Winter in Norway: Flam Fjords & Haunted Mountains

In the morning we bid goodbye to Bergen to hop a train to Flam. It took 20 minutes to drag our rolling suitcases over the slippery cobblestone and extra narrow sidewalks. I cringed as I listened to the flimsy plastic wheels smack the ground and echo off the stone buildings. A taxi would have been cheaper than the suitcase replacement I may end up needing.

Most trains in the country operate through Vy, and I recommend booking directly for the best price (avoid Rail Ninja…they’re a rip off). Much like Switzerland, the trains are super clean and comfortable, and operating in snow is a non-issue. The beginning of our journey gave us little to see except for a dark and hazy sky with faint outlines of mountains. It looked mythical, the way the snow began to shine through the pre-sunrise haze in the faintest way. By half-past nine, the horizon lightened and revealed the swirling tundra of winter beyond our window. Little houses sat all alone among bright white hills, many with heart-shaped rings of string lights hung on the exterior walls. As the sun slowly rose in the lower part of the sky, the landscape began to resemble the gingerbread village we’d seen a few days before. At times the rays looked like a puff of light smoke pushing its way over a swath of mountain. It wasn’t the orange glean I was used to. Frosty water runs alongside the train tracks, and the smaller vehicle roads were so covered in thick ice that they looked like skating rinks. I shudder to think about what it’s like to drive in these rural lands. The glare in my windowpane meant I had few photos of the view, just a memory of a landscape that looked like a collection of Christmas towns.

All Vy trains stop in Myrdal, a town that’s inaccessible by roads and so it has no residents. Here we transfer to the Flamsbana, a 1-hour scenic train ride on an old, super steep set of tracks that ends in the town of Flam. In wintertime, this normally mobbed tourist route is almost empty, and we were free to hop from seat to seat as the view outside the train’s windows shifted. The sunlight began to kiss the very tops of the mountains, which tower over the train tracks with massive walls of snow. There was a hint of that familiar orange glean. Behind them was a sheet of bright blue sky, the second time this trip that we’d gotten a surprise swath of sun, but this time it was in the middle of nowhere. It felt like riding on the Hogwarts Express.

We arrived in Flam, where a friendly train conductor encouraged us to visit the free museum “in the yellow building next to the train station”. Spoiler alert, it was the only building. Hours: 1:30pm-5:30pm. We were too early. Immediately I noticed that instead of snowplows, the town of Flam uses dump trucks. It makes an awful scraping sound against the sidewalks, which are frozen into solid ice like a giant lake. Even the chunks of salt they had scattered to avoid slipping had frozen into the ground like salt freckles.

We stayed at the Freiheim hotel, the only available accommodation in town that night. Because our fjord cruise had been cancelled in Bergen the day before, we booked a last minute cruise from Flam for the afternoon, and snuck in a shuttle ride to the Stegastein viewpoint just before it. Nothing in Flam is more than a few minutes’ walk, so we had no concerns about our cozy timeline. It’s rare to have a day packed with activities and yet so little stress, especially for somebody who is anxiously early to everything.

The little shuttle bus met us in town and then drove us up above the fjords towards Stegastein viewpoint, along a steep and narrow road full of switchbacks that was barely suitable for 2-way traffic. At the top is a long walkway that overlooks the water. The mountain peaks were an untouched white, like a tundra in the sky. The light danced over their various dips and juts, moving their shadows. In the winter, you have the place to yourselves. Just a handful of other shuttle riders were competing for photo space, slipping and sliding on the icy paths. Nobody was hiking or picnicking. There was no rush at the peaceful summit.

Our fjord cruise was scheduled for 3pm, the only time we had available. We were worried about what it would be like with a sunset around 3:30 or 4pm. The afternoon light was soft, forgiving. The blue sky quickly dimmed to a cool denim. Only a few dozen people joined our cruise, making the large boat feel almost empty as it began its journey. I spent most of the time outside on the massive icy deck, even as others had given up and run indoors for warmth. The cold didn’t bother me. I lingered there alone, comforted by the frost on my face. We moved quietly between the towering peaks at our sides, and eventually the moon emerged, shining onto the fjords while there was still a hint of daylight left. Could I see that in the summer? The hills were colored in white and slate, and the arctic air on my face was like a hug. Sometimes the snowy tips of the mountains looked endless, like there was no space between them and the edge of the sky, whatever that means. I felt so small beside these very vast things. These timeless, beautiful beasts.

The boat drifted so slowly that you could barely hear the motor. We approached a whisper of a village called Undredal, tucked neatly at the crease between two hills. Because of ice in the fjords, we couldn’t reach our final destination, and had to drop some passengers off here to take a shuttle. Katie and I, returning to Flam anyway, stayed onboard with exactly 9 other people. As the passengers dismounted in Undredal, I could hear nothing except the creek of the boat dock. A tiny white church sat in the center of the village. An empty pub with dark wooden tables hovered over the water. A few lights sprinkled the way to a lone home on the hilltop. I stayed out there in the arctic breeze, and watched the town get tinier as we pulled away. Then just like that, it was swallowed from view by the mountain. But for a moment, I was there in that so very tiny, sleepy, away place. Standing on a still dock and tasting the ice in the air. Protected from everything, findable by nobody. I craved it before it was even gone from some place deep and instinctual, somewhere long into the past. As the night blanketed the fjord, I drifted with it. And I was home.

Out my window that night was a black mountain. I could still see a bit of snow, but the outline was like a giant above my room. I pushed my head past the frame a few inches and right into the brisk cold. So cold that it knocks your breath away. It was a comfort how it shocked my body. Just like the mountain air out on the water earlier, in the belly of the fjords. It was so quiet, and I was instantly emotional. I touched the chilly windowsill to help me remember its detail. Detail from a moment that I dreaded to move from. I could drown in the peace of this nighttime mountain time. I needed it so much. I craved it before it was even gone.

3 thoughts on “Winter in Norway: Flam Fjords & Haunted Mountains

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  1. Fantastic scenery beautifully described. The peace through lack of people must have made that cruise even more special. (Btw, we’re on our Glacier Express trip and are in Zermatt just now if you want to check out our posts so far….I remember how much you enjoyed this!)

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