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Category Archives: Norway

Lillehammer to Stockholm

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Lillehammer, Norway

Lillehammer was more or less developed around the 1994 Olympics. Its main street was empty at the early hours of the morning but anyway we could not spend too much time because we had such a long way to go so we left around 9:30 am for a 600 km/8 hours ride to Stockholm.

After a quick stop at the border that is represented by a road in the woods where the locals are walking their dogs where we got the shopping taxes refunded we crossed in Sweden where we found the roads being larger and in a way better than the small and narrow Norwegian roads. The road from the border to Karlstadt is more or a less a highway, with parts that are interrupted but even then the lane is very large with shoulder and good pavement. Around Karlstadt we stopped for lunch at a beach place. The sun starved Swedes were swarming to the beach that was on the shore of the sea, or a fjord going to it. Played with pigeons, took some pictures and left for Stockholm. The highway continued and you could drive with over 120 km/h an improvement after the 60km/h we had to drive in Norway. The pattern of the highway was new to me, 2 lanes on one way combined with one lane of the other that changed at every several km. It was actually a 3 lanes highway!!!! The drawback is that at one point it was an accident on the one lane section and police had to detour the traffic on the incoming lanes. But the best thing of the drive, otherwise a boring one through a not so great landscape, was admiring a parade of old cars drove with enjoyment by the Swedes. On the entire drive, hours after hours, you could see 2-3 old cars every 5 minutes. There were hundreds of Buick, Chrysler, Volvo, Opel and Oldsmobiles sometimes painted in pink, red, white or green caring behind them an antique camper. Most of them were convertible drove in a glorious sunny day. Sometimes the drivers, women or men, were dressed in matching dresses and suits including the hair do of the 1950, 60s and 70s. Without that parade the 8, that was actually 10, hour drive would have been boring.

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Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

We arrived in Stockholm around 7:30 pm and we started to look for the hotel address and after many investigations we were able to find Alexandra Hotel. A working GPS would have been great….. Unfortunately we found out that the Internet was down at the hotel but the good news was that we could park the car on the street over the weekend. Parking in Stockholm’s secondary areas is about SK15/hour, about $2. Not too bad like all the prices in Sweden that are way lower than in Norway. We took the car and parked close to Gamla Stan, the island that has on it the old town, and we walked and took pictures in the sunset light, watching occasionally glimpses of the small final game in the World Cup between Germany and Uruguay. After we got a pretty good idea of the city layout we were able to have dinner. We were billed SK30 for water, plain tap water with ice and asking about this the Polish waiter told us that nothing is free anymore in Sweden and started to complain about the very low level of life here with working people having to pay for African immigrants that bring their entire families and do not want to work and live on welfare… Food in school is mediocre; medicine is expensive; hospitals are not good, etc. Nobody is happy…..

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Posted by on July 11, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia, Sweden

 

Briksdalbreen to Lillehammer

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Ornesvingen – Eagle’s bend

Glorious morning. We had a great breakfast served at the table and we left back towards Geiranger and further toward Sweden. We stopped several times on the way for pictures and we took this time the new road from Stryn to Geiranger through the tunnels, not so nice but extremely fast.

Around noon we were in Geiranger and after a short stop and a quick lunch admiring an oyster catcher sitting on eggs annoyed by the surrounding tourists, we left toward Ornesvingen, the Eagles’ bend, on a road that climbs from the side of the fjord. The view from Ornesvingen viewing platform is fantastic and we caught also Hurtigruten coming to drop her passengers in Geiranger. We continued to the top of the mountain and we stopped on great sites on the way on Trollstiegen plateau. Waterfalls and snow capped peaks surrounds you all over. The road is supposed to take 2.5 hours but with so many stops we were able to leave the last stop on the Trollstiegen pass around 5pm. Here the National Tourists Bureau built a spectacular platform over the steep valley and right near a thundering waterfall. It is a great view that should not be missed.

