Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Welcome to the land of the Trolls

Norway. A mystical place, deeply embedded into the history books and well known for its spectacular landscapes. The land of the midnight sun, where you can ride further north than in Alaska and camp on the most northern campground in the world. World famous for its fjords, rugged mountains, extreme winters, best salmon in the world, wild flowing rivers, snow capped mountains even in summer and 24 hrs daylight from June through to August. Were we excited when we rode into Norway? You bet!

The most scenic part is the southern half. That's where you find the rugged mountains and the most spectacular fjords. The roads are winding and the views are just unbelievable. It's hard to comprehend at times as having just seen the most beautiful landscape, you ride around the corner and there opens up an even better one! Landscape wise this must surely be one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The first 160 km, crossing the border and past Drammen, weren't that impressive. Ok landscape wise but just too much traffic and tunnel after tunnel made me wonder where we were in the end. I was surprised about the number of motorcyclists on the road. At the end of the day we concluded we hadn't seen that many in any other European country or the USA. They all greeted each other too. Sure these roads are heaven for motorcyclists but the winters are long and Norway is known for its copious amounts of rain as well. Petrol prices are the highest we have seen anywhere so far, which is somewhat ironic as Norway has its own oil. At 16 Nok a litre it works out at 3x the US price…!

Despite being quite late in the season, there were still plenty of holiday makers. Mostly driving smaller motorhomes. As they are plastic boxes on wheels, we call them wheelie bins… I don't know what it is but most of the people driving these things are just not happy. I know I wouldn't be happy driving these wobbly box vans around with their rattly highly strung little diesel engines. They crawl up the hill, despite having 130+ hp and scare themselves shitless when they see signs warning them for winding roads and a 16% descend… give me a motorcycle any day! The Norwegians must be sick of them too as they tend to travel together, making it impossible to overtake, and don't care that they've got a mile of traffic behind them. Like I said, give me a motorcycle any day as at least we can overtake. 

A Norwegian told me that they aren't real popular for another reason too: they free-camp everywhere. Norwegians have nothing against free-camping and, he assured us, you can safely do so anywhere in Norway with a tent too. The campervans however cling together and occupy a complete parking area. We've seen what he means, being just two days in Norway. Virtually every scenic viewpoint is clogged up with these horrible white boxes. To make it worse they park in circles, taking up much more space than needed, and have BBQs in the middle… Having said that, we do understand why they tend to free-camp as campgrounds in Norway are expensive, very expensive! 

The very first day we rode in Norway, Mike sighed in his helmet 'this country is amazing… I've never seen a place so beautiful!' on which I replied 'it's our first day here, you ain't seen nothing yet!' I can understand his reaction though and what makes it even more impressive is that he said this after leaving Sweden, a country we all like very much. 

The second day was even more impressive than the first one. Beautiful weather helped too. We rode through the Numedal which has many wild rivers flowing through it, lots of small scale farming and typical Norwegian style buildings. Especially the farm buildings look like they've come straight out of the first century. Huge barns made from railway sleeper size beams, often with a first floor that's strong enough for a tractor to ride on! Another typical Norwegian building is the classic Stavkirke. A Stavkirke is a very old style church, again like I haven't seen anywhere else in the world. A Stavkirke is a church built from wood, its supporting structure are poles which are mounted on sleepers or syllstokker. The standing boards on the outside have given the stavkirkes their name and are now considered to be the most important representatives of European medieval architecture in wood. They are on the Unesco world heritage list as well.Beautiful buildings, very powerful architecture and impressive building style. There was quite a bit of snow in several places too and that is something we hadn't expected to find in August anymore. It makes for even more impressive landscapes.

Official sign!
There must be quite a few moose here, judging by the warning sings for them, but all we saw was a big mouse crossing the road wearing a thick fur coat! We made a few photos of a big wooden Troll. Trolls are part of Norwegian folklore and there seem to be quite a few different versions of what Trolls actually are and where they come from. Whatever their origin, current parents use the scary version to keep their kids in line. 'If you don't listen and do what I say… the Trolls will come and take you away!'

As if the morning hadn't been good enough, we followed a route marked as scenic in the direction of Eidfjord. A scenic route in Norway, as if there are non-scenic routes here! What followed was a route high into the mountains with lots of snow and beautiful vistas. It was cold, icy cold at times due to a strong wind. We saw grass covered buildings, another typical Norwegian thing: grass as roofing. It seems to work well and looks great. The grass on the roofs make the building sort of blend in the landscape. To make the idyllic picture complete we saw a shepherd moving his sheep through this unbelievable landscape. 

Just around the corner is, according to a tourism brochure, the most famous glacier in Norway; the Hardanger Jøkulen. The waterfall at the end of it is famous too, according to the same brochure; Vøringfossen. How can you measure the beauty of a glacier? They're all amazing! The waterfall is pretty special too. There are two, the main Vøringfossen and a smaller one. The Vøringfossen waterfall is so powerful that the sheer volume of the water coming from the glacier shifts enough air to blow the water of the smaller waterfall away.

Shortly after the Vøringfossen is a tunnel that descends in the mountain like a corkscrew! Amazing landscapes and amazing engineering. At the other side was a much warmer gorge, which we followed until we found a campsite along a wild and fast flowing river. Very basic and so much nicer than a caravan park!