The Northern Railway

Featured - The Northern Railway

Norway

Initial idea!

I had returned from spending 60 days exploring Asia, I was bored and lonely so decided to plan a micro-adventure. It was to be something cheap and simple, but different from anything I had done before. I had no idea what adventure to undertake but decided on a maximum budget of £300 after all I have no income only savings. I was searching for something to watch on Netflix when I came across a programme by slow TV called Northern Railway. A 500 mile journey from Trondheim to Bodo in Norway. The voice-over said it was some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, in summer you can see the midnight sun and in winter the Northern lights from inside the arctic circle. I watched the programme intently and decided that it was something which met my criteria, different yet simple but could I do it within my budget.

Research!

I fired up my incognito browser and loaded up skyscanner.net and search for flights to Trondheim. The flights were too expensive, especially when I added on the journey by train and accommodation. I made a fresh cup of tea and spent some time thinking on how I could afford to go on this unusual adventure. Maybe I could create an itinerary which made it an even bigger adventure but came within budget. I then spent nearly six consecutive hours putting everything together.

Here is a breakdown of the costs:-

  • Flight to Torp, Norway £15
  • Train Torp to Sandefjord £3.90
  • Train Sandefjord to Trondheim £55
  • Train Trondheim, Bodo, Trondheim £89
  • Train Trondheim to Oslo £34
  • Train Oslo to Sandefjord £28
  • Train Sandefjord to Torp £3.90
  • Hostel in Bodo £33
  • Hostel in Oslo £23
  • Flight to Manchester £13

Total £297.80

I managed it with £2.20 to spare, now I know I will have to be careful with what I spend on food and water but what else do I need to enjoy this adventure, for me it’s just my camera and the memories I’ll be bringing back.

You may look at this breakdown and think why I didn’t just fly to Trondheim from Manchester, the cost was more than the £69 it would cost me by train and the train was definitely going to be more fun.

I had most of the gear I needed to make the journey comfortable, part of my plan was to take the night train from Sandefjord to Trondheim and then on my return from Trondheim to Oslo. This meant I would sleep on the train saving on accommodation, although I would be sleeping in my clothes I would be warm and comfy.

Here’s my gear list for the 5 days:-

  • 35 ltr Swiss Gear Backpack.
  • Quechua 1 Season Sleeping Bag
  • Alpkit Hunka Bivi
  • Thermal Socks
  • Knitted Gloves
  • Thermal Gloves
  • Scarf (mum’s idea)
  • Alpinestar Neck Warmer
  • Thermal Hat
  • CAT Boots
  • Long Johns
  • Peter Storm Trousers
  • Peter Storm Over Trousers
  • Regatta 3 in 1 Rainproof Jacket
  • Peter Storm Body-warmer
  • Peter Storm Fishing Waistcoat (hence no check-in luggage)
  • Underwear
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Shaver
  • Tiny Bar of Soap
  • Karrimor Pack Towel
  • Ziplock Bags
  • Bobble Water Bottle
  • Loo Roll (Squashed)
  • LG G3 Smartphone (App for Boarding Card)
  • Canon G7X MkII Camera
  • Mini Tripod
  • Spare Batteries
  • Spare SD Cards
  • 6000Mah Power Pack
  • Mains Adapter
  • USB Charger
  • USB Cable

I won’t be sleeping outdoors but I feel taking the sleeping bag along will keep me warm on the train, yes I will no doubt look a bit silly and if the train is well heated it’ll make a good pillow.

December 11th 2016: Sunday

01:10 am. Wide awake, I am unable to sleep the night before any adventure as there is too much going on in my head. I stayed up until 01:30 am video editing on my new free Davinci Resolve Software.

05:26 am. I managed to get 4 hours restless sleep and decided it would be dangerous to rollover and try to get an extra 30 mins. I sat in bed and checked Google maps, looking around my chosen destination. I then ventured into the bathroom put my dressing gown on and headed downstairs for tea and crumpets.

