The end of Norway

It’s been great but all good things must eventually end. And so it is with our time in Norway but let me bring you up to speed what we’ve been up to. After cycling from Nordkapp to Trondheim, a journey of nearly 2,500 KM, we took a train to Oslo and spent an entertaining night watching drunks trying to eat Falafel at an all-night café before taking the train to Haugastøl, the starting point of the Rallarvegen.

Downtown Trondheim.
Downtown Trondheim.
Getting on the train to Haugastøl.
Getting on the train to Haugastøl in Oslo.

The Rallarvegen was constructed by hand between 1902 and 1904 in order to build the railway between Oslo and Bergen, which opened in 1909. In 1974, the Rallarvegen, or Navvy Road – Navvies were the railroad labourers – was designated a cycling route. Now, up to 20,000 people cycle the 80-kilometre trip every summer between July and September.

The Rallarvegen with Hardanger Glacier in the distance.
The Rallarvegen with Hardanger Glacier in the distance.
The start of the Rallarvegen is at 1000 metres above sea level.
The start of the Rallarvegen is at 1000 metres above sea level.

It begins at 1,000 metres above sea level, climbs up to 1,343 metres before descending all the way down to sea level at Flåm on Sognefjord. The road goes over the Hardanger plateau, skirting the Hardanger Glacier. It is an amazingly scenic route. A bit rough in places, but a pure joy to cycle.

Jan heading west on the Rallarvegen, a road constructed to help build the railroad in the early 20th century.
Jan heading west on the Rallarvegen.

There are a few old rail road stops along the way: Finse, Vatnahalsen and Myrdal are the main ones. At Myrdal, another rail line, the Flåmsabana, goes to Flåm. The main line continues to Bergen in the west and Oslo in the south. The original line has long since been replaced with the modern line.

Cycling the Rallarvegen between Finse and Myrdal.
Cycling the Rallarvegen between Finse and Myrdal.

The Navvy Road descends from Myrdal on a twisting track with about a dozen hairpin turns, steeply dropping 300 metres over 2 kilometres (see video in previous post) The road continues to drop to sea level over the final kilometres until its terminus in Flåm on Sognefjorden.

The hairpins below Myrdal. A scary ride on gravel.
The hairpins below Myrdal. A scary ride on gravel.

When we arrived, a ferry to Gudvangen was just about to depart and since the weather was good, we decided to take it instead of wait until the morning since rain was forecast. This way, we would at least see something of Sognefjord, the largest in Norway.

View in Sognefjord from the ferry.
View in Sognefjord from the ferry.

It’s the only way to go for a cyclist as the highway goes through an 11-kilometre-long tunnel that is closed to cyclists and is currently closed to all traffic after a truck fire a couple of weeks ago.

Rainy weather in Gudvangen.
Rainy weather in Gudvangen.

At Gudvangen, we rented a small cabin and slept inside for a change, knowing the weather was going to go sideways on us overnight. We awoke to a steady drizzle and delayed getting on the road, not so much because of the rain, but mostly because of the road ahead. There is another long tunnel closed to cyclists so we had to take the old road: Stalheim, one of Norway’s steepest climbs at 18 per cent.

A postcard of Stalheim with 13 hairpins. We had to climb this road to get out of the valley from Gudvangen.
A postcard of Stalheim with its 13 hairpins.

It is short but it is brutal. There are 13 hairpins on this crazy bit of tarmac. There is only one-way car traffic down, so no traffic coming from behind on this narrow road. A good thing as the three tour buses we met were quite enough.

GéŽrard on Stalheim, an 18 per cent climb.
GéŽrard on Stalheim, an 18 per cent climb.
Alba in one of the hairpins with the road far below.
Alba in one of the hairpins with the road in the fog far below.

There was really no way we were going to cycle up this thing all the way but we gave it a go anyway. I was the last to start as I wanted to take a photo of Jan, Alba and Gérard beginning this bit of cyclo-torture. They did not get very far as this is an unforgiving hill for cyletourers with heavy panniers.

I made it to the fifth hairpin and thought my heart was going to explode. Nothing to do but push and ride. Push and ride the final two-thirds of the thing. From the top I had brief glimpses of the road far below and eventually saw Gérard, Jan and Alba make it up to the top. We were dripping wet from the rain and our sweat but luckily there is a very swank hotel at the top with a nice salon where we stripped off our wet gear and had some very expensive coffee while watching the rain pouring from the sky.

