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A Train Journey Into the Wilds of Norway

Written by: Catherine Morris

Raumabanen to Andalsnes By Train

We stepped off the train into a light summer twilight, the day just receding behind the mountains, pitched like scout tents all around us and casting their shadows to help the townsfolk sleep a little better in the long days.
And it had been a long day, particularly with a six year old in tow; three trains over fourteen hours between Stockholm and Åndalsnes. We took the Dovrebanen train from Oslo on a journey that sounded like it came straight out of Tolkien, passing the fathomless and majestic Lake Mjøsa, dark and cold-looking even in the afternoon sun, with boats bobbing like little white ducks on its vast surface.

We threaded through each town along it’s banks, pointing out Lysgårdsbakken, the Olympic ski-jump high over Lillehammer, imagining the jumper’s view when taking off, as though they could soar, high over the sprawling town, and plunge into the cool water beyond. We traced the Gudbrandsdalslågen river north, travelling through plain greyscale towns, eerie and at odds with the summer brightness, the lush greens, the expansive blues. We spotted lonely little storybook huts, painted red and black, with thick, grassy roofs, dotted among the emergent hills and soaring valleys of Oppland.
At the village of Dombås, we were among the few that changed onto the heavily engineered, winding and magical Raumabanen, through rough-cut tunnels, horseshoeing and double horseshoeing, before crossing bridges over the Rauma river, including the famous, but no less breathtaking, Kylling Bridge, and entering finally into magnificent Romsdalen where the King and Queen Troll gazed down imperiously upon us from their dusky perch high up on their wall.

Out of season

We were just out of high season at the end of August, tourists were few and scheduled stops at special sightseeing spots or recorded commentaries didn’t exist for us; discussions about the views outside of our window were borne out of pre-journey reading, conversations with fellow travellers and our own imaginations.

After the last summery splash in Stockholm, filled with the sights and sounds of children jumping and swimming in Lake Mälaren, of large family groups enjoying each other’s company, we entered Norway just as the people of Scandinavia returned to school and work and began the long haul back towards winter. A handful of childless individuals and their dogs scattered our carriages, travelling north from their workday lives in Oslo to family homes all along the train lines, to go hunting or fishing or hiking, seeing friends and loved ones. They happily read the latest Harry Potter with the six year old and chatted over her head as she slept, about their dual lives in city and country, their outdoor pursuits and the changing seasons.
To hear there may be plans to bypass the original route and upgrade to a new high-speed line to Ålesund saddens me a little, but then I have never been particularly commercially minded. It may well improve freight-services and bring in the fast-moving, digital-devouring tourists the country needs economically, as well as speed up the journeys of stir-crazy Norwegians escaping from the ceaseless hamster-wheel of work back to the clear-headed landscapes of their youth; but in speeding everything up, I also see loss.  In gaining time, we appear to lose more time, to think, to comment, to meet new people, to chat, to dream. It’s all about getting quick tips and fitting it all in, moving quickly from one thing, one place, one person, to another.

For that reason at least, the Raumabanen will continue to run, but as a stunning side-show to a cruise rather than an essential part of your route. But as I say, I’m a romantic who enjoys the journey, the history and the rambling story that goes along with it, so tend not to always think too pragmatically or financially in these matters.
Our room in Åndalsnes was simply a place to park our bags and our heads for twelve hours before boarding our next bus. Lost in translation over the phone some months before, the keys were handed to us in an envelope marked ‘Porthsmith’ and the owner laughed at his own mistake before showing us to our room.  The six-year old bagsied the top bunk before we headed out, down to the fjord to stretch our train-tired legs.
The sombre evening light amplified the vastness of the landscape, and the silence of a town accustomed to supernova cruise ships exploding with thousands of holidaymakers each day, filling it with bright clothes, chatter and camera flashes, before collapsing in on themselves again, sucking up the sights and souvenirs as quickly as possible before departing.

We walked along the empty jetty, all tidy and geared up for the next day’s swarm, and peered at our shadowy reflections in the steel grey water. The buildings around us spoke volumes; post-war, utilitarian rebuilds that sat incongruent in the engulfing natural environment around them. We talked of what it might have looked like before the Nazis flattened it and took away the art and craft of the place, it’s history, and imposed their own upon it and a homogenous multi-purpose, quick-fit remedy for the people who lived here. We supposed that there would be places around town, further in from the harbour, harking back to those days, but it was late and the six year old was tired, so we headed back to our little room with Seven-Eleven hotdogs, bottles of pop of varying kinds produced by Coca Cola and a large bag of Cheetos, told the six year old not to tell her Nan about the lack of nutrition and went to bed half-full with the aftertaste of irony repeating on us.
Breakfast was a similarly frugal affair; the six year old munched on one of our pre-packed-for-emergencies cereal bars as we thanked the hostel owner and boarded the bus outside the door. Bleary-eyed rucksack carriers trickled in under the low cloud from those unexplored parts of town and boarded the bus, each person sat a seat apart initially, strangers with nothing to say to each other at this early hour, the hum of the diesel engine tempting everyone into a pre-coffee doze with foreheads resting on the windows.
But the journey to Geiranger via Valldal truly is the Golden Route it’s promoted as, and soon had us all talking to each other as we zigzagged up Trollstigen, wondering at the Gudbrandsjuvet ravine and falling silent again at Ørnevegen, taking pictures of each other and stumbling over the places around us in those pre viewing-platform and selfie-taking days.

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