It was supposed to take two days, but ended up taking five. Road trips through Norway can easily be underestimated, because the country is so immensely long and there's so much spectacular nature along the way.
I left Mandal, one of the southernmost towns of Norway, where I’d picked up a British car which I was to drive to the town of Mo I Rana, just south of the arctic circle. I had also been given a GPS, which indicated that I had about 1,700 kilometers of Norwegian landscapes ahead of me. But unfortunately, such technology and I don’t go well together. I felt like a robot while the voice told me where to go. On the outskirts of Kristiansand, the nearest city to Mandal, I drove through a red light while a policeman on a motorbike stood on the other side of the road. I had been too absorbed by the commands of the GPS to obey traffic signs and lights. I stopped in the middle of the crossing, threw my hands in front of my face to make the policeman think that I was shocked by my own mistake and took a right turn. I parked the car on the side and pulled the GPS off the window. I turned around and looked through the back window, and saw that the policeman was gone.
In Kristiansand, I bought a map (yes people, an old-fashioned map! You know, those paper things that allow you to think for yourself and determine your own route!) and couldn’t help but laugh. Mandal was at the very bottom of it while my destination, Mo I Rana, was at the very top. The map was huge. There were all these meandering roads in between. Two days? Yeah, right!
As soon as I diverted from the GPS’ route which was going take me over Oslo, I was on highway 9 and the beauty of the country hit me straight away. Boy, was this one magnificent place! The pine forests, mountain lakes, wild rivers and endless amounts of waterfalls made it even harder to keep an eye on the road than the commanding voice of the GPS. I eventually rolled in to a place called Evje, where I found a hiking trail through the forest to the top of a hill, which gave a stunning view over the valley.
It was already 8pm when I came out of the forest, and according to the map there was supposed to be an HI Youth Hostel from Norske Vandrejhem here somewhere. I passed by a holiday resort called TrollAktiv just down the road and saw the Hostelling International logo on its wall. I was pleased to have found it so quickly and booked in. Although I asked for a dormitory, it turned out that I was to have a cabin for the night.
Hostels in Norway have this weird system where you have to pay extra for linen, but they didn’t have a pillow so I had to use my coat in that pillow case. No big deal at all, but they charged me 70 NOK, which is nearly 10 euros. That would’ve been 50% of the nightly rate in a Dutch hostel, and they include the linen in that rate. It was my first encounter with the outrageous prices that Norway is famous for.
And yet, there were hundreds of trailers and caravans on the roads. They came from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany, Austria and other countries where the wages are in line with Norway’s price level. I reckoned that by far the most part of these holiday makers, say 80%, were retired couples. A shame, really. The country has so much to offer for families, but instead, the majority of European families goes to warm places on the continent’s southern coast, where they park their kids’ arses in the sand while Mom and Dad read the newspaper from home.
“How were the holidays, kids?”
The kids didn’t come home with interesting stories. They didn’t see, for example, a moose. I did. I was doing about 60km per hour when that huge animal ran onto the road, stood still, looked at me and at the car coming towards us, and then went back into the forest again. It took less than a minute, but it was very impressive.
Some areas of Norway are so remote, that I didn’t expect a living soul to live there. But sure enough, scattered around the hills and open plains, there were huts everywhere. It had such a mysterious feel to it, that I wondered who would want to live out there. Sure, many of these remote cabins would be used as holiday spots and the like, or have just fallen into decay after an Oslo businessman inherited it from his father and lacks the time to maintain it, but still, some looked like they were permanently occupied. Including gardens.
The second night I slept in the car, but this was a bad experience. It wouldn’t get dark yet it was cold, and I decided to not do it again. I drove through long tunnels and on a few steep roads, with slopes going straight down. When I got to Trondheim, I looked around for a hostel but couldn’t find any. So I drove further north.
The day light lasted longer and longer, so far up north it wouldn’t even get dark at all. Near a town called Åsen was a campsite, with cabins. This one had pillows, was cheaper, cleaner and fully equipped. It occurred to me that all the tourists were south of Trondheim, here weren’t as many. Made sense. It was colder, greyer, further away from home (holiday makers aren’t necessarily travellers). Therefore, it was also cheaper and that, of course, was to my advantage.
Many of the things to do in Norway are nature related. There are very few historical buildings outside of the cities, unless you count all the numerous wooden churches. I mean the real deal. So when I saw a sign that said “Monastery ruin” I went off the highway and into the farmland. There wasn’t much at Munkeby Monastery, just a few walls that were re-erected in 1906-1910, but then I found a 1.5 km hike just behind it. It was a trail alongside farmland and through woods, with three-walled cabins where you could have a picnic.
As I stumbled upon the last one, I was stunned. Not just a hut, no. It had a fireplace, there were pans for cooking, cutlery, toilet paper and a guestbook that had been there since 2008. I wrote a story in there about the day and left again. It’s, unfortunately, a return hike, so I had to walk the same way back. Hopefully it gets extended one day into a full circle.
I drove further up to Grong, passing even more mountains and waterfalls. Stopping wherever possible, to take in as many sights before Mo I Rana would announce itself on the traffic signs. In Grong is a hostel in a so-called People’s University, where people go who want to make up their minds regarding the rest of their life paths. It’s not for grades and it’s not an official school, but many couples meet here and build skills for the rest of their lives. Now that it was the summer holiday, it was in use as a hostel.
I had the room to myself. Perfect.
The next day, also the last day, I drove the last 300 kilometers to Mo I Rana, passing by the largest waterfall of all. This one dropped 34.5 meters. I made a picture of it and put it on Facebook, saying: “Norway is famous for its outdoor activities. This is where I went rafting.” You couldn’t, of course, but the idea was appealing.
When Mo I Rana came in sight, I was happy to be at my new destination. Sadly, the freedom of the road trip was also over.