Our second four weeks in Norway

Our second month in Norway was even more awe-inspiring than the first. After meeting with Linda and Steven from The Chouters, we continued north on the Kystriksveien (Coastal Highway/FV 17) coastal route. This is a 630km scenic route which is more beautiful but slower than the E6 highway: there are six ferry crossings on the main route and many more possible crossings to additional islands.

Arctic_Circle

As we headed north along the route, we began to cross incredible lunar landscapes and, on a ferry, we entered the Arctic Circle (and brought out our Cayman Islands flag). Linda and Steven recommended a wild camping site that overlooked Svartisen Glacier and Amelia picked wild blueberries and raspberries. We also saw the Saltstraumen maelstrom, where some of the world’s strongest tidal currents form whirlpools when the tide rushes in and out of the fjord.

We parked by a beach just outside Bodø. Soon other motorhomes arrived and Amelia met some French children and played with them in the golden evening light. While the kids played, the parents told us about their experiences in the Lofoten Islands, particularly the Reinebringen hike, and we shared Vin de Noix (fortified walnut wine) and Vin de Sureau (fortified elderflower wine) that we made in France. We also chatted with a couple from the Netherlands who also had a Weinberg motorhome. Amelia became interested in spotting license plates during our travels and mentioned to them that she had noticed their “NL” license plates. We were touched when they left us a bag of treats and a sweet note from the “NL Weinsberg” before driving off early the next morning.

Reinebringen

The next day, we drove into Bodø where it is possible to catch a ferry to the Lofoten Islands. There was a forecast for sunny weather the next morning, followed by a week of rain, so we decided to catch a night ferry to Moskenes, near the western tip of the Lofoten Islands. It was our roughest ferry crossing yet and we were glad to see an incredible wall of jagged mountains as we approached the islands in the twilight. We drove to the town of “Å” a few miles away and stayed in a parking lot which was filled with motorhomes from all over Europe. The next day, we woke up early and set off to hike Reinebringen while it was still sunny. It was a difficult hike up 1,560 steps but the views from the top were truly spectacular. We felt as if we had stepped into one of computer screen saver photos that had tempted us before we had even started our travels.

Next, we stopped in the town of Reine and found it very touristy – even late in the summer and in a Covid year with no cruise ships or tour buses. A cold rain began to fall the next day so we took the opportunity to visit a glassblowing shop that had been recommended by our friends at Frenchy Le Van – it was a perfect day to watch amazing glass blowing demonstrations by a roaring furnace.

Birthday_Campsite

We then began driving back through the chain of islands toward the mainland, following recommendations from the wonderfully comprehensive Motoroamers blog – they even have an eBook on the Lofoten  Islands. We found the islands to be much less busy once we left Reine and particularly enjoyed the 815 route – a quiet road with spectacular granite boulders and spiky mountains. Next, we drove through Andoya and took an evening ferry to Senya – following even more scenic routes. We did not find these islands to be quite as stunning as the Lofoten Islands (almost an impossible act to follow) but if the Lofoten Islands were too busy we thought they would be preferable! We agreed that we loved the lack of crowds and the sense of discovery and exploration that we found in Norway; the popular places are popular for a reason but many areas that are off the beaten track are just as spectacular. Too soon, it was time to head south. We found a small friendly campsite and settled in for a couple of days to celebrate Gary’s birthday – including his first ‘polar plunge’ within the Arctic Circle.

Given that the Kystriksveien which we took on the way north is a scenic route and the E6 is an inland highway, we had low expectations for the drive south. However, the northern portion of the E6 was surprisingly scenic. We would still pick the coastal highway if we were only driving one way in Norway but we enjoyed seeing granite domes, fjords, forest, and high plateau – including reindeer by the Arctic Circle Centre and musk ox habitat near Hjerkin.

Morning_Mist

On our way to the Lofoten Islands, we took a route near the coast and missed several highly recommended scenic routes and sites, planning to see them on our way south. First, we visited Briksdalbreen Glacier. The surrounding area is also spectacular, with rivers and lakes coloured a shocking blue by ‘rock flour’ – rocks which have been pulverized to dust by the movement of the glacier and which are suspended in the water. We then drove more incredible scenic routes, including Trollstigen (a dramatic mountain road with a 10% grade and eleven hairpin bends), Dalsnibba Utsiktspunkt (literally jaw-dropping scenery which we viewed through gaps in the mist), Gamle Strynefjellsveg (landscapes from another planet with guard stones lining the road like teeth), and the Flåm scenic route (where we were fortunate to see flaming autumn foliage reflected in the dark water).

