While we don’t want to make a habit of this, we must begin this posting with a confession as well: That Norway is, without a doubt, the most spectacularly beautiful country we have ever visited. There is simply no way of rendering the magnitude and scale of the scenery, the color and grace of its countryside, and the plentitude of vistas which take your breath away. For travelers such as this pair, it is absolutely stunning!
We came to Norway from our base in Germany up through the Danish peninsula to near its tip and the town of Hirtshels. It is a major ferry port and the quickest, most efficient way to reach Norway from the heart of Europe. There we boarded the SuperSpeed 2 and headed to the Norwegian port of Larvik, about sixty miles south of Oslo.
While the SuperSpeed 2 carried lots of passengers, who boarded by the long glass passageway in the photo above, we lined up with the rest of the motorhomes and perhaps a hundred trucks and entered the belly of the whale, so to speak.
Once inside, things were rather tight,
but we did squeeze through and made our way to the upper decks which were equipped much like a cruise ship with restaurants, lounges, even cabins for those looking for some comfortable sleep on the overnight passage.
Once ashore, we headed for Oslo to meet our friends Jeanne and Tony. Some of you are probably familiar with them already since they accompanied us on our South American/Antarctica cruise, Jeanne most famous for kissing gauchos. They rented a motorhome very similar to Romy, and named it Thor, given its Viking heritage. Here is a shot of three of us when we gathered together in a campground and enjoyed a little wine before dinner.
We had a couple of days in Oslo and thoroughly enjoyed it. We particularly liked the waterfront near the new Opera House which has been redeveloped and has become a wonderful place to enjoy a sunny afternoon.
Our campground, high on a hill looking down on the city, was also next to the Ekeberg Sculpture Garden, huge and sprawling with wonderful facilities for every outdoor activity, and lots of sculptures. Here is one called “The Couple” by Louise Bourgeois, also the creator of the giant spider-like sculpture in front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
We also spent part of a day on a harbor cruiser and went out of Oslo proper to those areas close by where residents have small cottages they escape to in good weather. We loved how picturesque and colorful they are with ladders into the water ready for swimmers.
In addition, we visited the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History outside Oslo. Like its equivalent in Romania and Bulgaria, for instance, the state has moved historic buildings from across the country to this central location and attempted to recreate life as it was in the rural past. We found these buildings to be fascinating in the details of their construction and their sod roofs.
Once out on the road, we had our first experiences with the scenery that we found to be so spectacular. Here is the view from one of our first campgrounds, as we headed for Bergen.
Bergen itself was of interest, given its long history as an important seaport and trading center dating from its participation in the Hanseatic League. It was a trade organization of cities begun in the 13th century and which continued to be influential and powerful for four hundred years more, stretching across all of Northern Europe to 190 cities in 16 countries. The waterfront in Bergen is lined with colorful warehouses dating from that era.
The downside to Bergen? It rains all the time. Sixty days of sunshine a year makes it a good year!
From there we began our journey into fjord country. We went first to Voss and then Flam, two towns buried in the midst of the fjords. We took a cruise up and around the Aurlandsfjord and had our first taste of the small villages which sit in such isolation that for many of them the only physical connection with the outer world is by boat.
We took another day to make a grand loop of the countryside, but what was also surprising was that forty-two miles of our journey that day was underground, in tunnels! The Norse are the master tunnelers, we think. One of those we experienced is the longest road tunnel in the world at fifteen miles, and includes a roundabout where it intersects another tunnel at its midpoint. But once out of the tunnel we began climbing and climbing and climbing, and soon found ourselves high above with snow everywhere.
That’s Thor following the lunatic bicyclist up the climb. Soon we made a stop at a picnic spot beside a frozen lake, but since this was the first week of June, we wondered when it would ever get used.
But the snow was cause for a bit of celebration by the ‘snow geeks’,
and some snowball throwing as well.
From what might be called the Flam Fjordland, we headed north toward Lom, a central city and site of one of Norway’s most famous Stave Churches. These are churches built of what we would call ‘post and beam’ construction where staves, or massive posts, are positioned on a stone foundation and then beams stretch across the bottom and the top, and the walls are filled in between. They are famous as well for the Viking inspired ‘dragons’ which protrude from their roofs, much as they did from the bows of Viking ships. Here is the church at Lom,
and another, this one outside the town of Vik,
and finally, one which has been moved to the Cultural History Museum in Oslo.
They tend to be narrow, confining, and dark. The interior below is of the Lom church and is an exception because of its windows in the altar area.
We find them so fascinating because of the medieval wooden churches we saw in Romania and the many similarities between them, though the Romanian ones don’t have dragons!
As much as anything, however, it was the incredible scenery we had as we drove that made us so fond of Norway. Everywhere it was green and sprinkled with colorful villages which seemed to be disconnected from all the rest of the world, living a rural and agricultural life untouched by modern ways.
From Lom we headed for Geiranger Fjord, deep in the mountains with spectacular views,
though the driving itself was rather precarious, particularly when we met other vehicles coming from the opposite direction.
We hope you noticed the purple Corvette convertible behind the motorhome–a rare sight in Europe.
I think we can safely say that Geiranger was our favorite spot in all of Norway. From the first sighting at a distant viewpoint,
to the sweeping perspective from high above before the descent,
to the roar of the waterfall which plunges down and then through the middle of town,
to the campground right on the fjord where Romy and Thor enjoyed waterfront spots,
it was everything these travelers could ask for. And while the town had little to offer beyond ferry docks and a few stores and restaurants, the old boathouses had an appeal to us as well.
Finally tearing ourselves away and heading north for as far as we could get before Tony and Jeanne had to return their motorhome in Oslo, we encountered the famous Troll’s Highway or Trollstigen. It is a plunge of a highway, accompanied by numerous waterfalls, which seem to pitch off the side of the mountain and finally crash into the valley in the distance.
Those dark specks you see on the highway are cars. But here’s an even better look.
As you can imagine, going down in two motorhomes was a bit of a challenge, the entire plunge in first, second and at the flattest points, third gear with a foot ready for the brakes.
Our final stop before turning back toward Oslo was the beautiful city of Alesund, perched on a finger of land out into the North Sea.
On a cold January night in 1904, with gale force winds howling, a fire started and grew to consume the entire wooden town. By morning it had been destroyed and left over 10,000 residents homeless. The city was rebuilt in stone and brick to a plan and in the style of that period, Art Nouveau. Thus there is lots of color, wonderful details in the buildings’ architecture, and a grace and proportion to the entire city. Indeed, canals snake through the town and furnish open space and even a chance for visiting boats to moor.
From Alesund we turned south and began the 350 mile trip back to Oslo, traveling on express roads and stopping twice in lovely campgrounds for the night. Tony and Jeanne returned their motorhome and stayed a couple of more days in Oslo before going on to Copenhagen and Stockholm by more conventional means. We turned east toward Sweden and Finland, with the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to follow.