Fjords. Waterfalls. Glaciers.
These were some of the wonderful natural sights that we were looking forward to seeing as we set off from Ålesund airport for a week long road trip.
There is something so exciting and independent about having your own car. Luggage in the boot, our mascot Shorne the Sheep, padkos for the journey and a full tank of petrol!
We had to consciously remember that we were driving on the”wrong” side of the road – really it became a two man job, with me concentrating on the narrow roads and Nikki periodically hissing “keep right” and then squeaking “too close!” as we swerved to avoid the oncoming traffic who seemed to have no qualms about the width of their vehicles. And then there were the signs, indicating Reindeer and Moose, although we only came across sheep and cows.
Tunnels. Bridges. Ferries.
There are so many tunnels. But certainly not a pedestrian or everyday version. Suddenly the road you are traveling on, descends steeply into the earth. The image on the GPS is the only thing that indicates that you are now several metres below the ocean. The tunnels sometimes run for several kilometers. They are more relaxing to drive through because they are wide and well lit. Even your radio station signal is boosted.
Then there are the bridges. In South Africa most of these would be a tourist attraction in their own right. No doubt the Norwegians take them for granted but we were in awe of the well designed curves that swept over significant masses of water.
And just like that your road runs to an abrupt halt and an official guides you into the appropriate lane to board a ferry, which gives you a short break from driving. You mostly don’t even know that you are moving and the next thing you are being instructed to drive off on the other side.
The advice we’d been given on driving in Norway, that it takes 1 minute per kilometre, was surprisingly accurate. Often though we took longer than this because literally every turn revealed an outstanding photo opportunity.
The road winds around the fjords over rolling green hills punctuated by the ubiquitous red houses. Endless streams plummet down the vertical sides cut by long forgotten glaciers. The dark grey water is at times still and foreboding and at times churned up by the wind channelled down the fjord.
Copper was mined near the city of Falun starting as early as 800AD. The process of extracting the copper from the ore was primitive and the noxious fumes produced by the furnaces killed people and vegetation. Huge piles of red iron ochre waste grew around the outside of the mine. At some stage, someone noticed that it preserved wood, and mixed with linseed oil, it was used to paint houses and thus Falu Röd (Falun’s Red) was born.
Heading towards Fjærland we entered “breen” (glacier) country – the Jostedalsbreen is the largest in Europe. A short gravel road through farmland takes you to Bøyabreen – one of its many arms. The breen has retreated substantially over the years and now hangs suspended in mid-air. We were overwhelmed by the splendour and the stillness. We were the only people there – gotta love the off-season.
The sun was out as we arrived at our Airbnb in Gaupne, home for the next 2 nights. Gaupne is nestled in a picturesque valley surrounded by strawberry fields and the ever present turquoise water.
We drove up route 604 which runs alongside the Jostedøla River from Gaupne to Nigardsbreen, also an arm of the Jostedalsbreen. It took us 90 minutes to travel the 36km – we just couldn’t stop taking photographs of the milky, turquoise, fast running waters and lakes. These brilliantly blue lakes get their colour from “rock flour”, sediment that has been transported through the rivers to the lakes. The sediment comes from rocks grinding together underneath the glacier. The fine powder is then suspended in the water and absorbs and scatters varying colors of sunlight.
There was stiff 2 hour walk from the car park to the foot of the glacier. Every twist and turn presenting a different perspective and photograph requirement. The wind coming off the ice was really cold especially when the sun disappeared behind a cloud.
Up close, the deep blue cave formed by the rushing waters of the melting glacier is spectacular. We had to be creative to take photos without some stranger lurking in the background.
There were signs and barriers keeping people away from the glacier itself, but people were climbing beneath them to stand touching glacial ice for photographs. No one seemed have learnt from experience or were aware of the mother and father who were killed in front of their children, when the glacier calved in 2014.
Eventually we tore ourselves away for the long walk and drive back to Gaupne. The trip back to our Airbnb took half the time as we literally forced ourselves to take fewer photos.
The 4 scenic routes we followed
Churches. Snow. Trolls
Norway has 18 Norwegian Scenic Routes, chosen to expose visitors to beautiful scenery and innovative architecture at viewpoints and picnic areas. We set off on the Sognefjellet Route which started in Gaupne. We had read about stave churches with their peculiar architecture and that there were some famous ones on our routes. We were not expecting so many smaller versions in hamlets along the way – all different with beautifully tended cemeteries.
The route ended in Lom and delightfully their world famous bakery – Bakeriet I Lom. It was 12pm and we were starving – we had planned to be there for a late breakfast. The queue was out of the door, but luckily moved very quickly. The Skillingsbolle (cinnamon buns) and coffee were delicious, exceeding all expectations.
Suitably fortified, we left Lom towards Geiranger and then turned off onto the Gamle Strynefjellsvegen, our second Scenic Route. The excellent gravel road wound up into the mountains and the snow. It was wild and rugged and the road was periodically blanketed by mist. It was quite off the beaten track and our favourite stretch of the journey.
The Geiranger-Trollstigen Scenic Route – “the troll route” was next . The precariously steep hairpin drive down into Geiranger was nerve wracking especially when a enormous tour bus was heading towards us. Geiranger is a big, busy tourist stop. Ships. Buses. Motorbikes. Cars. Even bicycles. Huge bonfires were blazing, families and friends gathering to celebrate mid summer’s eve.
We caught our last ferry for the day from Eidsdal to Valdallen followed by a short drive to Merete’s Airbnb Luxury Tents. Although the temperature dropped to 9 degrees that night, we were super-comfortable and warm. We were, however, only too aware of the almost ever-present daylight shining through the white tent!
Gudbrandsjuvet is a outstanding example of the architectural aims of the Norwegians and their Scenic Routes. Constructed over a series of spectacular waterfalls, the winding steel walkway links the car park to the cafe, providing different views of the raging river beneath.
The Trollstigen viewpoint juts out from the mountain, providing a bird’s eye view of the 11 hairpin bends down into the valley below. It was drizzling as we tackled the descent. Apparently in the summer season, you encounter a car every 10 seconds on the Trollstigveien Plateau. Once again we were glad to be there before the season – there were quite enough cars already.
Andalsnes signaled the the end of the troll route. We crossed over a series of beautiful bridges to arrive in Kristiansund. Our hotel had a wonderful view of the channel to the open sea and we watched yachts and boats of all sizes coming and going while we enjoyed our take away fish ‘n chips from the Svensson kiosk near the ferry terminal.
Our final Scenic Route was the Atlanterhavsvegen to Bud then farmlands all the way to Ålesund. It was a gloomy day and the wind constantly blew spray onto our camera lenses and we battled to keep them steady. Despite this, we spent some time walking along the incredible scenic walkways. As always the architecture was remarkable. (This road was named the Norwegian Construction of the Century!)
The port of Ålesund is at the entrance to the Geirangerfjord. It is known for its Art Nouveau architecture in which most of the town was rebuilt after a severe fire in 1904.
Unable to resist the delicious fresh Norwegian cod we were easily convinced by a sign proclaiming “Probably the best in the World”. Probably they might be right.
We were sorry to say goodbye to our car – the fjords had exceeded all our expectations – but we were looking forward to the next exciting adventure in Stockholm.