Photo Report: Driving a Volvo V90 through the Norwegian fjords – Part 4: Geiranger, Ålesund and the Atlanterhavsveien

Lars in Dalsnibba 

This is Part 4, the final part in our series exploring the Norwegian fjords in a Volvo V90 Cross Country. Check out Part 1: Stockholm to Preikestolen here, Part 2: Stavanger and Bergen here and Part 3: the heart of Fjordland here. We kept the best for last: Geirangerfjord is arguably the most famous fjord in Norway, and it’s well deserved as it is also the most spectacular. Remember to click on any pictures to enlarge them.

Part 4 itinerary, just add two more days back to Stockholm…View down onto the road to Geiranger from the Dalsnibba lookout.

Dalsnibba lookout

But first we take the detour to the Dalsnibba lookout, whose tariff has increased sharply from Nkr85 according to the Lonely Planet published in 2016 to Nkr 130 in September 2017. This lookout, at an altitude of 1.481m, is supposed to give you the most stunning views of Geirangerfjord, unfortunately clouds were in the way when I reached it, but the trip was well worth it as it gave me the opportunity to take some of the most spectacular shots of the car during this trip (as featured at the top of this article) on the way down to the Djupvatnet lake.

Renault Twizy fleet in Geiranger. 

Arriving in the tiny village of Geiranger (population 250), we are greeted by an army of Renault Twizy, apparently used for tourist to roam the streets of this familiar-looking town. After a search on IMDB I figure out why I seem to recognise this place from somewhere: it featured in the Norwegian disaster movie “The Wave” where a landslide triggers a fatal tsunami that engulfs the town. Hopefully not today Geiranger. Unfortunately the town has lost much of its authenticity, a victim of extreme tourism: in the space of a couple of months during the summer season, up to 600,000 visitors and 150 cruise ships “honour” Geiranger of their presence.

Geirangerfjord

Taking a few snaps of the fjord from the town’s harbour, I believe I’ve seen it all and decide to follow my plan which was to take the Ørnesvingen (Eagle’s Way) north of town to reach the Trollstigen Route. After 11 hairpin bends and 7km of spectacularly scenic views, I stop at the lookout and discover that Geirangerfjord is much longer than I thought, and I can see over the bend sun-soaked green cliffs. The last ferry of the day departs in 10 mins from Geiranger harbour: what better way to test the Volvo V90’s Polestar power-boost through winding mountain roads? And this would end up being the most adrenaline-inducing bit of driving of the entire trip: the car sticks to the road amazingly well, surges with fury and brakes with discipline. I can’t fault it even though there were multiple opportunities for skidding. I reach the ferry just as the staff was about to close the door, and can enjoy for a full hour the twisting 20km-long emerald-green waters and towering cliffs of Geirangerfjord on the way to Hellesylt. Awkwardly, Lars had its alarm ring four times during the ride, perhaps because the ferry was rocking a bit.

Awaiting the ferry in SykkylvenÅlesund 

Ålesund car park: Suzuki Ignis, Tesla Model S, Hyundai Ioniq, Tesla Model X, Toyota Yaris.

The second and last ferry of the day departs in Sykkylven, offering me the best sunset of the entire trip, and I reach the Ålesund peninsula at night. Norway’s cod-fishing capital, Ålesund was rebuilt in Jugendstil (Art nouveau) style after a devastating fire in 1904 and was one of my anticipated highlights of the trip. I take a couple of hours the next morning to visit the town, even hitting the lookout for a panoramic view, but can’t help but being a little disappointed: the building are all very consistent but it somehow turns into a rather bland combination in my view. I wasn’t wow’ed. The car park is very similar to the one I saw in Stavanger: Tesla is here in force with both the Model S and X and the BMW i3 and Hyundai Ioniq have already conquered many buyers. I also spotted in Ålesund the third Opel Ampera-e of the trip. Suzuki is very strong in this part of the country with the new Ignis and Swift already established and the S-Cross and Vitara popular.

Labygda   Stordal church Grassy approach in Geiranger Grass-roofed houses: a Scandinavian tradition.

