GUEST ARTICLE: When we started to research Norway there was one thing for sure – it’s expensive, really expensive! So we decided to do a short but intense 6 night trip with the aim of seeing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. We came to Norway in June – just before it gets crowded – a good month!
We landed in Norway’s Capital Oslo and hired our car. A small car was adequate. Like everything in Norway it was clean and reliable! We learned that by virtue of a lot of oil reserves and a canny knack for investing, Norway has become a very rich country. They have invested heavily in infrastructure and everything in the country seems to flow nicely. The roads are perfect and the streets manicured. The buildings across Norway are a mix of modern and beautifully restored.
We only stayed in Oslo one night. We didn’t want our trip to be another city holiday – we wanted to get out and see the famous fjords and Norwegian countryside. Our route across Norway was a loop from Oslo to Bergen, via the ski resort of Geilo and via the lakeside town of Balestrand on the way back. That route proved to be excellent – something new around the corner every step of the way.
Our first stop was the ski village of Geilo. Geilo doubles as a summer retreat in June, July and September. Being June, the start of the summer season, it wasn’t very crowded. Probably the best summer activity is bike riding. There are numerous paths throughout the area. We chose to take the path right around Lake Holsfjorden. Most hotels like ours (Bardøla) had bike hire.
After Geilo we drove to Bergen. The road directly after Geilo (Highway 7 through Hardanger) was probably the most spectacular road I have ever driven. I’ll let the pictures tell the story, suffice to say that this road passed partially frozen lakes, snow capped peaks and thundering rapids. It was truly amazing.
The town of Bergen is probably the most famous tourist destination in Norway. We decided to stay here two nights and it was well worth it. It is a beautiful harbourside town with historic buildings. We were very lucky in Bergen. Apparently this town’s beauty is often masked by rain. It rains in Bergen a lot. We had two straight days of sunshine which the locals told us is pretty rare. Probably the two best activities in Bergen depend on good weather. We did both.
The first is the Bergen cable car (Floibanen). The track is 844 metres long and takes you 320 metres above sea level. The view from the top of the city of Bergen and the harbour is breathtaking. The second must-do activity is a fjord cruise. We took the four hour cruise and weren’t disappointed. We thought it might be a little long but it wasn’t. There was a lot to see (traveller tip – make sure you take lots of warm clothing even in summer – the wind off the icy water goes right through light clothes!).
Bergen has a great harbourside market. At the market you can buy fresh and cooked seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, woolen clothes and souvenirs. The highlight of the market was the fresh raspberries and the lowlight was the preserved whale meat (that was the first time we’d ever seen whale openly for sale).
On our way back to Oslo we stopped for one night in Balestrand. The highlight of Balestrand is the Kviknes Hotel. It isn’t a luxurious hotel inside but the exterior is magnificent and the location is, well, extraordinary. The hotel is perched alongside the Sognefjord. There isn’t much to do in Balestrand except to soak in the natural beauty of this place. Like most places in Norway there is very little English signage in Balestrand. I asked a local shopkeeper why and he said that most of the tourism is from local Norwegians, so English signs aren’t needed. Balestrand is Norway’s secret!
It takes longer than you think to drive short distances in Norway. The main reason for this (apart from the fact that you are looking at the scenery and want to make it last) is that the roads cross the fjords. To cross the fjords you use a network of ferries. The ferries are great for tourists. Drive to the end of the road and stop at the boom gate. Wait for the ferry, pay the ferryman (!) and then drive aboard. The ferries vary in size. Some have full restaurant facilities and others just have snack machines. Anyway, the ferries are an added bonus boat ride for tourists and provide a good break from the road and a good photo opportunity.
The road from Bergen to Oslo via Balestrand completely different to the route via Geilo. The road winds along massive fjords and you find yourself wishing that your friends and family could be there with you to see the incredible sights.
One small criticism of Norway would be the food. The Norwegians may be competing with the English for the worst food award (you can’t have it all). Like England, the best idea is to seek out an Italian restaurant – there’s always one or two of those in each city.
After driving for a while in Norway you begin to realise that everywhere is beautiful. Around every corner is something new and spectacular. In some ways it’s easy to take it or granted. You have to keep pinching yourself and reminding yourself that nowhere in the world has non-stop incredible scenery like that. Go to Norway – it’s expensive but it’s worth it.
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!