Sunday 31 July 2011

Day 12 - Norway Tour 2011

Hov to Oslo
Distance: 73 miles / 115 km
Song for today:  Plush, Stone Temple Pilots

There are worse ways to spend your last day in Norway than, sunglasses on, bend-swinging along the fjords in bright sunshine. So, that's what we did, and very fine it was too.

A special mention, though, must be made of our caravan/camper-wagon loving fellow travellers. It takes a special kind of selfish bastard to trawl one of these around at 35 km/h (20 mph), holding everyone else up and never once thinking about pulling over to let them by, but it takes a special kind of evil selfish bastard to hitch a caravan to a camper-wagon and then proceed to crawl around the same roads at an even slower pace. There can’t have been much left at home. Maybe they were scared that they’d be robbed when they were away so just took everything with them?

Anyway, having started our day early, we arrived in Oslo in plenty of time, parked up and had a wander around, although one ferry terminal is pretty much like another. This one, just to be different, had palm trees in the car park, though.

While we were away from the bikes we each picked up a parking ticket (500 NKr), which I don't think we’ll worry too much about.

However, once on board the pantomime started. As I mentioned before, we weren't impressed with this crossing. We had a similar problem getting the bikes secured and then when we got to our cabin we found that the twin room we'd booked contained a double bed. Back to reception to get it changed, to be told politely that the boat was full and that there was absolutely no way we could change cabins. Not good enough, we said.

It appeared that we'd been 'upgraded', and they seemed to feel that we should somehow be grateful that we hadn't been charged for this. It didn't matter that we didn't ask for, or even want the upgrade. We were getting nowhere and then the head honcho appeared. This turned out to be what looked like a very large man in drag. About six feet tall, she had shoulders and hands on her like a navvy. Once more it was explained to us that the boat was full and that there was nothing which could be done, and asked if we would, as a special favour to her, just sleep together for the one night.

In other circumstances it would have been funny, but the joke was definitely wearing thin as we stood there sweltering in all of our bike gear. We were adamant that we wanted the cabin which we'd booked and paid for, she was equally adamant that we weren't going to get it. I suggested that maybe someone else might actually appreciate an upgrade to a double room and why didn't they ask some folk if they'd like to swap cabins. It seemed that this possibility hadn’t occurred to them. Eventually a young couple agreed to the swap and we finally managed to decamp to our proper accommodation.

Drama over, we went topside and sat in a window seat and watched Norway slip by as the sun set. A peaceful enough end to our Norway adventure. 


Day 11 - Norway Tour 2011

Distance: technically 0 miles / 0 km
Song for today:  The Lazy Song, Bruno Mars (but this video )

We awoke to yet another beautiful summer morning. What a contrast to yesterday. Today was to be our first real rest day of the trip so far. Quite nice to get up and not have to think about packing everything for a quick getaway.

We had no regrets about not pressing on. It was less than 150 km (95 miles) to Oslo and it didn’t seem worth moving today. The idea was to recharge our batteries as we’d been piling on the miles recently. We will have another few long days once we leave Norway, so having a bit of a break looked like it would be a good idea.

A lazy morning then, and after lunch I went for a quick spin in the sunshine. Clocking up the lowest mileage to date, only about 100 km (60 miles). 

I stopped and took the occasional photo now and again, although the landscape we found ourselves in now was nowhere near as dramatic as some other places we’d been so far. 

The local church in Hov seemed to be built on the standard wooden church pattern we’d seen elsewhere in Norway, and I did come across this small war memorial on my run. There wasn’t much in the way of information on it, but it appeared to be well looked after.

While we were about it, we took the chance to give the bikes another once over. I found that my Scottoiller was empty, so that was refilled, and a little more oil was needed for both bikes - that’s about a litre so far for the Skorpion. The stoneguard on the headlight was doing a sterling job of killing insects if nothing else, and Flossie could really have done with a bit of a clean, which would have to wait, but it was doing a grand job so far. We also took the opportunity to re-pack all our luggage as we’d been merrily abandoning kit as we’d been travelling. Take older clothes with you and just leave them behind once you’ve worn them a couple of times. This leaves you with room for anything you pick up on your travels.

