Sunday, July 24, 2016

Norway on the Cheap

BJ & PJ in Norway
Just an overview in case it might be encouraging or helpful to anyone including us in planning future trips.

Flight research using online tools concluded that the least expensive direct flights near us were to Copenhagen from Boston on Norwegian Express. The taxes and fees doubled the price of the tickets and our luggage was extra with very strict weight limits. Sitting in cramped seats for hours is never the best part of the trip. 
Rental Car
We reserved  a tiny Fiesta size car but got a larger manual shift diesel Audi A4 wagon with only a few hundred miles on the clock.
 Fine car and nice to camp out of though sometimes we envied the smaller cars on the narrow roads and ferries. We rented from Avis and the had lots of cars and even roadside assistance in Norway.The roads were well suited for our vehicles of choice, motorcycles but staying warm and dry would have been difficult and rental cost would have multiplied.
We also have become dedicated if not avid day hikers and combining that with motorcycle touring can be an added challenge.

The fee to update the two year old Garmin European maps seemed unreasonable. Turns out the update would have been worthwhile. Roadwork is in full swing in the region.

We only stayed in one hotel on our entire trip. We considered a stay in another for the last night but opted for another self service cabin. We found our hotel, Villa Provence in the city of Aarus Denmark after parking the car and walking to find it. The streets were a combination of one ways and restricted access with lots of bicycle traffic. The hotel was quite nice with a courtyard and a breakfast buffet.

 It seems you might be getting the spare rooms when using but it was in nice shape. 
Ferry to Norway
The gate to drive out of the hotel parking seems better suited to pedestrians. Threading through alleys and ferry decks not to mention fast narrow roads was challenging. This would be our second longest of many ferry rides of the trip.
   The seas were a little rough but it was a fine ship to Kristiansand.  

Byglandsfjorden and Camping Cabins
We had a map of campgrounds with cabins and had a plan but no reservations to stay at Neset Camping on the water in Bygland a couple of hours north of the ferry terminal. The first of many waterfronts was pleasant but not hugely different from our familiar lakes at home. We did didn't really know what to expect and from the road it looked like mostly an RV park which was with a few cabins for rent which it turns out most of them do.
Some camping cabins at various campgrounds had private baths but we opted for the cheaper basic units when possible. They all had a small kitchen area. Sometimes they had double beds and sometimes just bunks.
Since we had our sleeping bags and micro towels we didn't need to rent linens. 

Tuddal and Nature Center
The following was a good day to be in an enclosed vehicle and not to be taking down a tent. We expected some wet conditions and it didn't really keep us from seeing or enjoying anything at all.
We made an impulse stop at a national forest nature center where we saw a film about Norwegians sabotaging a  plant held by the Germans in WWII that produced heavy water that could be used for nuclear weapons production.  

As well as an extensive exhibit regarding native reindeer population and conservation efforts. We located the cabins in Tuddal Camping and they had availability and the hostess provided free cake and coffee.
We took a suggested  long walk round the lake by farms and over paths and one land bridges.

We got back in time for the little corner restaurant and shop to make us a light meal before they closed up.

The original plan was to start at a couple of renowned hikes on near the western fjords first but the weather seemed better towards the central Norway so we reversed our route. We stopped at a tourist information office on our way to Tuddal Camping and saw the major attraction in the area was a lift to a mountain summit.
We stopped by and found it was socked in with rain and fog so we continued along. The following day however was a bit clearer and we went back to the mountain on our way north and found the hiking trail rather than the lift to the summit.

 This gave us our first experience of hiking in Norway and it was magnificent.
As we are familiar with in above tree line in our own White Mountains the weather changed quickly and a pretty significant snow squall blew through which
wiped out the view and gave us a taste of potential for weather extremes this far north of the equator.
At the top was a little snack bar where we enjoyed a coffee.
It probably got pretty crowded later with all the hikers we passed and the folks coming up the lift.


From our perspective this was probably the highlight of the due to the views, trails and inland weather.
We spent our longest stay at a nice cabin at a fairly dense location but close to seemingly endless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
We scored  a three night stay as vacationing season started to peak. From here we would drive scenic roads and hike the famous Besseggen Ridge. 

Besseggen Ridge
This hike was part of what sparked an interest in coming to Norway and it did not disappoint.
We did a little reconnoissance the day before our attempt which was very useful in getting us a good start which mainly involved getting there early for the first boat to the trail.
While any fit hiker would probably enjoy the trail there are some fairly exposed and challenging open scrambles that make some hearts race a bit.
We were gifted the best weather of our trip for this hike and unforgettable scenery. 

As we started to make our way toward the coast it seemed that we might not need the tent and sleeping pads we packed as we found available cabins along the route. Then we passed a road sign with too much writing and no place to stop to decipher which we later found out indicated that the road between us and the cabins was closed for construction until later in the evening. We had already tried for a cabin in the area without success so we just settled for a tent site nearby that was in a fruit orchard.
It was a nice location and we got more rest in the tent than expected. I had a forty degree sleeping bag that was marginal on some nights. 

When tenting we had to rely on the jetboil, which we found some fuel for at an outdoor outfitter we passed on the road for cooking and found meals we could make in it. As it turns out a pan might have been more useful as every campground and even mountain cabins had a cook stoves.


