We didn’t stay very long in Narvik. No sooner had our cruise ship tied up, than we were on to a bus to the railway station. Our objective was a scenic ride on the Otofen Railway. . It doesn’t seem to receive as much publicity as other scenic routes in Norway, probably because it’s operated by Swedish Railways.
The port and the railway owe their existence to the discovery of iron ore in 1902 in Kiruna, in Sweden. It was a convenient port from which to ship the ore, rather than convey it all the way to one of the Baltic ports. These ports were often ice-bound in winter, anyway, in contrast to Narvik which, because of the Gulf Stream, remains relatively ice-free.
There wasn’t a great problem shipping the ore to a port in another country, either, for Norway didn’t gain true independence from Sweden until 1905. Although it had its own constitution, it was ruled by the Swedish King … a situation, I should imagine, somewhat akin to the countries of the United Kingdom.
Although it’s a scenic route, climbing the steep sides of a deep fjord, revealing, in winter, a vista of snow-covered peaks and frozen waterfalls, it’s still a regular train, rather than a tourist line. This one was going to Stockholm, but we were only going as far as Riksgransen, just over the Swedish border. Or, in our case, under it, for the train entered a tunnel, in which a huge Swedish flag was painted on the wall.
The train was rather crowded, but a nice young student, who was travelling all the way to Stockholm, offered to share his sleeper compartment with us; it’ll sleep two, but seat eight.
We trudged through the snow to a restaurant at Riksgransen, which overlooked a frozen lake, across which people were frequently driving snowmobiles. Our guide explained that many people came up from Narvik to do this, because driving on frozen lakes is forbidden in Norway.
That’s not the only reason Norwegians travel to Sweden. In this part of the world, Norway is a ‘long thin’ country, so it’s quite easy, and several of the guides on our tour said they often drive into Sweden for their shopping, as it’s cheaper there.