The rest of the day was spent chilling, mostly sitting around people-watching from the veranda of our cabin, beer in hand. And, yes, we probably did look like a couple of hillbillies. 

One family had actually brought their cat on holiday and it followed their teenage daughter around, and at one point it got taken for a walk on a lead. It was that sort of a day.


Day 10 - Norway Tour 2011

Lom to Hov
Distance: 145 miles / 230 km
Song for today:  Battle of Evermore, Led Zeppelin

It was an unpleasant day today, wet and cold for a change. I was in a poor mood when I woke up for some reason, so wasn’t in the best frame of mind to start with. Probably at least partly down to the fact that the actual holiday bit is nearly over and all we have now is the long trip home to look forward to.

We packed up and headed south and the road began to climb steadily up into the treeline. The day began grey and overcast, and before too long it began to rain. The higher we went, the heavier the rain got. With only the occasional respite it rained pretty much all day. It was noticeably colder, too. We were definitely in mountain country now, where previously it had mostly been coastal or farming. 

It seemed as if we were riding through clouds strung across the road, with mist and rain making it difficult to determine the edge in places. This was obviously not an unusual occurrence as we rode along a stretch of road lined with saplings which had been stripped of their branches; I took them to be snow poles to locate the road. These were about three metres high and placed every three or four metres or so along both sides of the road. A bit eerie in the circumstances, they looked like they should have the heads of defeated warriors impaled on them. Or maybe I just have an overactive imagination and have watched one too many movies? 

The road twisted around the occasional lake with the odd cabin scattered about their shores. It all looked rather lonely and desolate, but that was maybe more to do with the weather and how I was feeling than the actual location. We did pass a sign for a naturist/nudist resort up in the mountains. Wonder how they cope with this sort of weather?

Eventually the road came down out of the worst of the weather and we stopped and booked into a cabin just outside the small town of Hov. This site was by a fjord and the cabin was the smallest so far. So small in fact that I felt we should be popping out the door every hour or so to shout ‘Cuckoo!’

We made ourselves at home and then did a run to town for supplies (although we decided against these lovely products) and that was pretty much that for the rest of the day.

What with the weather and the continual travelling, our spirits had taken a bit of a beating today. All so different from the high of yesterday. A days rest is definitely called for.


Saturday 30 July 2011

Day 9 - Norway Tour 2011

Alsdalsnes to Lom / Hairpin Monday
Distance: 120 miles / 190 km
Song for today:  Perfect, Fairground Attraction

Big day today. We got up early and made our way along to the Trollstiggen road, after which we planned on riding to Geiranger and taking in Geirangerfjord. 

This is the roadsign at the bottom of the Trollstiggen, the only genuine troll roadsign in the world, apparently. Some overnight rain had made the roads slightly damp, which made the ride a bit more, exciting, shall we say? The road takes no less than eleven hairpin bends in short succession on a one in ten incline and is exciting and frightening in equal measures.

We had made our way to the top so early that the museum and shop were still closed. So, we settled for some photos from a viewing platform instead. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, which had been my one priority on going to Norway, but those of a nervous disposition might want to give it a miss.

Another small ferry today. This one at Valldal where an enterprising young girl was strolling around with a basket selling fresh pretzels. We bought one and it was delicious.

The best was yet to come. The road into, and out of Geiranger is simply stunning. You drop down into the town along a long series of hairpins and exit steeply upwards out the other side in exactly the same way up what’s called the Eagle Road. 

When we finally arrived at Geiranger it was full to bursting. There were three cruise ships visiting today, including the Cunard liner the Queen Elizabeth, which seemed to be causing quite a stir.

The main viewpoints on the roads were mobbed, so we couldn’t stop in them (thus the lack of photos), and people were running back and forwards across the roads with their cameras. Bloody tourists! We decided to make a sharp exit.

