44 days on the road
7 ferry journeys
We drove out from Oslo feeling quite excited. Here was Norway, a most beautiful country, ready to reveal her secrets. We managed to get away from the city via the back roads so, that felt better than getting into the city what with the traffic jams and all. It was a fairly sedate process, crossing Norway (check out the speed limits some time); we drove and then we drove and then drove a bit more. The suburban landscape started to give way to the countryside and we saw…. trees. Yep, lots and lots of fir trees. After a bit, there were glimpses of lakes and stuff, but it only lasted a microsecond. Grab your camera and all you can catch is a tree or ten. Then, tantalisingly, you could see more of the fjords (lakes?) and the trees broke apart occasionally to reveal the odd rock formation and then it all became enclosed in those dang conifers. Sigh!
Changes were in the wind. Tim asked if conifers changed colour for autumn and we realised there might be birch forests about. The trees receded and the mountains rose and … wow, what a landscape.
The main road from Oslo to Bergen wiggles through mountain passes, plunges through tunnels, the longest of which is over 15 miles long and the longest in Europe (the world, not quite sure).
Then the road carries on through the most fantastic scenery and we found this cute little quiet campsite in the middle of nowhere, two hours away from Bergen.
I had to sign the register and I noted that there had been many nationalities staying there in the middle of nowhere. The nice young girl at the kiosk said it was very rare for British people to turn up. We were not complaining about that, nice quiet place, after all. Five minutes later a coach turned up with a whole party of 38 British youngsters, who have been doing their gold D of E expedition. They had spent the last week walking and kayaking around the area to qualify. Talking to the staff (including a Ray Meres type who slept out in a hammock under his bivouac) it turned out that, despite booking the trip via a truly wonderful coach company that they knew, the coach boss had died and the company had folded instantly. The chap in charge found a new coach company to do the job, via a broker and on the road it has really gone pear-shaped. Not enough drivers (only 1 left, not the 4 they need for a 48 hour drive back), coach of a poor quality….. The group leader had no idea how to get the school group back to their hometown legally. Not to mention the fact that he had to be back in the U.K. in time to sort out all the other contracts that were coming up.
Just to put the icing on the cake, the rain was hammering down on the following morning and he told us that the white water rafting trip they had planned was cancelled due to lack of water.
After we did a swift REALLY wet strike (the Tentipi was wet right through) we drove to Bergen and then on again. We were aiming to stop there for a while, but, due to my usual rubbish map reading skills, we missed the pretty bit. We went in through the tunnel, tried to find a place to park in the centre (fat chance for a Disco with a roof rack, as all of the car parks were for cars under 2.1 metres) and then out again, thinking ‘meh!’
We gave up on Bergen, because we really want to get as far north as we can before we have to turn back. We looked at several campsites en route until we found a tiny place just south of Byrkjelo. It looked open, there were flags and there was a poster telling us the costs. It was truly lovely with a mirror- still lake and mountains all round. We pitched the tent with the hope that it dry itself out but when I investigated the loos, they were locked. Minor panic but then the boss man turned up, took 100 Krona off me and unlocked everything. (This seems to be a hint that the camping season is tailing off over here, gulp). So far, so good.
We sat around, admiring the lake and watching a little boat chug up to the shore near us. They then came to see us and asked us if we liked fish. It turned out that they and caught about 20 trout and thought we might like some. When we said we could not use them they told us they would salt them, bury them and they should have their favourite delicacy ready for Christmas and, yes, it would be very smelly, but at least the end product does not explode like the Swedish version. They then proceeded to produce a range of booze for us to try. They shared a bottle of very nice Rioja with us, followed by Norwegian ‘menthol’ alcohol, coffee flavoured vodka and homemade hooch. We had a lot of fun chatting to them, they were seriously nice guys but we were lucky to make it back to the tent to cook supper without burning down the tent!
Sunday was the best day in Norway by far, so far. I was feeling a little uncomfortable up until that drive, because, it all seemed very low key after Iceland. Was Norway going to be a damp squib? There was a clue of what was to come on Saturday, because we drove between towering mountains and actually went through 53 tunnels. Not short tunnels, they had an average length of about 1 km. (Counting tunnels? You have to make your own entertainment….)
On Sunday we left the lake and went on to the start of the Troll route. Wow, how exciting! the route snaked between mountains, past impossibly blue fjords, up and down steep inclines via hairpin bends and steep drops on the side. We passed glaciers and bleak remote landscapes and lush green valleys. And then we had to drive down into Geiranger; was almost, but not quite, terrifying. (I managed to keep my eyes open the whole way down, although I was glad to visit the ladies when we got into the town). You are willing to pay the £46 to catch the ferry along the fjord from the town, just so you don’t have to drive up the other side.
Nah, the ferry was worth every penny. The mountains drop almost vertically into the water and you could see deserted farms on the side where they used to raise sheep and goats and had to tether their children with ropes to stop them plummeting. There were several waterfalls and the sun was just at the right level to create rainbows time after time. The lonely Planet guide sure got that bit right. If you only want to go down one fjord in Norway, this is the one! (if you google fjords, Geirangerfjord is the one you get)
Today we are driving further along the Troll road, wish us luck!