Monthly Report, May 2024

One word summary of the month - Norway.

300 kilometres walked, many thousands of photos taken and an awful lot of train, bus and boat kilometres. 

The trip planning started last autumn, when I decided to figure out how to get from southern England to northern Norway without resorting to flying - turns out that it's easy but not very quick

Phase One: Oxford to Oslo  

So, how do you get from Oxford to Oslo without flying? Answer: Buses, boats and trains.  

Coach from Oxford to London, then train to Harwich for the first over-night boat of the month, Stena Brittanica (which is lot bigger than the Northlink boats I use between Aberdeen and Shetland).

After that it is several trains across the dramatically flat north German plain to Kiel on the Baltic Coast.  The journey can be done (relatively quickly) as a joined up journey, but I opted to have overnight stops in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Kiel (none of which I'd visited before).

From Kiel, it's another overnight cruise-ferry (Color Magic - even bigger than the Stena Brittanica) which delivers you into Oslo - the last few hours are a fantastic cruise up the Oslo Fjord.

And the reward for successfully completing Phase One was a couple of nights in Oslo, one of my favourite cities.


Leaving Kiel

Cruising up the OsloFjord

The Opera House, Oslo

Phase Two: Oslo to Kirkenes

This was the easiest part of the entire jaunt.  I started by taking the Bergenbanen, the direct train service across the mountains from Oslo to Bergen.  

And then after spending couple of days touristing in Bergen,  I headed to the Hurtigruten terminal for an evening departure on the MS Richard Witt heading north up the Norwegian coast and on to Kirkenes.  

The MS Richard Witt (named for the chap that started the Coastal Steamer in 1893) is now, like all the Hurtigruten ships part cruise liner and part ferry service.  There are 32 intermediate stops between Bergen and Kirkenes - some as long as 10 hours, and others as short as 10 minutes, and the schedule means that there is one long stop each day on the way north.

This was the second time I've done this journey.  I did in February 2012 on the MS Lofoten, which was definitely less cruise ship, more ferry.  

Over the course of 5 boat days, I was able to spend time on dry land in Alesund, Trondheim, Bodo, Tromso and Honningsvag - in addition to crossing the Arctic Circle (between Trondheim and Bodo) before disembarking in Kirkenes.



Crossing the Arctic Circle


Phase Three: Kirkenes to Oslo

Norway is very long (c. 1800 km or c. 1000 miles)  from north to south - but once you add in the twists, turns and idiosyncrasies of the road or rail networks it feels a lot longer than that.  My challenge was to get back to Oslo without flying.  

In northern Norway there aren't any trains so you have to reply on buses (or boats) for transport.  There are long distance buses but they are occasional, for example the first leg of my journey south was from Kirkenes to Alta - there was a one-bus-a-day route, which left at 06:16, which was a splendid incentive to get up early. 

The first three travelling days were from Kirkenes to Alta, Alta to Narvik and Narvik to Bodo.  There is a train station in Narvik, but it connects to the Swedish railway network - and there isn't really any way to rejoin the rest of the Norwegian rail network.

One of the highlights of this stage of the journey was being able to join in with Norwegian National Day celebrations while I was in Narvik - marking the day (in 1814) when Norway declared independence. 

Having made it to Bodo (another all day bus journey from Narvik) trains again became an option - even if they were on slow single track lines, high-speed trains don't feature strongly on the Norwegian train timetables! I split the journey back to Trondheim at Mo i Rana over two days mainly because i wanted see how Mo had changed since my first visit there in 2004. The big changes in Mo (as in most of the towns in northern Norway) seem to have involved building more shopping malls and more hotels!

And after a couple of nights in Trondheim, the final leg of this phase of the journey was down the Rorosbanen into Oslo.  

This phase of the journey could have been done in 5 days (three on buses, two on trains) - but I opted to do it over 9 days so I had some time to explore the towns en route (and get a bit of exercise!).


National Day in Narvik



Phase Four: Oslo to Oxford

I could have just done the reverse of the outward journey - but that seemed too easy.   

So I opted for the trains all the way to London. 

From Oslo to Gothenburg (for another two night stop, my one previous visit involved just changing trains), then to Copenhagen (where I did just change trains this time) and Hamburg, before heading to Brussels and the Eurostar back into London (and the Oxford Tube back to Oxford).





It is perfectly possible to get to Norway from London (or indeed from anywhere else in Europe) and to tour the country by public transport (and without flying).  But it does take time, particularly if you want to also add in time to explore the places you're passing through.  I think I got the balance between travelling and touristing days about right.

I bought the boat and train tickets in advance, and had prebooked the hotel accommodation too - the buses were pay as you go. And everywhere takes (and almost all insist on) credit cards - including the buses. The only times I needed cash were in one restaurant (in Hamburg) which didn't take cards at all, and on one train buffet car where the card machine stopped accepting foreign cards.

Would I do the trip again? Yes absolutely - I might rethink the journeys between London and Oslo - but otherwise would repeat the trip.  I'm sure I'll be back on the Norwegian trains, boats and buses again before too long.

But first, it's time to head to the far north of Scotland.

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