Monthly Archives: August 2015

Take A Ride on the Flåmsbana. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200

View from the Flåmsbana

View from the Flåmsbana

Growing up, I had a friend who employed an annoyingly simple strategy when playing Monopoly. Instead of buying every property he landed on, he saved his money to buy the railroads. So while I was off investing in more potentially lucrative sites such as Park Place and Marvin Gardens, he very quietly – and unopposed – would soon have all four railroads under his control; thereby beginning the process of eroding my wealth while I would without fail land on those four spaces or pick up the most dreaded of all Chance cards: Take a ride on the Reading.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but that memory made an appearance when I took a ride on a very different type of railroad – the scenic Flåmsbana – a winding iron trail through some of the most breathtaking views in all of Norway. This was one railroad I was more than happy I had landed on. It didn’t even cost $200.

Getting there

The Flåmsbana starts (or ends, depending on your direction) in the town of its namesake, Flåm – a tiny hamlet at the tip of the lovely Aurlandsfjord in western Norway. From Oslo, it is a solid six hour drive; more if you stop to take pictures (and you will take pictures!) If you’re coming from Bergen, figure on a ride of two or two and a half hours. Many visitors skip the roads entirely, arriving via the numerous cruise ships that pull into this ridiculously gorgeous port nearly a hundred miles from the ocean.

What to do in Flåm

Walking the trails above Flåm

Walking the trails above Flåm

As a cruise port, Flåm’s “business” district centers around a cluster of capacious souvenir stores brimming with troll figurines, viking paraphernalia, and just about any item that you can think of with the word “Norway” stamped across it. Once you’ve got your souvenir shopping done, you can grab a bite in one of a handful of eateries, or sign up for a fjord tour, provided you didn’t get enough of that on your way in. If you’re staying in the area, I heartily recommend taking the ferry one-way to the miniscule village of Gudvangen via the UNESCO World Heritage Naeroyfjord and taking a transfer bus back. I know it’s not a railway, but the scenery is more than worth the deviation.

If you’d rather stay local, starting behind the large Fretheim Hotel at the edge of the fjord, there are a few walking paths that will take you to some strategic lookout points above the town. Like nearly everything else in the Vertical Republic of Norway, there’s a relatively steep incline, but I can assure you that the views will take your breath away even if the climb didn’t.

Riding the Flåmsbana

A Hulda at Kjosfossen Falls

A Hulda at Kjosfossen Falls

The most popular area attraction is the aforementioned Flåmsbana. You can either purchase tickets through a tour operator or directly at the station ticket counter (approximately $55 US r/t). If there’s a cruise ship in port you’d better get your tickets early, lest you have to wait an extended period of time. Though only spanning a length of about 20 kilometers, the route rises some 886 meters, taking nearly an hour just to do so. In that time period, you will be tempted to hop from side to side (space permitting) to snap off pictures of incomprehensibly quaint alpine villages lining crystal-clear rivers, all nestled at the base of towering mountainsides that are literally gushing with waterfalls. Speaking of waterfalls, riders will have a five-minute break at the colossal Kjosfossen Falls to get out, stretch their legs, and in the summertime, listen to the haunting strains of Norwegian folk music blasting while a local blonde in traditional attire dances out in the distance; a tribute to the legendary Hulda – a siren-like woman who would lure men to death in the mountains. Glad I never got that card in Community Chest. I’m sure those guys did not pass Go or collect $200 either.

What to do in Myrdal

The tiny hamlet of Myrdal – a collection of hardy-looking homes perpetually surrounded by snow, even in summer – has little in the way of attractions. I suppose that if you brought your bike along and were a moderate sadist, this would make a good jumping off point for a thrilling yet punishing ride down. But for the majority, Myrdal is a convenient link to the Bergen-Oslo rail line, allowing passengers the chance to ride the Flåmsbana down for a view of the fjords before continuing onward for their Norway in a Nutshell tour. For me, it was a chance to switch seats and prepare myself for a replay of the amazing panoramas on the way back down to sea level.