The Eagle Road climbs way up into the snowline. Once again it is all hairpins on a one in ten incline and, at its highest point, is more than six hundred metres above sea level. As you might imagine, it was also much colder up there, with snow on the ground. I’d say that it was far more interesting/difficult (pick your verb) than the Trollstiggen, despite the hype. If they are going to promote one road, why not this one?

At Grotli, in the carpark of a hotel in what looks like the middle of nowhere, we came across the rather bizarre sight of a crashed WWII German bomber. We had to stop, which was probably the whole idea, and have something to eat and a look at the modest display explaining the history of the plane and the story behind it, which they plan on making into a movie, 'Comrade'.

I also managed to take the obligatory photo of a roadsign with a moose on it.

We ended up in Lom for the night. The town was a bit busier than we were expecting, but as there is a large Stav church (see photo below), as well as a museum, this probably explains its popularity.

However, we did manage to get beer tonight, thank goodness, and broke out more ration packs for our evening meal.

The miles are beginning to catch up with us, with various aches and pains becoming all too intrusive. We decided on one more days riding and then we’d stop somewhere for a couple of days rest before the final run to Oslo and the ferry back to Denmark. 


Day 8 - Norway Tour 2011

Kyrksaetorora to Alsdalsnes
Distance: 120 miles / 194 km
Song for today:  Broadsword, Jethro Tull

We had a much shorter day today, but still spent a good few hours in the saddle. Rather than take the major roads, we decided on a route which took us along smaller roads running alongside the main fjords towards Alsdalsnes and the Trollstiggen road.

After a peaceful morning spent swinging the bikes along these smaller roads, we caught a small ferry from Kvanne.

After which we went on a bit of a sat-nav detour, leaving the main road for a while, before re-joining it further along. The road we took passed through an area of fruit farms where the pickers were out in force. They looked somewhat surprised to find two bikes buzzing along the road besides the fields.

We also encountered our first big road over the mountains today, a practise run for tomorrow’s assault on the Trollstiggen, as well as a good few tunnels, too. These were darker and danker than the big ones around the bigger cities. 

When we eventually arrived at the campsite at Aldalsnes, it turned out to be both larger and more expensive than we'd expected. So much so, that putting our tents up was to cost us more than the cabins we’ve already stayed in. 

On riding up to reception we had to manoeuvre around this Ural outfit and pink Trabant Kübelwagen with trailer, both on German plates.

What’s worse than no beer after 6pm on a Saturday? Yes, that’s right. No beer at all on a Sunday. We did notice that you could buy knives the size of small swords, but no alcohol. Good god, it’s like the Dark Ages or something. Good job I brought my emergency whisky ration.

We settled for ordering a can of lager in the site café. This came to about 6 quid, but we reckoned that we deserved one (but only the one).

The road to the Trollstiggen ran through the campsite, and there were loads of big bikes passing in both directions all evening on their way over the mountain. Although it had been sunny all day, it began to cloud over that evening with a bit of a strong wind getting up and the threat of more rain to come. 

I was a bit worried about going over the big road tomorrow if it stayed like this.


Day 7 - Norway Tour 2011

Korgen to Kyrksaetorora
Distance: 335 miles / 540 km
Song for today:  Walk on By, The Stranglers

The day started almost immediately with an 8.3 km (5 mile) tunnel, which was bloody frightening, and then we had all the other tunnels around Trondheim to do again as well. 

A planned detour to the town of Hell to take some photos had to be cancelled when roadworks meant we couldn’t get onto the access road. 

So, although we haven’t actually been to Hell, we have been on the Road to Hell.

Our parents would have been so proud!

While stopped for fuel we decided on lunch at a little roadside café where we encountered what seemed like the only Norwegian who didn’t speak English. Ordering was a bit hit or miss and we only really found out what we'd asked for when it arrived. While eating al fresco we watched  a couple of big bad bikers: choppers, backpatches, Capt. America helmet et al., putting their bikes through the jetwash at the service station. Nice to be able to Live the Dream! 

