Road trip around Norway by Jules Benjamin
If the words ‘road trip’ send you into an instant despair at the thought of congestion, bustling motorway services, prolonged sections of speed enforcement and road works, you are probably used to driving in England. And it would be easy to dismiss the prospect if you base your assumptions on navigating your way around the UK. But thankfully, there are still some road networks in this world that are nothing but a pleasure to travel…
In September my girlfriend and I set off on a two week driving holiday around Norway, hiring a car so that we would have the freedom to do what we wanted, when we wanted. Our time only permitted us to circle the bottom third of the country, but there is more than enough there to fill the most generous of itineraries.
We began our journey in the capital, Oslo. With an urban population of less than a million, Oslo has a modest and intimate feel for a capital city. Molded around the shores of the great Oslofjord, most of Oslo’s points of interest lie within a stone’s throw of the old town and the bay. Accommodation is plentiful and varied. There are many hotels, bed & breakfasts, rent-able apartments, camping… Or you can even indulge in the popular Scandinavian practice of paying somebody a small amount of money to sleep in their spare bed! We opted for a room with a shared bathroom in a hostel that was about 2 miles from the centre, but positioned just a couple of hundred yards from a railway station. The accommodation was basic but relatively cheap, and it offered free off road parking – a service that it’s easy to become obsessed with when planning a road trip.
As well as being an administrative and political centre, Oslo is hugely cultural. There are plenty of fine museums and auditoria, worthy of the many great writers, composers and artists from this great city, not to mention a beautiful new opera house that sits resplendent at the Bjørvika water’s edge. In spite of its size, Oslo also boasts a huge array of restaurants, bars, music venues and clubs, and there are plenty of quirky, independent shops, as well as the big names. And with its Germanic architecture and snow-lined streets, it’s a particularly beautiful place to visit around Christmas.
The one undeniable truth about driving in Norway is that you won’t get anywhere quickly. There’s a good reason the Romans did not invade this part of Europe – it would have meant completely rethinking their philosophy on roads. The reasons that it’s difficult to get anywhere quickly are the same as the reasons that you don’t want to. It’s because no matter where you are, or in what direction you are facing – what you see through your windows is unadulterated beauty. Miles and miles of picture postcard vistas, impressive mountain ranges, emerald green fjords, lakes and waterfalls, sea and sky.
We chose to take road 7 to get us to our next destination of Bergen. This is a preferable route than the more southern E134 as road 7 takes you straight through Hardangervidda National Park, Norway’s largest national park. It is a breathtaking drive as you rise higher and higher on to the Hardanger mountain plateau, above the tree level and into a terrain that has remained as it is since the last ice age. If you’re lucky you may also see some of the world’s largest reindeer herds migrating across the plateau.
THE WEST COAST
As Oslo surrounds the northern tip of the Oslofjord, so Bergen occupies most of the peninsula of Bergenshalvøyen. Nestled among seven mountains, Norway’s second largest city very much has the feel of many other European ports. It is bustling, alive with trading and markets, and everything is just a few beats per minute faster than Oslo. As the song says…this could be Liverpool or Rotterdam. Except it’s not. Bergen has a wonderfully distinctive character. The quaint and beautifully preserved architecture makes it very attractive in virtually every direction you face, no more so than Bryggen (Norwegian for ‘quay’), a collection of 61 very old wooden buildings that stand sentinel and peer out across the water. Unsurprisingly it is one of Norway’s 7 World Heritage sites. If you like a vibrant and bustling setting, with stunning buildings of antiquity, Bergen is the place for you.
|Photo by Alicia Wennberg|