Category: Norway


Stage 2: Stavanger to Trondheim (via Bergen)

This is the part of the journey that I have been the most excited about since I learnt of the fjords and it doesn’t disappoint. Everything that has been said of Norway, whether it’s ‘Motorcyclist’s Paradise’ or ‘Heaven on two wheels’ or ‘Breathtaking’, well it’s all of that and a lot, lot more. I just hope that my description and photos do the splendour some justice…

On arrival in Stavanger I picked up François where I left him and continued on my journey making a b-line straight for Bergen. My schedule being tight, remember I am time poor after all, I would not stop until I had made the first ferry crossing at Mortavika approximately 30kms north of Stavanger.

The ferry crossing at Mortavika epitomises coastal Norway

The ferry crossing at Mortavika epitomises coastal Norway

I really enjoy the abundance of ferry crossings as it gives me the time to absorb the amazing scenery, take some photos and check the map before jumping back on François and continuing the superb ride through fjords, over mountain passes and island hopping across coastal Norway.

Continuing north in the direction of Bergen in order to make my overnight ferry, the renown Hurtigruten, I ride through tunnels, over bridges and onto ferries, so many in fact that I stopped counting. Interestingly, the tunnels dive down at a gradient of 10% to pass under the inlets and various channels of water. Dug deep into bedrock, they are impressive feats of engineering unto themselves. This to me is the hidden sophistication of Norway, they have pioneered many aspects of engineering from gas and oil to tunnels and let’s not forget the humble cheese slicer! One example of such a tunnel is the world’s longest tunnel Lærdal, and Norway is the only place in the world where I’ve seen an underground round-a-bout, yes that’s right, a round-a-bout in a tunnel with carved stone pillars like a civil engineering sculpture, the round-a-bout does actually serve a purpose, it is an intersection where two tunnels meet (I hope to be able to share a photo with you, as it is truly something out of the ordinary).

Although the weather was undecided, arriving in Bergen, the sun came out and Norway pulled out all its glory of the harbour and the Bryggen (old port). I had just enough time to do a little tourism and take in the beauty of Bergen before checking in for my overnight voyage on the Hurtigruten.

Arrival at the port of Bergen with the old port "Bryggen" in the background

Arrival at the port of Bergen with the old port “Bryggen” in the background

The Hurtigruten is undoubtedly the most well known cruise in Norway, but it’s more than just a cruise ship that does the whole coast of Norway from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes in the North, bordering Russia. The Hurtigruten is a transport ship, it’s also a ferry, it’s a tourist boat, a luxury cruise and an iconic experience. I met many people including other Swiss and Australians onboard. But I needed my rest so an hour of route planning writing pace notes and then I was off with the trolls and valkyries.

The next day on arrival in Torvik, somewhere south of Alesund, which I still can’t find on the map, I left the Hurtigruten. The only person to get off at the stop, I had no idea where I was or which direction to take. So as I have the habit of doing, I turned left. Don’t ask why but whenever I’m unsure I (apparently) always turn left. My instinct was right, but I should’ve listened to it again, as presented with another choice, this time I went straight ahead, it was the wrong choice. Some 10kms further down the road, I turned around and came back. Once on the main road, it didn’t take long to find my bearings and make way towards Sæbø and the fjord of Hjorundfjorden.

Boarding the Hjorundfjorden ferry at Saebo

Boarding the Hjorundfjorden ferry at Saebo

The road was slow going, and as it’s not the main E39 highway, which coincidentally has a maximum speed limit of 80km/h there were no frequent ferries crossing the fjord, so I waited almost an hour and a half to get to Leknes. From Leknes the change in scenery was marked by higher alpine, moving away from the fjords and up into the mountains. The architecture changes almost as dramatically, from the coastal fishing shacks and farm houses to the mountain hytte with grass roofs.

The grass roofed mountain huts or hytte blend so well into the landscape, one blink and you miss them.

The grass roofed mountain huts or hytte blend so well into the landscape, one blink and you miss them.

Over to Hellesylt, and a short wait for the ferry up Geiranger fjord and with that a much higher density of tourists. The sheer scale is very difficult to appreciate when you’re on a ferry and the fjords reach upwards, seemingly never ending until they touch the sky. The next image I took was of another ferry boat coming back the same way, and from a distance it looked very much like a toy, as we approached, I could gradually make out different levels, five in all and closer still, I could see dozens of people aboard on the top deck. When I stood back, the boat, the size of a small office block paled in comparison to the towering cliff face it was passing.

