My holiday with Great Rail Journeys Arctic Circle Express 15th - 31st August
Travelling with Travel Marvel
By Margaret Quail and her daughter Carolyn Quy
On Thursday 16th August 33 of us joined our Tour Director Margaret for drinks and dinner. With an American couple, 5 couples from Great Britain, including a Lord and Lady no less and 27 Aussies.
We were taken on a coach and walking tour of Stockholm and later had free time to explore at our leisure. A Royal Canal tour of Gamla Stan (the old town), Royal Palace, City Hall, all looking so fresh in the brilliant sunshine.
We departed Stockholm on the Intercity train for our 5 ½ journey north to Ostersund on Lake Storsjon, Sweden's 5th largest lake. After an early start we commenced our journey on the Inlandsbanan Tourist train through landscapes of lakes and forests to the untamed wilderness of Swedish Lapland. A lunch stop gave us the opportunity to try a local delicacy – Moose stew … mm? The end of the line saw us transfer into a coach.
Next stop was a visit to a Sami village where we were given a taste of local tea and dried reindeer strips. The weather being cool we were happy to be taken inside the wooden lavuu (or tipi) to sit around the fire on reindeer hides listening to the story of the Sami people. The most exciting part was being allowed into the enclosure with the reindeer herd. They all stood quietly on the opposite side of the pen until our man attempted to lassoo one. In their attempt to get away they all ran towards us, running in between the group using us as shields. What an experience AND it was my birthday, what a memory. Back on the coach for the drive to Arjeplog and our hotel, that sat proudly on the top of the hill we hadfantastic views over the town and surrounding lakes. Another delicious dinner awaited us.
The following morning we departed at 10am for our 3 hour journey to lunch on the Arctic Circle. Photos were taken of us “jumping” over the line of the Arctic Circle.
And after the hop step or jump, we were all issued with certificates to prove it.Continuing on we arrived at Jokkmokk with enough time for a walk around the lake before dinner. The following day a leisurely morning gave us time to look around the small town before we were takento the station Gallivare for our 5 hour trip on the Ofoten Railway. The scenery was fantastic as we passed dramatic fjords and sheer drops as the line snaked its way through the mountains and down to the port of Narvik in Norway to check into our hotel and dinner for the night.
After a relaxing evening we joined our coach and made our way following the coastline, over high mountainsbefore crossing on a ferry for a 25min cruise. Our stop at Sorfold gave us time to stretch our legs and take photos of the magnificent waterfall, the roar of the water and spray wetting all those nearby.Off again to Fauske where we boarded our train the “Nordlandsbannan”. After about 1 hour the train slowed and the driver sounded the horn to indicate we were again crossing the Arctic Circle markedby a stone cairn by the track.
The views were amazing with low cloud and mist over the lakes and waterways giving great photos shots. After a long day we arrived at our hotel after 8pm to enjoy a late buffet dinner at 9pm.
Today the drive along “The Golden Road” took us along the rugged coastline of Norway. Our driver took us up a very steep road ts give us fantastic view of the rugged shore and tidal river below before taking us on to the National Culture Centre in Stiklestad. After lunch we were taken on a guided tour of the village and battle site where the Viking King Olaf 11 was killed. A stone church built around 1150-1180 and altered over the years until 1722 dominates the site. It is now used as the local Lutheran Church. The scenery changed as we traveled south to Trondheim with snow covered mountains dominating the skyline. We stayed in a hotel about 4 miles out of town due to a Fishing Festival, the largest in Scandinavia booking out the hotels there.We enjoyed a free day here and got to explore the town itself. Our coach took us into the town where we spent time in the Cathedral of Nidersosdomen which dominated the skyline. Not only a place of worship but full of history. A short walk took us to the Nidelva River where old bright coloured warehouses line the water, and something not to be missed, as most are now converted to upmarket accommodation. A “free” dinner was given us at the hotel in town.
Our drive to the station of Dombas took about 2 ½ hours. This was a very pretty village with fantastic views from the path which lead down to the village itself. The bright green hillsides and valleys dotted with farmhouses had us taking many photos as we climbed back up the steep path.