06:15 am. Headed back upstairs to get dressed, it was hilarious putting long johns on and I don’t think I have ever had as many layers of clothing on.

06:45 am. Taxi arrived to take me to Manchester Airport terminal 3 for my Ryanair flight to Torp. The driver was playing an opera CD quite loudly, although he did ask if I wanted it turning down. I said no as it made the journey more interesting and would either keep me awake or sing me to sleep. The taxi ride past quickly and without incident, the driver was chatty for the first 20 minutes and then he didn’t say a word until it was time to pay.

07:46 am. Arrived at Manchester Airport Terminal 3, once I had paid the driver and exited the taxi I filmed a short introduction on my Go Pro for YouTube. I’m now ready for security theatre, no need to go to check-in as I had no luggage to drop off.

07:52 am. Airport security was a real pain, I was so focused on taking my steel toe capped boots off I forgot about my belt. So when the alarms went off that was it, whoosh! full body and bag search. “What’s that” said the £8 an hour employee. “it’s my penis” he moved on!

08:10 am. Finally through security, clothes, belt, shoes all back on and I headed for the Escape Lounge. I was lucky enough to be given an airport lounge voucher from the company send my bag who is a sponsor of my YouTube Channel.

08:20 am. The Escape Lounge in Manchester Airport is really nice, I haven’t been in a lounge for a longtime, great views of air-side and the runway. What interested me most though was the coffee and food, Fruit, Cereal, Bakery and optional hot dishes and it was eat all you can. Including filling my backpack with snacks. I sat in the lounge drinking coffee and enjoying breakfast, a table became free close to the window overlooking the runway. I wanted to take some time-lapse photographs so I moved to the now empty table and set my camera up.

08:55 am. I had a great conversation with the waitress in the Escape Lounge, she had recently changed jobs, she used to be Emirates cabin crew but had settled in Manchester to be close to her new husband.

09:10 am. An American Airways jet taxied to the gate outside my window, it paused for 5 mins at the yellow markings. I wondered why but then realised no-one had turned up to park the aircraft, eventually a guy turned up with those light sticks the ground crew use and guided the pilot in. Then the hard work started of lining up the air-bridge, unloading the luggage and servicing the aircraft. I noticed that all the workers were search and frisked before working on the aircraft, the waitress told me that American airlines have a stricter security than other airlines.

I finished my filming and headed back to a comfier seat in the quiet section of the lounge and had a second breakfast. At one point the waitress though I was leaving and said her goodbye’s I pointed out I was just going to the loo to freshen up. The second breakfast consisted of orange juice and more bakery plus a Danish slipped into my bag for later. The quiet section of the escape lounge wasn’t quieter than anywhere else in the escape lounge but the seats were comfier. The waitress with no name sat on one of the bar stools overlooking the duty-free shopping area below and had a coffee and some breakfast, I suppose a perk of the job. Once she finished her 5 minute break she started to clear tables.

A couple close to me got into a conversation with the waitress, they were heading to Amsterdam it was a surprise by the boyfriend and she had only found out that morning. He had arranged everything, even having the in-laws to look after their kids, what a pleasant thought. I did think that he might have a different motive other than sight-seeing. Shag Anyone!

I decided to go for a shave and freshen up before my flight, the waitress thought I was leaving again, I think she’s trying to get rid of me.

Observation:-  The toilet facilities in the escape lounge are crap, if I wanted an electric shave then no problem but a wet shave, useless. The hand dryer only points down so drying your face is a fiasco. I used toilet roll to dry my face and I’m sure I left the bathroom with bit of loo roll stuck to my face.

I eventually left the lounge, without the waitress spotting me and headed towards boots as I needed some shaving foam. Boots only sold 100 ml shaving gel at £3.69 or £3.99, however I noticed that ladies leg shaving gel in the same size tin was £1.69, so I bought the pink one. I squirted some onto the shelf first to ensure it was the same stuff and then bought a fresh tin, well I wasn’t buying a tin someone had squirted some out of was I.