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Trollstiegen

From there the road is going down the spectacular plateau landscape being replaced by forest and you drive through villages at low speed. It is quite boring. We stopped in Otta where we had a large pizza for dinner in the only open place except a burger place and where three small dressings that were casually offered were charged Nk60. Normally in the US all these are free…..We arrived in Lillehammer around 11pm after another 2 hour drive on a road that is marked as a highway but is just a larger road and finally after several tries we got a room in Birkenbeineren Hotel right by the ski jump site of the 1994 Olympics.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia

 

Norwegian prices

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Bryksdalbreen Glacier

Norway is expensive. This statement is a norm and you hear it from many. But to understand the real situation you have to come and visit, the most expensive country in Europe, where what strikes you the most is not what exactly you have to pay but the lack of choices. After you visit for a while you understand that the real issue in the country is not the business climate but the Socialist government that taxes everybody so high that businesses run obviously at a very low margin. Finding a hotel to accommodate 3-4 people is possible but the cost incurred can be high. First, if you want to book over Internet not too many hotels have listed a room a 3-4 people. Then when you get one you realize that beside the regular price, very high already, they might add NK250 per person so the least expensive rooms goes for around NK1000-1200 or $200 for a basic room in a basic hotel. Sometimes for this you get breakfast but not all sheets and towels that are charged extra. A top hotel like Raddison charges in a city like Bergen NK1600 same price as similar ones in any small town/resort.

This taxation system compresses the price scale towards the higher prices leaving almost no room for low and medium priced hotels. The American version of cheap motel does not exist. Even if it might look like a motel, inside it is clean looking brand new with impeccable sheets. But this system scales down the offer, in any resort being only 2-3 hotels, all are extremely clean and well maintained. The food is a worse problem if you do not plan in advance. The restaurants outside of the main cities close relatively early and their prices are steep. Like in the Oslo’s restaurants any dish is around $50 and in some of them you may get a fixed menu for this price or higher. The result is that in most of them you may see old families eating out and with such a high tag even in Akker Brigge in Oslo the number of occupied tables is limited and only once a night.

The youth are in the bar across the street and in most of the restaurant’s terraces in Oslo, that are absolutely packed that you could not find a chair, everybody has just a beer on the table and ABSOLUTELY no food. In small towns in the fjords the food options might be limited to only one pizza parlor and one hotel with restaurant that closes the kitchen at 8-9pm, so if you missed your 7pm dinner the Arab’s pizza parlor is the only option. Any soft drink is about NK25 and a beer is around NK50. Banks exists in some towns but you have to investigate thoroughly to be able to find it and when you find it the exchange rate is taxed that you get 10-15% less than the expected rate. Because of lack of available banks we ran out of NK many times and we had to negotiate a rate, surprisingly slightly better than in a bank, to pay for food or even the hotel in US$.

The roads are free but occasionally it comes up a toll road where the toll is so high like the one toward Fraeling where for 34km you have to pay NK180,  coming to $1/km Anything you visit is around NK50-70/person. For families kids pay half so it comes to NK160-180. And this is for absolutely any place you have to see inside, be a museum, a church, etc. But after you pay this entry you get interesting extra fees. You go to museum OUTSIDE of the city and after you pay NK160 the entry fee you find out that the parking should be paid also, NK10/hour and sometimes is a fee for the museum toilet.

Transportation is highly expensive with any ferry crossing being around NK120, $20 and you need a number of crossings.The tickets prices for buses and trains, as we heard from other travelers, are very high also but surprisingly the plane tickets are reasonable. The Flam train is NK340 RT and the bus ticket for inner city in Bergen is NK25. The gas is slightly more than $2/liter. The parking is expensive in large cities that is expected but at rate of $10/hour on street parking in Oslo it comes to be more expensive than NYC. The prices are as they are. You pay and you forget but what shocks you the most is that these are fees and prices that the locals are paying on a regular basis and they have to deal with the lack of options similar in a way with a way of life that was happening 20 years ago in Eastern Europe. Knowing that the government is a coalition of parties with the Socialists in the middle is no surprise. People are quite unhappy as we found out.

The life was affordable till about 1985 when the prices started to skyrocket and it became really unaffordable after 2000. The Socialist government policies makes unemployment compensation higher than the pensions and elderly people suffers of neglect and lack of care. With the higher taxes and steep local costs I just mentioned, you really wonder how much these people have to earn in order to afford living in this country. As I just found out last night all the people working in the hotel are paid flat NK125/hour ($20/hour). Businesses do not make a good profit but just get by. Of course we assumed that everything else is taken care of like medicine, but a retired person mentioned that they have to pay NK2800 from their own pocket in order to qualify for medicine to be paid from government programs.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia

 

Geiranger to Bryksdal

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Geiranger Fjord

Norway is an enchanting country. Everything that surrounds you is breathtaking keeping you awake till late into the night; high mountains with steep cliffs that look like falling over you, glaciers hanged in the sky, waterfalls pouring down from everywhere surrounding you with their majesty and sound, a nature that exults power and freshness. And the summer light helps you. Even if you do not cross the Artic Circle the light is enough at midnight to be able to read. Till around 10:30 – 11:30pm is light like during the day so you do not want to go to sleep. The entire tour we walked or drove every evening till 10:30 – 11pm and got a hotel around 11pm usually being the last people to check in. The next morning we rushed to get up to start all over again so we had in general around 5-6 hours of sleep per night. And you still feel that you miss so much. Wherever you drive or walk is so beautiful that you feel that you don’t have to hand pick routes to enjoy the day just go where your eyes carry you. No matter how much ground you covered you have the feeling that you barely scratched the surface and determines you even more to return.