Jan climbing Stalheim, 18 per cent.
Jan climbing Stalheim, 18 per cent.

Eventually we did have to get back on the bikes and we spent the entire day in the pouring rain riding to Voss. The camp site at Voss was crammed and offered no space under cover for us to sit and cook a meal so we resorted to another night indoors, this time at the Hostel. They had cheap dorm accommodation with a breakfast buffet included for 200 NOK per person ($35). A great deal considering breakfast was a BUFFET! The cyclist’s favourite meal option.

We and all our stuff dried off overnight and in the morning we filled up at the breakfast buffet, ready for another day’s toil in the saddle. The buffet was very good: cereals, breads, eggs, smoked trout, meats, cheeses, juices, coffee, tea and much more. Needless to say, we were very well fuelled for the day’s ride into Hardanger Fjord.

Following the bike route to circumvent a tunnel.
Following the bike route to circumvent a tunnel.

The weather had improved overnight and we had a lovely ride into Granvin. Out of Voss, the road climbs gradually and then disappears into yet another tunnel closed to cyclists. We took the old road down into Granvin. It’s a beautiful route along a narrow twisting downhill into the valley bottom where we picked up a cycle route along an old railway bed all the way to Hardanger Fjord.

The downhill run into Granvin.
The downhill run into Granvin.

We travelled south along the north side of the Fjord to Kvandal and crossed by ferry to Utne where we sat on the terrace of a 200-year-old hotel sipping coffee and tea and contemplating spending the night. It was 895 NOK ($160) per person for a double room. We cycled 5 KM over the hill and down again to a camp site situated right on the water.

The Utne Hotel.
The Utne Hotel.

This is orchard country along Hardanger and the narrow road twists, turns, climbs and descends south to Jondal through orchards. Beautiful cycling and very little traffic.

Orchards along Hardangerfjord.
Orchards along Hardangerfjord.

We met another cyclist, Gijs from Utrecht, The Netherlands, and we spent two days cycling and camping together before his road went south to Stavanger and ours west to Bergen.

Gijs, a cyclist we met on Hardanger Fjord.
Gijs, a cyclist we met on Hardanger Fjord.

From Hardanger, we crossed a peninsula from Mundheim to Venjaneset and crossed Samnangefjorden by ferry to Os looking for a camp site. None were to be found until close to Bergen in the suburbs.

Pine trees above Hardanger Fjord.
Pine trees above Hardanger Fjord.

Our GPS, freshly loaded with the opencycle map courtesy of Gijs, guided us to the Midtun Hotel and Camping. (We also got some directions from a very helpful gentleman. Thank you Kjell). The camping was really just two strips of grass behind the hotel but it worked for us. We were now in a suburb of Bergen and the following day we had a short, 10 KM ride along bike paths into the city centre.

Cycling through Bergen.
Cycling through Bergen.

Bergen has a reputation for rain. We live in rainy Vancouver, so how much could it rain here, really. Well, the statistics tell us that Vancouver gets an average of about 1150 mm of rain (over 161 days) per year. Bergen gets 2500 mm ( over 275 days) per year. This is a wet place. More like North Vancouver, which gets a similar amount of rainfall at the base of the mountains. However, we were lucky to be in Bergen on some of the few sunny, warm days they get every year. It was brilliant sunshine and we loved it. The city is beautifully situated on the water with mountains all around.

Bergen seen from Fløyen.
Bergen seen from Fløyen.

We had found a place to stay through Warm Showers and our hosts, Helle and Jan, were amazingly generous for taking us in, despite a renovation going on in their house. When we arrived, dinner was ready and the wine poured. Alba and Gérard camped in the back yard and Jan and I had a room in the basement, along with a bathroom for the four of us.

Jan and Helle, our generous hosts in Bergen.
Jan and Helle, our generous hosts in Bergen.
Jan's rear tire about to blow.
Jan’s rear tire about to blow.

Our bicycles were in desperate need of some cleaning and parts replacement which is what we had arranged for the following day through Jamie Smith, a cyclist we spent some time with in the Lofoten. He had arrived in Bergen the day before us. Jim had arranged the use of a workshop at Armadillo Bike Shop, a great little shop above the popular neighbourhood of Bryggen. Armadillo specializes in classic city bikes, cruisers, fixies and refurbished retro bikes. If you need work done on your bike, go see Rom and Maria at Armadillo: http://armadillo-bike.blogspot.no/  or  http://www.finn.no/butikk/armadillo

Bike maintenance at Armadillo Bikes.
Bike maintenance under Jim’s supervision at Armadillo Bikes.

