Throughout Norway

Throughout Norway

The water in Norway has taken my breath away and stolen my heart.

The depth of the fjords, the translucence of the streams, the aquas and turquoise of the rivers and lakes. Not to mention the pale blues of the glacier lakes and the frothy, trubelent whites of the waterfalls. From the outset of our journey into Norway, and consistent all the way through, this element has had the ability to stop me in my tacks and make me gaze at it in admiration and sometimes awe.

Ferry to Norway

The colours of the water change with the light and depth. Like changing moods, they can reflect and effect how you see the landscape around; a very dramatic landscape. Whether the water comes as a large body or narrow strip, is still or moving, frozen or suspended in the air, you can tell that it has shaped this country and perhaps even the people who live here.

We have stayed parked by fjords and watched the water change from a deep blue to an inky green as the sun gets lower and casts it’s golden light on the houses small in the distance on the opposite shore. Below the surface of the water, you can still clearly see seaweeds of various purple hues swaying with unseen currents.

Hike to a glacier in Norway

We have climbed towards glaciers with their blue veins, awesome to see how their slow moving strength carves the landscape of rock. With the glaciers comes the melt water, feeding into pools that are a pale, nearly electric, blue.

We have ventured to swim in the cool glacier pools, with water as still as the surroundings. The reflection like a mirror until a splash from a pale body causes ripples to distort the image. Likewise we have swum in fjords as the sun has progressed towards the horizon, dipping  below the darkening water only briefly to then cast light again a few hours later.

At first you think the water divides Norway; the fjords cut their pathways far inland, the edges of Eastern Norway is made up of many islands, even waterfalls cascade along roads and so have to be accomidated to allow their course to continue.

But then, after many twisting and winding roads, and many, many ferries,

you realise it is part of this land. Like a circulatory system; it brings life to the landscape. From the melting snow at the top, to the he trickles of streams, to the  rushing rivers over white stones, through the calm majestic fjords, right out to the ever changing sea.

It feels like we have experienced all four seasons here. The weather, the landscape, and the water changes so dramatically from one day to the next. Rain and wind, with seas of grey.

Clouds heavy around tall peaks we hiked for amazing views.

And other days full sunshine illuminating waves and distant shorelines.

By traveling in our van, we have spent nearly every night in Norway with a view of some form of water. Calm, dramatic, reflective,

 

Norway’s water makes you stop and reflect.

 

more cycling in norway

following on from the trollstigen, and a great overnight at the visitor centre, allowing for an early morning wander before the coaches arrive, we set off heading for Geiranger. A stunning and gradual roll off the top of trollstigen down to our ferry over to eidsdal and on our way along a beautiful winding road to Geiranger.

We zig-zagged down the 11 hairpin bends of the ornesvingen-eagle road, knowing full well that later I’d be going up (and down) again on my bike. As the cruise ships loomed, and we neared the town it became clear that our plan for a campsite on the water was not what we hoped it might be.

i’m not writing the blog with a view to cause offence, but i am in the business of being honest. As we pulled up in the car park before the entrance to the site, i turned to Liz, and informed her, “I’m not staying here tonight, i need to get out of here, it’s a shithole and its already doing my fucking head in”

fortunatly Liz hastily found us a great little spot about 4km out of the town, sitting in a little bowl up the side of the mountain, the campsite afforded us hot showers, and chance to reset the van, and me the chance to take a cooling dip in the stream that was 20 meters from where we pitched after my epic ride.

Ive tried to describe Geiranger four times, and deleted it each time, but allow me to say, look at the pictures on google, read the descriptions online, but if you ever get the chance to go, don’t bother, really, just don’t. Norway has so much to offer, you don’t need to end up here.

the only positive thing i can think to say, is that it gives you great motivation to leave, and so i did, twice. As mentioned, i climbed the eagle road, which was a punchy bunch of switchbacks which affords a pleasant view from the top, and a fun descent. Switchbacks always allow a good opportunity to mix it with the cars, and i claimed a good few scalps on my way back down.

The following morning i was up fairly early, had my tea and cereal (with extra oats) packed my banana and puncture kit,  and headed back down into the town (which is a shithole by the way). Today, i was going to ride up Dalsnibba. Fortunately my usual casual attitude, and lack of knowing what was coming paid dividends. I set off knowing it is quite a big climb (category 1 no less) but had no idea, it was probably the single largest climb I’ve ever done. Starting at sea level (if you can see it through the cruise ships exhaust fog) it climbs for 20km to a total of 1500 meters above sea level (though for some reason this link and profile stops short https://www.cyclingcols.com/col/Dalsnibba maybe they got cramp :)) as i make my way to the top 2 hours later, and the terrain flattened off, i allowed myself that same moment to enjoy the view, and feel pleased with my effort. Ahead, the lake at the top stretches out before me, and then i see it, the brown tourist sign telling me the viewpoint is 5km to my left…….

the last 5k was 10%, and though I didn’t have much more left, i made it to the top without stopping. Being the great tourist and athlete that i am, i briefly had a glimpse at the view i’d Worked so hard for, ordered and scoffed a hotdog from the catering van at the top, text Liz to say I hadn’t died, and hammered it back down.