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Dalsniba

After an early breakfast we parked the car at the harbor and we got on the 9:30 am cruise on the Geiranger Fjord, a 1.5 hour trip every two hours. The boat ride is spectacular, the UNESCO listed Geiranger Fjord being a very narrow with steep climbing cliffs. During the ride back people were getting off and going for hikes or were picked up from hikes but I did not investigate to see how this can be arranged. This cruise is one of the best in Norway’s fjord and should not be missed. When we returned after some phone calls and shopping in the harbor and many pictures from vantage points, we checked out the very nice hotel room and we drove all the way to Dalsniba, a 1500 meter mountain peak with fantastic views over the fjord and the surrounding mountains. The peak is covered in snow and when the sun goes in the clouds it is chilly.

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Strynefjell

We spent there way too much time and we continued on the way to Grotli from where we turn right on the old Styrn route, Strynefjell, a narrow one lane road not properly maintained that goes deep inside a plateau valley in a moonlike landscape. Tourist buses use the road coming from Styrn and you have to stop and go on the side or drive back to an area where they can pass you. Fortunately they drive in flocks and after they passed the entire road was ours with some occasionally cars coming from Styrn. the road is one of the most spectacular roads we drove in Norway. After about an hour we reached Stryn summer ski resort but that looked closed. I read that you can ski here till late in the summer and seeing the amount of snow still left in the middle of July was no surprise. The road improves from the resort till it meets the new road from Grotli to Styrn.

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Nordfjord

On the we stopped and had lunch in a bucolic valley surrounded by waterfalls, wild rivers and snowed capped peaks. This road is a treat not matter that is not easy to navigate on its first portion. From Styrn, the main town in Nordfjord, we drove to the closest glacier, Kendelsbreen, where we got info regarding the glacier walks in the local restaurant where the guides were eating. The glacier walks start at 10 am and is a whole day affair ending around 5pm with about 3 hours on the ice. Unfortunately our schedule could not afford this so we decided to have dinner on the terrace with a view of the lake and glacier in front. After dinner we drove to Briksdalebreen, the second glacier where we started the hike toward the glacier around 8:30 pm. It takes about 40 minutes to hike to the glacier. During the day there is a trolley that for NK100 takes you there also. After admiring the glacier and watching an avalanche of ice coming down, we backtracked our route reaching the base hotel around 11pm where we were able to catch the manager right when he was closing to go to sleep, got a room and slept over night in Briksdal and the base of the glacier.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia

 

Voss to Geiranger

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Unes Stave Church

The plan was to wake up early and drive to Flam, one hour, and get the train ride from Flam to Myrtle, 45 minutes one way, NK850/family ticket. The train comes every 80 minutes but when we reached Flam in a constant drizzle we found a huge cruise boat and all the trains being sold out till afternoon. A little disappointed we decided to leave and drove all the way to Songdal and Lom to get to Geiranger Fjord. Looking on the map more attentively we realized that we did not plan right the roads and we drove the same roads several times. We could have been more efficient but when you rush because of lack of time you always miss something.

We drove this time through the long Laerdal tunnel, 24.5km that has places to stop inside lit with colored lights, got on the same ferry as before and arrived in Songdal, 3 hours from Voss, and started to drive to Hasflo to go to Urnes Stave Church. The church is on the other side of the fjord so we boarded a ferry, NK142, and after a short haul we got on the other side and drove up. Inside the church was a wedding so we waited to finish and after that we had the chance to listen to a remarkable presentation about the Vikings, their customs and knowledge and the way they built these churches. The church is one of the best we visited in Norway and it is worth a detour to see it and to listen to the presentation.

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Skjolde to Lom

We continued on a extremely beautiful road right on the shore of the fjord to Skjolde where the roads combines and we drove over the mountain pass to Lom on another picturesque road. The landscape around the 1500 m pass is desolate. Snow, drizzle, wind and some fog forced you to get quickly in the car after you take a shot.