We left Norway by way of Moss, near Oslo, where we visited Gary’s old friends Bernhard and Olaug – spending some wonderful time together and joining them for a typically Norwegian taco dinner . It was sad to say goodbye to Bernhard and Olaug and leave Norway after two months of wonderful travels but at the same time we were excited to enter our next country: Sweden, where Amelia was looking forward to trying banana pizza – you’ll find her review in our next blog 😊

Practicalities of Travelling in Norway:

Because of the uncertainty of travel during COVID-19, we did very little itinerary planning before we arrived in Norway. We were lucky to find some extremely helpful and comprehensive motorhome blogs to help us get up to speed…e.g.

Motoroamers

OurTour Motorhome Blog

Wandering Bird

The Gap Decaders

We also met Linda and Steven from The Chouters & Bijou while we were in Norway and loved reading their very funny and beautifully-illustrated blogs while they travelled south and we travelled north.

You can read our Norway itineraries here:

And we have added a few other notes below:

  1. AutoPASS: be sure to order an electronic tag for both AutoPass and AutoPASS Ferry when you are starting to plan your trip so that you can have the tag mailed to you. If this isn’t possible, you can still register online: normally, you will still benefit from the AutoPASS discount when your license plate is scanned.
  2. When to visit: we arrived at the middle of July and left at the middle of September – perfect for outside activities, hiking and picking berries. We felt lucky to stay for the beginning of autumn: attractions were quieter in late August (after Norwegian schools re-opened) and in September, trees were turning orange and red near Flåm. Spring would be an interesting time to visit to see rushing waterfalls, the last of the snow, and the arrival of thousands of puffins, though road conditions and hikes could be more challenging. In winter, there are opportunities for skiing, visiting ice caves, and seeing the northern lights. 
  3. Tourist Offices: we found excellent informational materials (including a booklet/magazine for each region) in the various tourism offices along our route.  A number of the offices offered free Wi-Fi.
  4. Scenic routes: early in our trip, we picked up a booklet on the stunning Norwegian Scenic Routes . We then prioritized these drives and travelled 14 of the 18 routes: see our itinerary posts above. The scenery is literally jaw-dropping while driving and we snapped hundreds of pictures out the window but you cannot truly appreciate the scale, the colours, and the sensations until you are outside your vehicle. We recommended getting out as often as possible, whether it is to hike or just to stand by the road soaking in the smell of salt or seaweed from the fjords, the sound of bells on wandering sheep, the colour of the fjords or the size of the mountains.
  5. Groceries: we brought a lot of food with us that we had purchased at a discount store in Germany and found that we were able to buy anything else we needed in Norwegian groceries stores ( for a description of the various stores see this post from Life in Norway). Generally we shopped at Coop (in their larger “Extra” or “Mega” stores) or Kiwi. Bunnpris and REMA 1000 are discount stores but we didn’t always find the prices low enough to justify the more limited selection.
  6. Food: popular snack foods include hotdogs, svele pancakes (folded in half to make a sandwich with brown cheese and butter or butter and sugar; often served on ferries), waffles, and tacos (a Friday-night favourite; we love tacos and we were happy to be able to buy taco ingredients – though only ‘Old El Paso’ style brands). In addition, we also enjoyed eating salmon and wild berries, and apples and plums from the many orchards on the side of the fjords. We snacked on spring rolls and churros while exploring Trondheim but otherwise we didn’t eat out in Norway.
  7. Where to stay: we found this link to be a helpful summary of rules for parking (vs camping) in Norway. We used Park4Night and spent most of our nights wild camping. It is also possible to find your own sites. Marinas are also a good option for paid sites with facilities; many campsites seemed crowded and expensive but we enjoyed staying at Oldevatn Camping which offered free boats to explore a glacial lake.
  8. Diesel prices: Diesel pricing baffled us (and a lot of other motorhomers too).  We drove past one station in the morning and the price was NOK14.49/litre and when we drove past again after lunch it was NOK17.49/litre (50 litres would be €15 more expensive!)  From what we could gather, diesel prices are generally cheapest on Sundays and first thing on Monday mornings. 
  9. Propane: It is true that LPG/GPL is not as widely available as in countries such as France but we found that we would drive past a pump twice a week.  We would fill up when we could instead of when we needed to.  It also appeared that filling ‘foreign’ gas bottles was possible. Both Park4Night and MyLPG helped us find filling stations.
  10. Dumping/water etc: there are many options on Park4Night.
  11. Laundry: we only found laundry facilities at campsites and marinas. Some will let you use the facilities without an overnight stay.
  12. KID bank account: There were 2 occasions when we needed to make a wire transfer (to pay AutoPASS until we changed to charging a credit card and to pay a parking ticket).  Both times the SWIFT payment/wire failed.  It appears that this happened because a KID (“kundeidentifikasjon” or customer identification) is needed.  You need to request the details of the bank account for non-KID payments.
  13. Internet: Norway has excellent cell phone coverage so it is easiest to use data rather than depending on campsite Wi-Fi (often poor signal strength) or free Wi-Fi. If you are looking for free Wi-Fi, grocery stores, gas stations, and tourist offices seemed to be the best places to check.
  14. Public bathrooms: abundant and very clean. Many had stunning views or were uniquely designed.
  15. Swimming pools: due to cool weather when we visited, the warm indoor public swimming pools were a highlight for our daughter. She loved them so much that we visited about one pool per week. Depending on the size of the facility, they may have waterslides, diving boards, climbing walls, and even whirlpools and wave pools. These are public pools not luxury spas, but for adults, there may be designated lanes for lap swimming, jacuzzis, steam rooms, and saunas. Two favourites: Lustrabadet and Atlanterhaven but the smaller pools (in nearly every large town) are also fun and generally less expensive.  
  16. Hiking: we did some amazing hiking in Norway, including the extremely popular hikes of Preikestolen/Pulpit Rock and Reinebringen. If you search for “hikes in Norway” you will see many challenging 10 to 12 hour hikes but during our trip we naturally came across many easier family-friendly opportunities e.g. a short walks to Briksdalsbreen Glacier and Torghatten.

