Interrail 2005 - On the rails in Scandinavia

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Saturday 26 April 2014

Interrail 2005 - On the rails in Scandinavia

OK, strictly speaking the title of this post is not 100% accurate as we did end up in Switzerland at the end of our 3rd Interrail tour but that is just because of our habit of using up the last few days of our Interrail ticket to cover as much distance as possible.

In 2005 we decided to combine 2 things that we had loved about our previous adventures - Norway and
Back enjoying the outdoor living!
Interrailing. We even managed to persuade some friends to join us for the first week of our trip. With our by now well practiced habit of stuffing lots of heavy clothes into a ridiculously large rucksack with some unbelievably thin sleeping bags for comfort, packing was a breeze. We even upgraded our tent. When we'd cycle toured Norway the previous year we'd taken a tiny single poled tent. This year we got our hands on a new, heavier tent with a porch which we nicknamed 'Badger' because it looked a bit like, well, a badger.

In July 2005 we flew into Oslo airport and pitched for one night in the city while we waited for Phil and Sarah to join us the next day. Our Interrail ticket wouldn't activate for another week so we hopped on a bus heading north almost 300km to Otta on the fringes of the Rondane National Park. There must have been some planning involved in this bus as there was a conveniently situated camping close to the bus station where we stationed ourselves for the next 4 nights.

23, in a river
Camping with friends was a new experience for us, and lots of fun. We entertained ourselves with a combination of doing nothing and walking in the beautiful surroundings, catching local buses into the Rondane national park and then walking back to the camping. As nieve youngsters, we learned the hard way that a warm campsite does not mean it will be mild up in the hills. When we caught our first bus we hopped on in shorts and t-shirts (well Phil and I did anyway). By the time we reached the terminus well into the National Park and about 1000m higher it was freezing. The driver sat and looked at us for a long time, just waiting for us to get back on the bus, but we
were too bloody minded (i.e. stupid) to do that with the driver sat there grinning. Instead we waited until the warm cocoon on wheels had finally chugged off and set off as fast as we could back down the road that we had just arrived on. Eventually it did warm up and we found a cafe selling hot chocolate so all was well again. We were better dressed for our next few hiking trips. We even celebrated my 23rd birthday by having a picnic and which turned into a waterfight in the river running past our campsite!

Magnificent views above Andalsnes
Our next trip with Phil and Sarah took us to Andalsnes 150km away where we spent a couple of nights camping by the Rondalsfjorden and hiking into the surrounding hills. The views were spectacular. From here we caught a boat round to the beautiful Geraingerfjord.

Geraingerfjord and the seven sisters waterfall
Sadly, the day that Phil and Sarah had to leave arrived and our Interrail ticket became active. We took our last excursion on a bus to the famous Trollstigen road, a series of hairraising switchbacks up a
steep cliff, topped off by a visitor centre where you could buy cuddly trolls. Phil and Sarah would pick up a bus south from here, but we were heading north. So we said our goodbyes and left our friends singing "Is this the way to Amarillo" and marching on the spot in the mist outside our bus and headed back to Andalsnes to pick up the train.

Trondheim was our destination, but with our normal level of planning we couldn't find anywhere to stay (within our budget anyway) so we took the most uncomfortable night train in the world instead, heading as far north as the railway would take us at Fauske, almost 1000km from where we had left our friends dancing in the mist. From there it was another 250km on the bus to Narvik where we could pick up the train again. Although the journey was long and exhausting, the scenery was increasingly spectacular, becoming more and more rugged and wild as we got closer and closer to the Arctic circle and then well past it.

Narvik was the furthest north we have ever been. We did consider catching a bus all the way to Nordkapp,the top of Europe, but at almost £100 each and 24 hours on a bus, with no guarantee the weather would be good enough to see the midnight sun we decided not to try.  We did however see the sun set at 11.45pm in Narvik that evening, only to come back up after 30mins or so later.  

Scandinavia is enormous, and our next train journey was another epic, heading east across Sweden aiming for Finland. The map we had in our Lonely Planet guide made it look like the train just crossed the land border at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia - not true. This might have changed in the last 9 years, but when we tried it we found ourselves stuck in a thunderstorm having missed the last bus between the Swedish and Finnish terminus. Having looked for a cheap room (no-one was offering a discount to 2 soaking wet students who promised to leave early and sleep on the floor) we spent the night in "Scanburger". A bit like a cheap McDonalds full of drunk Finnish people. Thankfully after our 3rd burger the staff worked out what was going on and said we didn't have to eat anymore to stay!

