It’s been a long standing ambition to visit Norway, so when the opportunity presented itself, no second thought was given and flights were booked. The plan was to spend a couple of days exploring Amsterdam, then flying into Oslo and hiring a car for an overland road trip, taking in Bergen, Ålesund and Trondheim. Time, always a factor, prevented us from going further North, that will have to be for another time.
We flew Norwegian from Amsterdam. I’ve got to say that the taxi from terminal to take off point at Schipol Airport is a journey in itself which took at least 40 minutes, it’s pleasant enough though, through tulip fields and all, but I was beginning to wonder whether we are going to drive to Oslo or fly. Anyway, eventually we were airborne for a short flight to Oslo, where we picked up our car, a brand new Toyota Yaris Hybrid from Rentalcars.com, and drove the short distance to our accommodation at The Clarion Airport Hotel for the night.
Olso to Bergen by Road
Driving in Norway takes some adjustment, apart from a very short section of highway around Oslo, the speed limit varies from 80 km/h (50 mph) down to 30 km/h (19 mph) and speed limits are rigidly enforced, with savage fines for breaking them. So if you are in a hired car stick to the speed limit unless you want some nasty surprises coming through on your credit card after you get home. You have been warned! The country is large, and the roads are good, so driving at 80 takes some getting used to, it also means that a 400 km route takes virtually an entire day so leave plenty of time for each leg of your road trip. Having said that, the scenery is so incredible that for a tourist anyway, there is no great desire to drive any faster.
We took the E16 through Hønefoss and Geilo, then over the mountains, still covered in snow in mid June, the route is absolutely incredible with photo opportunities around every corner. Highlight for us was the road running along the shores of a semi frozen lake with snow covered mountains in the near distance. As the road starts to descend towards the coast and Fjord country the snow falls away and it becomes greener with forests as far as the eye can see and mountains falling into the crystal clear waters of the Hardanger Fjord.
There is a ferry crossing, in fact there were many of them during the course of the trip, and it’s not cheap, but the alternative is a very long detour around the Fjord. So we sucked it up, paid our money and eventually arrived, tired but also invigorated in the beautiful city of Bergen.
Bergen has been occupied apparently since around 1020 AD, making it one of the oldest cities in Norway, and it was the largest until 1830 when it was surpassed by Oslo. In late June the sun never really goes down in these parts, it takes some getting used to waking up at 2AM and seeing the odd seagull flying around.
Accommodation was an Air B&B in the Måseskjæret district. The apartment belongs to a lovely lady named Kari, I can recommend it: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/9418957.
Probably the most recognisable picture of Bergen is the historic waterfront area of Bryggen, with buildings dating from the 14th century. It’s very picturesque with plenty of waterfront restaurants and pubs. But be aware that the price of alcohol and restaurant food in Norway is very high, even for European visitors, more so if travelling on the South African Rand.
The city is very pedestrian friendly and extremely picturesque, sandwiched as it is between the mountains that provide a constant backdrop, and the ocean that’s very much part of the city. It’s busy, at least in the summer, with quite a few Chinese tourists. Surprisingly there are also a fair number of homeless people around.
Worth visiting is the fish market which has a huge variety of every type of sea creature, including whale meat, for those who are into seafood. Also, take some time to explore the narrow alleys in the Bryggen district, there are numerous shops and coffee shops to be found in a totally unique backdrop of medieval alleyways, it gives a feel of what life may have been like living in Bergen in the 14th century.
Ålesund (pronounced: Ooh-le-soont) was chosen as a 2-night stopover, mainly because it’s in the centre of the Fjord region on Norway and we were so pleased that we did, it was my favourite of all the towns and cities that we visited. Not sure why, it’s just really pretty, it’s compact and surrounded by the most incredible scenery imaginable. Getting there by road from Bergen takes you through some awesome Fjord scenery with mountains, forests and water in every direction. Be prepared to fork out for several ferry crossings and to drive through some very long tunnels, ferries come at an additional cost, tunnels though are free.
There are several vantage points around the city, the easiest to access is the Fjellstua on the Aksla mountain / hill on the edge of town, you can either drive to the top or walk up the several hundred steps, the views are well worth the effort. We hiked to the top of Sukkertoppen (the Sugar Top) which is a peak on the Western edge of town. It’s not a hard hike but a degree of fitness is required, be prepared to be overtaken by fit Norwegians jogging to the top.
Another great attraction close to town is the Alnes Lighthouse. Driving through the 3 undersea tunnels to reach the island of Godøya is a very cool experience, and the island itself has a really remote feel to it. Sadly the lighthouse itself was undergoing restoration when we visited, but for sheer natural beauty a trip to Alnes can’t be beaten.
North to Trondheim
Trondheim was the furthest North that we’d be traveling on this trip, we took the E39 route, which while quickest, also entailed a good couple of ferry rides. The route is all along the most magnificent Fjord scenery imaginable, genuinely the vistas never get boring, there’s always something new around every corner, or beyond every tunnel, of which there are many along the route.
Trondheim’s main claim to fame is as a university city and certainly there are loads of students and young people about. It’s quite a big and busy place, Norway’s third largest city in fact, and after days on the road and the relative intimacy of Ålesund, the traffic and people take a bit of getting used to again.
The city is a very pleasant place with some great photo opportunities with the many historic building lining the river. It’s also got some good restaurants and we found the people genuinely open and friendly. The city has loads to keep travellers entertained with a large selection of restaurants and leisure activities. We sampled our share of the restaurants, but I have to be honest, the mini golf, lego-land type of activities just aren’t our scene.
However there are apparently some excellent hiking and walking trails, which makes sense, the Norwegians really do love their outdoors. I only wish we had more time to explore, but isn’t that always the way? never enough time to see everything we want to see or experience everything we want to experience. Norway is definitely on the bucket list for another visit.
Trondheim to Oslo
It’s quite a long trip from Trondheim to Oslo at 80 km/h I’m not lying to you. The route we took was the Rv3 and E6, which run pretty much down the centre of the country. We left the Fjords not far out of Trondheim and traveled through vast expanses of forest, as far as the eye can see, really impressive. As you get closer to Olso there are more farms and cultivated fields, and finally the last 60 km or so is on a proper highway with a speed limit of 110 km/h, I actually felt so rebellious and “bad” driving at that speed after a week of country road driving.