A five level ferry boat pales in comparison to the towering fjord cliffs, like a toy boat such is the scale and magnitude of the surrounding landscape

A five level ferry boat pales in comparison to the towering fjord cliffs, like a toy boat such is the scale and magnitude of the surrounding landscape

The highlight of my day was yet to come, after the Geiranger fjord, I couldn’t imaging anything that could out do, at least not on such a scale, the awe factor, but once again, I was wrong. And for the record I’ve never been more content to be wrong!

Francois high above Geiranger fjord, overlooking Geiranger village, now a tourist mecca

Francois high above Geiranger fjord, overlooking Geiranger village, now a tourist mecca

Words can’t begin to describe the Trollstigen.

What can I say about the Trollstigen that hasn't already been said - it's just breathtaking!

What can I say about the Trollstigen that hasn’t already been said – it’s just breathtaking!

Well the reality is that there is not point coming here on a busy day in the month of July or August if you actually want to take pleasure in riding the road. For the simple reason that with all the tourist coaches, they create a real mess of the road as a good portion of the twisty road winding up the mountain side (like a Troll’s ladder as its name suggests) is single lane and impossible to pass two cars let alone two coaches! That said, having François, I made short work of the traffic jam and continued on my way, north, north, north to the Arctic circle.

Atlantic Ocean Road

Perhaps there was too much to take in after such a full day, or perhaps the road leading up to it was too long, but after all I had read and seen, the Atlantic Ocean Road seems like an anti-climax when on the road. It’s only when I stopped and took the time to absorb the scenery properly that the true wow factor hit me. It’s not so much about the ride as it is about the architecture and engineering. Seeing this road get pummelled by waves in bad weather would truly be an incredible sight.

View from the top of the bridge on the Atlantic Ocean Road

View from the top of the bridge on the Atlantic Ocean Road

 

The renown Atlanterhavsvegen that skips across island after island winding over coastal Norway

The renown Atlanterhavsvegen that skips across island after island winding over coastal Norway

 

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Stage 1: Geneva to Stavanger

The first stage of my journey takes me from Lake Geneva region through Germany to Denmark and over the Baltic sea to southern Norway.

In brief here are a few stats:

  1. Over 2,000kms covered in 48 hours
  2. 995kms by motorcycle
  3. Overnight train and ferry
  4. Ride the Lysebotn (Lysevegen Road) with its 27 hairpin bends

And in pictures…

Packed and ready to leave on the first leg.

Packed and ready to leave on the first leg.

Checkin for the overnight train from Lörrach to Hamburg.

Checkin for the overnight train from Lörrach to Hamburg.

After a long hot night on the sleeper train, we arrived in Hamburg, Germany.

After a long hot night on the sleeper train, we arrived in Hamburg, Germany.

After long hot ride over 500kms through Denmark, we reach the port town of Hirshals.

After long hot ride over 500kms through Denmark, we reach the port town of Hirshals.

Preparing to board the Lysefjord ferry near Stavanger, Norway.

Preparing to board the Lysefjord ferry near Stavanger, Norway.

Under the towering cliffs you feel less than an ant, dwarfed by the sheer scale of the surrounding scenary.

Under the towering cliffs you feel less than an ant, dwarfed by the sheer scale of the surrounding scenary.

Hanging precariously 800m above the fjord, the Preikestolen is hard to miss. Renown as the most famous lookout point in Norway.

Hanging precariously 800m above the fjord, the Preikestolen is hard to miss. Renown as the most famous lookout point in Norway.

At the end of the Lysefjord is the Lysevegen Road with its 27 hairpin bends it snakes its way up the 900m ascent above Lysebotn.

At the end of the Lysefjord is the Lysevegen Road with its 27 hairpin bends it snakes its way up the 900m ascent above Lysebotn.

This year sees the return to motorcycle travel after a few years break looking after the newest additions to our family. We’ve not been planning this extensively but more intensively as the time frame for the opportunity to go traveling again by motorcycle only really came to head a few weeks ago when I floated the idea to my wife, Arja. At that stage we were about to book in flights to go on our annual family holiday, as most families do over summer when another thought, a second thought came to mind. Other people may have just dismissed it as absurd or too expensive or selfish. But I know that it would meet with neither a cold reception nor be rejected off the cuff. Instead we sat down looked at a map and then started to research the idea of traveling to the arctic over several weekends, returning to work during the week and continuing the following weekend. And so came about the concept of the time poor traveler only traveling over the weekends and working as usual during the week.