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Lom Stave Church

But when we descended from the top of the mountain the weather was balmy in Lom, the driest place in Norway and people were enjoying the sun at the cafes in town. We visited the Stave Church and we had dinner, again relatively mediocre food but as the waiter said: ”The food is very expensive” . From Lom to Geiranger is about 90km, 2 hours tops but the road is so nice again that it took us almost double to cross it with so many stops for pictures. In Grotli we stopped and watched a little the Spain goal in the match against Germany and we continued in the magnificent landscape of the mountains surrounding Geiranger, crossing the deserted plateau. After a stop at the motel at 1039 meters in Djupvasshytta we drove directly in town around 11pm, booked a room in Union Hotel and got the information about the daily cruises in the fjord for the following day.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia

 

Bergen

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Bryggen

 

“How much does the room cost in your hotel?” “NK800 without bathroom in the room and NK900 with bathroom. Do you need sheets and towels?” “Well, obviously…” “ In this case is an extra NK70/person” This was in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway and we picked this hotel because it had parking. On the door it was a sign that you have to pay for parking but nobody bothered. This was a youth hostel but the youth age was very relative.

After the breakfast we packed, left the luggage in the car and after we waited for the drenching rain to stop took a bus for NK25 into the city, kids riding free. Bergen is a very nice city. An old city part of the famous Hanseatic League was a major trading port in the 15-17th century and latter. The German merchants came and set shops in Bryggen, the old part of town where the league was securing for them a sort of monopoly in fish trading. In a deeply religious country the fish was an important food eaten mainly during the lent. The high prices commanded by fish made the merchants rich and the houses they built in the harbor, UNESCO protected, are even today centers for businesses companies with offices on their upper floors.

We visited the city center with its beautiful buildings around Johanes Kirche and Bryggen with its old houses in the highly animated harbor where ships were helping to recover another ship that sunk that morning. New technology, old ways. The fish market was in full swing and we had an eye on it for lunch/dinner like all the other tourists. Beside fish of all form, there are lots of souvenir places, cheese, salami, jam, fruit and vegetable, etc. all sold at quite steep prices. We walked in Bryggen that is a charm of the place. The old buildings have pulleys that were and still are used to carry merchandise on the top floors balconies that hang over the tiny alleys. From there we took a short walk and got in the Floihban, a train on steep tracks that was bringing people on top of the hill from where the view over Bergen is astounding. Not too much time was left so we walked down and went to visit the Hanseatic Museum, located in the first house in Bryggen, a UNESCO protected building. The museum has the original layout of a merchant house during the league, with the floors where the merchant and his family was living and the floors for apprentices, a desired position that was placing the person on the track to become a merchant and a member of the League having him set for life. The visit was followed by dinner in the fish market where the food was average but expensive. After a little more walk in Bryggen I took a bus, got to the hotel, picked up the car and picked up everybody from the city and drove all the way to Voss, one hour, to the same B&B we got info the night before. Before going to sleep I had to do a Skype to NYC not to get too detached from work…..

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia

 

Sognefjord to Bergen

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Luster

The rain showers in the forecast proved correct and in the morning the sky was full of clouds and rain on the ground. We packed and left to Gaupke, 12 km away where we had breakfast in a mall, all the real coffee places being closed before 10 am. The rain was going on and off alternating with sun, making it even more difficult to figure out what to do.

We drove all the way to Luster, another 24 km where we started to drive back and took the way to Jostedal Glacier from Gaupke. At 487km2  Jostedal is the largest glacier in continental Europe. The rain proved more acute in Jostedal, especially in the glacier proximity, and we could not do a climb/hike so we decided to leave toward Bergen with a stop in Songdal for food  and gas, and from there to Kaupangen to board the ferry to Gudvagen. We were not decided to take the ferry, 3 times a day only, but we arrived right when the ferry was boarding so we drove on  it (NK960) and sailing through the fjords we got in 2.5 hours to Gudvagen navigating in occasional showers with sun through the magnificent Naeroyfjord, one of the narrowest and most beautiful in Norway.

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Kaupanger-Gudvagen Ferry

From Gudvagen there are 120 km to Bergen and we drove another hour a beautiful road with waterfalls, the one in Tivden being a real treat, to Voss where we ate at another pizza/pasta place held by Arabs, the last food available before Bergen. Unfortunately if you arrive after 7pm it is no more pasta or anything else available, just pizza that becomes a drag after a while….At the exit from Voss we stopped at a B&B from where we called and made a reservation in Bergen in a hotel recommended by the locals, Bergen Montana and we drove a little more than one hour through many tunnels to get to Bergen where after several tries we were able to locate the hotel and crashed for the night, again after 1am.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia