Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Taking it easy

Written 25th July

We have decided, given the cost of petrol, that the only sensible way of getting out of Norway without needing to remortgage our house within a month in order to fill the tank, is to take it slowly. But honestly, we couldn't be in a better or nicer place for it.

Norway has to be the most little van friendly country we have so far visited. Even more so than France, if that could ever be imagined possible. Although the french would obviously disagree, partly because wine and cheese are so expensive and partly 'vive la france!'. Certainly the ratio motorhomes:cars is way higher here than anywhere else (except perhaps the Algarve in january) and we have seen a complete range from little Jules sized vans (although mostly modern ones) to the big coach sized 'dualies' (dual rear-axled house-on-wheels). The roads are wide with just the right amount of bends and twists to make them interesting, the scenery - when the sun is shining and the sky is blue - is stunning and, like Sweden and Finland, Norway offers 'a freedom of the land' which basically means that you can park up or pitch up pretty much anywhere in a van or a tent, provided you follow some simple guidelines like not being too close to houses or property, not staying more than one night, and ensuring you do not leave any trace of your stay. But to make this even easier, everywhere along the way there are clearly labelled off-road laybys complete with bins, picnic benches and more often than not, toilets. Perfect.

And we've met some great people!

And some sunshine! Even better :)

We even picked up our Nordkapp hitchhiker again, who had suffered the storms at actual Nordkapp whilst we were hiking in the freezing fog to not Nordkapp and, despite our day of sleeping and a further day of slow driving, had made the same southwards progress as we had. Hitching, it seems, is not for people on a deadline :)

But we only took him 100kms or so along the side of the fjords before a van dwellers detour to Jokelfjord for a view of the Oksfjordjokelen Glacier 0 apparently the only one in europe which calves into the sea, so there you go! And glacier view we found.

We considered the 8km hike to the foot of the glacier, and the 8km hike return and, taking account of the time (mid afternoon), the weather (beautiful sunshine), hiking rations available (none) and general will to do it (also none, especially given our recent hiking experience) decided to go the following day. And instead spent a happy afternoon on the beach and playing tantrix.

Will even had another go at fishing - well, given the price of food here, even a tiddler would probably cover the cost of the rod! - but time and tide (or something) were against him so no fish supper this time - although there was one that got away which was thiiiisssss* big. And the rod has subsequently been discovered to have got broken sometime in the last few days so no fishie dinner ever :( And in the morning we awoke to the sound of rain pattering on the roof and a digger digging a trench right across the entrance to the carpark - perfect excuse for a lie in then instead of a 16km hike! :)

Of course if this had been britain, we would have been stuck there for probably days whilst cones were shuffled about, diggers driven up and down, men leant on shovels and surveyed progress and the whole site abandoned for tea breaks, especially given the rain, but this lot were in, dug, pipe laid, hole filled and out by the time we had got up and had breakfast - very efficient. Or we are just quite lazy about breakfast...

So back on the road - not so pretty in the rain - and trundling on.

After a night on the edge of a fjord, the next day started promisingly, with sun-topped, snow-capped mountains but soon settled in to more of the same, grey, wet and full of lovely sweeping corners with lovely sweeping views which would have been picture perfect in the sunshine. Oh well, there is a lot of Norway still to go, this can't be the only nice bit.

We decided we had got as far as we wanted to on the petrol we had, pulled off the road with a view of the Ofotfjorden and found ourselves nose to nose with a british motorhome. What are the chances of that?!

And so we met Ted and Mavis - not their real names, as usual after several hours of chatting we didn't get that far, but as I can absolutely guarantee they won't read this, Ted and Mavis they will be between you and I.

Most people, when we say we've been on the road for nine months, are either surprised, impressed, disbelieving or jealous. They don't say "nine months? not bad, try 22 years..." yep, apparently Ted came home from work - he was a teacher - one day in 1988 and said to Mavis "there must be more to life than this?" and within six months they had sold up, bought an early watercooled T3, waved goodbye to the kids and headed off into the sunset. And they haven't looked back since. Not bad :) They went all over europe in their little van - including lots of eastern europe (after the iron curtain but before mass westernisation) turkey, even iceland - but recently decided they needed a bit more space - well they are getting old, as their kids apparently keep telling them! - so traded it in 18 months ago for a big peugeot house-on-wheels and have regretted it ever since. I can understand that! Despite buying from new, it seems they don't really want it - they live in it as they did the VW, without using the shower, toilet, oven, water tanks or any of the 'home from home amenities' most people say they can't live without and which mean they will always be motorhomers not van dwellers - and they've had no end of trouble with the thing what with one thing and another. When we met them they were waiting for the AA for the second time that day as the battery was flat when they tried to start it in the morning and despite a jump start, was flat again after a single day's driving. And this after only 15 months of ownership and 8,000 miles. Not good. "nineteen years in the VW without a single problem, nothing but trouble in this." It is apparently going back after this trip but they can't decide what they actually want. Apparently sliding doors or rear opening doors are not the thing - didn't get to the bottom of why - which rules out newer veedubs and all the transit conversions and then everything else is like what they now have and don't like... Hmm. I'm sure they will find something though.

Being van dwellers for such a long time also means that most modern technology has passed them by so they didn't get our plans for solar panels and other modifications . "Computers? Wouldn't know where to put the coal" "internet, don't get the point. I could book a ferry 20 years ago over the phone or at the desk no problem. Now if the computer's down you can't do anything. Call that progress?" and they only have a mobile because unaccountably (to them) their kids want to know where they are and so they bought it and pay the top ups (admittedly useful for calling the AA though). But, all in all, life seems pretty fine and dandy - there's room for 6,000 teabags and 6kilos of cheddar in there so they don't run out of home comforts even on long trips! - and it seems they'll just keep on trucking. Now there's a thought for the future...

The AA did turn up - well the Norwegian version, NAF, not, we all agreed, a very inspiring name ;) - got them started and off they trundled unhopefully in search of a new battery late on a Friday night. Which, unexpectedly, they found, as they told us when they rolled back up the following morning just as we were thinking about tea, in order to fill their three 5l waterbottles from the spring, before heading on their way. Jolly good.

We would wish them well, but as I say, they'll never read this. :)

After some delicious al fresco muesli to take advantage of the unexpected and welcome sunshine, and a nice chat with some french motorhomers in scandinavia on a diving trip - lovely wrecks in the Baltic apparently but no fish, not a single one, so they're here to try their luck in the Norwegian sea instead - we set off once more in search of the Lofoten Islands. And just for the good luck karma, picked up some more hitchhikers - two students from the Czech Republic who have two weeks to travel the island. Although, as it turns out, this was not such a good plan.

It being saturday, end of budget week and with Nkr 34 left in the pot (about a fiver), we had worked out that we had just enough petrol in the tank to get to the town on the island, but had decided we would only go part way and then stop so as to put off the evil petrol buying moment to next week, when notionally we have money again. And all would have been fine, had the road stayed flat and not become a series of steep hills which poor Jules puffed and wheezed up having been forced to carry the extra baggage of two, albeit fairly small, Czechs and their massive backpacks - poor little van, it really does need the fuelling sorting out and then properly tuning. We did get to where we had planned to stop and kicked the hitchhikers out where we had told them we would (nicely mind, they're only young bless 'em) but with the needle off the bottom of the gauge and 51kms to go before the town, things were not looking good.

Still, nothing we could do about then and there so we decided to have a cup of tea and to worry about it another time - well everything's better with a cuppa - before leaving Jules for a well earned rest in a clifftop carpark,

and setting off on our bikes for a change, down the Raftsundert to the mouth of the Trollfjorden.

And jolly nice it was too. A small, steepsided fjord, the Trollfjorden is apparently one of the 'sights' of the Lofoten Islands. Countless boat companies run trips there and even the Hurtigruten coastal steamer pulls in there its way up and down from Bergen to the North.

We couldn't see much from our roadside vantage point on the far side of the water

but we did see the Hurtigerti

and it was a nice afternoon's outing and I get to feel very smug about a 20kms cycle ride

- ok, ok, that's not much to be proud of I know but its better than nothing, especially since the quest for inevitable fitness I set out on nine months ago seems to have stalled somewhat a long way back -

and when we got back, we found we had visitors! Andreas and Wolfgang (ok, again, names failed me, Andreas is definitely right as he gave us his email address but I am going to call his friend Wolfgang, as he was very blond and blue eyed and german looking, and hope he isn't offended...), two german biker students from Aachen on a roadtrip. As well as being an electronic engineering student, Andreas is also a vee-dub owner - a 1972 fire bus no less, although we all agreed, 'rapid response' was not really the word, more 'see what you can do with your garden hose and a bucket, we'll be along when we can' ;) - and on seeing Jules as they crossed the bridge they couldn't resist coming for a closer look.

well, someone interested in vee-dubs and electronics (the second we've met on this trip including Kiri, there must be a subset of tinkering vee-dub owners, other than the flowery hippy type that is more usually expected!) is not to be let go lightly so whilst Will and Andreas went over every inch of the engine, the old 'project' (which I realise you've never seen, this it what it looks like these days), and Adam's fancy board with Will's new add-ons (you really can't tell which bits have been done on the road and which bits by a 'properman'... ;) ) Wolfgang and I had a nice chat as the sun gradually sank behind the hills. Eventually we waved them on their way and, as it was quite chilly by this point, set about building a lovely warming fire in the handy firepit in front of the van, using the pallet someone had kindly left lying around. Mmmm toasty.

And just as the fire was dying away and we were thinking of heading indoors to bed, up roared another biker who joined us to warm his hands and scout for a good spot for his tent. And so we met Jean-Claude (again, not his real name but think of the Muscles from Brussels but with biker leathers, a handlebar moustache and twenty years of drinking beer added on...). He is the other end of the travelling extreme having left Belgium early last week and since travelled to Nordkapp by way of Germany, Poland, the Baltics and Finland. That's over 4,000 miles in a week!! On a bike!! I asked him why he had chosen to go that way and he said that he'd not been to those countries before and is always keen to see new places so why not? - well there's no answer to that really but travelling at that speed I don't know how much you see, there's definitely something to be said for having a top speed of c45mph :) He too had a pretty wet and cold Nordkapp experience a day or so after us - which makes me feel better for deciding to get on with it and not to try hanging around and hoping it would get better - and he also told us tales of an epic road trip he did several years ago by bike from canada all the way down to the tip of south america - sounded amazing including the trip along the Amazon, except for the wandering off round the lake to go fishing and nearly not finding his way back to the canoe before it got dark story, that sounded a bit scary and not so fun. People are so interesting though :)

All in all, not a bad little spot to stop, albeit that the choice was sort of forced on us...

And so here we are, sunday morning, 50km to go, no petrol as far as the gauge is concerned and no idea how far we'll get. Still, the sun is shining, its a fine day for an unexpected stop, should it happen, the scenery is glorious -provided, of course, that we don't drift to a halt in a tunnel - and we know people pick up hitchhikers. What can possibly go wrong...

Tune in next time to see if we make it....

* thiiiisssss, in this instance being about three inches :)

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