November 13, 2016
Our moonshine friends are still fast asleep and, after crawling from the frost-covered tent, we hurry to pack. The morning air is brisk and once again the bikes protest the chill. The Shorai batteries have protested at any temperature close to freezing all along our journey and the extra strain on the starter always puts and extra strain on our psyche. Well, it would if we weren’t still quietly laughing about an evening spent trying moonshine for the first time.
The camp at Grindafjord is dead-still and, after packing the bikes, we take a moment to enjoy the gentle frosting on the grass, the quiet, and the beauty. Everything in us wishes we could afford to spend more time in Norway.
In many ways it’s the quiet before a mild storm; we’re meeting family friends from the UK in Bergen and there’s a real excitement building for us both; reunions on the road offer a taste of all we’ve left behind. Home comes to us for a moment and in it’s beauty we’re reminded of the parts we miss and, sometimes, why we left. Usually it’s a healthy dose of both.
We make our way past a tent that’s mysteriously appeared in the middle of the night, onto the road north toward Sandvikvåg and our first ferry of the day – but not before we’ve tasted our first tunnel. Until 2008, the Bømlafjord tunnel was the deepest sub-sea tunnel in the world and, with 8 km of darkness at almost 1000 ft below sea-level, it remains the longest on the planet.
From the beautiful green-lined roads that sweep along frigid-looking waters the mouth of the tunnel drops. And drops. For an age it drops and the bright lights that promise a clear view of weeping, rock walls throughout soon fade to dimly-lit memories before the only light is that which is produced by our own headlamps and those of oncoming trucks. Eventually the road hits bottom and we feel the compression in our hips as it begins to lift us upwards, along a steep climb to the surface.
We’ve travelled under Bømlafjord, the islands of Otterøya and Føyno, and emerged none-the-wiser. It’s quite an amazing experience.
But what a view when we emerge. From the blackness, our eyes adjust to the sun just as we’re spit out onto a bridge that provides a glorious view of the Digernessundet. The road is quiet, the air is still and we are – without doubt – in (any) gods country. We wind our way inland for a while, passing what seems to be an endless parade of lakes and I imagine (quietly) that being tasked to write a love letter to Norway would be a simple affair.
Eventually we find ourselves at Sandvikvåg watching our ferry steam off into the distance. We’ve missed this one but another isn’t far away; we’ve found Norway’s ferry system phenomenally efficient. This is one of the longer ferry routes on our travels through this country and the forty minute journey to Halhjem comes in at 110 NOK ($20). As the next ferry approaches the dock, it’s nose rises thirty feet from the ramp and soon cars pour from the wound in it’s hull. It doesn’t take long until we’re all aboard and squeezing our way between Reksteren and Huftarøy before traversing the Bjørnafjorden.
The beautiful views from the ships-deck don’t fade once we’re back on the road. We spend the rest of our days journey weaving along the roads, mostly alone and in a state of complete awe as mountains start to spring in the distance, hinting at the scenery yet to come. Shorter bridges and tunnels dot our path but we spend much of the day bearing witness to an epic landscape.
After spending the last little while camping we decide to grab a room at the Scandic Bergen Airport Hotel, just outside of Bergen and navigating the last few kilometres along busier motorways wakes us from the dream of the day. While it’s not exactly cheap, compared to hotels in the city it’s a bargain and it offers us a chance to warm up with a nice shower. Still, this is a two-night treat at most.
The next morning there’s little hope of sleeping in; we’ll be seeing Terence, Claire and Grace in a matter of hours and we can’t wait. We figure out the bus system and devise a route through a website, an app and asking a lovely woman at the bus stop. We love using public transit in foreign countries as it always provides us a different peek into every-day life and an opportunity to meet new people.
We hop off the bus at Byparken and make our way up the Torgallmenningen towards Bryggen where we’ve planned to meet. The Torgallmenningen is particularly festive today and we’re immersed in swarms of families enjoying the beautifully unseasonable weather. Everywhere we look there’s a giant something; Connect Four, Chess, Lego – you name it, there’s a giant version being played by countless people.
The closer to Bryggen the more touristy the streets become and, in the distance, giant cruise-ships dot the view. Much to our surprise, one of the largest ships that graces Bergens docks is Holland America Line’s Eurodam, the same ship we saw docked in Halifax over a year ago. While the world may seem smaller to us now, the ship still appears as massive as it did back then!
We pass mountains of regularly-sized lego left for children to use and plenty of hanging sheepskins in a nearby market ready for cruise-shippers to take home. There are plenty of North Americans in the mix today and the air is filled with a surprising drawl as we move past the stands.
Past the quay and alongside Bryggen’s famously colourful wooden houses it’s not hard to imagine why people flock here; it’s a beautiful spot to spend a sunny day. A UNESCO Heritage site, many of Bryggen’s original Hanseatic buildings burned in the fire of ’55 but this handful remains, allowing us to imagine what the city would have looked like during it’s giddy heyday as the centre of export for dried fish.
There’s an interesting mix of new and old along the street. One building who’s neighbour collapsed long ago is left balancing precariously on temporary struts which seem to threaten failure at any moment. Further down, a night club has somehow been stuffed inside one of these incredible buildings – good for the tourists, bad for the foundation! Thankfully it’s too early for dancing and we find a comfy spot outside of a decent bakery to wait for our friends while sipping coffee and sampling local treats.
It’s not long before we see the familiar smiles of Terence, Claire and Grace. They’re a beautiful lot, inside and out. With them is Bjarte, a blue-haired friend who lives in Bergen and has known Terence for long enough to know the secret story behind T’s frequent (though mysterious) visits to the country in his younger days…
We spend a good while catching up over coffee and it’s hard to capture in words just how happy we are to see them. Eventually, our jaws and butts let us know it’s time to get moving and we make our way back down Bryggen towards quieter streets. It seems that the crew have plans for our day in Bergen and we’re happy to follow along tourist-style!
Our day is fantastic. The first stop is a window-in-a-wall where magical, delicious, foot-long hotdogs appear. It’s a perfect lunch for our hike up Mt. Floyen, if we were to actually hike up it. Which we don’t. Instead, after a slow stroll past artwork by A-ha (okay, Magne Furuholmen to be exact), we grab the funicular, something we’ve never done but always wanted to try.
The views from the car are fantastic but it’s all over far too quickly! Still, stepping out to the lookout it’s hard to complain. From here, Bergen is even more lovely.
Feeling as though our decision to take the funicular rather than hike was a tad lazy, we decide to hike down from the lookout using the trails. After a little climb into the woods, the trail leads us into an area inhabited by some of Norways infamous trolls and, from the cover of trees, we see them peeking out in all directions. Little Grace is in her element and the playground just beyond the welcoming (albeit hairy) faces is a great place for her to demonstrate her considerable adventuring skills. There’s definitely an explorer in the making here.
The trail weaves it’s way down the hillside and, at points, offers us more wonderful views of Bergen and a the cruise-ship which reminds of the circular nature of our journey so far. By the time we reach the asphalt we’re all ready for something cool to drink and the Dr. Wiesener has the proper cure for what ails (ales?) us.
A great place for a cool pint, Dr. Wiesener’s offers “…refreshments for the throat and spiritual nectar in the form of music and activities for all ages.” Originally public baths built in 1889, it was reopened as an ale house in 1991 after 534 residents pitched-in to buy the building and repair it. Now that’s a local. The six of us sit in the late afternoon sun until we’re joined by Simon, a fantastic british expat, and spend a few hours telling stories of how everyone know’s the other.
