Bergen to Oslo in a Day
Driving across Norway with kids wasn’t the nightmare I had feared. The sights along our drive were awe-inspiring and the unexpected highlight of our trip to Norway. It also helped that we planned numerous stops along the way so we were never in the car more than a few hours at a time. Plus, the kids had the perfectly appropriate Frozen movie to watch on their iPad whenever they lost interest in the spectacular views. With Frozen playing in the backseat and my sleep-deprived pregnant brain, it’s no wonder the Norwegians we encountered along our drive seemed to come right out of the movie.
With three children wide awake since dawn, we easily set out before 9AM. The drive from Bergen back to Oslo was nothing like the train ride from Oslo to Bergen a few days before. Much of our train ride to Bergen had been in darkness. This time, the kids and I would get to experience the route in daylight. We chose the Aurlandsfjellet route, a more scenic route, for the way back that would take us on a path far away from the train tracks.
The Thirsty Troll of Voss and Olaf’s Cross
Voss is Norway’s adventure capital and was our first stop after leaving Bergen. From skiing in winter to high ropes courses, white water rafting, and paragliding in summer—Voss really has it all. But we only had time for a short stop to explore the town and stretch our legs. Best part for my kids? It’s situated along two lakes which just happened to be frozen over when we passed through. Obviously these frozen ‘fjords’ (as they referred to them) were Elsa’s doing and she must be nearby!
Drinking Voss water in front of a Voss sign in Voss seemed like a fabulous idea. While my kids and husband frolicked in the snow I tucked into no less than five stores looking for Voss water. There was none to be found. Turns out Voss water isn’t actually bottled in Voss, but in another town over 100 miles away. Oops. I, of course, told the kids the giant troll we passed must have drank all the Voss water. Silly trolls and their love for expensive Norwegian glass-bottled water…
Since adrenaline-pumping activities weren’t on our agenda for our short jaunt through Voss, we opted to check out the town’s beautifully restored stone church built in 1277. According to legend a pagan temple had occupied the land until the 11th century when Saint Olaf (King Olaf Haraldsen) converted the town’s residents to Christianity. An ancient stone cross dating back to 1023 still stands in the town to commemorate St. Olaf. I was too busy explaining to my confused children that this Olaf was NOT a snowman and forgot to take a picture of the cross.
The Drunken Duke of Weselton in Flam
Our next stop was Flåm Harbor. This picturesque cruise port is situated along the world’s deepest fjord, Sognefjord. The harbor is in a valley surrounded by towering mountains. Cruise passengers and tourists flock to the Flåm Railway located just steps from the harbor to enjoy one of Norway’s most scenic train routes.
As with any good cruise port, multiple restaurants, a tourist information center, souvenir shop, and playground line the harbor. We made the mistake of choosing to eat lunch here. Our unremarkable cheeseburgers and pizza were the most expensive meal we would eat in Norway. But we did meet the Duke of Weasletown—I mean Weselton—while we ate. The tall, slender older gentleman seated nearby decided to introduce himself. He tousled my blonde son’s hair and gushed about how he was obviously descended from Vikings. And then we smelled it. The friendly man wreaked of alcohol. His zipper was down and he was relying on my son’s chair to stand without falling. And despite the language barrier, he was determined to continue the conversation for as long as possible. Where was Anna when we needed her to whisk the Duke away on the dance floor?
A Near-Death Experience Courtesy of Princess Anna at Stegastein Viewpoint
We found Princess Anna shortly after our lunch. While not wearing her characteristic braids, the red hair and spunky personality instantly gave her away. She was working at the Visitor Information Center. Our next stop was Stegastein Viewpoint, just half an hour up the mountain from Flåm, but we knew during winter months sometimes the road can be too icy to drive. She quickly reassured us that the beautiful, sunny day was the perfect time to drive up the mountain and we shouldn’t have any problems.
I was ecstatic about seeing the view from the top of
the North Mountain Stegastein Viewpoint. I reclined my seat and rested my feet on the dashboard as we started our drive towards the mountain. (Sound familiar?) But moments later our lighthearted banter came to a sudden halt. Silence. Except we weren’t listening for wolves about to attack our sleigh. The mountain we were ascending had transformed into a deathtrap. And there was nowhere to turn around. We had no choice but to go all the way up. Kristoff—er, my husband— was visibly angry. I tried to help. Not all the cars whipping past us when the snow-covered road widened had chains on their tires. That’s a good sign, right? But Kristoff wasn’t interested in my attempts to break the silence and reassure him. “I want to help!” “No, I don’t trust your judgment.” We were suddenly living the harrowing scenes from the movie. The route was perilous and there was no turning back. I was thankful my angelic-looking kids were fast asleep in the back and not aware of the stressful tension in the car.
We were definitely on the right path to the North Mountain. We passed dozens of fantastic frozen waterfalls just feet from our car. It was hard to enjoy Elsa’s handiwork, though, when we’d round another icy, snow-covered ledge with no guard rails. Somehow, miraculously, we made it to the top. The view was breathtaking and majestic. But I’m still not sure it was worth the twenty minutes of palpable fear. We descended without incident. And, thankfully, no snow monsters chased us back down the mountain.
Elsa’s Coronation Church (aka Borgund Stave Church)
Less than an hour away was our next stop: Borgund Stave Church. This medieval wooden church is the best preserved of Norway’s two dozen or so remaining stave churches. Construction on the church was completed in 1250 and remains impressively intact over 750 years later. This church clearly influenced the design of Arendelle’s castle and Elsa’s coronation church. If I had researched visiting hours in advance, I would have known it wasn’t open for tours on Sundays. But the view from the outside was still incredible. And my daughter was convinced we were somehow back in Arendelle. Even she could appreciate the architectural similarities.
The one modern aspect of Norway that Disney couldn’t logically incorporate into Frozen is the tunnels. A quicker (and less treacherous) way to traverse Norway’s wealth of mountains is to go through them. And go through them we did. A lot. After ascending one snow-covered mountain we were more than happy to choose tunnels for much of our remaining journey. We even drove though the longest tunnel in the world, Lærdal Tunnel. I made the mistake of building this up to my husband and kids as a highlight of our drive. I’d read something about a cool light display every few miles within the tunnel and thought laser light show. Nope. Just a boring tunnel with quick, 3-second flashes of yellow, sunrise-looking light, between long stretches to break up the monotonous drive. Don’t go out of your way to check out the tunnel if it isn’t already on your route. It really is just a long tunnel.
Our separate travel arrangements to Bergen (husband drove the rental car, kids and I look the train) weren’t the only unorthodox element to our trip. Even though we flew into Rygge, an airport less than an hour from Oslo, we chose to skip the sights of Oslo entirely on this trip. In total, we spent a day on a train to Bergen, a day exploring Bergen, and then our final day exploring Voss, Flam, and other towns along the route back to Oslo. Without stops, the drive should take about eight hours from Bergen to Oslo. With all our detours—planned or just too breathtaking not to stop—it took us a little over eleven hours to get to our hotel in Oslo. But it was worth it. If Bergen was impressive, the sights along our drive were spectacular. And we will be back to visit Oslo, but in the summer when we can properly experience Oslo and it’s incredible waterfront.