Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Wednesday 26 July - Bergen

Where’s Bertie? He’s at the motorhome parking at the (disused?) Bergenhalle, a few kilometres outside of the centre of Bergen. (Exact location: 60.35392, 5.35918)

Reckoning that the most likely time to find a slot vacant at the motorhome parking in Bergen was sometime between 9 and 10 am, we arrived at quarter past eight, thinking that we could sit outside and have breakfast, waiting for someone to leave.

It was a promising sign to see a motorhome heading along the road towards us as we approached and our luck was incredible. There was just one slot vacant, and it was one with electricity (the price of 150NOK to park here for 24 hours includes electric, but there are fewer electric points than there are spaces). After 35 days without mains power, that was exciting. Aside from charging all of the things that we can’t charge off 12v (vacuum cleaner, window vac, beard trimmer), it meant that we could finally get the clippers out and have haircuts. People passing by on the pavement outside the parking area, did stare at our alfresco barbers.

The tram into Bergen stops a minute’s walk down the road from the parking, so once we had drunk tea (Footnote 1), had breakfast, drunk coffee, eaten buns, had haircuts, made a packed lunch, faffed etc, off we headed into town.

Bergen is, surely, most well known for its old town (Bryggen), dating from the eleventh century, but actually rebuilt any number of times since, albeit in the same style and using the same construction techniques as the original buildings. I took some particularly badly composed shots of it:


Note that the two middle buildings are currently represented by printed fabric wrappings, as they are currently undergoing a £4m renovation project.

The guide books and the tourist brochures told us we had to wander the alleys through the old town, and we did as we were told…

…although not before we had taken a wander around the fort, where some dress-rehearsals were in progress on an open-air stage. I didn’t take a snap of the performers, but here is part of the fort, with Mick pondering whether to spend £7 on a Cornish pasty from the Pasty Company:

Our trip to the cathedral didn’t come to anything as it is currently closed for major renovations…

More printed wrapping fabric pretending to be the building behind

…but we were able to go to St John’s Church instead, which is (apparently) often mistaken for the cathedral due to its grandness and elevated position:


With hindsight, I wish that we had come here for two days and bought a Bergen Card for the same period. It wouldn’t offer us good value for the 1-day card (240NOK), but with the 2-day version (310NOK) the combination of hitting the museums (Footnote 2) and having inclusive public transport would have made it worthwhile. As I didn’t reach that conclusion until far too late in the day, we made do with just our wandering around, until our enthusiasm for wandering waned and we made our way back to the tram, thence Bertie.

bonus snap

Doing a tiny bit of hand washing on our return (with the benefit of electricity to heat some water and a water tap close to hand), I thought that it would be easier to rinse it by taking the bowl over to a mains-pressure tap. I was surprised indeed to fill the bowl at the outside sink and find the water too hot for my hands. A sink in the car park of an exhibition hall, supplying piping hot water – who would have thought? If the weather was better for drying, and the hour of day earlier, I would have washed much more.

(Footnotes:

1. I’m so unused to having mains power that I put the kettle on the gas, before remembering that we had electric and switching it over to the electric ring. It had been on there a while before I remembered that we have an electric kettle!

2. I was particularly intrigued by the Leprosy Museum; Mick suspected that visiting it would cost and arm and a leg…

Tuesday 25 July - Turistveg Gaularfjell and Much Indecision

Where's Bertie? He's in a little pull-in that sits perpendicular to a very minor road, about 250m away from the E39, not far from a tiny place called Hjelmås. (Exact location: 60.59978, 5.37507)

To go to Bergen or not to go to Bergen, that was the question. We pondered it over breakfast, made no decision and set off on the basis that we didn't really need to decide for another 40km. We were going to take a drive along Turistveg Gaularfjell - one of many tourist routes dotted over the country, so designated as they offer the best scenery - but if we were going to go to Bergen then it made sense for us only to do the first bit of the route along Route 13, before cutting back along another arm of the Turistveg on the more minor road 610.

