. We scattered to take photos of the view (amazing), throw snowballs, and some folks went to the toilets and gift shop. After 15 minutes people were gathering on the bus (they had read the description of the stops at the tourist office). The driver beeped and closed the doors. Panic ensued. "Abrir la puerta" was the call. When the driver said "We are late. If anyone is not here, they are spending the night" panic increased. Translation did not help. He beeped. They did not come. He had a third run of the day waiting. Shouting out the door started and two couples unhurriedly made their way from the gift shop to the bus. My seat companion said she had seen them (we had all heard them singing on the bus and then arguing in the parking lot) first wait in line for the toilets, then take a smoke, so I guess they then went into the gift shop where they could not hear the horn. I'm not sure if they ever looked at the view. The driver grumbled about how late we were, how little time we had for the next stop, his schedule, etc. So what did he do when we reached the second viewpoint that was a mass of humanity? "How long do we have?" "Until I beep the horn." No one went further than 20 feet from the bus except some who wanted to walk down to the town. No one went down to the location where you can photograph people looking like they are standing on a rock right over the fjord.

    Back in town, all the riding was catching up to me, so I checked into my room, shopped at the grocery for dinner, and just took it easy for the evening, passing on the Eurocup playing in the bar. I was glad I didn't pay extra for the view rooms--the sun was too intense shining on the balcony and into the rooms for my enjoyment. My room was showing its age, but OK for a night's sleep. I was up early (those 4am sunrises help) and got in a walk along a road to campgrounds on the fjord--the only trail that did not start with a vertical climb. It was a quiet walk with only 2 other tourists hurrying back to the hotel and their tour bus. When I felt the first raindrops, I turned around and headed back, glad I had gone up to see the view the day before. Breakfast was crowded between 2 tour groups, but I managed OK.

    My trusty suitcase and headed downhill to the dock and onto the ferry to Hellesylt. I used the lift to the aft deck and parked my bags next to a plastic chair, settling in to enjoy the view. Most folks headed to bow of the boat or up on the top deck, so my space was relatively quiet. I lounged watching the lovely waterfalls, passing boats, and 3 ladies who kept returning to the area every 5-10 minutes to take more photos of each other. Anytime I left my plastic chair to walk to the railing to take a photo, someone would place something in my chair with its suitcase and backpack leaning against it. I suppose people thought everyone was using it as storage. They wouldn't put their camera/bag/hat on the empty long bench 12 inches away, but in the plastic chair I had vacated a couple of minutes before. My response to the ferry trip was typical for me. At first I'm excited about getting on, getting settled, the launch, and then the views of waterfalls. After 30 minutes, I'm checking watch "Are we there yet?" I'm just not a water person, even on fjords.

    There was another tiny town with a great waterfall. I settle with my picnic at the conveniently placed picnic tables for my lunch while waiting for the bus. More people here than Andalsnes. I boarded the bus to Alesund on time and road back to a city in the rain. Still a nice drive, but with less drama after leaving the high road above the fjord (and the very long tunnels). I was tired when we reached rainy Alesund and once again pulled my bag uphill to my hotel, Rica Parken. Another modest room with a comfortable bed. Only problem was temperature--with window closed needed the a/c, but couldn't seem to adjust or get enough flow; with window open was too humid (and wet) with the rain. So, back and forth continually over the 2 nights stay. I could see the park hill everyone climbs for the view out my window and people climbing with umbrellas in the rain, but I decided it was an activity for tomorrow. I found a grocery for a few supplies and called it a night. A wet day in the city awaited me.

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    I had a set number of days between my conference ending at noon on a Wednesday and my flight leaving OSL very early on the following Tuesday. I didn’t want to drive, so I would have to adjust to the bus, ferry, and train schedules. One train that would be convenient was sold out a month in advance. The hotel conveniently located in Geiranger was sold out for one night. So, I had to make a few compromises, but nothing that detracted from my enjoyment of the trip.
    The scheduling problems is what made me decide to go to Alesund for 2 nights—ferry/bus combos were convenient and plenty of hotel rooms were available. I am interested in architecture, so I looked forward to seeing the Art Nouveau buildings.

    The extensive breakfast buffet at the Rica Parken was being served in the ballroom while the breakfast room is under renovation. Picture a huge ballroom with large tables set for a luncheon or dinner with 2 people eating breakfast at separate tables. The second day would be busier when a tour bus arrived.

