Grant and Susan in Norway
June 15-21, 1996 - Southern Norway
We took the ferry from Newcastle, England to Bergen in southern Norway, quite a nice ferry, almost like a cruise ship with several restaurants, cabins for overnight, etc. It's a 26 hour trip, leaving at 8:00 p.m., and arriving the following evening at 9:30 p.m.
Bergen was very scenic, and we got a day of nice weather to see it. Then we started north, mostly along the coast. If you look at a map of Norway, the concept of "coast" is a bit fuzzy, since there are so many fjords. We've spent quite a lot of time on ferries in the last week, they're part of the road system, run frequently and are fairly inexpensive. Norwegian engineers have also been hard at work designing tunnels, some very long ones through mountains and under water. The longest one we've been through was over 6 kilometers long, a very long tunnel! I definitely prefer roads to tunnels, though, at least you get to see the scenery.
Norway is a beautiful country, very spectacular scenery. The people are very nice, quite friendly but not effusive. After being paid very little attention on the Isle of Man because there were so many motorcyclists there, the bike is back to its usual, lots of curious stares, people wandering over to it when it's parked and checking it out, and lots of interested parties inquiring about where we're from (the Alberta plate always confuses them, if they know Canada at all they ask what part of Alberta we're from and Grant says Vancouver, then you get a blank look). Then they want to know how did we get the motorcycle over from Canada, do we like Norway, and apologizing for the weather.
The weather has been good about 2 or 3 days of the week we've been here, about every third day it seems. The rest of the time it is cold and wet. The electric vests are proving to be the most valuable items we are carrying, getting used every day.
For once the weather was gorgeous, but still very cool. We drove up through barren mountains on a road called the Trollstigen, which literally means the Troll's Road (they're very big on trolls in Norway, lots of troll souvenirs, troll statues, etc.), lots of switchback curves, waterfalls, and snow at the summit. We got some fabulous pictures.
We were back to the coast in the evening and had a glorious sunset for the longest day of the year. It was still bright out at midnight, the sun had only set about half an hour before. But then the next day broke grey and cold...
Well north of the Arctic Circle now, and truly in the land of the Midnight Sun.
We had a good run from Trondheim north to Mosjoen, just south of the Arctic Circle, on the E6 (the main north-south highway). We stayed overnight in Mosjoen, in a cabin with a grass roof (very common here) which we concluded was for grazing your pet goat on!
Just south of Mosjoen we were advised that there had been a landslide on the E6, and we would have to detour either east to Sweden or west to the coast. We opted for the west coast detour, and since we were going to Bodo on the coast anyway to catch the ferry to the Lofotens, we decided to proceed up the more scenic coastal route rather than go back to the E6. We were glad of the decision, the scenery on the route was beautiful, and the road a riders dream, but discovered too late that our Arctic Circle crossing would be on a ferry from Kilboghamn (could be in Ireland with a name like that) to Jektvik. The captain announces it when you cross, and there's a marker on the coast, so we hurried to take pictures of ourselves on deck with the marker in the background. We'll try to cross the Arctic Circle by road going south so we can get a picture of the road marker with the bike in it.
A short ride to yet another ferry, then we were in Foroy. The campground we had planned to stay in was a little too close to what smelled like a fish factory, so we opted to continue north. We were going through spectacular scenery, including the Svartisen glacier across the fjord from where we were driving, and even at 10:00 p.m. at night it's still possible to get good pictures, so we didn't mind driving late. Then we drove through the longest tunnel so far, over 7 kilometers long, and landed up at Glomfjord for the night.
Next day we proceeded to Bodo and arrived just in time for the 3:00 p.m. ferry to the Lofoten Islands. This ferry made two intermediate stops at Rost and Vaeroy, the two southernmost islands of the Lofoten chain, so it took us until 11:00 p.m. to get to Reine on the main Lofoten Islands, even though it's only a four hour trip if you go direct. Even though we arrived here late at night, everyone is still up and around, it seems. The late sun makes it difficult to get to sleep, and we've been going to bed quite late. The kids are still out playing in the streets at midnight.
Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Tourism has joined fishing as the major industries here in the Lofotens. Among the available tours are the Midnight Sun tour, and joining a fishing boat for a day, as well as whale safaris. We probably will pass on the fishing boat for a day, which sounds like work, but may try the others.