I then headed to WH Smiths for a guide-book on Norway, they don’t sell them so I bought sweets instead, it was time to head for the gate. The gate was S3 not too far to walk so I went and sat opposite the gate doors and waited until everyone had boarded. I always board last or almost last and I have learnt that on most flights that once you show your boarding card to the cabin crew at the entrance they don’t look at it again, so board last sit anywhere you want. The aircraft wasn’t full but on this Ryanair flight you had to sit in the correct seat as they balance the aircraft for take off and landing. I was sat in seat 15C with a couple in 15A & 15B both from Norway, they ordered 2 teas from the cabin crew and wanted to pay in Norwegian Kroner and had the correct change. Cabin Crew stated that they do not take Norwegian Kroner coins so my female neighbour rummage around in her purse and produced a 200 Kroner note.  They were then supplied with 2 teas, milk and no sugar, what amazed me was they were given change in sterling including coins. I felt like saying sorry we don’t accept coins, plus these people were going home, why on earth would they need sterling and if they exchanged the currency in Norway they couldn’t exchange the coins, so it turned out to be an expensive cup of tea.

Throughout the flight I kept nodding off but only got comfy at the point the pilot announced “Cabin Crew Seats for Landing” I woke up when the wheels hit the ground, now why does everyone jump up and stand in the aisle as soon as they can, they’re not going to get off the aircraft any quicker. I got off the aircraft fairly quickly but it was freezing walking across the apron, so I stopped in the doorway and layered up, so I now had 5 layers on. I then ended up being the penultimate passenger to go through immigration control, does anyone remember when it was just called customs. The should rename some countries interrogation and just being nosy control.

Torp To Oslo

Torp airport is very small but efficient, something I would notice about the whole of Norway is it’s efficient. There was a ticket machine next to the door where I bought my train ticket to Sandefjord, the ticket includes a free bus journey to the train station, sensible. I had some time to spare before my train, so I sat in-between departures and arrivals at a round table which seats 5. I ate a couple of my barmcakes I had brought and everything I had stolen from the escape lounge. I logged into the airport free WiFi, sent a few messages, I went for a wander, sat, wandered some more and then got on the wrong bus. I was pointed in the right direction by a very helpful bus driver and eventually got on bus number 175 to Torp train station. The bus was freezing and I was joined by a couple with some huge luggage, I noticed that the weather can get quite severe as the bus had chocks, a shovel and some jump leads where you would normally but your luggage.

The train was due as 16:12 hrs and I was still sat on the bus at the airport at 16:06 hrs, I hope the train station is close. We left at 16:08 and arrived at the station at 16:11 hrs, still ahead of the train which arrived at 16:12 hrs. I boarded the train and almost immediately a conductor appeared from nowhere, just like Mr Ben and clipped my ticket, 4 minutes later we were at Sandefjord station. It’s now 16:16 hrs and completely dark and felt more like 23:00 hrs, maybe it’s because I was so tired. I walked into the warm waiting room and sat for a while before deciding to explore Sandefjord as I had over 4 hrs until my train to Oslo.

I headed out of the station to have a look around Sandefjord the area outside the station was smaller than I had imagined. Across the road were the two cemeteries I had seen on Google Street View. I crossed the road and headed along the main street towards the port. Although it was dark it was very Chrissmassy. Small white lights hung everywhere balconies, trees and around the edge of shop windows. At the first zebra crossing close to the station cars didn’t stop and as I waited I noticed the frozen ground glistening under my feet. When cars did pass they sounded like they were driving over rock salt which offered them some grip on the icy roads.

Sandefjord is upmarket with some amazing architecture, wooden slats on building fascias. The bank was made of carved sandstone and looked grand. I passed a Christmas shop, a deli and restaurants the whole street was lined with lanterns. I walked all the way to the fjord, which only took ten minutes and in the middle of the road was a statue of a whale attacking a boat full of fishermen.