The train departed just after 12md and traveled along the spectacular 71 mile long Rauma railway line. Lovely colored houses dotted the way as we wound our way down into the valleys with high cliffs on either side. At Andalsnes we rejoined the coach, climbing up the high mountain on a very narrow road, negotiating 11 hairpin bends
With mist, rain and a beautiful rainbow shining across the valley, it was more photo opportunities. At the top we left the coach to take in the view of the road that our great driver had brought us, we stood on a bridge over the falls watching the water rush towards the edge to then plummet over and fall all the way to the valley below. Ahead the road snaked its way down where we crossed over on the car/ferry to the other side to climb more hairpin bends. At one corner a young driver had to reverse to allow our coach to pass, not a pleasant experience for her! The little town of Geiranger was a welcome sight situated at the end of the fjord where we spent the next 2 nights.From our room our view was toward the mountain with the waterfall dropping from the cliff above to continue its way past the hotel, rushing down the steep hill into the fjord. At 11.30 am we left for a 90 minute boat cruise along the Geirangerfjord, a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage listed area with snow covered peaks, waterfalls and on a careful look tiny farmhouses could be seen high up on the steep slopes. How they managed to get there is amazing.The free afternoon allowed us time to “shop” then climb the 230 steps up the stairs beside the raging waterfall to our hotel right at the top. Time allowed a quick swim in the indoor heated swimming pool followed by a dip in the outdoor pool with rain tumbling on us. What a view from the pool, looking out onto the fjord below.
Climbing the steep mountain road above the hotel, at 9 am, we could look back towards the little village and fjord disappearing into the distance as the road twisted and turned. The area was now quite barren, but wooden huts were built for skiers during the winter season.
A special treat for us was a stop at the top of Geiranger sky walk, Europe's highest fjord view from a road. The sight was awe inspiring. It was cold and windy with light snow falling on us as we took our photos, enough to chase us back to the bus very quickly. Under grey skies we set off again to Stryn beside another lake, for a short stop for lunch before continuing our journey to visit an ancient Stave Church still standing intact after 9 centuries. It has been preserved over the centuries using tar to paint the whole structure. From there we travelled through the longest road tunnel in the world, a distance of 24 kms, to arrive at our hotel in Flam at 6.30 pm, with dinner at 7pm.
Another early start, but everyone is excited for the ride on the Flam railway. From the valley floor, up into the mountains along one of the steepest rail lines in the world, beside deep ravines, rushing waterfalls and steep slopes with the line twisting and turning and passing through 18 tunnels built by hand inside the mountain. What an amazing feat of engineering. The train stopped at a platform overlooking a massive waterfall with a free fall of 93 metres at a place named Kjosfossen. On our return journey we stopped again at the falls where music played and dancing nymphs appeared on the rocks beside the falls. Back in Flam we had time to fill in before boarding the express boat at 3.15pm sailing through Sognefjorden the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. As the journey took over 5 hours some of our fellow travellers took the opportunity to catch up with some sleep, many taking photos of the amazing scenery as we navigated the narrow passageways of the fjord. A very late arrival in Bergen saw us heading for our evening meal at 10pm!
A cloudy overcast day greeted us as we set off for our guided tour of the city. We made our way along the Bryggen Waterfront into the city's old Hanseatic trading wharf now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. After our tour we had the rest of the day to ourselves but unfortunately the rain became heavier. With rain tumbling down we took the funicular up to Mount Floyen to look at the misty view of the surrounding hills, town and fjord, but still worth the ride.
We woke to clear blue skies today so took the opportunity to wander the town and take clearer photos. Our final bus ride was to the station where our train departed at 11.59 precisely. The Bergen railway is Europe's highest line. It climbs and passes over some remote and barren ares which become very popular ski fields in the winter time. During summer locals and tourists use mountain bikes as well as to hike the area. On the descent into Oslo the train passed through valleys and pastures before arriving in the city 7.20pm. Our Farewell dinner gave us time to thank our Tour Manager Margaret and say “goodbye” to the remaining fellow travellers, some leaving early in the morning others staying on.
With another couple, Carolyn and I had a very early pick up to the airport for our departure to London Heathrow.
To Great Rail Journeys, Travel Marvel and Jenny Cooper at Queanbeyan City Travel I give a big “Thank you”. I would recommend this tour to anyone who loves trains.