Good reflections

With a couple of stops to marvel at the mirror-like surface of a lake and to contemplate a walk, we had still made no decision, so we continued on past the turn for the 610 and went to look at a waterfall (the main feature of this particular Turistveg being waterfalls; there are 27 notable ones in the area).

Looking downstream from the bridge over the waterfall

The fall wasn't as impressive as others we've seen, but over elevenses in the car park there, we did finally make a decision. We would backtrack to the 610 and go to Bergen.

Lunch was had at the picnic area above another waterfall, down to which we walked after eating. That one wasn't particularly impressive either. Perhaps this Turistveg is good if you do all of it, but the bits we did were just pleasant rather than anything special.

Postprandial strollette to another of the falls

Another efficient ferry journey was required to get us to our night stop. The ferries effectively form part of the road network (sometimes there are bridges, sometimes tunnels, and sometimes ferries). This was a 20 minute crossing being serviced by three ferries constantly trundling back and forth, as this crossing is a link in the E39 trunk road. As boats that look like floating roads go (there's not much to these boats other than an open car deck), this one was quite good, in that we had a view. Most have sides so high that you can't see out.

A ferry with a view - it helped that we were right at the front

The night stop for which we were aiming was a one-vehicle sized and we were in luck, finding it vacant. A few more vehicles came along during the afternoon with obvious hopes of staying here, but it was a couple of Austrian lads in a small VW who were lucky. They tried to pull in just as I got back from a run and as there was clearly space behind us for them, I offered to move to give them access, as long as they were happy to be blocked in overnight. The downside of having close neighbours, however, is that we can hear them talking and we can't play an audiobook or podcast through Bertie's speakers to avoid disturbing them.

More reflections on today's running route

Tomorrow it is Bergen. The place we want to stay there has space for 28 vans. Pure luck will determine whether we get a space. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Monday 24 July - Stryn and NE of Vassenden

Where's Bertie? He's at a picnic area just off the E39 to the NE of Vassenden (exact location: 61.51098, 6.15764)

If we'd had a crystal ball at our disposal last night, we would not have gone for the easy option of spending another night in Oldendale. In the absence of such a device, however, and with all weather forecasts telling us we had 24 more hours of sunshine to enjoy, we had no idea that we were about to experience an extreme weather event.

The rain started around 7pm and it was so unexpected that we assumed it was just a passing shower. About an hour later it started to thunder and the rain picked up to torrential levels. Little did we know that the thunder storm was going to continue for 16 hours.

It didn't make for good sleeping conditions (aside from rain battering a tin roof just above our heads, those claps of thunder didn't half echo around the valley and some were big enough to rattle the crockery). There was thus some tiredness this morning as we set off down the valley at around 8am, with the SatNav set for a spot 61km away. We intended to stop there for breakfast.

A couple of minor land slips were passed on our way out of the valley, but a passage through each had already been cleared and the remaining debris coned off, so we didn't think much of it (other than the promptness with which it had been cleared).

Down on the main road, we were only about 18km from our destination when a flashing police car came past us - a remarkable event as it is the first time we have seen any police presence since Oslo, five weeks ago.

Unfortunately, we soon caught up with that car again - at the point where it had just shut the road. Or, the absence of a road. Gushing out onto the fjord was a very long trail of trees and debris, including, apparently, bits of road and house. A major landslide had taken out a chunk of hill and everything in its path.

We wasted no time with photos, as not far back along the road we had gone through two streams which had spilled onto the tarmac which were also carrying rocks and debris. It suddenly seemed important to get back past those ASAP.

A 40km backtrack to Stryn was made (that's where we were 2 days ago) and we settled into the Strynhalle car park for a day of doing not much, accepting that we were going to have to take a detour.