Trollstigen

Trollstigen

“And this is the trollstigen” I say, waiting for the page to load on my phone so I can show my cycling mates.

They all acknowledge the image, and my phone goes back on the table as I carry on selling them my pipe dream.

That was last year as I was cycling in the alps. This trip was just beginning to become a reality. The house went on the market after I returned from France, and there was a chance that I meant what I said  back in bourg st Maurice.

366 days later, I take Mabel’s seat off the back of my bike, give the chain a squirt of wd40, swing my leg over the bike and set off. It’s a warm day, but with a stiff breeze blowing. I ride for a while, and though I know the climb is looming, I still cant see it.

The rocks are rising up all around me, the stream tumbling down, and soon I am surrounded, except for 10km of 8%.

I love the foot of a climb. I love the intimidation. Little me is going to go up that huge mountain under my own steam. Am I? I’m not very fit, and it does look steep!

Cars, motor homes, vans and coaches grind their way up the narrow pass, the smell of burning clutches around each hairpin. “Fuck it, its to late now mate, best get on with it!”, I say to myself.

Trollstigen is a wonderful climb. Compact, consistent, and amazing views.

As I near the visitor centre at the top, I briefly allow myself to feel proud; I feel relief, I realise I enjoyed myself, and I get to tank it back down as fast as I can as a reward.

Back at the van, I upload my stats to my garmin account, and in the evening scoff two Daim bars as a little well done to me.

We drove the van up today,

and after we got out to take some snaps at the visitor centre, we climbed back in, and onwards, upwards….eh? hang on, what’s this? It would appear the visitor centre is not at the top of the climb, non?

“Oh for fucks sake” I say to Liz, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. “It doesn’t count”. Liz is looking around thinking of photo opportunities, then we both say almost simultaneously “We could stay here tonight, and travel on tomorrow”

And so it was; I got to do the troll ladder all over again. This time reaching the top.

 

 

The north

Another week on, and we are almost at the most northerly point of our trip. We were planning to head all the way up to Trondheim, but as mentioned, life with a toddler in a city isn’t that much fun, so having had a look at the map, despite Trondheim looking like a nice place to visit, the 350km round trip just doesn’t add up.

Driving around norway is slow going. The speed limits rarely exceed 80kph, and the roads themselves are twisty, narrow, and mountainous. The only time we ever really trouble the speed limit is in a tunnel, pointing downhill, with the wind behind us! Hence the want to head south again, oh, that and the fact were overspending every day, the budget is getting hammered!

That said, Norway is the most beautiful place i have ever been to.

Strangely, i feel like I’ve taken the least amount of pictures here. I find myself reaching for my phone to try to capture another sublime view, but i know that a) it won’t look anywhere near as good as in real life b) it will eventually become just another view as i scroll through the pictures in the future, and c, (the main reason i don’t bother), is that there will be a view equal to, or better than the last just around the other side of the mountain.

at the tender age of 35, I’d Never seen a glacier before, and a bit like busses, i’ve now seen two in a week. The first involved some interesting hiking. One review suggested a leisurely 3 hour round walk to the glacier, i’m sorry, but fuck that. When you are balancing over washed away bridges, scrambling over rocks, and there are ropes along the way to help one rappel safely down again (all with a toddler on your back), then one is not engaging in a leisurely walk.

The worst part, is three days later, our stopover was a mere 300 meters from another glacier. Typical!

Still, a good bit of exercise.

weve wound our way past waterfalls,

stopping to refill drinks bottles at the roadside with freshly melted chilled water.

obviously, we have negotiated fjords like they are going out of fashion,

and as said, each more impressive than the last,

And then there is the sea. The clearest, bluest, most magnificent expanse of wet I’ve set my eyes upon.

Our 25 year old non turbo diesel, van has been an absolute trooper here in norway, and deserves a special shout. It’s noisy, rattley, awkward to change gear, and slow, but it has taken on the mountains like a boss. First gear hairpins on gravel roads, the lot, this old girl has been brill.

Honestly, if you gain anything from this blog, rob a bank, sell your kids, whatever you need to do to get the funds, spend some time driving around Norway.

Time for change

Denmark was supposed to be my new happy place. I would lust after it once we left, and at the end of our trip i would convince Liz that we should move there, if only for a year.

But it didn’t really feel like that in the end. I don’t know exactly why, some of it was down to me, and some of it, i think, is when people talk about denmark, they mean Copenhagen and the east. Anyway….

After a very quick stop off in skagen (there was a cruise ship in dock, this experience was a strong affirmation that a cruise is the last thing on earth I’d like to do) we headed to hirtshals and took the ferry to kristiansand. The weather was horrendous the night before the crossing, which complemented perfectly the location of our overnight

but some warming soup was made, the blinds pulled up,  and a crap nights sleep was had as i tried not to imagine our solar panel being ripped from our roof and smashing every van on its flight into the abyss.

Gladly we awoke in one piece, and had a very pleasant crossing. We have been here a week tomorrow, and i just love it.

The scenery is something else! Quite how you could tire of it is beyond me.

for once i find myself a bit stuck for what to say, as i just cant do it justice with my limited vocabulary and crap humour, so all i will say, is promise yourself, that you will visit Norway, drive from kristiansand to stavanger along the 44, then pick up the 13 and drive up to Bergen.

Sublime

 

Denmark

Denmark

Well that went quickly.

We are just about to head up to Skagen for the night, before slipping back down to Hirtshals to catch our ferry out of Denmark and up into Norway.

Having just looked at our last post, I cant believe its been over a week since I last wrote.  Since staying in the car park in Varde, we’ve camped in a car park by a reconstructed Iron Age village (obviously), a marina  in Aarhus, a field on a small farm, another car park in the dunes in Slettestrand, and two more near Lokken.

We left varde, and Liz found a good spot to overnight. We settled there, walked along the cycle track to the river, and strolled in the evening down to a lake where hundreds of tiny frogs were making their journey from a swamp to the lake, or the lake to the swamp. They was much hopping, though they lacked a clear collective direction! We woke in the morning, and took a stroll , only to find that about 200 meters from where we parked was a whole reconstructed Iron Age village. We had a mooch around, then hopped into the van, and off to Jelling to the Viking museum.

A strange sprawling town, with a fantastic museum, which was very interactive (perhaps a little too interactive, as the majority of oldies who were there had no idea what to do even when they were doing what they were supposed to). We had lunch (cheese and salad sandwiches for the 42nd day in a row), wandered around the stone ship (the significance of housing the museum there), and set off for Aarhus.

Parking up near the marina, we cycled into the city, and wandered around by the river. We cycled in through the Latin quarter, a great area lined with people sat outside cafes and bars enjoying a drink in the sun. We then sat in a park which opened onto the river with views out to the modern art gallery, before heading back to enjoy the marina in the evening light.

A duff nights sleep followed, as someone decided to turn up the sound system around 2:30am. So, rather grumpily the next day, we pottered around the excellent botanical gardens, indulged in some amazing pastries, and left the city for Aalborg.

Aalborg wil be a brief appraisal. The music hall was a great piece of architecture.

There, that saves you the hassle of ever going. 🙂

Interestingly, after leaving a fairly dirty city with a broken (feature) fountain and seemingly the largest collection of burger restaurants of any place I’ve ever been, I googled it to find that Aalborg is the happiest city in Denmark, which is often touted as the happiest country in the world. So as we left the happiest city on earth, thinking, you guessed it, it was a bit shit, it confirmed to me, that my idea of happiness differs from greasy streets, stag parties, and a big mac meal deal.

Having left Aalborg, we headed back to the west coast in pursuit of our kind of happiness, where we found a parking place meters from the beach, nestled in the dunes. We all took a dip in the drink, and had a chilled afternoon unwinding after a couple of city days.

The next day we ventured north, towards Lokken. Liz again found us a great spot to sleep. A 15 minute walk from an amazing abandoned lighthouse, built atop a couple of huge dunes. It turned out to be a bit of an attraction of its own, with plenty of photographers making the pilgrimage up for sunset, and incredible It was too!

The first time I was scared of a height, was at the sagrada familia in Barcelona. I get fluttery tummy since that day when gaining altitude. The staircase inside the lighthouse was made of metal grate, about eight stories high, and some of the plates buckled as you stepped on them. Heart in mouth, and fresh underpants back at the van, I crested the summit to the most amazing sunset. Truly one of life’s great treats. Quickly forgotten on the way back down mind you!

More than a feeling?

I wanted to like denmark.

Before we left, I read a book about living in denmark, and at a time when I felt so disenfranchised with the state of affairs in the UK, Denmark seemed like my happy place.