Further research and several days later we had a loose itinerary that would make the most of overnight travel by train and ferry and make the important connections by plane to get me back down to Switzerland ready for work on Monday morning. I’d just have to figure out how to iron my shirts on the road.

Switzerland to the Arctic Circle via Denmark and southern Norway

Switzerland to the Arctic Circle via Denmark and southern Norway

Now all that remains is to put the plan into action.

 

I have to say that this trip is something that I’ve been looking forward to since we first made it to Norway in 2009. At that stage our ambition to ride all the way to Nordkap was cut short by the onset of very cold weather and ice. We instead turned around and headed to Switzerland. Now this new era of motorcycling hearlds a new opportunity, traveling in stages and combining the traveling with family holidays, essentially getting feeding our travel bug piece-meal.

Departing under the cold snap that froze most of Europe was not a mean feat, but we were extremely lucky, unlike hundreds of thousands of other holiday makers not able to return home to family. Our departure from Geneva was delayed by barely thirty minutes and we made the most of our two day stop-over in Copenhagen to get some last minute Christmas presents. Leaving Copenhagen and with a second stop-over in Oslo the snow was falling but the Scandinavians all but ignoring the weather conditions, continued as normal without any incident and without so much as the smallest of delays were were in the Arctic Circle. The last of the sunshine we left behind in Oslo and it would be a dark two weeks before we would see and feel the warmth of the sun again.

Candles through the frosted glass of the Hytte in Frøskeland

 

The glowing red skyline from Sortland looking south over the sundet

Under the cloak of darkness, we passed the end of 2010 and celebrated the festive season in the very north of Norway on Langøya  (Long Island) where the major town is Sortland. A big part of the trip for me was the introduction to traditional Norwegian food and Norse Mythology. Norway has a quite different take on Christmas, instead of the traditional Santa Claus (or Saint Nicolas) that western Europe and anglosaxons embrace, Norway has its Nisse. The Nisse (plural form of Nissen) are gnome or dwarf like creatures with distinctive blue or red pointy beanies made from wool that live in the woods, by the sea, in the barn or house and have a very close affinity with animals. The Nisse are self sufficient and look after the barnyard animals and make handy crafts using traditional techniques. On the 23rd or December it is traditional to leave out a bowl of rice porridge (Grøt Ris) for the Nisse to bring good luck. The Norwegian television even has a full series dedicated to the Nisse (Jul på monetoppen).

Surrounded by only Norwegian speakers in Arja’s family I was obliged (out of politeness and to survive) to learn some Bokmål (as opposed to Nynorsk or Sami) so I could understand a few basic phrases. Norwegian (Bokmål) shares quite a lot of words from French and German so knowledge of these languages helps with vocabulary but not the pronunciation which is far from being phonetic. In fact it is so unintuitive (coming from a fluent French and English speaker) that it is actually best not trying to pronounce written words but to learn Norwegian orally.

Arja's uncle's fishing boat the Olagutt

Apart from the steep learning curve presented by the language barrier there is also a very strong affiliation with the sea. All the men in the  Gullvik family are fishermen or work in the fisheries industry. There is a long and tumultuous history between the Gullvik’s and the sea that brought both good and bad, wealth and sorrow. Fishing is their livelihood, without it people would struggle to survive even today as it is one of the only primary industries (apart from the oil industry and tourism) in the far north that can be carried out year long. With fish stocks in chronic shortage, even in the the remote Arctic, families of fishermen such as Arja’s family are under increasing pressure from government and regulators with extremely strict fish quotas and hefty fines if they are exceeded. Norway is also coming under more intense international pressure to abandon its whaling operations. Even though whale meat can still be easily found in most supermarkets and is popular cheap meat for grilling in the spring and summer months it is not eaten by a lot of people as it is regarded as inferior in taste and quality to herring, atlantic halibut, capelin and cod.

Traditional and delicious roasted thrice cooked pork and cracking

 

Delicious home made fish cakes from hallibut

I was extremely lucky to taste the traditional specialities of the north through homemade  food prepared by Arja’s grandmother. These included fish cakes, fish balls (dumplings), fried sea trout fillets, baked halibut, thrice cooked salted lamb chops, baked side of pork and roasted Elk for Christmas dinner. Together with the other Norwegian specialities such as Torfisk (dried fish), Brunost (cooked brown goats cheese), cloud berry jam, christmas ham, it was truly a Scandinavian feast of enormous proportions. Not to mention the extraordinary quantity of sweets and deserts, all homemade of course!

