Since the turn of the year I’ve been trying to do as much exploring as I can, realising that my time in Madrid is nearly over. With only a few months left, I’m trying to fit in as many trips as I can, and my most recent one was a weeklong road trip in Norway. Me and two other friends rented a car and spent the week driving around the most beautiful country I have ever been to, visiting the big cities in the south and the treacherous mountain roads in the north. The scenery was ever-changing from one moment to the next. One minute we’d be skirting the fringes of a seemingly endless fjord, and the next we’d be winding our way up the side of a mountain, flanked by giant rock formations all around. It was the perfect location to practice and improve on my landscape photography, and a chance to experience something truly unique.
We arrived in Oslo in the early hours, without any real plan at all. We’d reserved a small 4 door car but the rental desk didn’t open for another 11 hours (convenient), so we spent our first night spread out on the wooden chairs and tables of the airport waiting area. I soon ran out of things to entertain myself, and went to find an ATM to inspect the currency we’d be using for this trip. Norway, not technically being part of Europe, still used their own currency Norwegian Kroner (NOK). The exchange rate made even a cup of average-at-best coffee on par with Starbucks pricing, with Norway famously being one of the most expensive countries in the world. I took out 200NOK (Just over €20) and hoped it would last me at least until the next day.
Sleeping in an airport was actually a lot easier than I’d expected. People leave you to it, whether you’re on the benches, the floor and hidden away under a set of stairs. Tucked up in my make-shift blanket with a denim shirt as a pillow, I took my spot on a set of three Scandinavian inspired chairs and napped for a couple of hours. I’d wake up periodically and check to see if our bags were still with us. Looking around I’d noticed we’d been joined by a portly gentlemen with an Alienware laptop, who had taken the opportunity to charge all of his electronics in one go, using an ageing extension cable plugging into one of the few plug sockets available. He caught me looking at him and I simply nodded, with him returning the gesture. I fell asleep and felt confident that my attempt to communicate had convinced him not to steal our cameras and laptops.
It was soon time to get to the car, and after making ourselves familiar with the facilities on offer, and spreading the majority of my luggage around all the holders and compartments on the passenger side, we left the airport and joined the motorway. The car was fairly new, with only a few thousand miles on the clock. The woman at the desk had informed us that there was a device fitted to the car that tracked our toll charges, as most of the main roads in Norway have automatic toll booths to fund the maintenance and upkeep of the highways. While only being an average of 25NOK (€2.70), the thought of getting lost and having to pay 10 times to drive up and down the same road was a little unnerving. Thankfully I’d brought my SIM card from home, meaning I could use the data I’d bought in the UK out here. Windows Maps would be our saviour. The woman asked where we were heading, and we said “Not sure really, maybe Molde?” with her replying, “Really? That’s a bit bumpy up there…”. Worrying. Having set the GPS for Lillehammer, we ventured onto the motorway. We’d agreed to only have one driver on the trip, as to get another insured would cost too much, so my friend Charles drove and I navigated, with Emma roaming free on the back seats.
After a long drive, a stop at McDonalds and a break to pump up the tyres (Thanks Avis), we arrived in Lillehammer around midday. For those of you that don’t know, Lillehammer is a small skiing town in Oppland County, which is famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics. We drove straight through the town and up towards the Lysgårdsbakken Ski-Jump, which was something I really wanted to see (Thanks to Top Gear). The jump was closed to skis when we got there, but there was still access to climb to the top, and the views were breathtaking. For the first destination, we’d picked a good one. After many photos and time-lapses we quickly visited the Olympic Village in search of the bobsleigh and luge track, but failed to find it thanks to poor phone signal. Leaving Lillehammer satisfied that the trip was going to be an incredible one, we drove on into the night towards a place called Åndalsnes.
The small town of Åndalsnes turned out to be one of the weirdest places on the trip, we arrived early in the morning, around 2am, and after a lot deliberating and driving around we parked up in a grim-looking lay-by next to a quiet B road and settled down for the night. Seeing as the hostels in Norway were incredibly expensive, we’d decided we’d sleep in the car most nights, and try our luck at finding showers and toilets on the roads. Turns out this was a lot easier than expected, and Shell garage toilets were basically heaven. After the most uncomfortable nights sleep of my life (yes, I slept on wooden curvy chairs in an airport), we woke to find out we’d parked next to a giant mountain range clearly not visible at night. This would become a trend throughout the trip, with it actually becoming exciting to see what scenery the daylight would bring us. Like I mentioned before this small town turned out to be really strange. Stopping at a petrol station to decide our route, I noticed a giant blue American pick-up pull into the station and a grotesque, pig-like man jump out and walk over to a group of men in a decrepit Cadillac sedan (American cars are apparently really popular in this country). The men conversed and then separated, only to return numerous amounts of times within the next few minutes. I forgot about it and we drove off towards The Atlantic Road, which is a really incredible stretch of road that traverses the small islands that make up the Atlantic shoreline in the north of Norway. This was the ‘bumpy’ bit the Avis woman had mentioned. The government had built the road to make travel easier from Molde to Bergen, and had constructed giant curved bridges that jetted out over the water at incredible angles.
We drove around for a while, stopped in a cafe that was apparently closed even though it definitely wasn’t, and then drove back along the scenic roads towards Åndalsnes, to try to find somewhere to sleep. It was dark when we arrived, and we stopped in the same service station as before to try to get something more than rice cakes and peanut butter to eat. It was then that I heard the roar of a V8 engine, and into the station came the giant blue truck driving pig man. I bought some food and returned to car, and watched the commotion that followed. The man would drive up, walk into the petrol station then leave and drive away. Then another car would do the same, and the process was repeated for the next hour or so. A multitude of American pick-ups and other cars would mill around the pumps, all looking incredibly suspicious. We left quickly.
We had a rough idea of some of the scenic routes dotted around the country, and so we departed towards the nearest, which was Trollstigen. This translates literally to Troll’s Path (Trolls are a big thing in Norway, like, a ridiculously big thing). The plan was to find a place to stop along the route and have a look in the daylight. The road is described on the Geiranger Fjord tourist website:
Trollstigen is a road through west Norwegian nature at its most powerful, with a dizzying view of sheer mountainsides, waterfalls, deep fjords and fertile valleys. Since tourism was in its infancy, tourists from all over the world have visited Geiranger and Trollstigen.
Sounds incredible right? Turns out the road was closed at that time of year due to snow, which we soon discovered can appear from nowhere. Driving up the initial part of the road was fairly treacherous, as the road is lined with small boulders that would probably help you over the edge rather than hinder. About halfway up a small stretch of mountain road, the snow came. The weather in Norway can change in a second as the roads ascend and descend rapidly. Blind from the snow and terrified from local Troll abduction stories, we came upon a red barrier telling us the road was closed, and we returned down. Taking a huge detour we decided to visit the other end of the road the next day, which was also partially open. And hopefully free of trolls.
In part two: fjords, ferries, military bases and the longest tunnel in the world.