We entered Denmark on the 1st of june, and Liz and I both said how even though nothing had changed, it felt so different from germany. Within 10 miles of crossing the boarder it was apparent, though hard to pinpoint exactly what it was.

The fields seemed a bit softer, a bit greener, there was nobody on the roads (the next day I went for a cycle, 8 cars overtook me in 6 miles, and sadly, thats not because I was unleashing my inner Chris Froome). There was nobody impatiently pushing us on in the van, in fact most of the speed limits we have encountered so far suit us at 80kph, I’m not sure what it is, it’s just a feeling. This maybe a placebo kicking in from before we left, or it could be that this is indeed a very pleasant place to be.

After our trip to the island, we stopped off in Ribe for a couple of nights. Apparently Denmark’s oldest town, with remains dating back to 1145AD (though to my untrained eye, it just looked like an old brick built wall). The building tasked with housing them was more impressive to me.

Wibbly wobbly squat old houses sat along cobbled streets,

doors and windows all over the place, with not a right angle in sight.

We really relaxed here, Mabel could stroll the streets safely as there was almost no traffic, except a motorised sofa (I kid you not).

The usual protocol ensued, and back at the van I was on the iPad checking for house prices. I didn’t find anything for sale in Ribe, I imagine there a bit like hens teeth.

The next day we went on to Esbjerg, I hoped to find a decent town to get a feel of, but a bit like those famous Hamburg markets, it looked shit. I was in a mood anyway, so we stopped and looked at the giant men staring out to see, and left, ending up in a town called Varde.

The  stopover was again a car park (anyone spot a theme developing) on the outskirts of a seemingly bland small town. We wandered in to do the laundry (the biggest bore about living in a van) and pootled around a few streets, before getting back, and Liz cooking a fantastic risotto. Whilst she was busy at the hob, I took Mabel for a perimeter walk of the car park. There we found we were at the edge of the grounds of a music school. There were outdoor instruments arranged around a striking bandstand type structure which when approached began to play a very atmospheric 5 minute piece accompanied by a light show of LEDs set into the concrete walls around. It was amazing, and so unexpected. Delving a little further was a whole host of sensory stuff for kids

all free to just interact with, and none of it vandalised.

Liz and I commented on it and how good it must be to have people backing projects like that in your town. Today is the 5th June, Danish Constituion day. Nothing goes on, but everything is shut. We needed some food, so headed for the nearest Lidl hoping it would be open. There were two cars in the car park, but all of their ‘special’ stock outside the front door.

“It must be open then” I say “they’ve got all their plants and tat outside”

As I near the door, I know its closed.

“So seemingly, nobody here steals stuff either!” I say to Liz on returning to the van, two climbing roses and bag of compost stuffed up my jumper. (its a joke! Calm down!)

It’s a strange thing to pick up on to define a nation, but it’s how it feels here; safe, trustworthy, and honest. I shouldn’t be surprised, as I understand it’s not abnormal to leave your baby outside a cafe whilst popping in for a coffe over here. So nobody is going to bat an eyelid at a couple of missing floribunda and bag of john innes No3 🙂

Do I smell?

I met up with friends for a cup of tea shortly before we left Devon to begin our trip.

One of them asked me (and I’m Paraphrasing here)

“How will you know if you transition from someone just travelling around, to becoming a stinky hippy?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t know my personal hygiene is that good anyway”

“Maybe you should ask a stranger every month if you smell.”

Well, thanks to the power of the internet, this blog post is actually scratch and sniff. If you gently agitate your screen, you should be engulfed in a heady aroma I may bottle and sell once we return, to help those experience travelling without actually going anywhere.

I’m actually pretty clean today. I took a shower yesterday, we stayed at a campsite for a couple of nights just gone. It was great. Travelling every day does get tiring, and I think we both feel the need to just pause, and stretch out for a day or two. We have an awning which we can use, but only on campsites as wild or free camping doesn’t permit them being up. The awning effectively doubles our living space, and gives us 8m sq of usable empty space. It’s such a treat.

Today we left the campsite and went along the causeway to an island called Romo. We settled on the west side of the island on a vast beach which we drove onto, and parked up on. There are no roads, marked spaces, or signs for areas to avoid, hence a good day of people watching as bewildered drivers literally beached their cars on the soft sand. It was quite fun helping, with a gaggle of other strangers, to push the stricken cars from where they helplessly lay.

There was also plenty of time to enjoy the blazing sunshine (again) take a swim to cool off, and just generally mill about. After Mabel refused to be fully roused from her nap, we decided to leave the beach, though not before unleashing the outdoor shower. The van has a flap in the bathroom from which you can pull out the tap/ shower head and have an outdoor wash. Very nice indeed.