Driving east towards the Trollstigen Route, I pass the sumptuous village of Stordal with its stunning church and many a house with grass roofs. Torvtak, or sod roof, is a Scandinavian tradition that dates back hundreds of years. The weight means the walls of the traditional log houses are compressed (less leaks), the thickness and composition gives an insulating roof (less heat escapes in winter, the house isn’t turned into a sauna in summer) that is wind and waterproof. Usually short grasses and low flowers are used. Sometimes longer grasses are used or wildseed themselves and then a schyte can come in handy (or a couple of goats)…

Innfjorden

Finally it’s the towering bare mountains of Innfjorden jutting towards the sky and piling up around deep, dark and quiet lakes.

Trollstigen Route 

One day late, I finally reach the Trollstigen Route (aka the Troll’s Ladder) for a steep descent. It was completed in 1936 after eight years of work and received 700,000 visitors annually. The road slices through surprisingly dark rock cliffs and clouds were adding to the moody atmosphere when I drove down the single lame through 11 steep hairpin bends on a 1:12 gradient. Photo opportunities must be snatched quickly while there are no other cars nearby on the road. Numerous waterfalls, including the thundering 180m-high Stigfossen, echo throughout the amphitheater shaped by the cliff, giving off a sinister, troll crying-like ambiance.

Chevrolet/Ram import dealer in MalmefjordenToyota Proace in OsloFord Ranger on the Atlanterhavsveien

We are now headed north towards the Atlantic Coast, and on the way I spot a rather large car dealership specialised in U.S. imports (Nerland Autosalg in Malmefjorden): I count 15 Chevrolet Silverado and 5 Ram Pickups displayed outside, all from the latest generation. The And I’ll take this opportunity to confirm the sales surge of pickup trucks in 2017 in Norway, especially by the Toyota Hilux (+141.6% over the first eight months of the year) and Ford Ranger (+67.67% 0in August). The VW Amarok is also up a market-beating 32% in 2017. Other heroes, as confirmed by the car Oslo car park, are the new Toyota Proace (+220.7% year-to-date at the time of visit), Peugeot Expert (+183.4%) and Citroen Jumpy (+180.5%).

Atlanterhavsveien

The Atlanterhavsveien, or Atlantic Ocean Road, is a succession of eight bridges connecting 17 islets between Vevang and the island of Averøya. The UK’s Guardian newspaper crowned it the “world’s best road trip” which was one of the reasons why I travelled all the way to here. Well. Don’t rush to your cars just yet, because for starters it’s not much of a road trip: it’s only 8 km long. And it’s not that impressive either. Granted, the weather was very calm when I was there and it probably would be a lot more spectacular during storms. One cool element though is the fact that some of the bridges are angled in a way that looks like they are shooting towards the sky. But that’s about it. I guess it’s the price to pay for having ventured through such spectacular fjord landscape during the past week…

Auto Motor & Sport Sweden is quoting BestSellingCarsBlog figures each month! 

Then it’s the two-day drive back to Sweden and Stockholm. Before then, I realise that Norway is a country of roundabouts, with little to no red lights. It’s a slow country too: the highest speed limit is 90 km/h but only for short times and sanctioned by a toll every time. The general limit is an excruciating 80 km/h. I am told it’s because of the snowy and icy conditions in winter. Then how about different speed limits for summer and winter? In France, the highway speed limit is 130 km/h in sunny weather and 110 km/h in rain… The return to Sweden features a lot more neons and billboards along the highway, a lot more Volvo V90 twins on the road including a Police vehicle, plus the speed limit rises to 120 km/h after Vasteras!

It’s also the opportunity to notice that local best-selling car magazine Auto Motor & Sport has got into the habit of quoting BestSellingCarsBlog figures! A very unexpected surprise that follows-on on last year’s discovery. As I return Lars to the Volvo dealership in the suburbs of Stockholm, its odo has almost doubled, from 3.881 km at the start of this adventure to 7.551 for a total of 3.670 km for this trip and a very reasonable average fuel consumption of 6.5l/km. So. What did Lars do well, and what could he improve?

