Day 25. Friday 7 June.
Heavy rain all night, which was an accompaniment for the traffic noise and happy revelers returning home at very odd hours. There was a very long, very noisy fireworks display competing with the thunderstorm – we’d like to think it was to celebrate a very special birthday underway in Australia, but it more likely to be connected to D Day. It seemed somehow appropriate, as a metaphor for the futility of war, to have a fireworks display in heaving rain and broad daylight.
D was allowed an alarm at 6.30 AM ahead of our 7.30 AM taxi pickup – in the event we were both out of bed at 6.22 AM. The taxi driver looked at where D pointed on the map, nodded and off we went – to the wrong place. Fortunately, that was quickly sorted out and we arrived amongst the first, so were put on the first of half a dozen buses heading to Nesbyen (a 2-hour road journey due to line maintenance). Then onto the famous Oslo to Bergen train at Myrdal, and from there the little train to Flam.
As we moved higher and higher, fir forests gave way to scrabbly birch ( presumably having reached the snow line) and glacial lakes appeared in all their milkyiness, still with sections of ice. The sky cleared, and plenty of snow around.
Having arrived at Myrdal (a station, not a town) at 12.58 and our Flam train not departing until 15.59, the afternoon was looking slow and quite cold. T sought some advice from a young man wearing a yellow vest who was unable to provide any official advice but was a mine of information. Basically, Myrdal means ‘marshland’ hence there are few opportunities to do anything – and it actually only consisted of 5 dwellings associated with rail maintenance. T then had the brilliant idea of catching the next train down to Flam: our tickets didn’t specify seats so we assumed that if the train wasn’t full we’d be OK. When the train pulled in T consulted the conductor who was reluctant, said the train was looking quite full, but grudgingly agreed that if we could find two free seats that would be fine. We needed no more direction, and on we got, having stored our suitcases in the luggage van.
When another conductor came around to check tickets T just waved ours at him and that was enough.
The train rail and the scenery were certainly spectacular.
What we should have known was that quite a bit of the 20 km descent is actually through tunnels, and of course there was serious competition at windows for THAT SHOT! We mostly saw only one side in any detail – getting to a window on the other side was a major risk to life and limb!.
T had spoken to a couple at Myrdal who were taking the cycle path down and enquired about time and cost. It seemed a lovely option on a fine afternoon and we wondered about taking the return train (Flam-Myrdal) in order to hire bikes, descend again and enjoy the views without the hundreds of new friends. Visitor Information at Flam told T that part of the trail was about 2 km of steep, grsavel hairpin bends that would require dismounting. The was the end of that idea!
Early arrival in Flam provided a reconnoitre of the co-op store for supplies for tonight but more importantly to first get a coffee (for T) and a beer (for D). Flam, or rather New Flam, the name having been purloined, is a ‘tourist hole’ (we think the real name is Fretheim). The real, original Flam is several kms higher up the valley, a farming settlement with a raging river and a little church.
We were picked up by Ingunn, who, with her husband Nils (he was born and raised in Flam) farms 75 sheep who were now wandering the steep woodland above the farmhouse to eat and eat and eat all summer. We share the story told to us as strangers by a very generous host.
Ingunn and Nils, their daughter and grandchildren run the farm called Gjorven Hytter and manage 2 tourist cabins further up the block: D had thought throughout the booking process that this was the name of the host. Ingunn talked about the sheep wandering up above the Flam rail line all summer and how they just need the occasional check. They know their owner: she’s the one who gives them treats.
Ingunn’s son is a guitarist and not interested in farming but comes home in the autumn to give a hand with rounding up the sheep and bringing them down to their indoor winter shelter. On arrival, Ingunn pointed out her house and the very new one immediately behind, where her daughter lives. When we commented on the sleek new raw timber architecture, when all around is much, much older, she explained that her daughter’s husband had been a builder/architect and had drawn the plans but he had died 3 years ago (anniversary 8 June – tomorrow) in an accident – she’d gone ahead and built the house. He’d been para-gliding from the sheer cliffs above, had landed on the slope, the wind had lifted the kite again and he’d been unable to stop and fell into the river and drowned, despite attempts to revive him. It is a big rushing river, fed by many waterfalls.
Ingunn dropped us at the top of the driveway outside our perfect (it doesn’t even have internet!) cabin for the night.
T had a stroll down the hill to the church, where every second tombstone seemed to have the surname Flam or Flaam; D had a beer.
Just the sound of the rushing river to send us to sleep after a T-special dinner. And although the train passes by only metres above us it doesn’t run at night!