So there you have it, three dousings in two days. Do I smell? Yeah a little bit. But here’s the worrying bit, which I fear is how these things start, do I care……….

germany pt1

I’ve wanted to write something for a couple of days, but I’ve either been knackered, or not in the mood. Not sure I’m any better set to write now to be honest, but like us, the blog must keep moving.

Entering into Germany it was immediately noticable how much greener the place was. North west Germany seems abundant with trees and sprouting fields everywhere. It was also initially a little more rolling, but fortunately before my vertigo got the better of me, it’s flattened back down to the billiard table topography we have become accustomed to.

We spent a great day at a park in the heart of Hamburg.

Planten un blomen is a huge park offering botanical and rose gardens, glasshouses, lakes, ponds, and the largest Japanese garden in Europe. Often in view in the background is Hamburg’s tallest building, the telemichel. It’s like something from the jetsons, and pierces the sky at 280 meters up. Rendered pure white, it looks incredible with the green of spring, and the blue of the sky.

We went back the next day for a pootle around the “legendary” markets of Hamburg.

Don’t bother, there shit.

Rather than leave disappointed, we had a mooch down by the dockside which was shiny and imposing. Modern apartment blocks overhanging the edge of the dockside in their boxy semi-industrial guise.

Funnily enough, to counter that, we happened upon a boat that was self built and has been touring the canals of Germany and Holland. I recognised it as I follow the guy on instagram. He stopped for the briefest of chats, but was nice to see the shoddy boat amongst the pristine buildings.

Since then, we’ve headed north along the coast, and will be taking a couple of days in a paid campsite (posh) so we can get the awning out and give ourselves some space to relax. I think were due the thunder storms the UK has seen over the bank holiday, so holing up somewhere will be good whilst the weather blows over.

This part of Germany is not unattractive, unlike many of the haircuts I’ve seen up here. It’s fair to say in a career of 20 years, I’ve put out some poor work, but some of the looks up here are beyond edgy. I love a mullet, in fact I sported one for most of last year, but the challenging angles created in this part of the world make me want to reach for the camera and wince in equal measure. Absolute howlers, usually with a colour to match.

I think over the weekend we’ll push on north and get ourselves to Denmark (which I am assured is both flat and dull) so that’ll be a nice change.

In the meantime, it’s my turn to poke mud with a stick/collect stones/shout at geese with Mabel whilst Liz has half an hour of free time.

 

The Netherlands. 17 days, 812 miles

The Netherlands. 17 days, 812 miles

Zeeland, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Friesland, Groningen, reads the route we took through Holland. We saw canals, bikes, islands windmills, bikes, canals, bikes, windmills, canals, and bikes.

Holland is an friendly country to spend time in. The cities feel inviting, and very safe, the road infrastructure is brilliantly maintained, easy to navigate, and the people came across as bright and open.

Nearly everyone rides a bike in Holland, and so did we, though we received some funny looks there. As a keen cyclist in the uk, our family of three, on fancy(ish) bikes, and sporting crash helmets couldn’t have stood out more. A helmet in holland must be a beacon for foreigner, as must be a nice bike. In the city, everyone wears their normal clothes, texts whilst they ride, and seem totally unfazed whatever situation they find themselves in, all whilst riding a rusting heap with three speeds and a buckled wheel.

So there I am, with my sports helmet and sunglasses on, riding my road bike looking a bit of a dick, the only thing to save me was Ihad Mabel on the back to help me ‘blend in’ a bit.

As I’ve Mentioned in previous posts (I think) cities are a bit strenuous with a two year old, so sadly again we didn’t get to see as much of them as we would have liked. And I cant say we absorbed vast amounts of culture, as so often stayed outside the cities, or found ourselves in transit. Here it comes, ready….

the Netherlands is flat. So flat. Flatter than a deflated flat thing with a puncture.

At first this seemed mesmerising, “look at that” I’d Say to Liz, pointing at the horizon “you cant imagine anything this flat can you”. Sadly for Liz, her imagination is rather more colourful than mine. Those conversations must have been a trial.

After a while though, it became boring, and then it started to get to me a bit. To the point, that by the end, it was making me feel a bit funny. I have to say, that leaving, not Holland, but the flatness, was a relief for me, and the almost instant forests and subtle undulations offered by Germany was most welcome.

I broadly had a very enjoyable time in Holland; I’d love to go back to Rotterdam and Groningen for a proper look around some time. With so much still water around, be it countryside or city, it felt so relaxed. The architecture was a joy to take in, and the people we met were warm and good fun.

All in all, a thoroughly decent place.