  • Outstanding road handling at high speed in fjord cliffs’ hairpin bends (the whole point of this drive, right?)
  • Aggressive yet pure and sober exterior design, feels a lot more dynamic than the XC90
  • Luxurious cockpit and incredible sound system by Bowen & Wilkins
  • Very intuitive and practical touch-screen console (the same as the XC90 tested last year), able to monitor all elements at once while zooming on a particular one, pinch and zoom function great to use.
  • More oomph than the XC90 I drove last year: when starting the car, but also when passing at high speed
  • Very comfortable sport seats that stick close to your body at every angle: my usually sensitive back recorded absolutely no pain, whereas the massage function had to be used extensively last year on the XC90
  • Line assist and safety features second to none on the market: as per the XC90 (see last year’s review for more details) this is one of Volvo’s greatest assets and a strong point of difference, and it shows.
  • Headlights are so strong there is no need for high beams most of the time
  • All-in-all the GPS is very reliable with only one road not recognised during the entire trip

  • “Km to refill” indicator is unreliable: it varied greatly and illogically throughout the drive.
  • Cockpit liveability and practicality not as functional as the XC90: big bottles wouldn’t fit on the side doors for example.
  • Adaptative cruise control loses track of the car in front of you in roundabouts and sharp bends, making you dangerously accelerate towards it.
  • Windscreen wipers aren’t always triggered by rain automatically.
  • Each and every time you start the car it invariably and unnecessarily says out loud “Route being calculated”. Gets a little irritating after a while.
  • No sunnies holder above your head.

Sadly, it’s time to return Lars to the Solentunna Volvo dealership after 3.670 km together… 

Stay tuned for our next test drive: a Tesla Model X along the Australian eastern Coast…

Photo Report: Driving a Volvo V90 through the Norwegian fjords – Part 3: The heart of fjord land

Lars on the Gamle Strynefjellsvegen.

This is Part 3 of our exploration of the Norwegian fjords in a Volvo V90 Cross Country. Check out Part 1: Stockholm to Preikestolen here and Part 2: Stavanger and Bergen here. We are now entering truly grandiose fjord country and the next two posts will be full of spectacular scenery, as this is the reason I have decided to travel to this part of the world this year. Lonely Planet is not mistaken when it says about this area that “if could only visit one region in Norway and hope to grasp the essence of the country’s appeal, this would be our choice.”

Lars waking up in Ulvik.Itinerary for Part 3 of the trip
Ulvik landscape 

Having reached Ulvik the night before, I had not had the chance to enjoy the landscape. A short drive from the hotel to the centre of the village is enough to envelop me in the legendary northern european tranquility that characterises the location. The Hardangerfjord is as still as a lake and soon a small ferry breaks the surface, creating slow-moving waves undulating towards the shores. Ulvik is home to only a little more than 1.000 inhabitants. It’s 10am but there is no one around except an elderly man also contemplating the surroundings from a bench near the water. We exchange knowing glances but neither of us wants to disrupt the sacred silence. We smile. It’s one of these moments in life when you can hardly believe the images relayed through your eyes.

A roundabout inside a tunnel…Lars about to enter Eidfjord (where the cruise ship is).

Next on the itinerary is Eidfjord. To reach it I must first drive through a marvellous oddity: a roundabout deep inside a tunnel that leads to the monumental Hardanger bridge, the longest tunnel-to-tunnel suspension bridge in the world: it’s a testimony of the effort that has been made in Norway to connect the multitude of fjords and mountains that complicate the area. It feels like I am in Monaco, except in the middle of nowhere. If the lead-up to Eidfjord is spectacular with sheer cliffs on each side of the fjord, the town itself is unfortunately soiled by an immense cruise ship that towers above everything and its hundreds of tourists have invaded every nook and cranny. The one positive effect is the ship’s smoke eerily mixing with the clouds around the fjord’s cliffs. I don’t stay long and push to Øvre Eidfjord, a lot quieter and from where I take an unsealed mountain road to explore the outer confines of the valley. I turn around when the track becomes a little too restrained for the large station wagon that is Lars, my Volvo V90 Cross Country for this trip.

Norwegian cheese and ham Lars in Kinsarvik with the Hardanger bridge in the background.