Much sitting around was done until finally, just before noon the thunder stopped. With the rain easing to just light showers, we ventured out, first to the supermarket across the road, then, after lunch, to the tourist office for a bit of wifi. The latter excursion was of particular benefit as there we learnt that the alternative route we were planning to take was also closed. We were now looking at a really long detour.

Leaving the tourist office what should we find outside but sunshine! That was unexpected! It continued whilst we visited the service point and made our way out of town.

The new route required a ferry and the queue seemed long, filling the waiting-lanes and spilling right back up the road. We turned out to be the last vehicle to fit on the second ferry and thus once the ticket chap had taken our money, he was at liberty to chat, starting by telling us he was half English. He confirmed that, with the road closures, the ferry was ridiculously busy today, but said he thought it was worse for those heading north. He wasn't wrong. That queue went back a looooong way down the road on the other side.

Checking www.vegvessen.no (roadworks and road closure info) whilst on the ferry it seemed that whilst our original route was closed until further notice with only a statement of 'will not reopen today', the closure on the E39 had disappeared from the listing. I took that as news that it had reopened. So it had, but the extent of the damage was evident as we went along. The carriageway itself was undamaged, but every dirt track or driveway which met the road (and there are lots of those) had deep water grooves torn into it, and a pile of gravel and grit piled next to the road where it had been scraped out of the way. In one area a coned off lane contained boulders and tree trunks. Elsewhere I saw a scattering of big, round, plastic-wrapped bales of hay against trees at the bottom of a field. Looking around they had clearly come from a pile outside of a farm on the other side of the road. Crops and meadows had flattened areas where fast flowing water must have been just a few hours before.

Over ninety kilometres of driving (plus a ferry) took us to the place where we had intended to have breakfast this morning (a total diversion of 130km to get to somewhere we were only 15km from when we had to turn back this morning). We got there to find it unsuitable for a night stop in the current conditions (it was raining again by this time and a dirt track next to a river seemed ill advised).

The picnic area/swimming beach where we've ended up should do the job nicely for us (even though all the best spots were already taken) and hopefully the weather will be fully calm again by tomorrow. The forecast says it will be, but then it also told me last night and twice this morning, whilst rain was battering us and thunder shaking us, that we were sitting under blue skies with no chance of rain...

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sunday 23 July - Birksdalsbreen

Where's Bertie? He's back at the picnic area in Oldendale where he spent last night.

I used the fact that it is Sunday as justification for a lie-in and thus it was gone 7.45 by the time we hauled ourselves out of bed. By then a few tour buses had already passed and one had disgorged its chattering passengers right outside our door, so they could each take a few snaps of the view before chattily re-embarking three minutes later.

Ten minutes later we were following them to where the road ends at the head of the valley. The parking fee there was more reasonable than expected: 50NOK (about £5) allowed us to stay until 2300. If we'd wanted to stay overnight it would have been 160NOK.

The need for breakfast delayed us from getting straight out the door, so it was gone half nine by the time we started heading up towards the Birksdalsbreen arm of the Jostendalsbreen glacier, the latter being the largest glacier in Europe.

On setting out I knew nothing about the Birksdalsbreen. I now know that it is an immensely popular destination, with the occupants of the tour buses (not to mention those using the huge car park) not even needing to walk the 3km up the easy track to the foot of the ice. There is the option of spending 220NOK on being transported up the first 2.5km in an 8-seater golf-cart-esque vehicle ('Troll Cars' as the PR peeps have christened them, the Norwegian tourist boards do like the troll theme).