The town is pretty, very obviously a working fishing town. There are racks of drying fish everywhere, just exposed to the air and elements, not under cover. We watched them collect the dried fish today, not a very sanitary procedure. They just toss it on the ground, scoop it up and put it into large buckets on trucks. Since neither of us eats dried fish, it didn't bother us too much, but if you buy dried fish, suggest you clean it thoroughly!
The cabins in Reine are called "rorbu", and were originally constructed for fishermen during the fishing season, which is mainly during the winter. Probably they're still used by fishermen then, since there probably aren't a lot of tourists here then. The bottom end cabins are pretty basic, with hotplate, fridge and sink in the cabin, pots and dishes supplied, but no bath or toilet, for 300 NOK, or about 45 U.S.
At the other end of the scale, where we stayed our first night since it was all they had left at almost midnight, are fairly deluxe newer cabins with modern amenities, shower and TV, for 800 NOK, about 125 U.S. However, even in the deluxe cabins you supply your own bedding and towels, and there are no phones.
The above highlights the major failing of Norway - it's very expensive! We have now talked to Swiss, Germans and Austrians here, and all of them consider Norway to be more expensive than their own countries, none of which are reputed to be cheap.
The pace we make depends on the weather somewhat. If the weather is glorious, you want to sightsee and take a lot of pictures, so you don't make very good time. And if the weather is really awful and raining, you don't want to go out at all, so you don't make very good time. Only when the weather is overcast, blah, but not raining, do you tend to say, well, let's just ride today and you make good time.
Typically, our hotel room in Andenes (northern Lofoten Islands) didn't have a phone, but the reception desk was agreeable to us unplugging their fax machine and calling long distance to Oslo to CompuServe. This is the second place we've stayed that we could do that in, so we'll probably try it once a week at least. (Cabins with phones usually cost about double the cabins we've been staying in). The good news is that Oslo has a 28,800 line, so downloads are quick.
One thing we can't say much for the Lofotens is the weather, the Lofotenites are fond of saying that the climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream, but they're comparing their weather to places like Greenland! Surprisingly warm in the winter, only getting to around + or -1 degree Celsius, according to their literature. So, if you want to visit in the winter here (HA!), you now know what to expect. We also noticed that many of the roofs have electrically heated pipes crossing them, which tells you something about the amount of snow received. However, wonderful scenery and people, as everywhere in Norway, are very friendly.
The crossing from Andenes in the Lofotens to the mainland was 'interesting' - a small 10 car ferry in 10-15 foot cross seas, wallowing and rolling madly, with passengers seasick everywhere. It was a two hour crossing, an hour an a half in the open ocean, nearest stop North Pole or Greenland. Good news, Susan didn't get seasick, having taken 2 gravols and spent the time lying down in the lowest point of the ship below the car deck, nice and central, which is where they put the cafeteria on the old small ferries. However, we were both not unhappy to be on dry land again, and all thoughts of taking the coastal steamer north to North Cape have gone away. We'll do it by road, with only a few small ferry crossings in fjords to deal with.
Grant pulled a neck muscle a couple of days ago, so we stayed in Tromso until July 14 when he was fully recovered. In the meantime, he read and watched TV, which wasn't too painful, since the Norwegian stations mostly show US TV shows with Norwegian subtitles, and we also had movie channels in the hotel. They don't even dub movies here, perhaps because Norway isn't a big enough market to warrant it. It's no wonder the Norwegians all understand English so well, they've seen English TV shows with Norwegian translations for years.
Bike enjoying the midnight sun, North Cape, Norway, northernmost point of Europe at N 71º10'
We finally made it to North Cape on July 18 and were lucky enough to get the first clear night in a month according to the North Cape tourism folks.
Nordkapp (as the Norwegians call it), at N 71º10', is the northernmost point in Europe.
This is a very touristy place! At midnight, Grant counted 40 tour buses in the parking lot, and it was like a zoo at feeding time around the North Cape marker.
Of course, Norway was on summer daylight time, so it wasn't really midnight yet. By 1 a.m. - the real midnight! - the place was almost deserted, only the diehards like us left. We got some real midnight sun pictures at the most northerly point in Europe. And of course we got t-shirts and a decal for the bike. It was a great feeling - a real milestone, and a sense of having accomplished something a little special. But now we've got a new objective - the southernmost point of Europe! And then, on to Africa!