I retrace my steps to drive past the Hardanger bridge and explore Sørfjorden, an offshoot of Hardangerfjord located in the heart of the fruit tree region called Ullensvang. A deserted boathouse is the perfect spot for a tranquil lunch: given Norway’s high prices my regime is limited to bread, ham and cheese, but not just any cheese: the infamous and delicious Fløtemysost brown cheese… A couple of blokes are laughing their way through fishing on a tiny boat right in the middle of the fjord, and these are the only sounds around. I drive through Kinsarvik and Lofthus, and in between towns, apples are sold on the side of the road in unattended stands that rely on honesty: you slot the indicated price into a box and take the bag of apples with you. It’s now time to drive north through the Hardanger bridge again and towards Voss.

Lars in NaerøyfjordLars in Aurland
Snøvegen

After driving along  whose particularly steep 1200m-high cliffs are a great opportunity to make good use the V90’s panoramic roof, we soon reach Aurland, a village surrounded by greenery peppered with hundreds of bleating sheep, located at one end of the world’s longest road tunnel, the 24.5 km/15 miles-long Laerdalstunnel. But we won’t take that tunnel: instead, we launch into the Snøvegen, officially signed Aurlandsvangen. This 45 km (28 miles) Snow Road, open from June to mid-October, climbs and twists from Aurland at sea level to a 1311m-high plateau. The start of the road is narrow, making crossing vehicles a difficult task. The picturesque location is almost too perfect: sheep with their bells ringing call each other from one field to the next, oblivious to my presence and fighting the surrounding silence. The top of the plateau is a desolate, arid and beautiful swath of wilderness dotted with boulders and bright red lonely wooden houses. The cloudy weather adds even more drama to the menacing stance of this land.

Laerdal

Arriving in Laerdal, it’s time for a sunset ferry ride across Sognefjorden, the world’s second longest fjord (203km/126 miles) and Norway’s deepest (1308m), reaching Fjaerland just after the sun disappears for the night to admire the glacial tongue of Supphellebreen.

SupphellebreenJolstra river

The car park is just 300m from the glacier and I almost expect to hear the ice cracking, so overwhelmingly silent is the place at dusk. Fun/nerd fact: ice blocks from here were used as podiums at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. On my way to the Sandane hotel, in Skei the grey and orange skies completely reflect into the still waters of the Jolstra river. There is no one, not a whisper of wind, and the only sound is the clickety-click of a lone row-boat. Meditation-inducing stillness.

Breim
Stryn Oppstryn

The next day is the first blue sky day of the trip, and it’s great timing as we are about to explore what would end up being the most beautiful area of this entire adventure. We start with Nordfjord and the hair-rising beauty of the fjord’s shores trigger multiple stops and endless photo shoots, in Sandane itself, Breim, then along the shores of Lake Strynevatnet in Stryn and Oppstryn. Spectacular sun rays combined with incredible scenery morph this trip into something close to paradise as we enter the Jostedalsbreen National Park.

Gamle Strynefjellsvegen

The Gamle Strynefjellsvegen (old Stryn mountain road), a winding 27km single track at the time of construction considered a masterpiece of civil engineering, was opened in 1894 and was for over 80 years the main east-to-west route in this part of the country. Again, spectacular vistas await and I touch the first snow of this trip, stopping for a series of pictures near a wooden chalet baptised “Mon Plaisir” (My Pleasure in French). The pleasure is all mine indeed. This plateau is more colourful than the one we explored earlier in this post. Turquoise lakes surrounded by eye-waveringly white snow are overlooked by vast expands of red vegetation (rendered even redder by my sun glasses) peppered with imposing boulders. The air is crisp and the location inducive for a Volvo advertisement. Lars takes a pose multiple times along the plateau.

VW e-Golf on the Gamle StrynefjellsvegenToyota C-HR in Innvik.

Next and for our final post in this series, we reach Geirangerfjord, arguably Norway’s most famous fjord, the coastal town of Ålesund, the Trollstigen Route and the Atlanterhavsveien before finally reviewing Lars our Volvo V90 Cross Country… Stay tuned!

Photo Report: Driving a Volvo V90 through the Norwegian fjords – Part 2: Stavanger and Bergen

Lars in Stord

This is Part 2 of our exploration of the Norwegian fjords in a Volvo V90 Cross Country. Check out Part 1: Stockholm to Preikestolen here. The breathtaking exploration of Preikestolen (aka Pulpit Rock) om Lysefjord has left an imprint on my retina and I’m constantly reliving the seconds where I walked towards the edge of the 600m-high cliff. This vision will stay with me for years and will most likely fuel a lot of dreams (nightmares?).

