This trip was amazing. Norway is incredible, in so many ways I never could have imagined. The landscape is constantly changing and every new curve and hill and valley brings an absolutely enormous view that puts all the others to shame. The sheer scale of the country was breathtaking and something that just can’t be described or understood through photos or videos. The height of the mountains is just overwhelming and everything is dwarfed by the landscape. It’s so mesmerizing that you start to lose perspective when you’re looking out at a fjord and everything seems normal until you focus on a tree near the top that you know is just massively tall, but looks so tiny, and yet the mountain is covered in hundreds of thousands of them, and the perspective snaps back into place.
The entire country is as close to silent as you can get while still maintaining a society. Even when we were in the middle of Oslo, which is a highly functioning city similar to Copenhagen or Rotterdam, if you closed your eyes you could have been in the middle of the countryside. The land use made it so that walking was very obviously the easiest and quickest way to get around. As a result, there were barely any cars in the city, and the public transportation was quiet, efficient, and mostly on the main streets. People walked wherever they wanted and whenever they wanted, and all other modes just had to avoid them. Everyone was so nice and so helpful, and the accents were even better than I expected! We stopped to ask for directions in one of the hundreds of tiny towns we passed through, and we met a true Viking (tall, big boned, blond hair, blue eyes, sounded like the shop keeper from Frozen) who was just exceedingly nice and not only knew which tiny deli we were looking for but also suggested a route detour that took us along a beautiful crystal clear lake and avoided a tunnel. Almost everyone was this nice, as if people knew they lived in an amazing country and wanted to share all of its best parts with us and make sure we enjoyed it as much as they did. We did.
The food was…. a struggle. There is a lot of packaged and processed food, and that seems to be the standard for quality. Norway is as expensive as everyone says, so it hurts even more when you’re spending $20 on a sandwich, and it’s crappy day-old ham and cheese wrapped in cellophane. We lucked out a few times on the trip with some truly incredible local and handmade meals which made the bill much easier to swallow, pun intended ;-). We don’t hold ourselves to our diet while we’re traveling, simply because we love food and we want to experience as much as we can while we’re visiting. Everywhere else we’ve been, we could have avoided dairy and meat if we’d wanted to, but honestly we would’ve starved in Norway if we hadn’t eaten both. We looked for hummus everywhere we went, and only saw one tub in a grocery store the entire time, so we ate pasta and sauce when we could, and splurged when we had to. Reindeer and whale meat, however, were on every menu and shelf along with moose, goat, and lamb (which cemented my disinterest in eating meat after seeing all of the baby lambs on the hillsides and then picturing them floating in my soup). When in Rome… so we ate some lamb soup, had goat sausage and goat cheese on a pizza, and Brian sampled a few of the more ethically contested meats at the market in Bergen.
When I planned the trip, I knew I wanted us to see as much of the landscape as possible, but I’d read that the best way to do that was by car, stopping in tiny towns, and pulling over for photos and hikes whenever we wanted. Our normal travel approach of exploring big cities by bike wasn’t going to work here, so I took a leap of faith and planned a road trip. Brian and I have never been on a road trip together or separately so I was pretty anxious while I planned the trip and tried to minimize our driving days where I could. Unsurprisingly, we haven’t ever spent much time in a car together, and my history with spending long periods of time in cars with my family convinced me that driving this much was a huge mistake. Luckily, it turned out to be completely fine, and we both completely agreed that this was the best and only way to see as much of Norway as we did, and with the amount of flexibility that we prefer. We never would have had our favorite meal of the trip or stayed in our favorite town if we’d taken trains or buses or stayed only in the big cities.
The roads throughout the country were in perfect condition, and the tunnels were in amazing shape too. We paid a LOT of tolls along the way (still waiting to get that bill from the rental company…), but it’s clear that the tolls and taxes are supporting high quality infrastructure which is a refreshing change from the US. Even on mountain roads that were 1200 meters above sea level and covered by 50+ feet of snow in the winter, the pavement was in great condition and perfectly clean. The max speed limit on rural roads is 90km/h (55mph) which actually felt very very fast in most cases due to the winding and weaving turns.
The actual driving itself was definitely a rush, and we dove right in, driving one of the most famously intense roads in the country on our first day in the car. We wound through hundreds of hairpin turns, up and down mountains, sometimes climbing 1200 meters a day. After the first few tunnels, we started tallying them for fun, not imagining that we’d pass through 105!! Brian drove 54 of those in 2 days, including the longest tunnel in the world, 25km long. We checked the snow closure roads every day leading up to the trip, since two of our main routes are closed over the winter and typically open between the middle of May and middle of June. We had alternate routes planned in case they weren’t open, but both of them opened literally the day before we arrived! When I mapped out the routes, I did some (very) minor street viewing just to get an idea of the drive, and I was sure we’d have a few boring days of long haul routes between destinations. Turns out I was about as wrong as I could possibly be, there was not one single boring/ugly/plain moment of the entire trip, once again proving that Google street view just cannot capture the landscape. We even decided not to take one of the country’s national scenic routes to save time, and the ‘alternate’ route ended up being one of our favorite roads ever.
I worked pretty hard on our route, and it really paid off. We were able to see most of the best-known viewpoints and experienced the full spectrum of Norwegian lifestyles from apartments in the city center and ‘hyttes’ on a hill in the countryside. We would love to go back someday, and we would absolutely recommend this trip to everyone. I’ll share the details of our itinerary in a separate post with links, driving directions, and tons of pictures!