Our favourites in Norway:

First of all, the incredible scenery. The fjord region was how we imagined Norway – but more spectacular – and we were surprised by the variety of the landscapes even within this region. The inner fjords, far from the sea, are classic ‘fjordland’ with dramatic views around every bend in the road. We especially loved seeing the different coloured water – ranging from ice-blue glacier melt to dark black reflecting the autumn leaves. The outer fjords, near the ocean, are lower – but they have incredible sea cliffs (such as Hornalen) and bird islands (such as Runde). The “top” Norway places truly are stunning: Preikestolen, Lofoten islands, Geiranger fjord, Trollstigen, and Flåm scenic lookout. We were lucky to see them in an unusual year when they were not too busy. Otherwise, they would be best off season or there are many other uncrowded and spectacular areas to explore. Some of our other favourites: amazing wild camping; hiking – particularly Reinebringen; picking wild blueberries and raspberries in the forests and along the edges of the fjords; glacial rivers and lakes; fjord horses; wild reindeer near the Arctic Circle Centre; drinks on a floating dock in Trondheim; and swimming in the fjords, including a “polar plunge” in the Arctic Circle.

And Amelia loved the swimming pools and making friends with other children at wild camps and campsites.

We couldn’t possibly recommend a Norway road-trip more highly.

Low vs High Tide

We arrived at the end of Saltfjorden (outside Bodø) at low tide. Six hours later it was high tide and the parking spot was much busier I took another photo.

Drag the slider left and right to compare the two photos.

This turned out to be one of our favourite campsites because of the people we met. We chatted with a couple from the Netherlands in another Weinsberg motorhome; they left us a note and entirely unexpected gift of Norwegian candies when they drove off early the next morning. Then Amelia met three French children travelling in a campervan – the kids played on the beach for hours and we shared an after-dinner glass of vin de noix and of vin de sureau (both made in Les Eyzies) with their parents!

Our first four weeks in Norway

WOW!   Norway is impressive.  In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slartibartfast, designer of planets, wins an award for the Norwegian fjords.  We know now that the award was well-deserved.

Janice was impressed by the scenery between Kristiansand and Stavanger; Gary, who visited Stavanger 24 years ago, knew the coast would become more spectacular as we travelled north.

