Having spent a few days exploring Oslo, we were keen to travel further afield and visit a different town in Norway. There were all sorts of interesting places we could have gone to, but ten minutes researching the prices of train tickets on the Norwegian railways website was enough to confirm that we couldn't afford to travel very far at all. In the end we found a regional train to a town called Halden, which we had never heard of but which the Visit Norway website was quite enthusiastic about. At £25 each per direction, the tickets weren't exactly what Tim would have called a bargain, but for Norwegian prices they seemed to be quite good value, so we decided to give it a go.
Our train to Halden left Oslo at 10am and arrived shortly before midday. We have had some extremely cramped experiences travelling on regional trains in Italy and in Latvia this year, but regional trains in Norway proved to be so comfortable that we almost felt compensated for the price of the tickets. The seats were so spacious that we were initially worried we might have strayed into first class by mistake, and all the carriages were equipped with coffee machines and free wi-fi. Halden didn't seem to be a very popular destination, so we almost had a carriage to ourselves as we enjoyed a scenic journey through the forested countryside.
When we arrived in Halden, we found it to be surprisingly icy. It hadn't been particularly cold in Oslo and there wasn't any frost on the ground, but as we travelled further out into the countryside we had noticed a thin covering of white on some of the fields. It appeared that it had rained in Halden overnight, then the water on the roads and pavements had frozen leaving parts of the town positively treacherous, even though it was nearly midday. We made it as far as the main square, and caught our first glimpse of the imposing Fredriksten fortress.
We slipped and skidded our way around the town centre for a bit, crossing a bridge over the river and passing this unusual church.
We had hoped that we would be able to climb to the top of the fortress, but once the path started seriously sloping upwards, it became clear that that wasn't going to be possible. There was so much ice, and it was almost impossible to see before you stepped onto a particular piece of pavement whether it was safe or not. The path would have been steep at the best of times and if by some miracle I had managed to get up it without falling over, I was pretty sure that I would never manage to get down it again in one piece, so this is as close as we got.
Back down on flat ground in Halden, we began to feel that we might exhaust the local sights long before the limited daylight ran out. We skated along a few more pavements and came across a beautiful view of the Iddefjord, but it was impossible to walk along the waterfront because of the ice.
We headed back to the station instead to see whether there was anywhere else we could travel to. As luck would have it, we found a timetable indicating that a bus would be departing for the town of Strömstad in Sweden within the next 15 minutes. The prospect of visiting another country was too exciting for us to resist, and so before long we were sitting on the bus and watching more forests pass us by.
The journey to Strömstad took about 45 minutes. Crossing the border was almost unnoticeable, except for the fact that shortly afterwards the bus stopped at an enormous out-of-town shopping mall and nearly all the Norwegians got off. I had read in the Oslo guidebook that food, clothes and alcohol are cheaper in Sweden and that large numbers of Norwegians regularly travel across the border to do their shopping.
First impressions of Strömstad were that it was a pretty coastal town. The town hall was very interesting, with an unusual turquoise-coloured roof.
Best of all, there was no ice on the pavements We explored the town centre for a while and then walked down to the sea, where we had a lovely view of the harbour and some islands.
We were pretty cold by this point so we headed to a pizzeria to warm up and fortify ourselves for the long journey back to Oslo.