The itinerary for Part 2 of this trip takes us from Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) to Ulvik via Stavanger and Bergen.Lars on the Tau-Stavanger ferry

Rather than turn around and take the same route to reach Stavanger, which Lars’ GPS tells me is the fastest, I opt for the 40min Tau-Stavanger ferry and enjoy the sunset on deck.

Über charming Gamle (Old) Stavanger

I originally didn’t plan to stop in Stavanger, and only did so when I found out Preikestolen was nearby. The consensus was this is an oil town, ugly and industrial with no interest. Even the Lonely Planet Norway is borderline passive aggressive with the city: “it can’t compete with Bergen on looks but is far from unlovely”… Turns out this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although relatively big at 125,000 inhabitants, Stavanger gives the feeling of a welcoming, friendly small village and is covered with absolutely stunning whitewashed wooden houses, especially in the Old Town, Gamle Stavanger. I decide to stay two nights.

A selection of cars in Stavanger: BMW i3, Mitsubishi Outlander, Tesla Model S, Renault Zoe, Peugeot 3008, VW Caddy, Kia Soul, Nissan Leaf and VW e-Up.

The cars of Stavanger

Although I knew that Oslo would be littered with eco-friendly cars, I was yet to find out whether regional Norwegian towns had also succumbed to the frenzy. If anything, there are way more eco-friendly cars here as a percentage of the total car park than I saw in the capital Oslo. The BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf are clear favourites, with the Kia Soul EV and Renault Zoe also making a mark. Tesla is here in force with both the Model S and X.

Lars in Stord, between Stavanger and Bergen

There is a direct way from Stavanger to Bergen: the E39 which only has one ferry route within it. The itinerary is one of the most picturesque so far in the trip, especially around Stord where bright red or white boathouses embellish the shore, as pictured above and at the top of this article.

Awaiting the ferry to Bergen

There are no less than six lanes in the waiting bay for the ferry to Bergen, by far the largest in the trip so far. The E39 highway ferry is different from the ones I have taken before in the way that you must get out of your car during the ride. There are indeed two categories of ferry you get to take in this part of the world: the official, get-out-of-your-vehicle ones where there is most likely a pay station to go through before you can onboard, and the relaxed stay-in, drive-through ferries where staff comes to you to charge your credit card at the window. In the latter ones, it’s a little weird to step out of your vehicle as there are no passenger decks as such and you unmistakably draw confused looks from fellow drivers… A very entertaining experience in both cases.

Unesco World Heritage site Bryggen in Bergen

Reversely to Stavanger, I arrived in Bergen with high expectations. Described as an “utterly beguiling city” and the capital of Norway during the 12th and 13th centuries, this was supposed to be my trip’s culminating point in terms of city architecture. And like in Stavanger, my perception ended up being 100% the opposite of my expectations. I found Bergen oppressive, too modern and impersonal. The Bryggen area seemed to me very limited and Disnelyland-like. I had much preferred isolated bright red wooden houses in the countryside than this overrated harbour quay. Harsh? Perhaps. But I have never been a city person. What didn’t help was the fact that at the time I visited, Bergen was gearing up to the UCI Road World Championships of Cycling (16-24 September) with many streets blocked off rendering city centre driving virtually impossible. The Bergen car landscape is heavily skewed towards Light Commercial Vehicles with the VW Transporter and Caddy champions as per the national sales charts.

Lars in Steinstø, on the way from Bergen to Ulvik.

I had not planned to stay overnight in Bergen and had already reserved a room in a hotel in Ulvik, a good 200km east, so only a couple of hours after arriving in town, I was departing already. I did not regret it as the drive along the Hardanger fjord was spectacular, and getting more so as the sun was setting. But the real core of fjord country is yet to be displayed in front of my eyes, and this will be covered in Part 3 of this Photo Report. Stay tuned!

 

Photo Report: Driving a Volvo V90 through the Norwegian fjords – Part 1: Stockholm to Preikestolen

Lars posing in front of the Heddal Stave Church in southern Norway. 