Much of the land in Norway isn't tillable but is ok for grazing. Also seafarers historically stored much of their calories in the form of animal protein. So it's of no surprise that eating meatless was a bit of a challenge. Almost every dish seemed to have at least a little meat mixed in. We always managed to find something though even when we had to shop a a gas station on Sunday when all the grocery stores were closed.

An Appalachian trail hiker noted diissapointment when looking at the pictures on her phone. They just didn't capture the majesty of the scenery she was experiencing. That was especially true for us on this trip. 

The trolls tongue is an iconic overhang at the end of an eleven kilometer hike/walk. It is very popular and the one of the best marked trail we have ever been on with large distance marking signs each km.
It also is populated with more foreign tourists and regrettably trash than the trails we saw further from the coast.
 Nonetheless the view is fully rewarding and having a photo from the tongue is a nice accomplishment. Interestingly the heavy trail building and maintenance is being done by hired Sherpas.

Another hike to an iconic photo perch.
This one a little more difficult to get to the trailhead as either a ferry or a long winding road leads to it. After much debate we took the drive which turned out to be one of our most beautiful rides.
The hike was steep in spots but there were chain railings that made it much easier than Besseggen Ridge. 

"For someone looking for a relatively quick and easy hike with fabulous views of the Norwegian fjords, Pulpit Rock is perfect" this is obviously no secret and the crowds are nearly as breath taking as the views.
We were planning on skipping it but a park employee at Kjerag said an early morning trip up might not none too bad so we braved the crowds at the namesake campground and made a run for it before anyone else was stirring.

We waited a bit for clouds to clear at the top and were rewarded with some good views prior to heading down like salmon swimming against the current.
It really was  incredible how many vehicles were coming up with folks to load up the trail. We were satisfied with our summit photos and glad to get free from the crowds and traffic.

Judging by other reviews this seems to be a much enjoyed stop by many tourists. Best just to say the attractions were not the experience we were looking for so we moved on. The area is indeed beautiful though.

Folgefonna National Park 

Since Flam didn't turn out to be where we wanted to spend the time we had left before our ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen a glacier hike seems like a great alternative. Folgefonna being not too far out of the way looked like a good option. In the nearest town Odda, the camping cabins and even the tents sites were booked with loads of young folks. We then took a twelve kilometer tunnel that took us to the much less populated other side of the mountain where we found an available rental caravan at Sundal
Camping that turned out to be at the base of trails leading to the glacier. We had another unforgettable all day hike, this one above waterfalls, glacier fed lakes and ponds, through snowfields, two hiking huts and to the edge of the glacier that was completely fogged in.

On the way to the Oslo area we visited Blue Color Works, and toured where they mined cobalt ore and manufactured cobalt blue pigment commonly used on porcelain in the 19th century. Its doubtful most folks with blue trimmed items from the era have any idea how intense a process and how much labor was involved in its production.

The mining tour was well conducted in English and this would be a nice stop for any age group. They even have an animal petting farm at the processing museum. 

Our tour guide at the mine asked if we were familiar with the terrorist attacks carried out by a Norwegian far right extremist in Oslo and on Utoya five years ago. He went on to say that the blasts were felt by a tour group in the mine and the perpetrator had prepared nearby. Having paid embarrassing little attention to the news of the attack at the time it occurred it seemed like a good time to learn a little more about it over wifi at the last cabin rental near Oslo. The events were extremely sad and by ironic coincidence a guest at the very campground we were in conducted a personal rescue of many victims.
With such a small population it is said that one in four Norwegians knows someone affected  by the attacks. 

DFDS Seaways to Copenhagen
The idea of putting a rental car mileage on an overnight ferry to the airport location did sound a little wasteful but it turned out to be a great choice for us.
A private cabin provided a pretty decent nights sleep in spite of some pretty good wave bashing.
The shopping crowd was pretty wild and they all seems to move to the buffet as a group making it impossible for us to get a seat but we managed ok with a pizza and salad of sorts and made sure we beat most of them to breakfast. We still got a nice little drive through Copenhagen and enough time to sort out our stuff at the rental return.
The total cost on the ferry was probably close to what we would have spent for another overnight and a very long drive.

Nothing new or noteworthy about the return flight. Long security and customs lines moved pretty quickly and it didn't seem anyone was missing flights due to screening delays. It doesn't get used much at home but the kindle was a great way to share a book on the trip and we could use the kindle application on the iPad or iPhone when taking turns or someone accidentally packed the kindle in checked luggage. 

Trip Cost
The reports of high cost were intimidating but for the way we traveled Norway was not prohibitively expensive when compared to other European countries we have visited and It would be great to have even more time to explore there someday. We didn't have anyone making our beds or serving our meals often and full meals were somewhat rare and we spent nothing on adult beverages and the water was good right out of the tap or even the stream. The cabins had to be clean before we left. Our luggage was pretty much maxed out with camping gear so we didn't have much room for souvenirs. We seemed to be vacationing much like the people around us so we didn't feel deprived at all. 

There are many ways a self guided tour could be done there reasonably but this was ours and we very grateful for having had the opportunity.