On our second last day we were lucky enough to see three wild Elk roaming near town in search of food. As the light was extremely testing and the Elk were quite shy I was unable to get any very distinctive photos of the animals. Literally minutes later we came across a heard of over thirty reindeer feeding on hay locals had left for them. Even though it was barely 3pm it was so dark that it wouldn’t have been possible to walk without street lights or a torch. Although the the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon for ten weeks there is still ambient light that persists from 9am to 2pm, during these hours the light much resembles dusk with splendid reds and oranges filling the southern sky. The post dusk light that fills the sky is extraordinary and also provides photographic challenges to capture them in a realistic condition.

Two wild Elk in the brush roaming for food near town

Not only did we return with several layers of extra clothing but with bags packed to the brim and stomachs stretched so wide we both thought we’d spontaneously explode.

View of Sortland Sundet from Sigerfjord

It is with several months of anticipation that we are now set for take off tomorrow, heading for the Arctic Circle 66.6 degrees Nth. Although that said, we haven’t even left the confines of our lower alpine region and it very much feels like the arctic has come down to meet us in early anticipation. With over 20cm of fresh snow in the last 24hours there has been traffic chaos across most of western Europe with hundreds if not thousands of accidents, airport closures, delays to public transport and the like. Hence we are very anxious about catching our flight tomorrow given the forecasts for more snow across a large band of Europe including France and Germany. If we are lucky we’ll be spared the fate of thousands that have already spent countless hours stuck at major airports for their flights to be either postponed or cancelled.

As we search for some good news on the weather front we found the forecast for northern Norway and it was very amusing to see the symbol that the Norwegians use to represent good weather. It is much like a sun, but as the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon showing a full sun would be an oxymoron so instead they show that the weather is fine with a horizontal line and the sun shining beneath the line. I find this very amusing as it is dark 24hrs per day and it implies that the weather further south is fine. See the extracted picture for the Norwegian meteorological bureau.

Keep tuned to this spot as we post updates from our Arctic adventure amongst the reindeers and huskies.

For all last minute updates see our twitter posts.

Best Regards,

Pascal & Arja

Post Sydney to Oslo

October 14, 2009

Why you haven’t heard much of late?

Well quite simply we’ve been very busy. It’s a poor excuse but one I think is justified as the last few months have been all about visiting people we know and spending quality time with friends and family. After a long trip, we inevitably have many stories to tell and share and it’s the bit we love the most, sharing our adventure. Although we’ve been busy sharing it on an individual basis with our many wonderful hosts we’ve also been kept busy with preparing for Arja’s grandmother’s eightieth birthday where we presented a slide show of our trip to Arja’s extended family. It was quite a feat putting together a slide show that would last about an hour and capture the best and most interesting parts of our ten month ‘epic’ trip. With over 13,000 photos to sort through we spend countless sleepless nights sorting, adjusting, altering and mounting our slides. The first sort was a bit of hit and miss and before I could put the slide show together we ran it by our hosts in Oslo a long time family friend of Arja’s mother, Torhild (also a keen motorcyclist) to give us some perspective. The second sort was done but then on closer inpection we’d missed some of the most amazing moments and Arja came to the rescue. With the time to present our slide show only hours away we still hadn’t made the presentation and the pressure was on. We arrived at the hotel in Oslo just two hours before everyone was due to arrive and whilst Arja skillfully distracted her family and got dressed at the same time I went about putting the photos into a powerpoint presentation. It was done with only a few minutes to spare. After a few drinks and many words of this unfamiliar Nordic prose no one would notice that Nepal came before Thailand and the Iranian mosque was actually in Pakistan… or would they?

We were also on student radio in Oslo. Thanks to Ida (Arja’s cousin) who hosts a sunday afternoon show on Nova 99.3 FM we were able to share a little of our adventure with the english speaking Norwegiens tunned into Nova in Oslo. We also wrapped up our ongoing radio interviews with Maite and Chris on 2RRR 88.5FM in Sydney. Thanks heaps to both of you for taking such a keen interest in our adventure, it’s meant a lot to both of us.