Gary re-lived parts of his visit to Stavanger by suggesting we drive down to Lysebotn (at the end of Lysefjord) and then catch the ferry to Forsund. We drove through a lunar landscape at the end of the fjord, and then viewed its vertical nearly 1,000m (3,300′) granite walls from the bottom, during the ferry crossing, and from the top at Preikestolen (“Pulpit Rock”).  The hike to Preikistolen is challenging (8 km/5 miles in total with a climb of 300m/1,000’). Amelia made a friend the night before our hike and was thrilled to meet her at the top. It took us 2 hours and 20 minutes to hike up and then we spent the whole day at Pulpit rock and glacial lakes along the path with Amelia’s friend and her family. Amelia rated the experience 10/10 (a high score usually only achieved by water parks) and she has been enthusiastic about other hikes – especially if their completion is celebrated with expensive Norwegian ice cream!

At a tourist office, we picked up a brochure for “Fjord Norway” which stretches from Stavanger to Ålesund. Even though we usually travel slowly, and we only have a period of 90 days in the Schengen zone, we decided to head north through the fjords to Ålesund. Then, when we reached Ålesund, we decided to continue to Kristiansund – and then the Lofoten Islands.

Gaularfjellet-Utsikten

Norway has a number of National Scenic Routes, which we have followed as we have driven north. Our favourite routes have included the magnificent mountains and glacial lake Røldalsvatnet, Hardangerfjord (covered in orchards), the bleak, windswept Hardangervidda plateau, driving up to Gaularfjellet Utsikten from Balestrand, road 776 from Høylandet, and the Kystriksveien route (Fv17, Coastal Route), especially the island of Leka, Torghatten (hole in the mountain), and the Svartisen Glacier. We still have Trollstigen and Geirangerfjord ahead of us, as we plan to see them as we head south.

Tunnel

The mountains make for narrow, twisty roads with lots of tunnels – they are often dark, and the walls are unsurfaced as they have been hacked through solid granite. Gary guessed we had driven through 100 kilometres (60 miles) of tunnels but then as he thought about it, he figured that we often drive through 10km of tunnels a day, so we have easily driven through 200km (120 miles) of tunnels in these four weeks! A couple of tunnels completed 360° turns inside the mountains and the most amazing so far was the tunnel near Eidefjord with a roundabout in the middle!

Polar-Plunge

Norway is a paradise for wild camping. Lay-byes next to a fjord or lake, picnic areas, and visitor centre parking areas are often available. It took a couple of nights to get used to this new (to us) way of camping but now we are quite happy parked next to a quiet road with an amazing, always changing view. From our overnight parkings we have seen dolphins, glaciers, sea cliffs, farms, forests, ferry docks, and harbours and we have barbequed, had beach bonfires, and even done a ‘polar plunge’ into a fjord.

Summertime is berry time and we have collected our share of wild blueberries and raspberries. Amelia has fallen in love with cooking after watching “Cook with Amber”. She suggested making parfaits and frozen yogurt bark with wild berries and some of her other favourite Amber recipes for the trip have included peanut butter energy balls, guacamole, carrot pitas, salmon sushi hand rolls, and rice balls.

Some of Amelia’s other favourites have been the heated swimming pools which also have water slides. She also enjoyed visiting the island of Leka and investigating the mystery of little Svanhild, who as a 3 ½ year old in 1932, was apparently taken from a coastal farm by a sea eagle. She was found 7 hours later, mostly unharmed, on an inaccessible ledge in the mountains below a sea eagle’s nest. Ornithologists still question whether a sea eagle could carry her weight but, having seen the location of the ledge where she was found, it is difficult to imagine any other explanation.

A pleasant surprise was meeting up with motorhomers Linda and Steven; they used the same dealership as us to buy their motorhome and have been travelling in Europe for the past 2+ years. When we contacted them after reading a post on their blog about Norway, we were just 10km apart. They were heading south and we were heading north but we were able to meet for a quick coffee in Brønnøysund.

Originally, we had planned to spend about four weeks in Norway. Well, we have been here four weeks and we are still heading north. The scenery is so amazing that we are compelled to see what is in the next valley.

We have an idea of where we might turn around and head south but who knows? What will the next 4 weeks bring us?

Read Part II of our summer trip here