Today was a longer day than expected as there were fewer campsites than we had become accustomed to further north. We were thinking about giving up looking and doing a little wild camping when we came across a nice little site tucked away at Kyrksaetorora, which even a Norwegian I spoke to admitted finding difficult to pronounce.

We booked into another cabin here which was, bizarrely, cheaper than camping. The cabin was the biggest of the trip and could have easily slept six quite comfortably, although you might not guess that from the outside.

We passed on the ‘alternative accommodation’ - The Pussi Vagn'.

This campsite, like many others, is set up for fishing, but this one had outdoor tables and sinks for gutting and cleaning any fish caught (on the right), and a smoke house for cooking and preserving them (the white building), as well as a small harbour to moor your boat .

We found out to our cost, however, that Norwegians can’t buy beer after 6pm on a Saturday when we arrived at the shop at 6.15pm. So, no beer for us today.

The above is the view from our cabin door, the one below was taken from the beach.

There was a definite change of scenery today. At first pastoral, then industrialised, before changing to mountainous and heavily wooded where we ended up along the west coast. This is more like the sort of look I associate with Norway. Towns clinging to the steep slopes of mountains overlooking water. And just think, it's only taken us a whole week to get here.


Day 6 - Norway Tour 2011

Korgen to Arctic Circle, and back again
Distance: 240 miles / 380 km
Song for today:  Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd

After the disappointingly wet end to yesterday we woke to a beautiful day with hardly a cloud in the sky. The plan we'd agreed on called for an easier day than we'd had of late, only about 200 miles in total on a round trip to that spot on the map identified as the Arctic (or Polar) Circle at 63° 33N.

Leaving all of the luggage behind in the cabin we had an easy enough run up to the Polar Circle Centre (Polarsirkelen) where we took some photos and had a spot of lunch. For anyone wanting to forever scar their childhood memories of Rudolph and his chums there was reindeer soup and reindeer stew on the menu.

It was quite surreal sitting out in sunshine and the warmth. Not what immediately springs to mind when you hear the words 'arctic' or 'polar'.

On the way back we made a small detour to take a look at the Arctic Circle Raceway, which was unfortunately closed when we got there. So we settled for posing for a few photos outside instead. 

We had been congratulating ourselves for being on the smallest bikes that we'd seen so far when we passed a lad on small Honda 125, loaded for bear, and heading north. Good luck to him.

The run there and back, along the lakes, was amazing. The scenery around every corner just seemed to get better and better. A run in warm sunshine, mile after mile with beautiful surroundings, does you good in ways that are too difficult to explain. Either you get it or you don’t. It's like you’re recharging your soul. All very hippy trippy, I know.

Once back at the cabin we took a little time out to attend to some routine maintenance for the bikes. Nothing serious, mostly just topping up the oil, adjusting the chain, and checking everything over. I did have to do a bit of work on the sidestand, though. Remember I had replaced the original with a supposedly hardier one? [sure-footed] As it turned out, it wasn’t, and the top mount had bent again. The added weight of the panniers, as well as tying it down while on the stand on the ferries had opened out the top brackets and the bike was now leaning at a perilous angle again.

I wanted to close the top brackets, but lacked anything to do the job properly. Luckily there was a garage opposite the campsite and I went in and borrowed a muckle great big hammer from Olaf the Troll (his name probably wasn’t Olaf, and he wasn’t a real troll, but this was Norway and I’m trying to get into the swing of things, okay?). The hammer a mini sledgehammer which I used on a small anvil to put things to rights, ie. beat the living daylights out of the stand until the brackets were back where they should have been. Emergency over for now.

As we had the rest of the day to chill we made a trip to the local supermarket and picked up some food and a disposable BBQ. That night we had sausages for tea. 

Tonight's tipple was the locally produced Arctic Ale.