Picture break on the Flåmsbana

Picture break on the Flåmsbana

Western Norway is a natural wonderland, and a stop in Flåm is more than just an average diversion. Plan on spending at least one night here if traveling by land. If you’re arriving by boat, make sure the Flåmsbana is on your itinerary. It is a rewarding portal to the ruggedly beautiful and inaccessible Norwegian interior, and a lot more memorable than the Reading, Pennsylvania, B & O and Short Line combined. Monopoly or not, the Flåmsbana is a railroad you’ll want to land on, and a destination far beyond anything you’ll find in Community Chest.

Have you taken the Flåmsbana? Share your experience by commenting below.

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The Swedish Chef Was Asian & Other Surprises from Gothenburg, Sweden

Street scene in Gothenburg, Sweden

Street scene in Gothenburg, Sweden

My visit to Gothenburg, Sweden was a brief affair; hardly more than one night of wandering around. But it did serve to dispel some misconceptions. First of all, the chef who prepared my evening meal wasn’t a warbling mass of eyebrows and mustache topped by a puffy hat, but a youngish Asian man. Jim Henson was waaaaaay off the mark. Though, I suppose, his muse for the Swedish Chef wasn’t found in the Thai restaurant where I dined. But besides that revelation, Gothenburg had a few other surprises that are worth mentioning.

The Lay of the Land

Gothenburg is located on Sweden’s west coast, roughly halfway between the Scandinavian capitals of Oslo and Copenhagen. Flying into Landvetter Airport (some 18 or so miles southeast of the city), the visitor will be greeted with a scrolling panorama of forested hills and placid lakes. On the ride into town I was distinctly reminded of Upstate New York with all its rocky bluffs and stately pines. The center is located along the Gota River, a major element of Gothenburg’s role as a shipping port. Ships of all sorts line the quays, constantly coming and going from the chilly North Sea. For the traveler, most sights are walkable in the historic center.

The Center

 Trädgårdsföreningen

Greenhouse in Trädgårdsföreningen Park

Gothenburg Central Station is a classic building just a few blocks off the river. Just a brief stroll around the corner is peaceful Trädgårdsföreningen – an urban park sporting a leafy rose garden and glass greenhouse that hugs one of the many canals that meander through the town. Following the park to the southwest you’ll come across a happening neighborhood of classic-style buildings with intricate facades. At Kungsportsbron you’ll find a number of eateries brimming with patrons in the evening (a tricky time to determine come summertime when the sun just refuses to go down). Continuing the circle back to Central Station you can take in charming urban views. I can’t say it’s anything earth-shattering, but the serene plazas, greenish statues, canal bridges and shopping malls make for a pleasant diversion. A warm summer night in Sweden is not what most people think of, but again, this is all about surprises.

Volvo Museum

Volvo Museum

Volvo Museum

My principle reason for visiting Gothenburg was not for touristic purposes at all. My parents were there to pick up my father’s new Volvo from the factory located on the outskirts of town. With Volvo’s European Delivery Plan, potential customers can order their Volvo from the U.S., receive two tickets to Gothenburg and the opportunity to drive it around Europe before dropping it off at a preset port for shipment back home. Included as well is a factory tour (which due to a technical problem we were unable to take)  a lunch of Swedish Meatballs (no surprise there) and free tickets to the Volvo Museum.

My initial thought was that I’d go along to humor my dad, who was now the proud owner of a shiny new X60. But in this town of surprises, spending an hour in this blatantly self-serving tribute to Volvo-phernalia was far more interesting than I thought. It starts off with a corporate film recounting the company’s origins (for instance, Volvo is from the Latin meaning: I roll) and showcases Volvo vehicles through the ages. There’s also a large section detailing the Volvo Great Ocean Race, a round-the-world sailing contest sponsored by the company. The Louvre it is not, but if you don’t mind a little self-promotion, it’s not a bad way to kill an hour.


While I wouldn’t consider Gothenburg one of Europe’s “must-see” cities, it does offer a few surprises. It is a clean, green city with a small town feel. And if you like Volvos, it is the motherland. I wouldn’t make the trip to Sweden just to see it, but if you’re going to be in the area, you can do worse – regardless of your chef’s nationality.

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