Obviously, the Norway in a Nutshell folk have another surprise up their sleeve – once you disembark the ferry at Gudvangen if you don’t want to hang around, you can head straight for the bus to Voss where you will rejoin the Bergen line.
The bus journey to Voss starts off in traditionally Norwegian style; there are cliffs, clouds ready to be plucked from the air – they’re that close – and waterfalls aplenty. Then the bus turns a corner and due to the wet weather, we were faced with a landscape reminiscent of the the tropics; the clouds clung to the sides of the mountains and dived into the deep valley, making the view recognisably Norwegian yet slightly alien. As one peak sloped downwards into the abyss, another was waiting behind it forming a series of v-shape valleys that ended with a thin strip of land far below that was to be our destination once we’d traversed some mighty hair-pin bends.
The bus driver had to have nerves of steel to get us around the route without turning us into blubbering wrecks. Halfway down this 360-degree view of the valley we approach the widest waterfall since the Flåsmbana that appears as if from nowhere and disappears behind a thick covering of trees. The brain rushes to take in all this information as cameras click to take it all in.
This section of the journey once again reminds me what a phenomenal deal the Norway in a Nutshell ticket is and how easy it is to be part of this glorious landscape. The final part of the tour upon arrival at Voss is a one hour train ride to Bergen. By this point, with brains barely able to register beauty, it is a chance to have a well-earned rest and snooze before hitting the rainy city of Bergen.
Bergen is great. The location, nestled between the water and the cliffs like so much of Norway, offers sublime views wherever you are. The best place to witness this is from up top, so head on the Fløibanen funicular. At NOK 85 return or NOK 43 one way, it is a great way to get one last vista sweeping out below you as well as a chance to go on some great walks around the mountain. Bergen is built up on the bay and the centre of the town juts out into the water. From the top of the mountain you can see the city spread out beneath you, making you realise how reliant Norway is on the parcels of land that aren’t mountainous for habitation. Fun fact! Only 20% of Norway is below 150m above sea level and the average altitude is 500m above the sea. Norway is a geological wonder.
When you’re done up the mountain, Bergen has a clutch of must-see sights to while away an evening. We walked to Klosteret for food and drink and to escape one of the many patches of rain that eternally hang over the city. The cake, a plum sponge, was a work of genius. From there we walked along the harbour with a view opposite of Bergen fortress and the UNESCO world heritage site of Bryggen, notable for burning down time after time yet being rebuilt using old methods, so giving the wharf an ancient feeling that modern building methods can’t replicate. It is brilliant to go inside the Christmas shop and attempt to go up the rickety staircase, leaning at crazy angles, without worrying you will tumble down again. You’ll also find a seemingly endless parade of terrifying dolls to buy for Christmas.
The walk towards Torget, the market, sees the city livening up. The fish market is still bustling and country and western music is blaring out of a pub, with remarkably drunk attendees. Another pub nearby seemed to specialise in the smallest beers known to man at inflated prices, so while it is nice to walk about this area, the costs are not. Just a few streets away from Torget, drinks prices fall down as you leave the hubbub behind you.
We stayed at the Scandic Ørnen near the central bus station for 1225kr for the night. It cost more than the other hotels in our trip but the cooked breakfast was enormous as well as tasty, plus check out was at midday. The very definition of happiness is a midday checkout when the rain is hammering down at 10.30am. And, I’ll be critical of Norway here, but the Ørnen had an actual double bed rather than the bizarre single-beds-shoved-together thing that seems to predominate.
Our last day started at the rather maudlin but engaging leprosy museum. It isn’t every day that you get to read a thorough account of leprosy in a former hospital for victims. It is such a horrific disease that it makes sense that it has become a sort of comedy illness, the sort of thing that doesn’t happen to us. After visiting the Leprosy museum, I can assure you that the true horror of it will stay in your mind.
The hospital chapel is without a doubt one of the saddest places when you think that these people may well have prayed endlessly for their affliction to end, and yet help was not on the way. Before I get too misty-eyed about the sufferers of leprosy, the museum was keen to show us that they were not without sin and many unwanted pregnancies occurred between patients, due to the not entirely sensible decision to house men, women and children all together in a random fashion.
Upon buying the 70kr ticket to the museum, you are given a voucher that entitles you to 50% off other museums in the city. For such a diminutive city, Bergen offers a lot of cultural attractions. My suggestions would be KODE (100kr) for modern art and the Bryggen museum (70kr).
All cultural excursions require coffee and cake and Bergen has a branch of Godt Brød, a chain of bakeries that far exceeds expectations. Words failed me when a cardamom bun the size of the plate turned up. It was simply superb, just like the coffee, all within a stylish interior that is designed to have you lingering over your snack rather than rushing out. Upon finishing the bun, it was time to head to Bergen airport and wave goodbye to Norway.
I didn’t feel too sad because I knew that this would not be my last time visiting Norway. The country has firmly cast a spell on me and armed with the knowledge that Norway is a destination that can be budget-friendly, the perfect holiday of city and country can be had.
If the Norway in a Nutshell tour had me salivating at the beauty on offer, I can only imagine how I’ll react to the northern lights tours, or the Hurtigruten boats around the fjords, or the Lofoten Islands.
Oh Norway, in the words of Louis Walsh on X Factor, you’ve got it all!