Unfortunately, we were unable to find the parts we needed so there was nothing to do but clean everything up, grease it and lube it and try again in Copenhagen or Germany. The parts will also be cheaper than in Norway, hopefully.

Armadillo Bikes in Bergen.
Armadillo Bikes in Bergen.

While Jan and I tinkered with our bikes, with Jim’s generous help, Alba and Gérard went shopping for the night’s dinner. By the time Jan, Jim and I got back to Helle and Jan’s home, dinner was nearly ready and Jan had selected the wine. Alba and Gérard put together a fantastic dinner.

Melon with jamó—n (from Barcelona).
Melon with jamó—n (from Barcelona).

As an appetizer we had melon and jamón (ham from Catalonia) and steamed mussels. The main course was baked flounder, accompanied by roasted vegetables and salad, and we had berries from Helle’s garden with cream for desert. An amazing feast which Jan and I were expected to repeat in some fashion the next day.

Alba and the flounder.
Alba and the flounder.

We headed up Fløyen in the morning to get a good view of the city. Fløyen is one of seven (or nine, depending on who you talk to) mountains upon which Bergen is draped. It is a pretty city on a brilliant sunny day like we had. There is a fernicular, Floibanen, which goes up and down the mountain but we chose to walk, using some different muscles than the ones we’ve been using while cycling for almost three months (where does the time go?)

Hiking up Fløyen in Bergen.
Hiking up Fløyen in Bergen.

In the afternoon, Jan and I went shopping for dinner and we managed to find the ingredients to make an Indonesian dinner: chicken satay, sambal beans and beef rendang. Our hosts happily announced during dinner that we could all come back. It was the least we could have done to repay their generosity. We enjoyed staying with them and cooking and eating together.

From left: Gérard, Helle, Jan, Alba, Janice, Jim and Paul.
From left: Gérard, Helle, Jan, Alba, Janice, Jim and Paul.

We would liked to have stayed another night but Jan and I were unable to get train tickets to Oslo for Friday. The bicycles were the problem. There are only so many spots on each train and the only spots available for the next several days was the overnight train leaving Bergen at 11:15 on Thursday night. So after dinner, we packed the bicycles and rode to the station. Alba and Gérard spent one more night and were scheduled to fly back to Barcelona the next day.

Alba and GéŽrard on the ferry from FlŒåm to Gudvangen.
Alba and GéŽrard on the ferry from FlŒåm to Gudvangen.

It was a sad occasion to say goodbye. We have spent a glorious month cycling together through a beautiful part of Norway. It was great to have their company and we miss them already. Who knows, perhaps they will join us again down the road.

The train ride to Oslo was pretty uneventful. Seven hours on the train through the night with little or no sleep. When we arrived in Oslo at 7 the next morning, the sun had just risen and another beautiful day awaited us. We cycled around downtown until we found a coffee shop that was open and figured out what we were going to do.

Napping in a park in Oslo after not sleeping on the overnight train from Bergen.
Napping in a park in Oslo after not sleeping on the overnight train from Bergen.

We cycled along the water through different neighbourhoods ending up in Bygdøy where there are several museums. We visited the Fram Museum which houses a famous little ship of that same name. It was used by Fridtjof Nansen, Roald Amundsen and Otto Sverdrup on their various polar expeditions. In the adjacent building sits the Gjoa, the first ship to successfully sail the Northwest Passage of Canada’s Arctic. This journey was made between 1903 and 1906. http://www.frammuseum.no/Home.aspx

Paul and Roald Amundsen and his gang outside the Fram Museum.
Paul and Roald Amundsen (to left) and his gang outside the Fram Museum.

After cycling back into the centre of Oslo we found a café where we could enjoy a beer and soak up some more Norwegian sun. We met a Swede named Mikel and we got to chatting about this ‘n that, you know, every-day life stuff in Norway and Canada. After a while, he goes inside to buy another beer and he comes back carrying one beer and two whiskeys. He hands me one of them and apologizes, saying they did not have his favourite Islay single malt, Lagavulin, but that this Laphroaig was also nice.

Paul and Mikel and friend.
Paul and Mikel and his friend.

