Thursday, 15 July 2010

The world outside Manchester part 3 - The Oslo to Bergen railway

The Oslo to Bergen railway links Norway's two biggest cities, a journey through nearly 8 hours of eyes-glued-to-window scenery of fjords and mountains. As the train leaves the suburbs of Oslo behind, rich green forests spread quickly over the landscape. Coming up close to the train lines, thin trunks look like sticks, as if they could be picked up and snapped in half but, as they climb up the hills, the rows of tree tops give the feathered, soft appearance of a shag pile carpet so dense that, if a giant hand was to appear and grab a handful of trees, it would be as noticeable as plucking one strand from a head of hair. The fjords are seemingly endless, beating the train into the distance, dark blue, glossy expanses with a slightly rippled sheen like fabric pulled tight.

As the train leaves the outlying towns behind, the landscape gets more and more barren, almost desert-like. It dims to khaki, with mossy, lime green rocks strewn across the floor, and the trees thin until the hills evolve into bald mounds, veined with the patterns of rock. Electricity lines swinging across the hills are the only sign of man, aside from small, scattered huts clinging to the rocks with withered Norwegian flags blowing in the breeze. The fjords become choppy, splitting into streams and waterfalls and rivers and the colour of the fjords changes as frequently as the sun goes in and out. Sometimes, the water is so clear and turquoise blue it looks as if it's been dyed the colour of animal pools at the zoo, with blue and green waves swirling at the shore, and frothing where they catch on rocks. Sheer cliff faces end in deep black water whilst others lead nowhere, stopping suddenly as if someone's roughly snapped the bottom off.

Snow starts criss-crossing the hills, appearing in primitive shapes like chalk carvings, and mountains break though puffs of cloud. In mid July, they're still snowy on top. The train rattles through long tunnels, contained by wooden snow sheds on steep ledges, gaps in the wood offering fragments of what's going on outside. The train enters into a tunnel in sunshine and, when it emerges, the sky is grey and still as if a curtain's come down and is just hanging there. At Myrdal, we're allowed out to stretch our legs and the whole air is wet and chill like it's made of raindrops.

Then, suddenly, the landscape is tame again. The water pales to dark calm green and silver. Valleys reveal rolling farmland with sheep lazing in the sun, and children wave from houses. Some passengers have slept through the whole journey, or had curtains pulled across the window — they do it on a regular basis, saying that although you can fly, by the time you've traveled to the airport it's just as cheap and easy to get the train. I don't see how it's a journey of which you can ever tire — just as dramatic as the landscape is the speed at which it changes, even just across the course of a few miles, without taking into account the seasons or even the changing qualities of light at different times of day — I'd love to see the journey again in the winter months when everything is ice and snow.

1 comment:

agogo said...

Superb writing!