Unexpected Oasis

As you learned from Bob, we drove A LOT in Norway.  In fact, the day trip home was one of the longest days of all.  We really wanted to head to the coast and see what fjords look like as they recede to the ocean. This part of the fjord is the oldest and the ice has had more time to wear down the landscape.  We went from large jagged granite mountains to rolling green hills and finally rounded granite islands bordering the ocean in just under two hours.  Bob found a route that would take us through these small islands called the “Atlantic Road”.  The view was beautiful and after a quick stop to take pictures and wave at Maine, we headed back on the road towards Kristiansund, then Trondheim, and finally back into Sweden to Are (pronounced Aura).  Our destination was a youth hostel in Are where we would spend the night before the next leg of the journey through Sundsval to Stockholm – another 650 km.

I happily enjoyed the scenery on our way to Sweden (the boys slept most of the drive and Bob complained about the tolls) stopping to spend our last Norwegian Kroner before going over the

border and then stopping again to get our passports stamped at the Duty Office. We finally arrived at the Are Youth Hostel around 8pm.  It was closed – completely quiet and no one around to speak with. Sigh. It was a Sunday and we had been warned about things shutting down early in Norway, we didn’t think Sweden would have the same customs.  So, worried we would be stuck with a $400 plus a night hotel room, we started driving around Are…in the rain.  Down the hillside by a lake we could see a large building that said “Holiday Club” across the front with a huge covered waterslide in the

back. Bob said, “We’re going there!” After 9 hours of driving we were desperate that it would be a place to stay. Turns out it was a timeshare property but they rented out rooms to non-members – yeah, we were in luck and only 1300 SKr! And, they had a nice restaurant where we could get quality food.  However, Bob’s eye’s lit up when he saw a big sign that said “Sauna World” across a large paneled entryway. But, alas, it was closed – he would have to wait until morning to explore.

After breakfast we quickly packed up our bags and headed down to explore the pool and “SAUNA WORLD”.  You have to get a wristband and enter through a turnstile (they take their swimming and sauna-ing very seriously here). You come into a large changing room for men, women and children – this is called the “Mixed” changing area – people in various states of dress roaming around a very large locker room.  Europeans have a totally different perspective on privacy and nudity.  They are so much more open than us prudish Americans when it comes to their bodies.  After changing (in private rooms) we headed into the shower and out into the pool area.  This was a huge glassed-in space with 4 pools and 2 hot tubs, dry sauna, an elevated bar/café, and poolside seating area. Stairs took you into a corridor leading to yet another swimming pool outside. And, the icing on the cake was a 3-story waterslide that went from indoors to outdoors and back indoors again.  We scored!  This place was great! In addition to the amazing pool complex, they had a complete arcade and indoor mini-miniature golf course.  Are, we were told, is actually one of the best ski-resort towns in Sweden. You could see from all the family-friendly activities that this was a great place for Swedes and Norwegians to spend their winter or summer holidays.

As we make our way out of the pool after three hours of fun, I head to the shower room to wash up. There is no place to leave your clothes in the shower room which leads into the “Mixed” changing room and I was wondering how I was going to get from that area back to the private changing area without having to put my wet bathing suit back on. There are no doors or curtains on the showers and as I finish washing up and go for my towel across the room, I notice this man and his son standing right outside my shower stall. I took a deep breath, ran to get my towel, wrapped it around myself and walked out into the main room with my head high. You know what they say, ”When in Rome…”

It Is a Small World – Yes, another one of these stories.

For my part, I put responsibility squarely on AFS – American Field Service – for my desire to travel the world. AFS opened my horizons when it allowed me to spend a summer in Sweden when I was 17 years old.

We were driving into Kristiansund, a small town on the Atlantic where we planned to eat lunch. No idea about the town other than it looked pretty in the brochures. At the first roundabout, I took a “wrong” street. It put us at a harbor parking lot with a lone wooden building that said “coffee roaster” and “museum café” and had about 40 people sitting outside on benches. It was a warm, sunny day. Since we wanted lunch, we drove on, circled town, saw nothing eatery-wise to catch our attention, and being Sunday the stores were closed so the town looked quite dead. Gigi thought we should head back to the little place in the harbor as I was looking for smoked mackerel for Justin and I (seeing all the fisherman catching mackerel on the bridges picqued our appetite). Turns out, it was only a dessert place and so we found ourselves eating what food we had out of the trunk and promising the kids we could have a treat afterwards from the café.

