I had a couple of options for my flight routing. I could either fly from SFO to London and then take SAS to Oslo. Or, I could fly to Frankfurt and take Lufthansa to Oslo. I found I had the best options for price and flight times by going through London. At the time of booking, i had assumed that since SAS for a Star Alliance carrier, that they would leave from Terminal 1 at Heathrow Airport (United's terminal for SFO flights). I learned on my last trip to London that SA flies out of Terminal 3, which adds the complications of an inter-terminal transfer (which can be problematic, depending on airport conditions). Fortunately, the connections I had booked had relatively long layover times, which kept the stress levels down on the flight days.
International connecting passengers at Heathrow do not have to go through immigrations and customs. You do, however, have to be re-screened for security at the terminal where you will board your connecting flight. So a connecting flight out of Terminal 3 requires a 6-minute bus ride from Terminal 1, a stop at the airline transfer desk (which was important for me, as the aircraft I was taking changed its seat configuration and they had eliminated my row from business class, causing me to lose my seat assignment) before getting to the SAS Lounge.
The SAS Lounge was fairly spacious with two levels. They had Apple screens and keyboards for Internet service, as well as wifi). The morning offerings for food were typical for a European lounge, except they also had American-style pancakes with syrup as well.
Boarding at the gate was not structured, but sine I sat down near the jetway entrance, I was able to board at the start anyway. Typical of most European business, class, the first few rows (two, in my case) were designated as business class, with the only real benefits being an empty middle seat between passengers and free meal and beverages. But given that it was only scheduled to be a 90-minute light, I was not expecting much. The plane was a 737-400, which I had flown before. It's also the first time I've seen a mainline airplane that did not have a bathroom in the front of the plane.
Upon arrival at Oslo Gardermoen Airport, we were routed to the upper level and the immigration desk. I was asked why I was visiting, how long my stay was, and where I was going. When I mentioned that I was going to spend a few days in Balestrand, the immigration officer became enthusiastic about my visit, saying how beautiful it is in Balestrand. After passport control, it was still a bit of a walk to baggage claim (mostly on the second level). I finally made it to baggage claim, eventually retrieved my luggage and exited the Arrivals area.
First thing I did was look for an ATM (Norway is not on the Euro). I found one near where the trains to the city were. But it did not like my bankcard. I decided I could wait and just head into town. There are two types of trains to use for getting to central Oslo. One is the airport express train, called Flytoget. It costs about $30 one-way and is very easy to ticket. It leaves every 20 minutes or so and takes about 20 minutes to get to Oslo Central Station. The other train is the NSB regional train, which costs about $15 and departs less frequently than the express and makes stops along the way, getting to Central Station in about half an hour. Since I was not in any hurry, I opted for the slow train. In either case, you can just walk up to a ticketing kiosk and purchase a ticket (you can tell the kiosk to display instructions in English and it takes most major credit cards, including non-chip-and-PIN cards. After purchasing my train ticket, I saw I has about 45 minutes to wait, so I decided to hunt for more ATMs. I managed to find some at the other end of the Arrival area and my card worked fine.
The regional trains to and from the airport are very nice. However, one thing I messed was that if you have a ticket that needs conductor validation (as the kiosk ticket do), you are supposed to sit only in certain cars. If you have a ticket stored electronically on a travel card, then you can sit anywhere -- you just have to tap to validate your card at the validation station before taking the escalator down to the platform.
My hotel (Hotel Continental) turned out to be right across the street from the train station at the National Theatre stop. It was very convenient to the center of town and the waterfront. It was an older hotel, but the rooms were nice, if maybe a little small. IT cam with free full buffet breakfast (very nice one) and free Internet access.
I was not going to have much time at this end of the trip for Oslo, so I decided to walk down the main part of the city back to the central train station in search of the tourist office and a place to buy the local transit travel card (which I planned to use the next day and more on my return to Oslo at the end of the week).The weather was perfect for walking around, sunny and not too warm. I eventually got to the main tourist office, but it was already closed. but I discovered that the 7-Eleven stores sell the reusable transit card that I wanted, so I loaded one up with a little value and also bought a big bottle of water for my train trip the next day. I also figured out the layout of the central station and where the subway and the train station link together. I did snap a couple of pictures on the walk -- the famed Opera House and the Nobel Peace Prize Center.
The next day, I had a long travel day on the ground. I had to catch an early train to Myrdal (a 5-hour ride). I would then change to a tourist train for an hour ride down the mountains to Flam. From there, I had a 90-minute ferry ride (my first view of the fjords) to Balestrand. The ticket I had was really a pass to get me from Oslo to Bergen by train, ferry or bus. Stopovers are allowed and it was valid for two months. The tour company also made the seat reservation on the first segment. It was a nice ride, with lots of tourists on a modern train. There were some nice views along the way, especially as we climbed up the mountains.
At Myrdal, we switched to an old-style train to take us down the mountain. Non-group travelers were instructed to sit in coaches 4 and 5, while groups were allocated to different coaches. It turned out that 4 and 5 were two ends of the same rail car, but everyone managed to get on, luggage and all.
The Flam train makes its way down the mountain slowly and makes a couple of stops along the way for photo opportunities.
It was a very picturesque ride down to Flam. At Flam, I had a little bit of a wait, but with a suitcase and backpack, I really didn't want to walk around too much while waiting for the ferry. I was surprised to see a full-fledged cruise ship in the harbor. I didn't know they could make it this far inland through the fjords. It looked like the ships offer a day-long excursion on the Flam train up the mountain and then down.
|Sitting Room on the way to Dining Room|
|Still a clear day|
|but starting to get cloudy|
|And some precipitation coming|
|Bathhouses associated with the houses above them|
|Oslo City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony occurs|
|I especially like this photo because it looks like the roof is floating when it is really an illusion caused by the water reflection creating a mirror image on the windows|
Since I had two nights in Oslo on this final stop of the trip, I purchased a 24-hour Oslo card at my hotel, which gave me free local transportation and free entrance to several museums. I had an early start on my only full day in Oslo. First thing was to take the first ferry to an island with several museums, including the Viking Ship Museum, Kon-Tiki Museum, and Norwegian Maritime Museum. It's a little bit of a stroll to the Viking Ship Museum from the ferry stop, but the path is well marked. Then there were signs to get you to the other museums, which were back towards the water at another ferry stop.