Following up on last year’s test drive of a Volvo XC90 to North Cape, Volvo Sweden was so kind as to loan me a second car this year to explore the south-western coast of Norway and all its spectacular fjords. At the same time last year, the entire Volvo V90 fleet was monopolised by the Swedish press but this time Volvo has voluntarily made available one of the highest-spec V90 there is: a crystal white V90 Cross Country D5 AWD with a Polestar performance optimisation pack (available since last December) and the incredible audio system Volvo Premium Sound by Bowers & Wilkins that I already enjoyed on the XC90 last year. All-in-all, this generously equipped V90 will set you back the equivalent of 69.900€ in Sweden (US$81.400), a fair bit more than the XC90 D4 Inscription we drove last year (61.400€ or US$65.000).

Our itinerary for this first iteration of the test drive. 

One year ago the transition from the decades-long leadership of the now-discontinued Volvo V70 in the Swedish car sales to the unknown (Volvo V90? V60? XC60? VW Golf? Passat?) had just started. 2016 saw a Volkswagen top the annual Swedish sales charts (the Golf) for the first time in 54 years – since 1962, the last year of reign of the VW Beetle. 2017 is a different story altogether with Volvo reclaiming the top spot: up until June the Volvo S/V90 was in pole position and looked like it would be the natural heir of the V70 atop Swedish charts. But July and August saw the Volvo XC60 shoot up to the top and snap the YTD lead.

Looking a little nervous atop Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)…

Both the bus ride from the airport to the city centre of Stockholm and the Uber ride to the Sollentuna Uppland Motor Volvo dealership however gave me a glimpse of a rather disconcerting car landscape: absolutely no new generation XC60 in sight, which didn’t make sense after two consecutive months of sales domination (I started driving the V90 on September 11). The explanation was given to me by Nils from local publication ViBilagare who shared exclusive data by version that showed the XC60’s first place was due to the previous generation – still produced in Sweden – having its higher spec variants sold at discounted prices. By the time I was back in Stockholm ten days later the situation had not changed but Nils let me know that by early October the new gen XC60 had started to make itself noticed in the capital.

Lars posing next to one of his “ancestors”, the Volvo 850.

By now, the XC60 nameplate, combining both new and previous generations, seems to have accumulated enough sales to remain in the lead all the way to the end of the year for its first annual win, but the S/V90 could pull a last minute surprise, and should reclaim the lead in 2018 once the stock of previous gen XC60 has been fully sold. In any case, in the V90 we are looking at an extremely successful nameplate at home despite its discouragingly high price tag. It is now time to baptise our car. After Ivanhoe the Haval H9, Joey the Toyota Hilux and Kaitlin the Peugeot 208, we need a Swedish name starting in L, a male name as this is a station wagon, therefore a truck which has a masculine gender in my native tongue, French. The choice was easy: Lars.

Lars in Sandaholm, Sweden, near the Norwegian border.

We’ll be taking Lars on an adventure through to southwestern Norway and its spectacular fjords. But first we need to head west and leave Sweden for Norway, bound for its capital Oslo. As it has been the case during most of my last test-drives (see USA Coast to Coast 2014, USA North to South 2015, Europe North Cape to Tarifa 2016 and both Australian Outback Haval H8 and Australian Outback Haval H9), I find myself most comfortable in nature, far from the craziness of big cities. We therefore won’t spend much time in Stockholm nor Oslo, just enough to grab some topline elements about their respective car landscapes.

Charging stations in Sandaholm, Sweden. 

First we hit Sandaholm, near a tranquil lake and close to the Norwegian border. Here I get a first taste of Norway in the shape of two electric car charging stations, a striking novelty compared to everything I have seen before in other parts of Europe. One is for Tesla vehicles and the other one for “other electric vehicles”, but both are provided for by Tesla. Navigating the network of charging stations, at its most developed in southern Norway, is a habit many car drivers aren’t accustomed to, including myself. Shortly I will have the opportunity to test drive a Tesla Model X over the course of two days and will be able to test the Australian charging network myself.

