More Like Snoreway (Not Really!)
I’m not sure I ever really appreciated just how much there is to Norway. Looking at it on the map it’s just a thin sliver of non-EU land off the border of Sweden – kinda like the strip of fat on the edge of a piece of bacon. Although I’d seen pictures and heard how good it was, I didn’t really appreciate how different this skinny little country’s landscape (and prices) would be to its nearest neighbour, let alone how much it could change in the roughly 2000km I rode from the bottom to the top.
Or how much the weather could change in 2000km either
Having left Joseph in Saffle, I rode over some pretty nice Swedish roads over the border, and a few not so nice Norwegian roads (some of the few in the whole country) brought me to Oslo. A problem I’ve repeatedly had in countries that get a lot of snow is that during summer they rush to get all their roadworks done – tearing up half the town in the process. This is a real problem if you’ve got a GPS that thinks a town looks one way, and a government that’s decided to make it look another. Finding my hostel in Oslo was such a frustrating process that I was tempted to turn around and go back to Sweden.
I guess it's a good thing that I didn't
Oddly, Oslo reminded me quite a bit of home back in Sydney. It helped that the weather was 30 degrees (celcius) and sunny, but mainly in the vibe of the city and the way that it was nestled around the harbour. They even have an Opera house with funny architecture with cheap last-minute tickets every night. As I was hanging around at 7pm, curiosity got the better of me and I was treated to this odd puppet-show-cum-ballet focussed around a heinously stereotypical old asian man teaching ping pong… mainly the show just consisted of puppet sex though. Horrible horrible puppet sex. Guess I should’ve checked the reviews first :-/. Oslo also taught me the value of putting the cover on my bike every time I park it overnight
. Because I was in an underground carpark under my hostel I thought it was unnecessary, but returned to it the next day to find that someone had decided to steal the micro-USB cable that charges my phone via the cigarette lighter socket, in the process cutting up all the cable ties holding my ghetto-GPS-setup together and breaking the cigarette-lighter-to-usb-socket adapter. All for a cable that I bought in Australia for less than a beer costs in Norway. Sigh.
This was what I felt like... except imagine that the babies are Norway
No matter – for some reason I had spares for everything broken or stolen, so it was on the road to Bergen soon enough. Didn’t take long for my anti-Norway fervour to wear off, as I got my first taste of what makes Norway such an amazing country to ride. I swept along fjords, up mountains, through tunnels, past snow banks. It was amazing just how much you can see in less than a day of riding here. The weather’s crazy – you can go into a tunnel squinting because it’s so sunny, then emerge to find yourself being drenched with rain.
Water in Norway really only has two modes - impossibly glassy or impossibly glittery
Bergen was a whole world away from Oslo – much more of a country town feel. Once again assisted by some sunny days, the town actually reminded me a lot of San Francisco (at least what I’ve seen from pictures)… steep streets and neighbourhoods built on nearly vertical hillsides. As far as I can see Bergen gets a bit of traffic from the cruise lines that go along the Norwegian fjords, resulting in a town that has crowds of tourists but is lacking a bit for things to see… this is really the only explanation I have for how a town comes to have a leprosy museum
Seriously. Did you know that there's two different types of leprosy caused by the same sort of bacteria? I do now.
The other interesting bit about Bergen was that I booked into the cheapest hostel in town, and something about the whole atmosphere seemed a bit odd. Later I realised that it was actually the Christian hostel, but they didn’t really mention anything about it on the hostel booking websites. I’d never stayed in one before – I think they’re not so much about worshiping, more to provide a place free from the debauchery that normally goes on in backpacker hostels. No wonder I overheard someone complaining about a bunch of us drinking some of the cheap(er) scotch I’d been carrying around since Denmark the previous night. Sorry for party rocking :-/.
I don't know what this waterfall is called, nor even really where it is. Norway is just the sort of place where you pass a waterfall like this when you weren't even trying to find it.
Next day I retraced some of my steps to do the hike up to Trolltunga. Trolltunga (or Troll’s Tongue, in the much more boring English translation) is basically a big rock overhanging a fjord that takes 5 hours of hiking to reach and 5 hours to get back from… with the first (and hence last) kilometre being nonstop steep hill. You can either climb a loose dirt trail for this kilometer, or cheat and go on the the furnicular railway tracks (I cheated both ways). For some reason I thought it’d be cool to camp at the top of the hike, and although it was admittedly pretty cool it also meant that I had to carry my tent, sleeping bag, stove etc all the way up and all the way down, resulting in unbelievable pain whenever I went down stairs for weeks afterwards.
Imagine this, all the way to where the water is in the background.
It is a spectacular hike though – getting to the end late in the day and finding barely anyone around with just me and this beautiful view was completely amazing. Too bad my proper camera hadn’t worked since France, but I made do with my phone one.
That's my tent!
When I got back to the bike the next day I found a makeshift parking ticket warning me that my number plate had been recorded because I hadn’t paid for parking – apparently it costs 200 norwegian kronor (27 euros) to park overnight at the base of the hike… which goes to maintainance. I’m not sure whether it goes to maintaining the trail, which is a rough mudbath that disappears in sections, or the furnicular railway that doesn’t run, but while I was packing up an employee of the tourist centre came and found me. Fine then, I’ll pay. Stupid Norway.