Across the busy road I could see the lights reflecting off the fjord. A car ferry was in port and vehicles were disembarking. I headed back in the direction of the train station and stopped at the main plaza. There was a large lonely Christmas tree in the square with bright white lights all over it. The plaza was fairly quiet, only a few people going about their normal daily lives. I had a look round the shopping centre and it was no different from the ones back home. Especially at Christmas time, all displaying gifts for the whole family.

Opposite on the street corner was a McDonald’s restaurant, I thought about buying some food and saving my barmcakes for later in the journey. However when I saw the price of the food I decided against it. I walked slowly back towards the warm waiting area in the railway station. I sat on a metal bench watching people come and go and was surprised at the efficiency of it all. Only a couple of minutes before a train arrived the waiting room would fill up. A train arrived and everyone except me got on the train. People disembarking the train walked through the warm waiting room and out of the station doors. No one seemed to hang around for long, except me of course. I noticed that to access the toilets you need a credit or debit card and the price was 10 Nok.

I sat in Sandefjord station as warm as toast as I waited for my train to Oslo. I even had a little picnic all of my own as I watched people and trains come and go and exactly 18 minutes past the hour and 47 minutes past the hour.

It got to the stage were I really needed to go to the toilet and I wasn’t going to pay 10 Nok just to open a door. After all I’m on an adventure surely I can find a cheaper alternative. I did I tidied up my picnic and headed across to the dark cemetery across the road 10 Nok saved.

I walked the full length of the platform and visited the shop close to the waiting room. As you can probably imagine I didn’t buy anything as it was so expensive. The cheapest drink was coffee at 20 Nok, water 45 Nok but that was for two 500ml bottles.

The information board sprang into life and a message said then next train due at 18 minutes past the hour was cancelled. The P.A system then burst into life and announcement in both Norwegian and English said to “just get on the next train instead”. I guess it was a bad translation but it did get the message across. I sat inside the warm waiting room for a while stroking someones dog, which turned out to be a guide dog. I was starting to fall asleep what with the travelling and the warmth of the waiting room. So I went outside into the freezing cold to stand on the platform and wake myself up.

A 10 carriage train arrived on a distant platform. The engineer jumped out from the drivers cab and split the train into two 5 carriage trains. The P.A system sprung back into life announcing the 19:47 to Eidvell via Oslo had been rescheduled. My train wasn’t until 20:47 but I was concerned that I may miss my connection in Oslo. I also noticed that the efficiency I had experienced so far had completely gone out of the window.

The only employee I had seen other than the engineer was through a window of what looked like a very comfortable office which had reclining chairs in. I knew this because I could see a very smart railway employee reclining in the chair. I knocked on the door and a chap who can only be described as Santa Claus except with a dark blue railway uniform on appeared at the door. I was a little taken back at meeting Santa working for the railway. On reflection it is actually the ideal job for him the rest of the year.

Do you speak English? I asked. Of course he did he was Santa Claus a man of many talents. I explained my concerns to him, “I don’t do tickets, nothing to do with me” was his reply in English with a Norwegian accent. I instantly felt like I wasn’t going to get any presents this year. Then he pointed to the rescheduled 5 carriage train in the distance and told me to speak to the conductor. I thanked Santa and went in search of the conductor or the rescheduled 19:47 to Oslo.

I found the crossing and headed to platform 3 where all the people from the warm waiting room were stood exactly in front of the train doors in an orderly queue. Maybe the railway had lost all the precision of a Swiss clock but the passengers hadn’t. I walked the full length of the train to locate the conductor who was inside the train walking the opposite way to me. I quickly turned around and followed him until he got to a door, which he then opened. “Do you speak English” I asked “of course” was his reply. Stupid me everyone in the world obviously speaks English, most better than me. I once again explained my concerns and I presented him with my ticket “it’s this one” he said so I hoped on board my rescheduled train to Oslo. It departed at exactly 19:47.

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About John Holt

John Holt has worked in the travel industry for over 14 years and comes highly recommended by Trip Advisor for his practical and candid talks on travel destinations. Spending 18 months as a "Local Interest Specialist" for a leading tour operator John has become known as having more practical information than Google.

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