Lars in Oslo

The Swedish part of this trip was the opportunity to review the local car landscape. The V90 has already established itself, with no less than three spotted in the first 5 minutes of travel. The Audi A6 station wagon and Skoda Superb station wagon are also frequent, but none as much as the VW Passat station wagon. Similarly, both the Kia Cee’d and Toyota Avensis seem to only be successful in its station wagon variant. As such, a survey of 267 cars passed by on the highway showed that 109 or a whopping 40.8% were station wagon, making Sweden the world’s station wagon paradise. Two additional successful nameplates are the Kia Niro and Ford Edge.

Cross the border into Norway, and the car landscape changes drastically. The flow of V90 abruptly drops, and different successful models appear such as the Mazda CX-5, Suzuki S-Cross and Skoda Octavia station wagon. The VW Golf is most successful here as a hatchback, and not the Alltrack station wagon popular in Sweden. And of course a flow of green cars invades the streets: the Kia Soul EV, Toyota Prius, BMW i3, Renault Zoe and Norway’s most striking point of difference: a constant flow of Tesla Model S and X everywhere you go. Green cars can drive on bus lanes in Oslo, conveniently avoiding the traffic jams. A final note for this first day of driving: the frequency of new generation Toyota Hilux, whose sales have leaped up drastically this year as we’ll see in a further update.

Norwegian breakfast

I have visited Oslo before (in 1993 and 2000) and drive around for half an hour before a quick stroll on the harbour, enough to verify the ubiquitousness of electric charging stations. I’m headed to the General Hotel, a previous military camp refurbished as a hotel situated in Hønefoss, 60km north-east of Oslo. The breakfast buffet includes smoked pepper mackerel and chicken live pate. Now it’s official: I’m in Scandinavia! The first stop of the day is to the Heddal Stave Church (as featured in the leading photo of this article), Norway’s largest and most beautiful church of this kind, originally built in 1242. A stave church is a medieval wooden Christian church building once common in north-western Europe. The name derives from the buildings’ structure of post and lintel construction, a type of timber framing where the load-bearing ore-pine posts are called stafr in Old Norse (stav in modern Norwegian). Originally much more widespread, most of the surviving stave churches are in Norway, this according to Wikipedia.

Lars in Grimstad, Norway Lars and a Tesla Model S in Grimstad Lars in Risør, NorwayRisør

After Heddal we reach the Norwegian Riviera, a “string of pristine coastal villages of whitewashed timber”, according to the Lonely Planet. Now that summer holidays are over, these quaint little villages are very quiet indeed, and although I was very much looking forward to visiting them, Risør, Grimstad and Lillesand all did appear very uptight to me, exclusive havens of sophisticated houses with little warmth and sense of welcoming.

Søgne, Norway
Lars in Østebø on the Flekkerfjord road
RoligheteLars in Rogaland on the Flekkerfjord to Ergensund coastal road.

After a night near Kristiansand we are headed towards the Flekkerfield to Ergensund coastal road Rv44. It’s a very scenic succession of barren boulders and lakes, peppered with tiny villages of white or red timber houses, rendered even more dramatic by the menacing weather that day. It’s now that my real adventure in Norway starts, with this mysterious drive into a land that seems cut-off from time and space.


Near Lindesnes I came across a collection of three vintage Scania and Volvo buses, a great opportunity for a Photo Souvenir or three.

First ferry of the trip for Lars, in Sandness.

Then it’s onto the first ferry ride of this trip in Sandness, to reach the parking lot for Preikestolen, in English the Pulpit Rock. 90 minutes of a pretty strenuous walk under the rain and I reach the incredible 604m-tall cliff, pictured further up in this article and below. This is an experience I will never forget. The gloomy weather – but dry at the summit – gives an ominous feel to every move you make, and walking all the way up to the edge with no fences of any kind is making my heart uncontrollably race. Some people were happily sitting on the edge with their legs balancing above the void, but that’s not for me and just watching them gave me stomach cramps. If you ever got the chance to visit the top of the defunct World Trade Centre in New York City, imagine a similarly steep cliff 1.5 times higher and being able to walk as close to the edge as you wish. The stuff of nightmares as far as I am concerned, but also strangely and strongly attractive. The view from the top onto Lysefjord is simply unforgettable. I highly recommend Preikestolen, a place like no other in the world.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Norwegian series hitting Stavanger…

Preikestolen 

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