A rule of thumb goes like this that if you just want to experience a country by its face value, it will suffice just to be in its main cities. But if you have to feel the pulse of the heartbeat of that country, you have to step outside of the concrete blocks and venture out in the country side. And the best way to search for the soul of that country is done when you drive through its geography. With a tank full of fuel and a heart full of adventure, you can steer the wheel to take you to places unforeseen and hidden far from the usual. The cross country road trip we just did all around Norway just transformed us head over heels in love with that fairy tale country. Over the span of 7 days we drove around 2,200 kilometres anti clockwise starting from Oslo in the east, down to Byrkjedal on south, Bergen on west, Atlantic Highway up north and back to Oslo.
• Rent a car from the airports itself, if you are travelling from abroad. Booking in advance is recommended. You can do it online or over the phone. Also, don’t forget to order a GPS car tracker along. Try to pick up and return the car during normal hours, not between 10pm-8am in which case we had to pay a small extra amount as our flight arrived at 11pm.
• Incase you plan to spend some time or stay in Oslo, avoid taking the car. Or park the car at a central parking facility and take the cab instead. The GPS fails miserably to show correct direction in Oslo due to its numerous underground tunnels which can be very confusing for the first time visitor in a car.
• Keep some loose change handy, mostly for the ferry tickets on the western routes.
• Toll collection is automatic in Norway, done by high speed cameras all along its road network. So there will be additional expense on top of the total rental hire cost. The total cost of the car rental will be known only after 2 days of returning the car.
• We hardly saw any traffic police, everything is monitored with speed cameras – so obey road rules religiously.
• When calculating distance and time in Google maps, add 2-3 hours extra for stop overs, refreshment breaks or more importantly – to stop (safely) and stare at natural landscapes along the route.
• It is best when you share the driving experience with your travel companion; while one drives, the others can rest and then role reversal.
- Before you are hitting the road, get yourself some dry food, water and basic medicines in case you have motion sickness like Tanusree often does.
Our rental car was waiting for us at the Oslo Moss Rygge airport where we arrive pretty late in the evening. We drove to the Marché Rygge Vest Airport Hotel conveniently located from the airport to crash in for the night and be prepared to hit the road the next day. After a sumptuous buffet breakfast at the hotel, we started to drive towards Oslo. The glorious morning sunshine kept introducing us to the sights and sounds of the Norwegian landscape. Our first stop over was the beautiful National Opera House in the heart of Oslo, a piece of unique architecture and a common visitor attraction. We spent a few hours there comparing our own human dimensions against the gigantic structures to play with our relative sizes. We then wanted to make our way to visit the Viking Museum. Sadly enough, we learnt the hard way that GPS devices can fail miserably in a city like Oslo which proudly has a strong network of underground tunnels. We kept on driving like earthworms getting into one tunnel and resurfacing into another and frustratingly ending up at the same place where we started. Obviously the GPS could not figure out the difference between an overground road and the one that runs below. After a confusing spaghetti of an hour or so and not being able to navigate to the Vikings Museum, we gave up and had to reluctantly set the next destination for Byrkjedal, our base station for the Kjerag mountain hike. The transition from reality to dream was an ephemeral experience. There were no road signs announcing to my roving eyes that we were driving into dreamland. As if the unscathed beauty of rural Norway was impatiently waiting for a sudden ambush to unsuspecting voyagers like us who were completely transported into a trance mode with a serial display of meditating mountain peaks and the hand painted dwellings kissing the slopes. From this point onwards for the next five days, Norway kept unwrapping in every turn of the road this array of mountain ranges which gorgeously shape up the vast majority of its landscape. Especially from the sharp turns in the single lanes climbing up and down made us realise that we had abandoned plain land long time ago and had already been rolling the rubber on the arms of the fjord regions of the South. The magnetic beauty of the deep valleys discovered along the serpentine route made us stop and stare so many times. Canon and Nikon do a good job at attempting to lock the landscape but what our eyes could see could not be captured in any camera nor could be explained through black and white. With the residents mostly either indoors or God knows where, it meant that for that moment Norway was interested to unfurl its hospitality only to two guests and that was us. It was exclusive, up, close and very personal with the raw natural beauty of this country. We stopped along a ranch to see a gorgeous black mare with its filly running the course. They stopped to stare at us for the camera and then the mare continued the training to teach its offspring how to run in the wild. We made numerous stops for some caffeine and found out that the people on the country side were so helpful, friendly and gentle. The most striking discovery was the immaculate cleanliness of the public toilets all around this country. Don’t be surprised if some of the public toilets found in the middle of nowhere in Norway appear to be cleaner than those in your own apartment back home – just flawless. Tells you a bit about why Norway is one of the topmost countries of the entire world.
The landscape towards Byrkjedal made a dramatic twist when it changed the display to snowy white all around. From lush green and deep valleys, the road led into frozen snow escorting the entire route for the next couple of hours. It was so surreal that it kept reminding me of the tracks I could choose from the Need For Speed video games, which occupied a good deal of my boyhood time. Just snow, like freshly cut bread served in the morning, it was cut neatly to make way for travellers on four wheels. The sun tried to set as hard as it could, but a summer in Norway means it doesn’t let the sky close its eye completely so there is always a shade of light even late at night. This meant that the snowy escapade we were experiencing put on a grey glare to keep an eye on us as we rushed to reach our destination. Must admit that the charm offensive turned a bit eerie after a while given there was no other cars on our tail nor ahead. May be that is the awe factor of nature in abundance. When you realise that you are alone in front of the massive, endless, limitless, unforeseen and raw nature, the sense of fear and feeling fragile can sneak in your soul to haunt you unless you get back quickly in the company of other humans or get into a mundane place where the nature diva decides to cover up part of her cleavage to put your mind back at ease.
As we drive through exploring the fjords, farms, villages, coastal roads including the scenic Atlantic Ocean Road which is officially declared as the World’s Best Road Trip, and been awarded the title as ”Norwegian construction of the century”, we marvelled at the mountain-engulfed lakes and the rough, stunning, untamed, lush land above the fjord, spectacularly beautiful houses with horse, cows, sheep, deer in the frontyards, gorgeous snowdrift covered mountains and waterfalls spilling down from them.
Norway is away. This was a road trip surely off the beaten path showing us the Norwegian’s stern alliance between Man and Nature, and, the countryside’s slow pace of life. We will continue telling our road-trip story in two more upcoming posts. Stay tuned, stay stunned!