Day 5 - Norway Tour 2011

Oppdal to Korgen
Distance: 345 miles / 555 km
Song for today:  Into The Mystic, Van Morrison

A bit colder today, but still bright. That's probably because we'd been heading steadily north and the road had been climbing higher. At one rest stop, Gareth broke out some chocolate from one of the military ration packs. This was a Yorkie Bar marked 'not for civvies' (civilians), which made us chuckle.

We spotted a number of 'funny cars' today, some being driven while others were on trailers. It's possible that there is some sort of a rally hereabouts.

After seeing this particular one a selection of songs by ZZ Top featured on my internal jukebox for some reason.

However, all this great weather we'd been having couldn't last, and we encountered our first rain of the trip. First a bit of a shower, then it got progressively heavier until we were riding in a downpour. It was time to look for somewhere to stay. 

Rather than have to put up our tents again, we booked into a cabin for the night. The cabin was quite swish, with 4 bunks, a kitchen area, electric lights etc. and, as an added bonus, it only cost us 10 NKr (about £1) more than putting our tents up the previous night. Before I left home I had spoken to another friend who had been to Norway and he reckoned that the cabins were so good and relatively cheap that he didn’t bother camping after his first night. I can definitely see the attraction.

We now had a decision to make regarding what to do tomorrow. We were still about 160 km (100 miles) short of the Arctic Circle, and that after two full days travelling. Having looked at the distance still to be done we decided that the sensible option would be to make a run to the Arctic Circle the following day and then, rather than stop over there, come straight back and book another night in the cabin.  

Having decided on a plan it was time to relax a bit. 


Friday 29 July 2011

Taxing Problem

Day 4 - Norway Tour 2011

Oslo to Oppdal
Distance: 262 miles / 420 km
Song for today:  Venus in Furs, Velvet Underground

Another long day today, as well as another bright and sunny one. We were up early on the boat to watch the Norwegian coastline pass by. The wooded slopes of the fjords were peppered with small cabins and larger houses of a style that we were to later become familiar with on our later travels.

Once disembarked we left the city behind and headed north along the country's main road, the E6, which runs all the way from Oslo in the south to Nordcapp in the north. Unfortunately, we hit that seemingly ever-present feature of roads everywhere, roadworks. Unlike earlier in the trip these didn't hold us back too much as the traffic was generally much lighter.

The lengthy tunnels around Trondheim, some over 4km (2.5 miles) long, were a bit of a shock to the system, as was the locals' habit of overtaking in them (no speed cameras in there). What speed cameras we saw were strange to our eyes, looking more ‘steam punk’ than high-tech. 

The general standard of driving, however, was generally good, but slow. Outside of the cities drivers tended to strictly obey the speed limits, and this did take some getting used to. These limits ranged from 50 km/h (30 mph) in town to 80 km/h (50 mph) on most other roads, and even then most drivers tended to stay about 10 km/h (6 mph) below the posted limit. It was frustrating at first, but gradually you got used to it and you found yourself adjusting to the general rhythm around you. The slower pace is actually quite relaxing and you're able to take the time to look around more as you travel.

I was rather amused to note that the general bikers' head nod seen in the UK had been replaced with a rather laconic wave of the hand. Just lift your left hand off the bars and let it wave in the wind when you encounter another rider. Very cool.

Our first main stop today was in Lillehammer for a bit of a break and something to eat. The skyline there is dominated by the former Olympic ski jumping run, which you can see from pretty much everywhere.

Eventually we pulled into a campsite near Oppdal for the night, having managed to travel further than we had expected today. The slower pace of the roads and the remarkable scenery meant that we weren't actually that tired, and we only really stopped because we felt that we should.   

The reception building was quite novel, this was the first time we were to come across buildings which had turf on the roof, and this one also had roof supports which were actual tree trunks.

Having put up the tents, Gareth broke out some military ration packs for our evening meal and I was pleasantly surprised at how palatable these were. A vast improvement over the ones which had been on offer the last time I'd tried them.

I also broke out one of my emergency supply of whisky miniatures. I felt that our first day in Norway should be properly celebrated. 