Of course, we walked up, thinking that rather than visiting the foot of the glacier we would take a route uo a nearby summit which stands at around 1300m. As it went, once we got to the turn and reviewed the route map and information there we decided it would be more effort than we wanted to expend (not to mention that, unlike on the info board in the car park, it was now labelled a black 'expert' trail, instead of a red 'difficult', which suggested more exposure than I would be happy to accept). So we went with the crowds to look at this:


We tarried a while, but being in the shade up there, sought out some sun lower down for elevenses. It wasn't a bad spot we found for coffee and pastries:

The glacier was behind me as I took this snap

Back down at the visitor centre, information panels transformed the outing into an educational one. The photos showing the position of the arm of the glacier over the years were particularly interesting (it grew through the 1980s and peaked in the mid nineties, before retreating again). This, for example, is how it looked in 2006...

...and here is a similar shot I took today:


Back at Bertie we could then have left the valley and continued on our southbound trajectory, but we were parked in a nice location with a massive-drop waterfall on one side of us and the Birksdalsbreen on the other, and I quite fancied nipping back up to the glacier later in the day to see it with the sun on it.

After lunch, that's what we did.

The track leading up the river crosses, at one point, below a short, but very forceful, waterfall (up to 10,000 litres per second, apparently). It was quite a sight this morning, spraying all over the track, complete with a full-circle rainbow; with the increased flow in the heat of the afternoon the force was noticeably higher, as was the spray. It amused us to see people donning waterproofs to walk through that very short section. We did get a bit damp, but in the heat it only took minutes to dry.

Was it worth the second visit? Yep, I'd say so. Compare this snap with the first one above:


Back in the car park, and after my daily session of consulting resources to decide where we might go next (a particularly long session today; there are so many options), back down the valley we came. Again, we could have left the valley and continued on our way, but the easy option was to return to somewhere we knew to be good and quiet - i.e. last night's kipping spot.

Saturday 22 July - Breidablikk, Stryn and Oldendale

Where's Bertie? He's in a picnic area in Oldendale overlooking a turquoise lake and a couple of arms of the Jostedalsbreen glacier (exact location: 61.75501, 6.80088)

Our original plan for two short walks from the same car park up above Geiranger were scuppered this morning when we couldn't access the car park. Legally we were within the width restriction, but it was a narrow road so we abided by the informal (laminated A4 printed sheet) prohibition on motorhomes.

Breakfasting instead at the first car park we came to, a new plan was hatched and as soon as cereal and tea had been despatched (and I'd had a stroll down to the nearby viewpoint) we were off again.

Another road that looked like a random doodle on the SatNav screen took us up to a pass and we were again in an incredible landscape. It kept me, as passenger, wide eyed all the way to our next stopping point.

View from the picnic area where we parked for our walk.

Parking in a huge picnic area on the main road, rather than venturing down a dirt road, added a couple of kilometres to our walk, bringing it to 8.5km, but with a modest 120m or so of ascent.

View from where we abandoned Bertie for a few hours

Whilst not spectacular in the same way as our walks of the last three days, it was still a fine outing. Being off most tourists' radars (not featured in any brochure this one), it was also very quiet. So much so that at one of the many lakes scattered across the high valley, I couldn't resist a quick swim .... even though I hadn't got my costume or a towel with me.

First ever skinny dip. First time in a mountain lake. It was at 930m and was fed by snow melt. Bracing!



Put a water feature like that next to a road and it'll be rammed with tour buses. Put it a half hour walk from a road and you get it to yourself

Having been back at Bertie for a while, it was feeling like time to move on. Stuff was stowed and I was just sitting on the toilet before the off when it felt just like Mick had tried to start the engine with it in gear. He hadn't. He thought I'd fallen off the toilet (although even if I'd shot off it like a rocket, I couldn't have made Bertie jump backwards that much).

"Has someone hit us?" I asked, the answer to which was "Yes".

The owner of the car, picnicking nearby (who had failed to engage her handbrake or put the car in gear), got all indignant when she noticed our bumpers touching, until Mick pointed out that it wasn't our vehicle that had moved. Fortunately there wasn't much of a slope, so although it felt like a big jolt on impact it must have happened at slow speed and no damage was done. And do you know, she didn't even apologise.