We top-off the night with a BBQ at Bjarte and Christel’s home for a truly a wonderful time spent with friends. The food never seems to end nor does the wine and excellent conversation. Just as the light starts to fade we’re joined by a couple from Canada who’ve spent time travelling through Central Africa on various missions and their stories prove to be a perfect way to wrap up the night. Soon, we say our goodnights and make our way back to the hotel thanks to a lift from Simon. We’re going to miss Terence, Claire and Grace. There’s no doubt about it.
The next morning we’re moving a little slowly. During the previous day with Terence and the gang there was a recurring and sincere sense of amazement at how great the weather has been in Norway. Indeed, other than a chill in the air we’d seen nothing but sun for our first days in the country. However, there’s no sun to be seen today, plenty of drizzle and the temperature is hovering just below 10°C. Fortunately we’re so used to heavy weather it doesn’t put a damper on our spirits and, soon enough, we’re on the road heading out of Bergen.
Well, trying to head out of Bergen.
As we make our way past the city we notice a “No Motorcycles” sign and jump to an exit lane which leads us back towards the water. Through a residential area we rejoin the highway only to be presented by another “No Motorcycles” sign which seems to block our only exit along the E39. We take another clover leaf and another residential road while trying to continue north, hoping to pass the strange impasse.
Back onto the motorway we emerge before a third sign, this time electing to ignore it. Into a tunnel, Nita and I talk back and forth about what it could mean and hope we don’t have a run-in with the law since traffic fines in Norway are exceptional. If we spoke Norwegian we’d have discovered that the words gjelder ikke motorsykkel beneath the red-slashed café-racer mean “Does not apply to motorcycles.” So, the signs meaning appears to be “No motorcycles. Does not apply to motorcycles.” Existentialist road signs are so not cool.
Our destination for the night is a campsite just southwest of Bjordal and set along the eastern shore of Fuglsetfjord. Even in the rain, the landscape is becoming more beautiful with every mile passed. The roads are quiet and move from narrow vee’s cut into steep valleys to erratic masses of tree-covered rock which seem to appear from nowhere. From time to time the fog rolls along the range obscuring the countless waterfalls that drape the cliffs like long, silvered hairs before suddenly opening up into a paradise that seems unimaginable. The word epic is fitting for Norway.
Eventually the road moves us down increasingly narrow lanes until eventually we cross a bridge over the narrowest point on the Fuglsetfjord. As we pull up to the house that is Nesheim Camping the rain stops and the silence is overwhelming. For about 210 NOK ($35) we’re given a spot on the families front lawn and a spot for the bikes in their driveway.
Across the way, a cabin is available – but at 650 NOK ($115) per night they’re simply too expensive. We joke with the owner that we’ll take it for 300 NOK ($50) and with a kind smile, she lets us know that she’d rather have it sit vacant with the promise of a last-minute customer. No matter, with the rain stopped for the time being we’re able to set up camp without getting too wet. It’s not long before the rain returns and we spend a while in the market grabbing some food for dinner.
Another break in the weather gives us a chance to take a walk along the road and stare transfixed at the fjord; the view here is simply breath-taking. To our south, Fuglsetfjord comes to an end by way of a gentle green pasture flanked in three directions by towering cliffs which layer in failing detail, one after the other into infinity. From this angle the fjord appears black and as calm as we’ve ever seen; even the smallest ripple here would seem as foreign as us. From the bridge though, the water is perfectly clear allowing us a glimpse at an occasional jellyfish which resembles a little fried egg floating effortlessly towards the Sognefjord and, perhaps, the North Sea.
We cook our dinner of Joika reindeer meatballs, corn and peas next to the still-vacant cabin and enjoy a cider while breathing in the view. It’s a place for moments – to simply stop and think about where we are. After a long while, we clean the dishes and repack the kit just in time for the rain to start again. Inside the tent, weather isn’t a problem in the least; on the contrary, the sound of raindrops hitting the fabric while wrapped warmly in our sleeping bags is a wonderful way to welcome sleep.