Indeed, in the summer for a time the sun never sets in Norway’s North but that doesn’t mean it is sunny all the time.
This year in particular it hasn’t been. While the rest of Europe was baking in record-setting heat, we were told Norway was experiencing the coldest and wettest summer in 100+ years.
And this was the summer we decided to finally go to Norway on a road trip. It has always been too far and too expensive. Still is, but we are starting to really feel we are running out of time and European countries to visit. Panicking, as we checked the accommodations (booked up, or ludicrously expensive: room with bunk beds and shared bathroom for $285 anyone?) we threw a borrowed tent and some sleeping bags in the car. Bought two inflatable mattresed and a gas cooker for tea and instant soup.
We haven’t camped in like over twenty years, but hey, the idea brought back fond memories of a vigorous youth. We downloaded a camping app and read that wild camping was legal and practiced everywhere so our stress level went down immediately.
Until the first big rains…
And temperature dropping precipitously…
After we were seriously flooded twice we decided to camp only in good weather. Luckily the second part of our trip was after the end of high season so we were able to find a combination of simple campground huts, hotel rooms and Airbnbs.
Still we were proud of giving camping a fair chance and glad to meet a lot of nice fellow travelers in camps’ common kitchens. With local restaurants and coffee shops closed altogether or closed early in the day our little cooker came in handy. (More on the logistics in a later post)
When one thinks of Norway it is the image of fjords that comes up in our mind first and foremost.
Mountains reflected in beautiful blue-green waters.
Well, with the ratio 1 sunny day to 3 rainy ones, we had a whole lot more of cloudy and rainy fjords. Reflections, thank goodness, were still there.
Moody, broody, but very satisfying to photograph.
There are three ways to see the fjords. From the banks
from the top and from the water.
If you are a hiker, there are many hikes that will reward you with fabulous views. Our hiking days are well behind us so we needed to resort to driving windy roads to come to lookout points.
It is even better when one can take a gondola and feel like really being on top of the world.
Getting on the water means renting a kayak (which we didn’t do) or hopping on a car ferry. Some are just your everyday short connections between different sides or arms of a fjord but others can be running the length of the whole fjord and are a scenic tourist attraction.
One can get close and personal with waterfalls, this summer reinforced by plenty of rain.
So yeah, fjords are spectacular and very attractive, but Norway is so much more. For once we didn’t have a detailed travel plan and were not limited with a return ticket date so we had a chance to be flexible and explore more. To some degree we tried following the weather predictions on a Norwegian weather app, but when it rains everywhere you can’t quite drive away from it.
Hence we got holed up in a hotel in Bergen for three days, drying out our tent and planing our route further North than initially invisioned.
Making lemonade out of rainy lemons we looked for indoor activities and discovered places and experiences we would likely have missed in sunny weather.
The design and quality of their museums was a delight and the stave church on the outskirts dramatic.
Now for the stavekirken… We got quite obsessed with them and after our first encounter went out of the way to visit. There is something very attractive about them – a combination of Viking mysticism and Early Christian spirituality. Researchers believe that there have been just under 2 000 stave churches in Norway. 28 of these are preserved. Such medieval wooden churches were scattered all over Europe but are now only found in Norway. Incidentally we saw similar hand hewn techniques of church building (without any nails!) still used in a remote corner of Romania. We easily fell under their spell as well.
Many of the Norwegian still standing stave churches are total reconstructions as these churches are prone to fires. In order to protect the churches they are tarred on the outside, thus the (rather sinister) black appearance.
They were built at the time when Vikings started accepting Christianity en masse around 11th-12th century and on.
Finding Viking sites was another mainstay of our meandering around the country. With the Viking ship Museum in Oslo closed for renovations for the next five years (!) we were ecstatic to find the newest and largest Viking ship on display at the spectacularly intelligently and beautifully designed Sagastad Museum in the tiny fjord where it first sailed.
We came on a Sunday morning expecting a crowd and upon seeing an absolutely empty parking lot suspected the museum was closed. It wasn’t. It was singlehandedly manned by a teenage girl who couldn’t be more than sixteen. That’s Norway to you, people are expected to behave well, doors are not locked, streets are safe to walk in the middle of the night.
As the Myklebust ship was a burial ship it was burned to a crisp and covered by a big earthen mound. Nevertheless archaeologists could still determine so many details that an exact replica could be built.
The Museum has mirrored walls and ceiling with black background so you have a feeling you are in the charred mound.
The awesome part about Norwegian museums is that they are so interactive. You are not only allowed but encouraged to walk on the ship and become a Viking.
Compared to these intricate highly skilled works of art and craft the majority of buildings we came across were rather simple and slap dash in their construction. The countryside is dotted with simple red huts. Red must be the favorite color in Norway.
Cottages are a national obsession and it seems like every family has one somewhere. They are surprisingly simple, many lacking inside bathrooms. Norwegians for all the cold and rain love to spend their time outside, hiking and fishing. From an early age babies and kids of all ages are out and about clad in waterproof clothing and boots. Sturdy Viking stock, indeed!
A bit more elaborate are farms that mostly seems to follow an attractive pattern of white main house and red barns.
In the cities too, housing is simple and utilitarian. And often red.
The last picture illustrates how we feel about Norwegians. There is no problem communicating as pretty much everyone speaks perfect English, but man, they are hard to break a barrier with. That’s why for once you will not see any people pictures in our blog.
Except for this gentleman, we found picking a bucketfull of crab from his cages with his wife.
I turned on my most charming self but it was tough going to sustain a conversation. They told me they were having a Sunday party for friends. I half jokingly asked at what time? They seriously answered, “At 5.” Having just come from our trip in Central Asia, the difference was stark. There we would have been invited for a crab feast at the first hello. With no English spoken. 😉
Maybe further North we will be luckier. Norwegian North coming up next!