Day 3 - Norway Tour 2011

Thomsdorff, Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark
Distance: 145 miles / 235 km
Song for today:  Red Barchetta, Rush

Today was a relatively short day, with another small ferry crossing from Puttgarden in Germany to Rodbyhavn in southern Denmark, then a quick scoot across country to Copenhagen where we were to catch the big ferry to Oslo and Norway at long last. Still just another day of travelling, unfortunately.

The small ferry put many of the bigger operators to shame, although Gareth was amused to see that some of the crew were sporting hi-viz shorts, shorts being on a long list of banned apparel for workers under UK Health & Safety measures, apparently.  On board were obviously permanent and well thought out strap-down positions for bikes along both walls (hulls?) and everything was done with the minimum of fuss.

Once the bikes were secured, we made our way to the outside deck and sat in the morning sunshine as we left Germany behind and headed, at last, for Scandinavia.

The trip across Denmark to Copenhagen was unremarkable and, as the ferry terminal is a ways from the centre of the town, we didn't even get a chance to see that perennial Danish landmark the Little Mermaid statue in the harbour. Personally, having been before, I don't think that it's worth the effort.

While waiting around at the terminal in Oslo we got talking to an American couple who had recently toured around the UK on hired Harleys. The husband seemed a very keen motorcyclist, as well as an avid whisky buff. His suggestion for dealing with rain? Pull over, put on your poncho and wait for it to pass. We did suggest that were he to try this in Scotland that he'd likely have a very long wait!

The DFDS ferry to Oslo was a bit shambolic. Once on board a rather brusque crew member chucked a basket of not very strong tie-down straps at us and left us to try and sort ourselves out. No provision had been made for carrying motorcycles and there was no real way to tie the bikes down properly. Having done the best we could, we just prayed that we'd have a calm crossing.

As the boat sailed out of Copenhagen we went out on deck. The route took us past a number of small islands complete with lighthouses and fortifications from a bygone age to remind you of Denmark's military past, and In the distance we could see the Öresund Bridge linking Denmark with Sweden. This is an impressive piece of engineering, but I imagine that it is a daunting prospect on two wheels in anything but perfect weather conditions.

Light relief was provided by a small boat crew showing off by crossing and re-crossing the boat’s wake, becoming airborne on each pass.

Tomorrow we'd finally arrive in Norway.


Thursday 28 July 2011

Day 2 - Norway Tour 2011

Ijmuiden, Netherlands to Thomsdorff, Germany
Distance: 375 miles / 600km
Song for today:  A Million Miles Away, Rory Gallagher

Today was a really, really long day. Although we had made the decision to get as far as possible when we were relatively fresh, it was still exhausting. Made more so since much of our route through northern Germany took us over long stretches of roadworks, which was frustrating for the time it lost us.

That said, the conditions were pretty good, with more bright sunshine and little in the way of a wind. It was also much hotter than we'd anticipated, but it did give us an excuse to dig out the sunglasses for the first time. We broke the trip down into 90-mile sections, stopping for fuel and a bit of a rest each time, before pushing on.

It should be noted that while there are now speed limits on most German motorways, they obviously forgot to tell the Germans. They drive excessively fast, and far too close to the vehicle in front. It's all a bit tense on something as small as the bikes we were riding, and makes for fraught overtaking. One minute your mirrors are clear of traffic and then, just as you're about to move out, someone in a big Audi or the like goes horsing past at Warp Factor 9. Scary!

I'm afraid that we didn’t see much of anything but the motorway and a number of service stations today, it was all about putting in the miles. The only thing that did strike me was the huge number of wind turbines along our route through the Netherlands and Germany. They seemed to be everywhere. A definite blot on the landscape.

We eventually found our hotel, Hotel Lindenkrug. Located in a small, quiet village it was just what we needed after our hectic day. When the owner found out from Gareth how far we'd come he went away and came back with extra cushions for us to sit on. Very understanding of him.

A couple of beers, a bite to eat, and then an early night. We had more of the same to do tomorrow.