Onwards! Three long tunnels as we went under some hills led us to more stunning scenery, some of which I've failed to capture effectively here:

Taken during a pause at the National Park Centre but they didn't have any useful information leaflets

The town of Stryn provided us with a service point and a whole choice of supermarkets (we probably wouldn't have come so far today if our need for certain groceries hadn't been so desperate. We've been out of bread for days and today we finished the standby oatcakes too). The town also provided us with a shady spot in a large empty car park to sit and contemplate the best time to arrive in Oldendale so as miss the daytime visitors yet be early enough to secure a place to kip. We timed it just fine and arrived to find the picnic area empty save for a German Hymer (c.1980-1985) who had also just arrived. We've since been joined by another van three vans.

As outlined at the top, our view here is superb. The lake is a startling shade of green and two separate arms of the Jostedalsbreen Glacier can be seen, one out of the windscreen, the other out of the door.

View from the door, which fails to capture the colour of the water and allows the glacier to blend into the sky.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Trollstigen and Gerainger

Where's Bertie? He's parked at the side of a quiet road behind the Norsk Fjordsenter just outside of Gerainger (exact location: 62.09477, 7.21122)

Another early start! This time to enable us to nab a parking space at the start of the route we were going to walk. It wasn't that we would have minded walking along the road 800m from where we spent last night, but we didn't really want to leave Bertie to be battered by car doors by careless parkers in the over-busy car park. At the start of our walk we were able to park alongside the road with no such danger to Bertie's beautiful flanks.

Bertie in his daytime resting place, alongside the road

Starting out on the walk, it all seemed a bit humdrum and I thought we'd been sold a dud. Moreover, as there was no option for a circuit we were going to have to come back the same way.

Lovely hills around us, but all a bit unexciting for the first couple of kilometres up the valley

It was only when we got to the highest lake of the outing that everything really turned spectacular. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to convey in these snaps quite how spectacular it was.

Our elevenses spot. The arrow points to our ultimate objective: The Man (or Mannen in Norwegian)

More pretty lakes

Boulder fields and large snow fields made the going slow for the pull up the hill from the lakes...


...but it was all good fun, bringing us to our objective of The Man:


After a moment of panic when we first caught sight of the road and wondered why Bertie wasn't where we left him (answer: because that isn't the parking area you left him in, fools!), we arrived back five hours after we had left, having passed lots of other people on the last third of the path (notably almost all of the men had bare chests; almost all of the women were wearing sports bras or bikini tops. We were the overdressed brigade!).

Whilst Mick prepared a second lunch, to supplement the one we'd had on the trail, I set about washing our sweaty t-shirts - it was, after all, an excellent drying day. Unfortunately, I forgot to pack the hang-it-out-the-window airing rack. Fortunately it was easy enough to improvise a discreet washing line with the help of a walking pole and a peg:


After second lunch, options were pondered and moving on won out over another night on the pass. Down, down, down we went, shooting past a waterfall in a narrow ravine as we went, in view of the chaos of tour buses (at least 8 of them) and cars in the car park and along the road.

Past dozens of roadside strawberry fields and attendant strawberry kiosks we went (probably would have stopped and bought some if any had advertised their prices), then after the smallest bit of queuing and ten minutes on a ferry and we were heading towards Gerainger, intending to stop somewhere for the night en-route.

Alas, the first place had very clear signage forbidding a stay. The second only had minor signage suggesting we shouldn't, but we didn't much want to stay there, so we had a brake-smoking descent, following a bus, down to Gerainger (shooting past another heaving viewpoint on the way).

Taken out of Bertie's window as we trundled along.

As you can see above, three cruise ships were moored. The town was full of coaches and so busy that we didn't even pause at the parking there.

Back up the other side of the valley there were yet more coaches in every which place that a coach would fit, but beyond them an empty car park was found - together with some unclear signage that left us wondering whether overnight parking was completely forbidden, or just in certain bays (I think probably the latter, but couldn't be sure). A bit of poking around and we found, just behind the centre, what appears to be public road with some vehicles parked along one side. Bertie was slotted in, and here we intend to stay.