Well, I *guess* it was worth it
Touring in Norway is no cheap business – although the fjords were beautiful, I began to dread seeing one up ahead because that could mean only one thing…
…another frickin’ ferry ride! One day I had 5 ferry crossings in a day, each costing me 50 NOK and making me anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour later than I was planning. I guess given that fjords are generally pretty deep so it’s not exactly simple to just build a bridge across one? Either way, at one point I wouldn’t bother stopping to eat because I figured it was easier to just wait until the inevitable ferry crossing and buy a hot dog on board. It is stupid to go to Norway and complain about the prices though – in a lot of ways it’s just premium Europe… sure it’s expensive, but you’re hard pressed to find a country more beautiful. Plus no matter how remote the location, everyone seems to speak English – I think it’s actually easier for an English speaker than Scotland.
The fog in Norway doesn't just sit there, it rolls across the horizon as you watch. Pretty.
At this point the journey really started to feel like an adventure – every day I’d wake up, hit the road until it got dark or I got too tired, stop, sleep and repeat the process the next day. The further north I went the longer the days lasted too – in Oslo it got dark at about 11pm, by the time I was at the Arctic Circle it just didn’t get dark at all. I actually really enjoyed it too – the loneliness of London seemed a mile away as I barely spoke a word but never felt anything but bliss. There’s something ethereal about riding in Norway… you never run out of curvy road, you never run out of daylight, it’s like being in some kind of motorcycle heaven. As I carved my way through the countryside I couldn’t help but think that maybe when I do shuffle off this mortal coil, I’ll walk towards the light at the end of the tunnel to find myself with Os beneath me once again, threading our way alongside the fjords, forever.
Something like this...
Along the way up I made a bit of a detour to check out the Atlantic Road, which looked amazing – I even used it as the background of my blog. Having ridden over it, I was confused as to whether I’d even found the right road. To be honest it’s like 3 sort-of interesting bridges, one of which has a curve in it and looks sort-of cool. If you’ve ever ridden from the north of Sydney into the city avoiding the harbour bridge, it’s pretty much the same experience. This was contrasted with the rest of Norway, in which nearly every single road is completely fanastic. I was a tad disappointed.
Looks good in photos though. Deceptively so.
About halfway up I stopped for a day in Trondheim in order to get an oil change and give myself a bit of a rest. Shamefully I just turned up at the local bike dealership and got the mechanic to change the oil and filter – it’s embarassing but I didn’t want to deal with obtaining the filters, figuring out an oil pan, figuring out where to take the old oil, getting a filter changing tool (which I cunningly didn’t bring) etc. Trondheim is a student city which at the time had no students, leaving it feeling a tad empty. What was awesome about this situation, however, was that the student federation’s building was being used as a massive backpacker hostel. Trondheim has this giant student union (unaffiliated with the actual university) which dates back god-knows-how-long, and at one point a very long time ago (think pre-World-War-1) they decided to get themselves a building. Which isn’t to say they rented out a house… rather they got the student architects to design them a giant round red building that has over 40 levels on the inside, despite only being 4 or 5 storeys tall. No one knows exactly how many rooms there are, attempts to model the building on computers have all failed and the guy who gave me a tour reckoned that he still occasionally got lost. It’s incredible.
Apparently the Nazis thought it looked like a circus, so they put a circus in it. With elephants. Why the hell not?
Having got my shameful dose of 10W-40 SAE, I continued north, going through the Arctic Circle…
It was colder here in summer than in an Australian winter
… getting the ferry over to the Lofoten Islands and up towards Nordkapp. Where the Atlantic Road failed to live up to its hype, Lofoten more than delivered. It is a beautiful place indeed. The funny thing about Norway though, is that it’s all so beautiful that by the time you get to Lofoten a sort of wow-fatigue sets in. At the start you see a fjord and think “WOW, THAT’S THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I’VE *EVER SEEN*”
. A week later you’re still thinking “that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”, but you’re painfully aware that the last time you thought that was only about 10 minutes ago. First world problems, huh?
There are a lot of these boats left floating in lakes around Lofoten. They look very nice but I can't help but wonder how the hell one actually gets to it. Swimming?
Once I’d got to Lofoten I was damn close – I was wearing full rain gear, my bike gear and a jumper just to keep warm while I rode, and the idea of stopping when it got dark was getting pretty silly because it just didn’t get dark anymore. Nordkapp had to be getting close.
Not hard to pick the right road up here
Nordkapp isn’t actually being the northernmost part of Europe – you have to go on a hike to go there and my calves were still completely non-functional after Trolltunga. That isn’t really the point though – I mean, obviously the point is to get a sticker to put on your panniers, but besides that it’s just one of those places that makes you feel… something? As someone who deals with computers at work and motorcycles on holiday it’s all a bit beyond my comprehension, but it is palpable. The Lonely Planet says that it was a spiritual place for the indigenous Sami people, so I guess it’s not just me. You definitely feel an idea that you want to take something away from this place that’s affected you so… which I guess is why the Norwegians decided to build a gift shop there.
In fairness, it is clever
Once you get near to it the whole landscape changes – there’s no trees, no mountains – just rolling hills covered with grass. It’s an oddly alien landscape and you really are acutely aware that you’ve reached the end of the world. When I looked out at the sea to the north, I knew in my head that somewhere out there was the North Pole, and Canada beyond that, but it wouldn’t have taken much effort to convince me that the world was actually flat and that the sea in front of me was infinite.
I mean, if the north pole's out there where the hell are the polar bears?!
Most importantly though, I’d made it. The biggest goal I’d had while sitting around in Edinburgh with ice on my knee was to heap up and make it to Nordkapp, and here I was with my pilgrimage for the motorcycle gods complete. Oh yeah!
The other guys in the globe were kind enough to take my photo for me, so now they get to guest star in this post
So now what? Time to go south I guess. Next stop Finland… then Sweden again… then Finland again. It was to be a confused journey south, but I think this posts’s got long enough for now :).