In the café, the young girl behind the counter spoke an English that sounded just a bit too familiar to us. She asked us where we were from and we said California. Turns out she had spent a year of high school in San Luis Obispo. She asked, “Do you know AFS?” AFS Alum, just like me! That really got us talking. We talked

about the AFS chapter in Kristiansund, and where the 5 other Kristiansund high school students went in America. She said, “I was really lucky to get San Luis Obispo.” Oh, you got that right, girl, you got that right. My grandfather was born in Arroyo Grande just south of SLO in 1891. I spent many weekends and most summer vacations as a boy there at grandma’s house. I told her that we always went to Avila beach to swim and San Luis pier to fish. She then said that she actually lived in Avila Beach. Wow, a Kristiansund-Avila Beach connection!

Small world.

I…Can’t…Drive…60km per hour!

This blog post is a bit bitchy as I am complaining about the driving.  Sammy H would hate driving in Norway!

View from our Hostel

Norwegian Fjordland. Sandwiched between all those spectacular mountains and the fjords and the sea are all these small, windy roads. My Swedish friends warned me about the roads, but you really have to experience them to understand just how difficult it is to get from point A to point B in the Fjordlands. One of the reasons we set up base camp at Andalsnes, and did not drive to other fjords areas was the fear that we would have too much trouble getting out of them and setting ourselves up for the long drive back to Stockholm.

Yesterday was a doozy. We wanted to drive the ‘Atlantic road’ near Kristiansund. It is

The start of the Atlantic Road.

listed as one of Norway’s 16 National Tourist Roads, and you see the road featured prominently in local tourist info brochures. It was pretty cool, all 8 km. The road hopped along little islands, only open Atlantic ocean to the west. However, it put us on a route that was long and slow.

Toll roads and ferries. Expensive! The other thing our friends warned us about is how expensive Norway is. Not only do you have the food, accommodation ($180 for a Youth Hostel), and gasoline (at over $8 a gallon), the toll roads and ferries will get you good. Two ferry rides and 3 pay tunnels got us back on the mainland and the main road to Trondheim.

Stoping to wave at Maine across the Atlantic

Then in the Trondheim area the automatic toll stations reappeared. We had experienced these outside of Olso. You see a sign that tells you that a toll station is approaching and the cost. Your car gets its license plate photographed, which we were also warned about but did not get the information on how to pay these tolls. All we knew was that heavy fines would come through the car rental agency if we did not pay them. That had us freaked out for the first day of driving in Norway. These auto toll stations seemed to be set up every 10 kilometers or so on one stretch of highway. The tourist information office in Andalsnes did give us a brochure explaining how to set up an online payment subscription, pretty much like FastTrak in the Bay Area. In Trondheim, these tolls stations reappeared, and again they were like every 10 km. The toll is for the tunnels. And man, the Norwegians have bored a lot of road tunnels through the granite rock. Several were 3 to 7 km long. Two of them went under the water. While we were inside, and we had a long time

Light at the end of the tunnel! After 6km, this is a reassuring site.

inside some tunnels to ponder this, we marveled at the engineering feat and really did not begrudge the tolls that were being levied to pay for these engineering marvels. We probably spent close to $100 dollars in tolls and ferry fees yesterday.

Speed limits. I cannot tell you how liberating – in a road warrior sense – it felt when we crossed the border back into Sweden. The road straightened out, it got wider, and the 80 km speed limit sign did not stop me from driving 100 km.

You just cannot cover much distance on a map in Norway. The normal speed limit on the roads in Fjordlands was 60 km – 36 miles an hour. It took us 8 hours to drive from Andalsnes through Kristiansund to Trondheim (with stops of course, that darned outstanding scenery). The ‘normal’ main roads between towns cap their speed limits at 80 km, and they often drop down to 60 km in every town you drive through. 80 km – that is 48 miles per hour, 60 km – 36 mph.

We found lots of speed cameras along the way. The nice road authorities give you a warning with a blue sign with a camera on it, maybe a half kilometer before the camera, but you do have to slow down. Of course, nobody is driving the speed limit because it is so low. The low speed limit must make sense for the 8 months when the weather is crap here, but not in summer time. This was another little stress point at first, because I did not fully clue into the cameras, and since traffic was over the speed limit and I was pacing the other cars, for the first day of driving I was passing these cameras driving over the speed limit. Oh well, I can just hope now that I don’t get a ticket billed to my credit card. With the traffic cameras and the toll cameras, it felt a little like big brother watching me while I drove through Norway. However, as Gigi told me while we paying yet another toll, “Just think of it as the price of admission to see this beautiful place.”  And she was right!

Final mileage for the trip to Norway was 2,313 km…thats 1,437 miles in 6 days! Whew!