Furthermore we also managed to present our little slide show to forty odd students, no they are a little odd too but I meant about forty of them at Kristin’s (Arja’s little sister) school near Kristiansand (southern Norway). It went down a treat as these college students were all very taken by the adventure and our tails from afar.

Our movements

Since Switzerland and catching up with my family we made a quick trip down to southern France to visit an acquaintance from Laos, Roland, a keen cyclist in retirement with an impressive travel history and equally colourful household of collections from all four corners of the globe. We were treated like family by Roland and Viviane and it made it all that much harder to leave the charming picturesque south for rain and grey old Paris. But in amongst the clouds and between the raindrops we managed to see some of the most magestic chateau’s (or should that be chateaux the plural form of the word in french ?) in the Loire valley. We could easily have spent several weeks visiting these splendid castles form eras come and gone but neither time nor weather would have it. Instead to the french capital to reminisce of old times and share some stories with good friends. The days went quickly and the nights too and soon we’d have to be in Oslo for there was a party to get to bet to be won and we weren’t to arrive late for this one very important date.

We punctually arrived in Sweden to the warm welcome of the Bergso family who hosted us for three days and showed us their beautiful countryside. Dag, my friend from Uni in France took us one late afternoon at dusk in search of moose as they are quite common along with deer in the forested regions of scandinavia. As chance would have it, just in a clearing I saw what could have been the roots of an upturned tree, there were many uprooted trees from a recent storm but this wasn’t a tree, in the dim light the blurred outline of something was in the distance. Dag stopped the car and I told him to reverse and sure enough with all our eyes trained to the distant clearing there was a moose. My first wild moose, how exciting. Trouble was the beast was more frightened of us and it wasn’t keen to sit still for any happy snaps.

Monday 28th September, Oslo

Yes you might call it the ride of a lifetime and with the sun setting over Oslo it’s hard to believe that we’ve actually made it this far and all as planned well sort of…

There have been the usual ups and downs of the trip and several changing circumstances that have meant we’ve needed to adapt but all in all that’s what happens in life on a daily basis, isn’t it? Perhaps we’ve become use to the life on the road and having our home on the bike and packed up in the boxes. It’s perhaps more extraordinary for our friends and family and acquaintances we’ve made on the road than it is to us, having reached our goal Oslo. The hardest part about the whole trip is leaving, leaving the friends and creature comforts behind, leaving that materialistic lifestyle and the house parties and everything at your fingertips. Yes by far it’s the hardest thing to leave but it’s the first thing you forget about, I don’t know why we as a consumer society are so attached to the things around us, blame it on our socialisation and the media or our parents or the human hoarding instinct but it’s pretty clear that if we can manage for the best part of a year with just what we carried on our bike and what we picked up on the way then we don’t need much in life. But there are two essential things we all should encourage in our friends and family and those dear to us and that is to love and to dream. It’s what makes us tick, without dreams and the love and support of people on our journey it wouldn’t have been possible. I say not dare to dream but encourage those around us to dream for that’s what fulfills us humans it’s the ability to realise our dreams no matter how small or big they are. Motorcyclists are a crazy bunch indeed but the past-time always encourages dreaming and well it’s what keeps us happy and healthy and we make friends everywhere we go. We shared a dream with many but we also took the chance and made it a reality, we were perhaps wiser beyond our years to know that we didn’t need a life changing ‘reason’ to leave but rather the make the trip a reason to change our lives and our lifestyle.

We’ll leave you with one last word that we’d like to share with you.

‘What we do with the time we’re given defines us’

It’s quite surreal to now be in Oslo ten months after we set out. The truth is that it has gone quite quickly and although we have met many people and have many tails and stories to tell the trip was in the end far easier and better than we could ever have hoped.

It is now that we’d both like to thank everyone who has help us, encouraged us, supported us and sponsored us along the way. It’s been especially fantastic to get feedback to our stories and know that people have been continually following us on our way through the tough times and the high times. It is very reassuring when we were both down to know that people were waiting for updates and news from us. It kept us going and made our trip more meaningful.

The most common question by far since we arrived has been ‘What next?’ and with good reason, we’d both love to keep going but the winter is quickly setting in and with both of us needing work we’ll certainly be occupied with job hunting until Christmas.

That said we have more trips on the horizon and even more than ever we will be needing the help and support of sponsors so spread the word and let anyone that might be interested know who we are.

Ride to live and live to ride.

Ride on ride strong.

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