    When I saw a break in the clouds, I decided to climb the park hill for the view. I couldn’t outrun the Central European tour group completely, so we passed each other repeatedly as each stopped for photos enroute. The climb was not bad and the rewards were worthwhile. The view back to the CBD and the islands was nice, but I was enthralled by the view to the mountains where rain was creating a mosaic of blues over the snow capped peaks. I chose a picnic table about 10 feet from the open corner of the plaza where people were standing for photos, put my raincoat down as a tarp, and just sat and stared. It was beautiful. Human nature once again amused me—there was a clear view of the mountains with easier access just 10 away with no one there, but after 5 minutes, groups of people started coming to stand between me and my view to look at the mountains and try to squeeze in their photographer to take their photo with the mountains in the background while the easy view area stood vacant. When this happened repeatedly, I decided it was time to explore the park. I had vaguely read that there were trails and the posted maps revealed plenty of options for exercise. I followed the trails that indicated viewpoints, climbing onto picnic tables, WWII bunkers, and a tower to get better views, sit and enjoy just being there. The flies were fierce, making walking through the woods less pleasant. The locals walk their dogs in this park. On one occasion, a standard poodle and a miniature collie came running over a hill. The poodle looked startled, then happy to meet me. The collie was startled and then either scared or embarrassed and commenced frantically barking until its owner topped the hill and escorted him past me (still frantically barking) with the poodle nuzzling my hand in confusion. When the rain started, I chose a downhill trail, opened my umbrella and returned to the city.

    I spent the rest of the day walking up and down the streets looking at the scores of buildings constructed after the turn of the century fire that devastated the city. I took photos of buildings, architectural details, and a bride leaving the church from under my umbrella in the constant rain. I planned to visit the architectural museum but couldn’t seem to find it based on the address and the symbol on a tourist map. I walked up and down the supposed street at least 3 times before I headed back the way I came and realized the street curved and stayed the same name. I had actually photographed the building containing the museum at the beginning of my walk. Duh! I went to dry off, see the great interior of the pharmacy and pharmacist’s house. The movies about the fire and reconstruction were presented in an odd multi-screen way, but I learned a lot about that part of the city’s history.

    Shops closed up early as they do in many European cities, so no Saturday evening entertainment there. I found a reasonably priced restaurant on the pedestrian shopping street and went in for a hot meal before returning to my hotel to take off my sodden shoes.

    My next day was the compromise—best timed train sold out, so couldn’t take bus/train via Andalsnes. Sunday, so limited number of buses on the routes. I didn’t want to go all the way to Oslo because I had been there before. So, I looked for another small town to stop in that might provide me with dramatic scenery enroute to OSL. I would retrace my steps as far as Hellsylt, then continue via bus up to the land of glaciers and the tiny crossroads of Lom rather than the bigger town of Stryn.

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    I left behind the working port city feel of Alesund for the countryside again. I met a couple from NZ at the bus stop who had been traveling via cruise and land for 6 weeks. We had similar experiences with the buses. The routing with changes differed depending on if you looked at a printed timetable, checked online, asked at the tourist bureau, or asked a bus driver. In the end, the bus drivers controlled who got on their buses, so we followed their instructions. The Fjord1 and Nor-Way bus left at the same time, followed the same route, and would make the same stops. Best I could tell, since Fjord1 served a smaller area, anyone going long-distance was directed to the Nor-Way bus rather than using the Fjord1 bus and transferring later. Nor-Way says no reservations so if a bus fills they will put another on the route. Not sure how this works when it fills enroute at a small town as friends said when riding from Oslo to Lillehammer that their bus did fill and they passed many people trying to flag down the bus. Not sure how long they had to wait for the next one. I didn't enjoy the Nor-Bus because it was crowded with riders who didn't care where they were, just when they would reach the destination and how they could keep people from sitting next to them. The bus did get me to Stryn where we were left for our transfer in a small waiting area of the bus stop. The thriving town center was maybe .5 mile away, but we only had seats and toilets while we waited 30-45 minutes.

    The scenery was different up here by the glaciers and for that reason I was glad I had chosen to take this route rather than backtrack. The tunnels were exciting with warning sign of rough road, trucks waiting for oncoming traffic to pass, and warning sign for elk or moose as we emerged.

    At the small crossroads town of Lom, I said good-bye to the Kiwis and wheeled the two blocks of flat pavement to the Fossheim Hotel known for its restaurant. There are three old hotels, camping and cabins, a couple of grocery stores, gas stations, a bank, a well-known bakery, a few industries, a stave church and few other tourist attractions in the village. I stayed in the 1960s motel building rather than the more expensive historic building and felt like I was in a cabin in the Rockies.

    The glacial river rapids roaring through town were impressive and the stave church an interesting sight. I also walked around to see an old stone building and several rural buildings that are in a folk park. I tried a flat walk over the bridge and along the larger river, but noise from a small industrial site made that unpleasant. A nicer walk was along a road alongside the smaller river with rapids. Not much going on except folks eating ice cream and coming/going from outdoor activities in the mountains. Best night's sleep I had on the trip. After a breakfast of Norwegian pancakes, I visited the bakery (of course), took another walk, and midday boarded the Nor-Bus bound for Lillehammer and OSL for my final night in Norway half wishing I was headed back the other way to stay in the mountains.