The REAL Santa!!
The next day after catching the first bus we could and another train we arrived in Rovaniemi and promptly
Esther at the Arctic Circle
checked into a full price B&B to recover. The purpose of our visit here was to meet the official Santa at his Arctic circle residence. We even had his elfs take our picture with him and sent the photo in Christmas cards to be posted later that year, which is an odd experience in the baking heat of August. He must have been roasting in his full Santa outfit.

Our next leg was back into Sweden (at an appropriate time of day this time!) followed by a night train to Stockholm, one of the most beautiful capital cities we've visited where we spent our time wandering around the town and palace. After 2 nights we headed north again on the famous Inlandsbanen scenic railway which we were pleased to discover our Interrail ticket was valid on. Scenic is a vague word though and there is only so much pine forest you can look at. It was a bit of a relief to arrive at Rattvik, except there was no camping and no other trains leaving that day. After wandering aimlessly a kindly B&B owner took pity and let us camp on her lawn. She even gave us a free breakfast the next day. Sometimes the kindness of others can be found in the most remarkable places.

We moved to a proper camping at Mora and reflected on our journey so far. Sweden and Finland were pretty, but in our opinion not a patch on the Fjords of Norway. So early the next day we picked up the train to Trondheim and then almost dead south through the Jotunheim National Park on an other bus, eventually coming to rest at a camping in Leikanger on the shores of the Sognefjorden, the longest in Norway. Looking at the map now I can see the distances we were covering were huge, but for us the travel was the buzz. Watching the amazing scenery fly past the window for hour after hour.

Contemplating once again in Flam!
Leikanger was a bit of dead end in terms of onward journey, except for a boat which we took to Flam, a tourist hotspot we'd visited the year before on our cycle tour. Other than by boat Flam is normally accessed by a narrow gauge railway running down the valley from the main Oslo-Bergen line almost right to the waters edge. It is an amazing train ride. However, as we'd taken the railway option the year before and were surprised at how much the Flam camping had put up their prices, we indignantly decided to walk up the valley to pick up the main line.

Only 20km to go
After a cursory study of our high inaccurate Lonely Planet map (the one that had left us stranded at Scanburger) we decided it was about 7km to the main railway line. Sure enough, about 7km later there was a signpost telling us that we only had another 20km to go. To put this in perspective, I estimated my pack weight at about 25kg, it was about 9pm and we expected the night train to come through at about 1am. Better crack on then. Despite the sweating and the tired legs, that walk was one of the most beautiful I remember doing and I'd recommend the hike to anybody who enjoys the outdoors. Perhaps it was better because at the time of day we were on the path there was nobody else around, but it was a real magical time.

We did catch the train, disturbing all the other night travellers by getting on with our big heavy packs and then getting off again at about 5am back in Otta where we'd started our journey more than a month before. After a night in Otta and another beautiful nearby hike, it was at this point we decided to see just how much distance we could cover in our last week of our Interrail ticket. Train to
Unexpected trip to Scheveningen Boulevard
Oslo, train to Copenhagen and a small detour to Holland to spend a couple of nights with Esther's grandparents. It had meant only to be 1 night but sitting on the train in Den Haag Centraal Station a bomb scare was announced and all trains were cancelled.  On the plus side more time with Oma and Opa and a trip to Scheveningen. 48 hour later we tried again and successfully and safely caught the night train to Zurich and a final scenic train later trhough the mountains winding past glaciers and we were in St Moritz - a total distance of more than 2000km!
Hiking to summit of Piz Nair

It had been a few years since we'd seen the Alps and were amazed all over again at how high they were. On one day we trekked from our camping to the summit of Piz Nair, climbing more than 1500m to over 3000m at the top. It also got very, very cold at night. As we'd set off with thin summer sleeping bags graded for comfort at about 10 degrees, the 2 or 3 it reached at night was a bit too cold for us. At one point I gave my sleeping bag to Esther in the night and by the time she woke up my lips had gone blue! What a gentleman. On our final night we moved to Arosa where it snowed, in August!
Snowmen in August !?!

To finish our journey we caught another series of trains and a night train to Berlin where we met Esther's parents.  We spent a few days exploring Berlin and seeing the sites on an open tour bus and stopping off to see check point Charlie and explore the Pergamon museum. We celebrated Esther's dads birthday before flying home. We'd covered a lot more distance in this trip than we ever had done before and fallen in love with both Norway and the Alps all over again. 

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