The railway that links Bergen with the Norwegian capital Oslo is said to be one of the most spectacular in the world, offering incredible views as it carves through the mountainous landscape in the heart of the country.
But with rain falling heavily in Bergen and the clouds low over the city, we weren’t going to have the best of conditions to appreciate those views as we began our three-hour trip to the ski resort of Geilo.
Travelling in Komfort Class, we left Bergen through what felt like the longest rail tunnel in the world and soon found ourselves amid the suburbs and fjords. We passed a suspension bridge and a small church with its graveyard nestled on the water’s edge.
At times low clouds obscured the view but when it cleared and the sun shone briefly, I could see how the rail line had earned its reputation, with fjords by the dozen and soaring mountains covered in snow that towered over us. We hugged the water for much of the time and for the first hour or so spent long stretches of the journey in tunnels. It wasn’t all pretty either – at Vaksdal a giant power station dominated the view. Part of it was fairly modern, but older parts built in the gothic style looked oddly out of keeping in an industrial building.
As we powered further inland, the towering, sheer mountains and deeply-carved valleys spoke to the immense geological forces that had created the landscape. But later it softened, the snow got thicker and the weather switched between sunshine and blizzards, which at times created white-out conditions. There were frozen lakes and what I imagined were farmhouses lost in the deep snow drifts. Were these lone places and the scattered hamlets we passed every now and again inhabited during the winter? If they were, I couldn’t even begin to think how tough life would be for their owners amid the frozen desert.
At Finse station I spotted a monument to Captain Scott and his men who died on the Antarctic expedition of 1912. It was in and around the village that the South Pole team trained for the trip, and we later learned that it was where George Lucas filmed scenes for The Empire Strikes Back.
It was sunny as we arrived in Geilo, the white ski slopes picked out amid the trees on the valley sides. The Dr Holms Hotel was a short walk (or slide) away on ice-packed roads and paths, lined by snow several feet deep.
The hotel proved to be a very different kettle of fish to the Radisson in Bergen – much more traditional, old-fashioned and Alpine in style. But our room was basic, tatty in places and something of a let down. We dumped our stuff and went for a quick walk round in the bitter cold, finding that Geilo’s centre was a modern set of shopping blocks and underground car parks. It was never going to win awards for charm.
We sought out somewhere to eat but the village was as dead as a cemetery, with several places closed on a Monday night. We plumped for a restaurant with a menu that ranged from Turkish to pizza via a host of other cuisines, which is always a bad sign if you’re looking for quality. They weren’t serving alcohol either thanks to some issue with the paperwork. So we ploughed through a giant stodgy pizza and went in search of a bar, only to be thwarted in that quest too.
Geilo was already proving a disappointment. My mood darkened as we arrived back at our hotel, where I’d had cause to complain about a dog in the neighbouring room barking endlessly. To top it all, we’d arrived in the thick of Norway’s school holidays. Kids, some of them pretty obnoxious, rampaged around the corridors and I nurtured dark thoughts of inflicting pain on them.
We drank expensive beers in the quiet hotel bar while I began to fear that this holiday was heading for the rocks.