So, I had been awake for more than 36 hours, had just had a beer and was sitting in the blazing sun. I really was in no position to drink whiskey but neither was I in a position to refuse. He would have been very much offended, so, I took one for the team while thinking about the fact that we still had to cycle into the hills above city centre and meet Tharan and Øyvind, relatives of our good friend Wayne.

The Opera House in downtown Oslo.
The Opera House in downtown Oslo.

We safely made it an hour or so later and were warmly welcomed by Tharan who made us a fantastic dinner of shrimp and fish. We were made to feel right at home with their daughters Eirunn and Ingeborg, and we appreciate the great hospitality that we keep receiving in Norway. Tharan put us in a large bedroom in the basement and we were set. Unfortunately, Øyvind was in Iceland at a conference and would not return until Sunday, the day we had kind of chosen to leave. But since we don’t really have a schedule we decided to stay another night so we could meet Øyvind.

A classic city bike.
A classic city bike.

After a great night’s sleep Jan and I headed out on the bikes to Holmenkollen where there is a ski jump and a ski museum. The weather was spectacular again and on the way there, climbing up the hill along one of Oslo’s many bike routes, we decided it would be madness to spend time inside a museum when the weather is so good. We cycled up, had a look around and turned around to make the downhill run into the city centre.

The ski jump at Holmenkollen with a zip line from top to bottom.
The ski jump at Holmenkollen with a zip line from top to bottom.

I like to go a bit faster than Jan and of course I lost her, taking a turn to go downtown, not going back the way we had come. By the time I stopped to wait for her, it was too late. I’d lost her. I cycled back up the hill a ways hoping to run into her but to no avail. What to do? Since we were going downtown to the railway station, I decided that was the most logical place to go and wait for her. It’s easy to find and I was sure she would turn up. I have our only phone so no way to communicate. (Bad planning!)

A handy book to have.
A handy book to have.

Anyway, after a couple of hours and a few texts between Tharan and myself, I get a phone call from Jan who is back at the house where she’s been waiting for me. At least we found each other again. She came downtown to join me and after buying train tickets to Göteborg, we went into a neighbourhood northeast of the centre to find a place to eat. Upon a recommendation by Tharan we ended up at Trattoria Populare, an Italian restaurant with a great terrace. We enjoyed the warm evening and a great dinner. It felt like we were on holiday not having cycled much since arriving in Bergen a few days earlier.

Downtown Oslo.
Downtown Oslo.

On Sunday, Tharan took us around the city showing us her favourite bike routes and swimming holes along the river, as well as some of the projects she’s been working on, restoring rivers and creeks within Oslo. She is Oslo’s River Lady, and a mad cyclist to boot. She gets if from her parents, who, in their seventies, still bicycle tour. We met them that afternoon as they were keen to see our take-apart touring bikes. It was great to have a guided tour of this great city. Thank you Tharan!

Tharan and Paul while cycling in Oslo.
Tharan and Paul while cycling in Oslo.

We returned in the late afternoon as Tharan was expecting guests for dinner. A kid (goat, that is) was prepared and barbequed. It was delicious. Øyvind returned home later that night and we sat up chatting a while before we realized the next day everyone had to go to work except us, so, off to bed.

Swimming hole on the Akerselva River.
Swimming hole on the Akerselva River.

Jan and I went for another tour of Oslo on the bicycle and met Øyvind at Tim Wendelboe, a micro coffee roaster of some acclaim. http://timwendelboe.no/ The coffee was good and it was nice to chat some more with Øyvind, who is a philosopher of some acclaim, and a one-time keyboard player and songwriter in Fra Lippo Lippi. He presented us with a copy of their album “Songs”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fra_Lippo_Lippi_(band) Øyvind is also a blogger: http://okvalnes.com/

Tim Wendelboe coffee roaster in Oslo.
Tim Wendelboe coffee roaster in Oslo.
Pedestrian-cyclist bridge over the Akerselva River.
Pedestrian-cyclist bridge over the Akerselva River.

After a lovely weekend in Oslo, we took the train to Göteborg, Sweden. Norway has been great. It’s a beautiful country with very hospitable people. We’ve made some great new friends and  hope to be able to host them in Vancouver when we return home.

The other day, I saw a woman wearing a shirt that said: “Live The Life You Imagined”. I think we are and…

Life is Fantastic.

Lots more pictures will be posted on Flickr in the coming days.

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5 thoughts on “The end of Norway

  1. I’m speechless. Incredible journey. Your photos and commentary make me feel like I’m along for the ride (without the accompanying pain). – Happy trails, Norman

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