The Nordland Line: A train ride deep into the Arctic Circle
What had brought me to take this trip, anyway? Well, I know the answer to that. It was one of those darn Norwegian “Slow TV” shows, a 10-hour show on NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) showing the Nordland Line in its minutt for minutt entirety. I hadn’t watched the entire show, but I had seen enough of it to put the trip on the “bucket list” of trips I wanted to take in the future.
The Nordland Line is a 452-mile train connection between Trondheim and Bodø in Northern Norway. It travels north and south twice a day, with one day and one night train going each way. It is the Norwegian Railway System’s longest line, and the only train to cross the Arctic Circle in Norway. I managed to fit a northbound night train and a southbound day train into my tight schedule.
My northbound night train left Trondheim at 11:40 p.m. Check-in began a half hour earlier in the dining car, where a conductor gave us cardkeys to our compartments. I had no idea what I would be getting for my kroner, so I was pleasantly surprised to open the door to a cozy space with two bunks, complete with warm comforters, pillows and towels, a sink with hot and cold running water, and even chocolate Easter eggs on my bunk. There were two bottles of drinking water, as the tap water was not potable.
The compartment was narrow, fine for a sole traveler, but might have been a bit tight for two people. There was space under the lower bunk for suitcases, hooks and small shelves for clothing, and each bunk had a reading light and an electrical outlet. The bathroom was down the corridor, one on each end of the car. The window was long and narrow, not the best for seeing outside, but the corridor had comfortable seats and large picture windows.
I slipped into my pajamas and let myself be lulled to sleep by the motion of the train.
The train arrived at 9:15 a.m. in Bodø, so I woke up a couple hours earlier to look outside and see fields of clean white snow as we rushed by. I went to the restaurant car for breakfast—mine was coffee and pastries, but they also offer sandwiches and waffles. I was having trouble getting the wifi provided by NSB to work, so I asked the young man there for help. We were unable to get me connected, but he suggested I look out the window and enjoy the view of the ocean. This was good advice, advice you would think a mature person (like me) would have given to a young person, instead of the other way around. As we proceeded north, there was less snow instead of more as we neared the ocean, which is warmed by the Gulf Stream. By the time we got to Bodø, there was hardly any snow on the ground at all.
I stepped down from the train with a young man, and asked him if he was from Bodø. He said, “Yes, I am! And it’s ten times better in the summer!” Well, now I know.
Shortly before my trip, I had made contact, thanks to my Aunt Corrine and to Facebook, with some third cousins from my mother’s side of the family. Their father had been a cod fisherman on the Isle of Røst, and in fact some members of the family are still fishing there. However, these three sisters now live in Bodø. They were kind enough to meet me for coffee at the new city library. It was fabulous to get to know Astrid, Ellen, and Anne!
After a day and a night exploring Bodø, my day train for Trondheim left again at 12:27 p.m. This time I had a window seat for the 10-hour ride. I was lucky enough to sit on the right (west) side of the train, where I could see the ocean, fjords, fields, mountains, small villages, and larger towns. The visions of fjord og fjell are spectacular and awe inspiring, as is the feeling of admiration for the people who have lived in this place, so isolated and so beautiful, through the ages.
Mange takk to NRK for their wonderful slow-TV program, which inspired me to take this marvelous trip. If you like trains, I think I can safely say you’ll love the Nordland Line.
• Book trains online in advance for discounted “Miniprix” prices, which are very good;
• For the best views, choose a seat on the western side (left going north, right going south) of the train, if possible;
• It is extremely difficult to connect to the wifi on the trains. Try to create a profile on the NSB website before you leave home, as you will need it in order to log in. You may need a Norwegian cell phone number. Some people purchase Norwegian sim cards for their stay;
• There were electrical outlets on the Nordland Line, but there were not any on one of the Dovre Line trains I took, so be forewarned that your devices may be challenged on some of the train lines in Norway;
• The restaurant car offers a selection of kiosk-type foods: hot dogs, waffles, sandwiches and wraps, packaged lefse, beverages, and of course coffee.
What to bring:
• A map of the area. I didn’t bring one, and I wish I had. It would have been fun to know the names of the mountains, fjords, lakes, and rivers through which we were traveling;
• A good book, because as gorgeous as the scenery is, the ride is 10 hours long, and you may not be able to get onto the wifi;
• Comfortable clothing.
• Wikipedia page for the Nordland Line: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordland_Line
• NSB Nordland Line, including a one-hour video: www.nsb.no/en/our-destinations/our-regional-railway-lines/nordlandrailway
• NRK Minutt for Minutt Nordland Line: www.nrk.no/nordlandsbanen
This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.