After a 4-hour ferry ride we arrived in Norway: land of the midnight sun. In stark contrast to a very flat Denmark we soon arrived at a hill, a hill that soon turned into a mountain. In a very short period we climbed 1250 metres to above the tree line and into the snow. For Emma who lived in the Middle East for the last 9 years and whose last experience of Snow was at Ski Dubai, this was a real treat.
Our driving experience in Norway has been like our very own episode of ‘Top Gear’, it is a motorist’s paradise. The roads are relatively devoid of traffic, the views are stunning and it is like each turn has been lifted from the Nurburgring.
It’s glaringly obvious that the Roman’s never made it as far north as Norway; they probably turned up at the border, realized their ‘Roman Road’ ideology wasn’t going to work and turned around.
The Norwegian’s however took a different approach! If something is in the way stick a road to the side of it, if that fails dig a tunnel straight through the middle of it…or in the case of the extreme descent from the summit of the Folgefonna Glacier down to the Hardangerfjorden, cut a disorientating 2km spiral tunnel that descends corkscrew like through the cliff edge. This marvel of engineering isn’t a concrete super structure lined with fluorescent lights but more resembled a 19th Century mineshaft filled with lingering exhaust fumes.
The reward for enduring such a disconcerting rollercoaster ride was well worth it as we emerged at the jaw-droppingly beautiful fjord.
Round every corner in Norway is an even more astounding vista than the previous one, framed perfectly by the edges of our windscreen. Due to the commonplace nature of these views we soon became fairly blasé and the en-route in-car photographs mounted up. Occasionally some of the views warranted actually stopping the car and getting out, normally in conjunction with some kind of extreme hill climb that had pushed Bee-Bee’s overloaded cooling system to the limit.
For some reason I can’t fathom, Norway has a huge amount of classic American cars. I saw 3 Mustangs, A Dodge Charger, Trans-Am’s, two Chevy Impala’s and countless 70’s Chevy Vans and Pick-Ups.
The American muscle made up for the lack of bear sightings; we did however see plenty of reindeer as we travelled through Scandinavia, we also ate some too. The elusive Elk also remained unspotted, apparently if you are driving the Elk is the last animal you’ll want to see. They stand at least 230 cm tall and when you hit them they spin over and their heavy feet smash through your windscreen. For countries so full of stunning scenery there was a serious lack of wildlife. Emma spotted a Pine-Martin (I know, I’d never heard of one too!) and that was about it!
Travelling north through Norway was a real treat, you dip and climb from frozen ice caps to crystal clear, mirror-like Fjord waters that morph into brilliant-white snow-covered ice-fields again. The melting ice waters are transformed into powerful torrents of milky blue river water that cut through the landscape creating dramatic ravines; crashing over harsh rock rapids downwards towards the next tranquil fjord.
We saw distinct changes with each day as we travelled directly north towards the Arctic Circle; the Midnight Sun became more extreme to the point at our most northerly the light barely dipped for an hour.
The Arctic Circle was a milestone for us, back home in the UK it all seemed so far away and to actually get there felt like a great achievement. It was not quite what I was expecting though; I envisaged maybe a signpost, a polar bear and some kind of native fishing around an ice hole. Instead we got hoards of motorhomes, a massive tourist information centre and a wealth of tourist tat at exaggerated tourist prices.
Sweden is like Norway’s ugly sister; Don’t get me wrong, I still would it’s just she’s a little flat and featureless in comparison (well the North at least). The real problem with Sweden though is due to it’s flat nature it doesn’t have much running water, in turn a lot of still lakes; everywhere we went in Sweden we were hounded by mosquitoes.
Like Norway’s American muscle car mystery Sweden also has a few motoring anomalies. I spotted at least 5 trucks, 1 mini van and a late 80’s Merc with some awesomely bad airbrush work. This isn’t really surprising considering the size of the country but when you discover that we just drove across the Northern part (Norland) in an afternoon the figures seem rather high.
The other observation that was made during this short period of time is that the Swedes love a spotlight, not surprising when you consider that it is dark here for about 70 days straight in winter. Every car has spotlights from the latest BMW’s to the oldest Volvo’s (of which there are thousands)…But the Swedes don’t just have one extra pair of spotlights or subtle little LED ones hidden away in the bumpers, the chosen amount is three massive individual lights placed in a row between the two main headlights. The larger the diameter the better, 8 inches is not unusual.
With the dark winters, forests and snowy conditions it’s easy to see how this ‘neck of the woods’ creates so many great rally drivers.
Sweden was a bit of a blur as we motored straight through towards Finland and Russia. Travelling east we noticed a distinct change in the people, the Fins are much more serious than the Norwegians and Swedes. In Finland we stopped at a city called Oulo to get a taste of Finnish living. The market there sold a delectable display of traditional Finnish foods including ‘Elk in a Can’ and every kind of Salmon you could imagine. The city also has an odd mocking statue of a rather portly policeman, I had the obligatory photograph stood next to the little fella.
We randomly came across a great campsite near the Russian border and decided one last shower would be needed before our crossing. The campsite was so great in fact that we decided to stay two nights so we could really kick back and relax. The hammock got an outing and as we were in Finland we decided to test out the campsites Sauna followed by jumping naked into the freezing lake.
It was at this campsite we met a lovely Finnish couple who gave us all the advice we needed on Russia. The advice didn’t actually make me feel anymore confident about our impending crossing. The area we were about to cross into was bear country, we’re likely to get robbed; possibly at gun point and no one is going to talk English. On the plus side though the area we choose to cross was a quiet border and so it would likely take just a few hours…