I just got back from spending a lovely few days in Kirkby Stephen with Ben. We squeezed a lot of activity into four days, and some of the highlights are below.
Platform Cottage – I was fortunate to find this cottage at Kirkby Stephen station available at just a few week’s notice. I was staying there for the second time, after an earlier adventure in 2021. The station buildings have been divided up into three holiday lets. This time we were in the smaller Platform Cottage, but the experience was much the same – a cosy living room and bedroom, with a fully-fitted kitchen and all the home comforts. Once you get used to a train pulling up at the station every 2 hours and having passengers streaming past your living room window, it was a very pleasant experience.
Unexpected bonus was a library of books provided for our reading pleasure. Ben contented himself with a book of Ned Sherrin anecdotes, while I was pleased to find this book of interviews with some of Britain’s finest 20th century comedy writers, everyone from Spike Milligan and Denis Norden to Victoria Wood and, er… Chris Evans. I was sorely tempted to steal it.
We were exemplary guests – I even went through all the streaming apps on the smart TV that the previous visitors had forgotten to sign out of, and did it for them.
My Norwegian adventures came to an end, and I had to return to Brexit Island. The journey to the airport and the flight home was uneventful, and a few hours later I was touching down in Manchester Airport, where I was greeted with the usual welcome: a long, slowly-moving passport queue. Great first impression of the UK for visitors, WELL DONE.
Despite the problems I had along the way, it was overall an amazing trip. Norway is a beautiful part of the world, and I was glad to spend a week there sampling some of what it had to offer. Bodø in particular was a lovely surprise – a charming town with plenty to do and see.
I have to give Railbookers their due – they gave a refund for the non-running sleeper train and the cancelled Northern Lights tour without any quibble. I’m not sure, given the number of emails and phone calls I had to make to book the trip in the first place, whether a specialist tour operator required less effort than just booking the different parts of the trip separately online. On the other hand, you do have that all important ATOL protection, which may be an important consideration for some.
I’m hoping to travel extensively in 2023. Will I be going back to Norway again? Maybe not next year, but I think I will be heading to Scandinavia again sooner rather than later. Wherever I go, it will be blogged in excruciating detail – watch this space!
As fun as the sleeper train was, the lack of shower facilities and a proper breakfast meant that I was not really set up for the day. I felt hungry, a bit grungy and – to be honest – I could have used an extra hour of sleep. I had one more day in Oslo, but I was not relishing exploring the city in this state.
I trudged to my hotel, the same one I had stayed in a few days earlier, to ask if they would store my luggage until my room was ready in the afternoon.
“We actually have a room available now, sir. Would you like to check in early?”
WOULD I?! Dare I ask if breakfast is still being served?
“You would have to pay extra for it, but yes it is available.”
BEST. NEWS. EVER.
It was a bog-standard hotel breakfast buffet, but it might have been the best meal I ever had.
I then retreated to my room for a lovely nap, followed by a luxurious hot shower. I was in heaven.
I sat in the waiting room at Bodø station alongside a few other souls who had turned up way too early for their train. A charming little display of historical railway memorabilia harked back to an earlier era. The present-day station is a modern affair, with two tracks for passenger trains either side of an island platform, and a small freight yard.
I was leaving Bodø behind to return to Oslo, a journey which would see me on the rails for 18 hours or thereabouts. The first leg of the journey would last just under 10 hours and take me to Trondheim for an onward connection to Oslo.
My journey would take in the full length of the Nordlandsbanen, the 450-mile route that winds its way through northern Norway to Trondheim. I was pleased to be on a train this time, unlike my rail replacement bus experience a few days earlier.
September 19th, and over in the UK, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was being laid to rest. A queue had snaked across London to view her lying-in-state, and there was no escaping the news, as TV channels cleared their schedules for the funeral coverage.
In far-off Norway, I couldn’t let unfortunate events back home spoil my holiday, so pressed ahead with my plans.
I did have the TV on in the background while getting ready that morning. The only English-language channel in my hotel room was Sky News, which was in full funeral mode, so I didn’t linger there long. Norwegian television had found its own angle, with late 90s boyband A1 being asked about the Queen on TV2’s breakfast show. It wasn’t a tenuous connection at all: Ben Adams met the Queen once when he was a choirboy at Windsor Castle, so there.
The next morning, I pulled back the curtains of my hotel room, and was greeted with a beautiful sight.
No, not my reflection, but the view from my window was pretty special.
I tore myself away from that panorama, and left the hotel to explore. I didn’t do much research before my trip, and I expected Bodø to be a quiet little village, tucked away and isolated. Not a bit of it – Bodø was a bustling town.
I headed straight for the ticket office at Trondheim Sentral and enquired about the sleeper train to Bodø.
“They are all cancelled this weekend,” said the friendly woman on the information desk. “Engineering work is taking place.”
So this ticket I have, is for a train that does not exist?
“Yes, you will need to take it up with your booking agent.”
Oh, don’t worry. I WILL.
I rolled up my proverbial sleeves and dialled the travel agent, thankful that my mobile provider still offers European roaming at no extra charge.
There was a long phone call, which involved extended periods on hold. The woman at the travel agent was very helpful and apologetic, but could only come up with one option: instead of the sleeper train, I would be on a rail replacement bus departing at 8am and taking 11 hours to reach Bodø.
To be fair, they also arranged an extra day’s hotel stay in Bodø, but on the downside, I would have almost no time in Trondheim. I would have to leave early the following morning, rather than spending most of the day there and leaving by train in the evening.
Next morning I was at Oslo Sentral bright and early – well, early, anyway – for the next phase of my trip. Exploring Oslo was all well and good, but the purpose of this trip was TRAINS! So I was happy to be back on the rails again.
Oslo Sentral is a typical European railway terminus. In other words, it’s a giant shopping mall with the trains almost an afterthought amidst the branches of Starbucks.
I found my platform for the 08:02 to Trondheim, which was operated by an offshoot of the Swedish state-owned railway operator, SJ.
In the afternoon I set out to visit a couple of Oslo’s museums.
First, the Nobel Peace Centre. Oslo is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, awarded every year at the City Hall. This museum, located near the harbour, commemorates Alfred Nobel, the prize and its previous winners.
It was interesting to read about Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, who allegedly was inspired to create the Nobel Prize because he did not want his legacy to be the death and destruction wrought by explosives.
I had a full day in Oslo to explore, but I was far too lazy to do my own research on what to see, so instead I joined a Free Walking Tour of Oslo. I duly arrived at “The Tiger Statue” in Jernbanetorget, outside the main railway station, on Thursday morning.
Our tour guide, Daniel, introduced himself. There was a large group of people from many different countries, but thankfully, no “get to know each other” bit at the beginning, which always feels supremely awkward for me on these tours.