Listening to Hippoplonia, by Sigur Ros, while on the Expressboat to Flam, Norway.
This was a religious experience.
While there is no wrong way to get to Flam from Bergen, meaning any combination of train, boat, car, biking or hiking will be a breathtaking and memorable journey, taking the NORLED Expressboat, for us, was a five-hour onslaught of beauty, peace, wonder and spirituality.
We took the early boat that departs from Bergen at 8am and arrives in Flam just past 1pm. By design, we were staying literally next door to the departure docks at the Admiral Hotel, which we highly recommend for both its location and its unbeatable panoramic view of Bergen’s Bryggen district. We were easily able to walk, with luggage, to the boat by 7:30am. While we weren’t the first to board, there was plenty of open seating and room to store our luggage.
Now, here is the important part. It was amazing to see how many people found there seats inside and proceeded to sit there with their heads buried in their phones or sleeping for a large portion of the trip. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? How many times in your life do you get to see the Norwegian Fjords from this aquatic perspective? Here is what I recommend:
Find two good seats inside, and put your backpack or something down so you do have a place to sit inside if the weather gets bad or if you want to take a short break from the wind/weather. I did probably spend about an hour of the trip inside. There are large windows throughout the cabin so you can still see what’s going on, it’s just significantly less dramatic seeing the views go by from the inside. We had our valuables in our suitcases, so we were fine leaving our backpacks at our seats, but we were sure to take our headphones so we could listen to music while enjoying the passing scenery. Obviously music is fiercely personal, and I’m sure any playlist would marry well with the beautiful landscapes, but I was enjoying a set of largely emotional songs typically heard during the climatic scene of a movie. I also had a little Enya mixed in, which made the trip very meditative and relaxing. While every song increased my enjoyment of the ride, the best moment was yet to come.
At the back of the boat is a large deck where most people assemble. There are a couple of large white storage bins, most likely for keeping life vests, that are set back along the windows of the cabin right by the doors. They make for the most coveted seat on the ship as you have a great view and the rest of the back deck is largely standing room only! You’ll be outside, you’ll be able to see everything you pass slowly fade into the distance, but you’ll also be largely sheltered from the wind and sitting comfortably. Once one of us was able to secure a spot, we took turns sitting while the other would be free to walk around the back deck, rest for a bit inside, get a snack, find the restrooms, or venture up to the front of the boat.
We were mesmerized by the slow landscape transformation from inhabited archipelago to open waterway to sparse and surprisingly rocky foothills to, finally, spectacularly, incredibly, as if opening up guarded doors to another world, the Norwegian Fjords.
It can only be done in short bursts, due to the frigid wind, even in mid-summer, but the most spiritual moments of the journey are when you venture to the front deck of the ship. We had partly cloudy skies and generally pleasant weather, as we were traveling in July, but the wind whipping off of the water as we propelled forward across the water was overpowering. The two-person wide sliver of standing-room that makes up the front deck of the boat went from crowded to nearly deserted about 30 minutes into the trip as more and more people sought shelter inside the boat or on the back deck.
About 2 – 2.5 hours into the trip, there is a short section where the boat traverses a few relatively narrow passages. The foothills were getting larger and I remember thinking that the brown, rocky land we had for a stretch was starting to fade into green again. I had learned at this point that the only way to survive the front of the boat is to have a beanie with headphones on to hold it in place, to wear my larger, sport sunglasses that covered more of my face, and to put my windbreaker on over my sweater. I bundled up, gave myself a pep talk, and ventured up to the front of the boat.
As it turned out, I was the only one braving the wind at that point, and despite the crowd of people sitting comfortably inside just behind me, it felt like I was alone on the water. The boat made a right turn as it came out of the section of islands it was traversing and the first real fjords came into view. It was about 10-10:30am, and we were heading toward the sun, so my camera was ineffective at capturing the majesty. However, to my eyes, the sun reflected a white, heavenly aura across the water and draped the imposing fjords in shadow. At that moment, the song Hippoplonia, by Sigor Ros, flooded in through my headphones, and I was mesmerized.
It could easily have been the cold wind whipping around my sunglasses, but I had teared up. It was that rare moment of self-actualization and appreciation of life. I was surrounded by nature not of this Earth, flying across the water, seemingly alone, cold, engulfed in blues and greens and shimmering light, with the snowcapped fjords on the horizon and the emotional and melodic Hippolplonia providing the soundtrack. It was a moment I will never forget. It is why I travel.
The early part of the trip is sticks close to the shoreline with lots of quaint boathouses and lovely cabins.
I was surprised to reach a stretch of rocky terrain that almost looked like something out of the Mediterranean. It eventually turned more and more lush and green as we got closer to the fjords.
As we made our way through the islands and narrower stretches, we made a turn and the fjords were presented in all their majesty. As I said, the pictures don’t do it justice as the sun was in my face, but I’ll never forget this moment. I think of this now every time I hear Hippoplonia.
The back of the boat has some wind, but is much more pleasant than the front.
The front of the boat is an adventure.
Once you reach the fjords, no matter where you sit on the boat, you’ll be amazed.