Oslo – Rondane National Park – Sollia – Trondheim – Helgeland/ the Western Arctic
The Norwegians have 18 “national tourist routes” which are off-highway, usually narrow and winding, roads covering outstanding landscape, engineering, or cultural features from the South west all the way up to the arctic coast. The longest is over 400km and the shortest probably less than 20 and many involve putting your vehicle on a ferry. Driving all of them would involve many weeks and some speeds that are significantly more than our vehicle would be capable of (or that you would want to be a passenger in during an attempt). We gave it our best shot but got through about a third of them in 2 weeks. Our first 2 or 3 days covered getting from Oslo and into the Rondane national park and then onto the small north west coastal city of Trondheim then heading north along the coast to the arctic circle.
I was allowed a very short time of regular two lane highway to get used to our apartment on wheels and how it behaved on the road. The issue was always going to be that I could never be sure exactly where the outer limits of the vehicle were when it came to collision avoidance. The high speed two lane gave me a totally unwarranted confidence that I not only knew where the wheels were, but I knew where the body was. I also started to think I mostly knew what gear we were in. As it turned out the only thing I could be sure of (and even then only most of the time) was reverse and forward.
There was some spectacular (or so we thought at the time) scenery to look at while we were learning about the high speed behaviour of the apartment. The confidence dissolved as soon as the speed moderated but we turned off onto the single lane, but two way, through the park. As it turned out this was one of the easy sections of road that we would end up doing but we didn’t know it at the time.
There have been times over the two weeks when I thought about stopping mid road, getting out, locking it up, and walking to the nearest taxi stand to go back to Oslo. But this road, in hindsight, shouldn’t really engender that feeling at all. In fact what appeared to be single lane was with the benefit of a little more experience, two lane, two way, and possibly even, high speed.
A recurring issue though was starting to manifest itself. The navigator was quite frequently sucking in breath with a loud whistle and saying “FAAAAARK”. “Don’t get so f*****g close to the edge over here”. Apparently avoiding colliding with oncoming traffic was creating an issue on the other side of the apartment. This came up frequently and was never really resolved except by the navigator giving up on navigating and starting to knit instead.
Rondane was spectacular going from agricultural valleys, rivers, to alpine and back again. As we do, we happened upon an unusual and very beautiful little church in a tiny place, mid park, called Sollia. We parked up and went to investigate only to find ourselves as mourners in a local funeral. I did have to suggest to our pictorial chronicler/navigator that taking photographs was perhaps not the most appropriate course of action.
I am guessing we drove all day and made about 250-300km. A pattern that was to be the norm, maybe even on the days when we got a little further, for the remainder of the trip. We stayed that evening in a lovely little mountain valley campground, consumed more of our stash of monopoly wine than was prudent, and realised that there was going to be no relenting from the sun keeping us awake/waking us up as we drove further north.
We were only an hour or so from Trondheim on that second night so we were able to get there the following morning. That was good because parking these things in any kind of inhabited area isn’t easy and we lucked into one of the few designated areas for mobile apartments at a time when the campers from the day before were vacating. We got a parking space and a power supply and had locked up and found the city centre by lunchtime.
What’s fascinating about Norway, and Trondheim in particular, is that for so few people so high in latitude there are so many Michelin stars. Trondheim has two restaurants awarded stars and we found a bistro not even on the Michelin list that served up outstanding local cuisine (no whale) and great wine. Smoked beetroot tartare…remember that.
You have to realize that this city is only a couple of hundred km south of the arctic circle. Its got a harbour and recreational boating marinas, surrounding farms, a cultural heart, some unique architecture, and is quite unexpected. I guess its pretty cold and dark through the winter but like all high latitude towns and cities they know how to make up for it in the summer.
Perhaps they knit?
So a Trondheim factoid (for you Mudder)…Northern most Gothic Cathedral in the world..Its regarded as a “dark” cathedral based on its design and the lack of internal light. Actually that’s not a “toid”, it’s fact. It seems incongruous given that in this town it’s either really light or really dark. Religion and physics has always been a confusing combination.
They have refurbished all the old waterside warehouses and turned them into character offices, restaurants, and apartments and the city gives the overall appearance of being quite beautiful.
The best thing was that there were so few tourists, and those that were there were doing much the same thing as we were rather than the city being flooded by boat-loads and coach-loads of people. As is probably normal at this time of the year we found a huge food market/festival, live music outside the cathedral and a stage being set up for a big concert that night. Most of the population seemed to be there.
I would go back to Trondheim. Cool little city, lots to see, no tourists.
North of Trondheim is an area, and a tourist route, called Helgeland. It’s something of a summer playground and extends along the coast from Trondheim (more or less) to the town of Bodo which is well north of the arctic circle. We started off around the middle of the day and after some high speed chicken with trucks, other Motorhome’s, cars, and cyclists on the E6, a hard to find turn off onto the tourist route, more sucking in of breath by the navigator, and a ferry crossing, we had made about 100km by early evening. A place called Vik.
We found, what turned out to be the best of the various campsites we stayed at, right on a beach. There was a fishing club building and small marina and launch facility adjacent. That evening three boatloads of guys came back in from what appeared to be a days fishing. When we go fishing its usually shorts, a tee shirt and sunnies. These guys had on the full thermal thing and seemed to be wearing dry suits. It wasn’t cold but I guess if you go over you find the water temperature is a little different to air temperature.
They did all each have a bin full of cod though. We had cooked fresh Norwegian salmon (on a fresh Norwegian cedar plank!) for diner though so there was no need to go and interrupt the filleting session seeking supplies. Which was good because they all looked a bit dour and appeared to be trying to fix that situation with some very clear liquid from a clear bottle.
We did, in all, 2 or 3 days on this 400-and-something km tourist route and got about two thirds of the way to Bodo. We did get north of the arctic circle. In terms of climate there is no comparison between these latitudes in Norway, on the coast anyway, and the same in Alaska or Russia.
As for food, and as you would expect, Salmon, Cod, fresh summer fruit including some of the best raspberries I have ever had, and locally grown veggies abound in all the stores and markets. If only they could grow grapes and make wine then it would be summer time Nirvana. Its all about the sun and day length I guess…One morning I woke, checked my watch in the half light, saw it was 7:30, realised the sun had been up for some time, and bounced out of bed. Got tea and coffee going, started on some fruit, opened the Herald on line, and wondered why the navigator seemed confused about what I was doing. It was 5:30.
This was a road trip. Wonderful. It had everything. I don’t know what the people that inhabit this place do in the winter but the summer is magnificent.
We thought we needed to divert off and back down the E6 before completion so that we could see the western Fjords but in hindsight it would have been worth doing the whole thing. Next time. We did divert out to Mo-I-Rana (where does that come from?) and down the E6 back to Trondheim, covering the distance we had taken 3 days to cover along the coast in one long, very long, day of driving madness.
The European route E6 sounds grand but it’s a 2 lane highway connecting Europe to the far north. The section we covered is one long construction zone where they are building a whole new route (lots of drill and blast) but where the old and/or temporary route is diabolical. Norwegians on the whole seem to respect posted speed limits but even the posted limits seems a little scary in these zones. Also signposting isn’t their long-suit it seems. We saw a whole convoy of trucks, and cars, in front of us take a wrong turn and head down a construction access road that ended in a fenced off cliff above a river. The lead truck stopped prior to the cliff but that didn’t mean there weren’t all kinds of problems for them. We managed to avoid following them because by the time we got there all we could see was reversing carnage.
So there you go. The Norse-Nord Helgeland road trip. Worth doing. We were back, just south of Trondheim and ready to go and see some fjords and the western coast.