Me and the German princess went on our long awaited voyage to Norway a week ago, and arrived yesterday morning at 5:00 am. We set off at 6:00 am on Thursday, and in 4 and a half days went from Finland , to Sweden , to Norway , right up to the Furthest north point in Europe, Nordkapp (North Cape) and back again in a tiny VW car. I’ve travelled to a few different places in a few different ways in my life, but this really was some extreme voyaging- in this tiny rented car we travelled pretty much non stop for the 95 hours, travelling about two thousand seven hundred kilometres, and the maximum we stopped in any one place was about 5 hours. As a result , we fitted in seeing an awesome wooden church near the Swedish border, popping over to Sweden for a few hours just to go to IKEA where we picked up some kitchen utensils and had some of the famous meatballs, popped back over to Finland and blasted a few hundred kilometres up the Finnish-Swedish border ,through the Arctic Circle into the Arctic Realm took a 150km detour to try and find a wilderness hut to stay in , but by the time we found the 20km road that the hut was apparently close to the night was dark as pitch , and we searched the genuinely wolf inhabited countryside for a few hours then gave up and pushed on to Norway.
The ridiculous costs of accommodation in Norway, and as northern Norway is basically uninhabited meant that accommodation was extra rare and expensive ,we opted to sleep in the tiny VW hatchback for all four nights- an interesting and eye opening decision.It was only -7 outside, but still we froze, ice formed on the insides of the windows, we ran out of oxygen every night at around the 6 am mark, and the gear stick was not comfortable to sleep on,but other than that it wasn’t too bad. We cruised up to Norway through blizzards, several times driving on an empty tank and literally praying for the next petrol station because it was 100km between petrol stations and conking out fuel-less in the -15 degree, bear inhabited countryside could literally mean a cold lonely death, we drove on through night and morning, stopping occasionally but more or less sleeping, eating and living in the two metres squared living space of the VW car. Crossing into Norway the landscape went from flat, forested Finnish plains into Norwegian jagged valleys and cloud topped snowy , Lord of the Rings style mountains. We powered through the glorious, mind-blowingly beautiful Norwegian landscape, saw reindeer, mountain hares, eagles and more snow than any man could ever imagine, up to Tromso. There we had a look around, spent a few hundred Kroner, took a cable car up to admire the incredible landscape. Later that night, 5 hours after our arrival in Tromso we powered on. We blasted back to Alta, on the way made a 100 km double detour to see a glacier, which looked much like all the other snow covered areas but was beautiful none the less. A bleak ghost town where we wandered around for an hour to let a blizzard pass , then decided top press on to Hammerfest , the most northern city in Europe. We were going to try to park the car to some sleep somewhere in the wilderness to watch the northern lights, but ended up somehow driving to Hammerfest itself , and did see some northern lights and a lot of snow on the way. We slept on a hill and were greeting by a gorgeous sunrise- ten minutes after waking up we cranked the seats up into the upright position and were on our way to Nordkapp.
The Norwegian roads were incredible , sometimes seemingly carved from pure ice itself, and really going along the coastline of the incredible fjords. The roads were gouged into the mountain side, and when the mountains were too huge the road was cut through the mountains themselves in huge winding tunnels- and one time the tunnel steeply shot downwards and then ascended up after a few hundred metres like a roller-coaster- we had gone underneath the sea! The roads went in and out of fjords for thousands of hundreds of kilometres,-the fjords are huge deep u shaped valleys created by ancient glaciers, and basically huge steep mountains on either side of a sea inlet, so at all times the sea is one side and vertical mountain face on the other side. when the wind came from one side, driving in the zigzag pattern along the fjords meant on one sheltered side was glorious sunshine and clear skies , showing the gorgeous mountains , and then around the fjord side was impenetrable blizzards. Sometimes you’d enter a tunnel in sunshine and exit in a snowstorm- like a tunnel to Narnia , or a portal between summer and winter. The scenery was spellbinding, and several times we waited at roadblocks so that special snowploughs had to lead the traffic individually through snow covered mountain passes. We got further and further north until we arrived at another roadblock, where we had to be escorted again by a snowplough convoy up to the mountain cliff peak of Nordkapp, the most northern point of Europe. All the other vehicles in the convoy were specialist four wheel drive land drovers , only us in a tiny rental car. The view was spectacular and the feeling immense, and we then faced the reality that we were almost 1500km from Oulu now, where the rental car was due back in just 19 hours.
We powered back through the landscape- and seeing as it was only me and the German princess in the car , and I failed my driving test three times in the UK and never got my license , the German princess was driving the ENTIRE way. Luckily for both of us, she happens to be one of the most incredible human beings ever to walk the earth , so took it all in her stride- she is the great great great great granddaughter of a famous Italian formula one driver, so maybe superhuman driving skills are in her blood- either way , truly an incredible feat. On the final day and night of driving- over twenty hours without leaving the driving seat , we swept through central/eastern Finland along deserted freezing country roads, through Inari and Rovaniemi, through Tornio and back to Oulu. At two in the morning, 100km to Tornio, which was then another 150km to Oulu , I uttered the immortal lines of “I’ll just close my eyes and have a quick twenty minute nap, then I’ll be wide awake to stay awake with you for the rest of the journey “, and woke up three hours later in the car park outside our apartment in Tirolintie- the German angel had driven non stop all the way!What a woman!
My watch had broken and I forgot my mobile phone, and the time zones were different in Norway and Sweden ,and it was the daylight saving time too so the hours went back, so all in all the entire journey was timeless and totally without time- and going further north meant the days got longer and the nights shorter , so truly these 4 days in the Arctic circle living ,sleeping and eating on the road were an incredible experience. It was very different way to travel , the opposite of our 5 days spent in Tallinn exploring thoroughly the 5km wide old city , or my one month on a tiny farm in Sicily , bur truly , every method of travelling is special in its own way. It certainly made me appreciate having a bed and generally that I don’t have to live in a car. We saw foxes, mountain hares, white tailed eagles and cormorants too, more mountains and fjords than you could take a photo of, and bought a few Norwegian souvenirs. As the Dove was the driver, I was left with the tasks of itinerant food and bed maker, navigator, bottle opener, nature spotter, car pusher, snow remover , entertainer and all round handyman. We also paddled on a frozen beach were the sand was a layer about one grain thick over a foot of frozen sludge, and found some pretty stones. Luckily we didn’t hit any reindeer like my friend did- apparently it was just a 40kmh tap, the reindeer wandered off afterwards apparently but the car needed 1500€ of repairs! Anyway, we vowed not to travel on anything with wheels for a week, and on our next adventure we’ll take a train or plane and stay put in one place for the whole week, preferably on a beach drinking mojitos. All in all, incredible!
When we returned , students were just coming back from an Erasmus trip to Russia- so if you worried about the Russian threat , they obviously weren’t , so don’t worry too much either.
For the photos that can never do Norway or sleeping in a car justice, check these out.