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    I don't usually write such long, detailed reports, but that's what avoiding work leads to!

    My last full day in Norway was bittersweet. I started out in the tiny town of Lom eating pancakes and watching a raging glacier river, but then had to submit to the practicalities of getting home. The Nor-Way bus was similar to the day before, but the scenery was calm river valley. For the first time, I read a book while riding rather than watching out the window. We were delayed for road construction and I thought the guy next to me was going to suffer a heart attack--don't know if he needed a smoke break, a toilet, or his lunch, but he was muttering, shaking his head and complaining to me in Norwegian. We finally made it to the lunch stop for buses and the driver cut our stop time, but planned to leave 15 minutes late--drivers do need their breaks. At least this driver would tell us a time. I walked to the convenience store for a soda to drink with the sandwich I bought at the Lom bakery in lieu of the cooked food at the restaurant. The ride on to Lillehammer was uneventful. Because I was familiar with the train station, the transfer went smoothly. I got a nice car this time with very few people.

    I had my final night booked at the OSL Park Inn. It was a breeze using the covered walkway to wheel my bag (can use luggage cart too) to the front door. Modest modern room with a/c and sealed windows was a welcome place to do my final packing, print my boarding pass (with some complications), and get some rest before the 5:30am breakfast, walk to OSL, and check in (Do you want to volunteer to be bumped for the ARN-ORD segment and fly ARN-LHR-ORD instead for 600E credit? No, ORD is not my final destination.) My last flight left ORD on time, but was diverted to an airport 100 miles from mine due to thunderstorms where we sat for 30+ minutes (but they let us off the plane). So, I eventually made it home, but now I have hundreds of photos to label!

    I'd heartily recommend the Geiranger Fjord area for scenery. I enjoyed it more than the Sognefjord because of the ragged mountains.

    I wouldn't recommend a Nor-way bus trip for longer than 2-3 hours.

    I probably have other words of wisdom, but my brain is drained from the work.

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    Thanks for that! Great timing for me, we have a family holiday in Norway coming up in a few weeks. My dad and I are leaving mum behind in Oslo to drive up to Andalsnes. My first thought when you said about the zombie attack was "oh god, dad and I are going to kill each other from boredom" but on reflection, lots and lots of cruise ship passengers aren't my thing, so maybe it's a good thing! It will be a different experience for me, I'm usually a city break girl, but I get the impression my dad's been longing to go back to Norway since the 70s.

    You mentioned snow - outside the mountain peaks, was it very cold? I have seen estimates all over the map for Norway in August (will be spending most of the time in Oslo).

    We have 2 nights in Andalsnes - from the sounds of it, the Trollstigen and the Geiranger Fjord would be your top picks?

    Cheers from another kiwi :)

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    Gwan,

    The temperatures were comfortable for me everywhere I went, including where there was snow. Locals were complaining that it was too cool for summer, but back in the US temperatures were at 37C, so I was glad for 10 at night and 24C during the day. I only wore a jacket for rain and at the top of the mountains where windy.

    The Trollstigen, Geiranger Fjord, and Alesund were the only places I visited in the area, so that is all I can compare. The drive up over Trollstigen will be stressful if there is much traffic, looking ahead to know when to yield to campers or buses driving in the opposite direction. I'd suggest planning a long break at the top where there is a visitor center, toilets, etc. I did not go inside. There are also picnic tables along the route that would make good break spots. There is an alternate route back that goes up the switchbacks from Geiranger, but then goes around rather than down Trollstigen. You could decide if you wanted to drive it twice or not after the first experience.

    There aren't a lot of attractions other than the scenery in the area--waterfalls, hiking trails, kayak around the cruise ships, ride on the fjord, farms. There is Norsk Fjorsenter above Geiranger, but I didn't visit there either, so no comment.

    I enjoyed 2 days in Oslo on my last visit. We especially liked the viking ship museum and city hall.

    Irish,
    I hope to get back to looking through the photos and labeling them next week. They are all stored on the home computer and I'm out of town working via laptop. I'm only home for 1 week before heading to Thailand for work for 3 weeks, so if I don't get the Norway and Scotland photos sorted soon, I might forget where I took them! I haven't started the Scotland trip report either. I have to get my priorities straight.

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    Thank you very much for your reply Kay. Those temps sound pretty good to me (and perhaps it will warm up a little in the next few weeks), Italy was also on the table but we chose Norway for various reasons, including the heat factor. I won't be driving, thank goodness!

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    Well, Kay, yes, you do need to get your priorities straight--photos and trip report before work. (just kidding, in case you don't get my weird humor) Thanks for letting us know that they will come some day.

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