Post blog notes:
1. we are now surrounded by coaches!
2. Nipped out for a stroll down to the viewing platforms to the nearby waterfall after tea, noticing on our way out that we had failed to turn Bertie's drain tap back off after we stopped at a service point earlier. We had showers when we arrived here. As a result there is now a puddle mark under the drain outlet and a streak of water running right down the road. Oops.

Lots of water hurling itself downwards

Being 9pm, we didn't investigate how far down the walkway went. Right to the town, perhaps?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Thursday 20 July - Trollstigen

Where's Bertie?He's in the large car park which sits at around 850m on the Trollstigen Pass (exact location: 62.45312, 7.66352)

Another early start this morning, so as to get up to the top of the Trollstigen Pass before the road got busy. We particularly didn't want to meet any tour buses coming the other way, for reasons I will illustrate later.

Even with that aim, I couldn't resist, after we had visited a service point and filled up with fuel*, taking the 6km each way detour to have a quick look at the Trollveggen.

The Trollveggen is the tallest vertical rock face in Europe (3300' of vertical on a 5950' peak), and it has a 150' overhang. It was first climbed in 1958 and was the first route in Norway where the climbers had to spend the night on the face.

Mucho verticality

In 1980 BASE jumping came to the Trollveggen and in 1986 it was prohibited by law. The memorial there suggests that the prohibition is not strictly obeyed:


It being hours before the visitor centre opened, it wasn't long before we backtracked and headed up to the Trollstigen Pass, meeting just a few cars coming down and a couple of bicycles and a family of roller skiers going up (hard work all around there).

That road looks like someone doodled on a pad and then that doodle became the design. Eleven switchbacks, and a lack of width, possibly because the road was originally built in 1936. We stood at the viewpoint and watched a large lorry negotiate its way down against a tide of oncoming cars and motorhomes.

It was just gone 8am as we pulled into a car park that was just about empty save for the motorhomes who had spent the night. If we had known how quickly it would fill, and how early the tour buses would come, we might not have paused for breakfast before we took a stroll over past the interesting design of café/tourist tat shops...

...and along the metal walkways to the viewing platforms.



A grated floor, a glass end wall and barely any protrusion - I didn't need to be brave for this one

Pottering and people watching then followed until, at gone 11, we stirred ourselves to go and walk up to a nearby lake, the originally planned walk for today having been shelved due to laziness after yesterday's exertions. The revised plan was only a 3km route, albeit with 1000' of ascent in the first kilometre.

It was a hot old climb, until just before we reached our destination, whereupon I exclaimed on the sudden rush of cold air. The reason became clear as we popped over the rise and saw this before us:


The second photo is a panorama in which I have allowed the real scene to be bent out of shape in order to fit more in

I hadn't expected the lake to be largely frozen over. What a spectacle! What a shame I hadn't packed a picnic!

The car park had already been full when we set off up the hill. By the time we were heading down it had spilled out onto the road...

I wonder if it's this busy on a less sunny day?
...and the full length of the walkways leading to the viewing platforms (and they are *long*) were full of people waiting their turn.

We might have moved on after our walk, except that, on seeing that the forecast is staying fine, we decided to stick around and do today's originally intended walk tomorrow. So we have pottered and people-watched some more.

It was well after 7 by the time the car park calmed down a bit and now, at quarter to nine, it's pretty quiet.


(*We didn't need fuel, but the service point cost 30NOK (£3ish) if you didn't buy fuel and was free if you did. We reckoned half a tank of fuel would cost at most £4 more than we will be able to buy it on Saturday (i.e. cheap fuel day), but who knows if we will be by a cheap station and what the actual price will be on the day, so we bought today at effectively a £3 discount on the advertised price.)