And even more

Train view

And more

And more train views

More train views

More train views

View from train

View from train

In front of Dr. Holms Hotel

In front of Dr. Holms Hotel

On the slopes

On the slopes

Zara and her ski instructor

Zara and her ski instructor

Gold medal winner

Gold medal winner

Train station in Geilo

Train station in Geilo

Downtown Bergen

Downtown Bergen

More train views

More train views

 

We just returned from an excellent four-night visit to Norway for a ski holiday.  This was my first visit to Norway, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

We flew into Bergen, on the west coast, on a flight from Leeds-Bradford via Amsterdam and arrived late afternoon, just in time to get a glimpse of the town before darkness descended.

We had booked a room at the Merken Guesthouse (a top-rated hostel) but at $180 for a room for 4, it was a stretch of the imagination to call this a budget choice.  Welcome to Norway sticker shock.  The Guesthouse was very centrally located, however, and only a 3-minute walk to the train station, which was helpful for our 7:50am departure the following day.   We briefly walked around the neighborhood filled with charming shops and welcoming cafes (although admittedly anyplace indoors looked inviting given the 0 degree Fahrenheit temps) and then ended up at an Indian restaurant (because doesn’t everybody visit Norway to try Indian food?)!

After a decent night’s sleep in our bunk beds, we awoke at 6:30am (which felt like the middle of the long night) and hopped on the train to Geilo, Norway’s oldest ski resort.   The train journey alone would have made the trip worthwhile, as we travelled through stunning scenery of fjords and the Hardangervidda, which is Europe’s highest mountainous plateau.

I’d warned everybody to be prepared for chilly temps, but the -5 Fahrenheit temps as we arrived in Geilo were a shock to any exposed skin.   We stayed at Dr. Holms hotel for easy access to the slopes, although not a budget choice under anybody’s definition.  The hotel was established in 1909 when the train route linking Oslo and Bergen opened and was originally used as a sanatorium for those in need of fresh mountain air.

We didn’t do much exploring of Geilo, although to be honest there wasn’t much to explore other than the ski resort.  Skiing at Geilo felt like going back 40 years in America, to the era of local ski resorts and rope tows.  We didn’t ride a proper chair lift the entire time, instead mastering the button version of the tow lift and coping rather awkwardly with the T-bar style.   The resort operated group ski lessons for children only on Mon – Thurs (the days that did not coincide with our visit) so we had to opt for some private ski lessons. Fortunately, kids under 7 skied free and the lack of crowds meant you could squeeze in a lot of skiing in an hour’s lesson.

Impressions

  1. Can I be Norwegian?  (And I formed this impression BEFORE some Wiki research revealed that Norway (i) has the fourth highest per capita income in the world, (ii) has had the highest human development index ranking in the world and (iii) also ranked highest on the democracy index.
  2. If you’re not Norwegian, you may have to take out a 2nd mortgage and sell a child to afford a lengthy visit.   After the first evening where we paid US$40 for 2 beers and 1 coca-cola, shots of Jagermeister were the only surefire solution to avoid having sticker shock from the après ski bar tab.  (I often found myself wishing that the exchange rate involved more complicated math than dividing the Kroner tab by 5, but even a tipsy brain could manage that.)  The $7 airport water was the priciest water I’ve seen to date.
  3. Ski lifts are for sissies.  Nothing like a rope tow up a 30 degree incline in -5 degree temps to separate the weak from the crazy.
  4. Norwegians do not like mornings (maybe something to do with the Jagermeister at Apres Ski?).   Thus, even with a 9:30am ski lift opening, we were THE first skiers on the mountain.
  5. You really do need an alarm clock to wake up before 8:30am this far north (even if you consider yourself a “morning person”).
  6. Having your ski instructor tell you that your helmet is on backwards is embarrassing.
  7. Having your child act want to act as your ski instructor by day 3 is also a tad embarrassing.
  8. Train travel in Norway is wonderful.  Special “family cars” even include a play area for youngsters and take away the guilt factor if you have a particularly loud child (ah-hem).
  9. Falling so that your knee cap lands on your ski pole REALLY hurts, so much so that ski patrol may need to be called.  Luckily, no permanent damage ensued.
  10. Norwegians all look like triathletes.