Norway – Bergen & The Fjords

A loose snapshot of our road trip
A loose snapshot of our road trip

Words cannot describe how I feel about Norway. I thought I felt this way about Greece, but Norway took it up another level. It truly sounds like a love story! Getting to Norway is difficult from Frankfurt. It took a lot of extra planning and we did consider a cruise instead. I would say that the majority of people opt for a cruise when going to Norway, but this blog is going to be about why I think you shouldn’t do that.

The journey to Norway

As discussed in my Copenhagen blog post, we decided to go to Bergen by way of Copenhagen. When looking up Norway, most flights seemed to stop in Copenhagen anyway, and I would rather have seen Copenhagen over Oslo (the other stopover point). I am going to include all costs in this blog, as most people think that Norway is cost prohibitive to travel to. I want to smash that idea, but people’s ideas of ‘expensive’ can be different. Our flight from Copenhagen to Bergen was $75 including bags each through SAS Airways.

SAS Airways has a long history and is part of the Star Alliance. According to their magazines they pioneered the first commercial flights over the arctic in the 1960s. They were fine to travel with, the flight was on time despite leaving a little late and everything was in English. There was no free snack on-board like with Lufthansa, but that is normal for European travel. The flight time was 1 ½ hours and we were quickly on the ground in Bergen after flying over beautiful patterns of snow-capped mountains and twisting fjords below.

Bergen

I would like to say good things about Bergen, but I really can’t. Following the route of the cruise boats, I had decided that if it was worth a cruise stop, then we should probably plan to stay around those areas. That was my biggest mistake of this trip and I want to make sure that other people don’t do the same, and if you’re reading this then you’re probably friends and family so even more so!

We picked up our rental car at the airport and then headed downtown. We found parking near our hotel for $20 – standard 24 hour parking price in big-city Europe.

Fish market
Fish market

Bergen was a city. Sure, the area down by the docks were pretty with the old fishyard buildings and the Christmas store. The fish market was pretty cool, but expensive (I can see why some people think Norway is expensive if those are the places they hang out). If you want to try whale meat or reindeer, then that is the place to go. Of course, I would never!

The area downtown had a lot of shops and cool buildings to look at. Even the McDonalds looked cool! Down by our hotel was a beautiful band rotunda with beautiful mountains in the background. I would say fly into Bergen, look around for half the day and then begin your road trip. Don’t stay overnight. That was our mistake. We stayed at one of the Scandic Hotels downtown and even the delicious free breakfast didn’t make it worth it! It also appeared that Bergen had taken on a lot of the refugee influx of Norway, so perhaps that lead to not-so-nice undertone as there was begging and so on.

Micky D's
Micky D’s

Food-wise, we had our breakfast free the next morning. For lunch we went el-cheapo (the theme of this trip). I had McDonalds for $5. This got me a double cheeseburger and chips for that. Nick got a huge hotdog and a drink (that we shared) from a street vendor for $5 so we had lunch for $10. For dinner we visited a food place where they have food ready-made and they heat is up for you. We paid about $15 for dinner. In our luggage we had packed about $50 worth of food from home. Our dessert was already packed away chocolate! Water was fine to drink from the tap and we always made sure we had our water bottles filled up = free!

We had planned to take the funicular up the side of the mountain, but the weather wasn’t so good by the time we decided to check it out. I believe the cost is about $10 up and then you can walk back down or the return trip is a little more expensive. We had planned to take it up and check out the view and then walk back down.

One thing I will mention is – there are a lot of nooks and crannies in Bergen. If you find yourself staring down an alleyway and wondering what is down there, then just go! We found so many cool little art galleries and boutiques by wandering down places that looked like you shouldn’t go down them. I still wish I had bought a print of a crazy looking fish from one of those boutiques.

Escape to the fjords – day two in Norway

We woke up bright and early (thank goodness, as breakfast closed at 0930 which is really abnormal) and got on the road. Of course, it had to be foggy! We were wondering if we were going to be cursed by the fog all day, but it soon lifted. I would say that this is common in Norway and something that I didn’t read about anywhere. It makes sense given it is near the sea that there is sea fog every morning!

One thing to note about Norway. The speed limit is 70km/hour. This is slow. It makes sense as often the road conditions wouldn’t be worthy of much higher speeds, but during the summer it can be pretty slow going. In saying that, unlike when planning trips in other places, the times on the GPS were spot on. No staus, in fact there was barely anyone else on the road at times. The great thing about 70km/hour is that both of us could see the views and we were really thankful that our rental car had a huge sunroof – often times I would exclaim “look up!” to see the peaks towering above us. It also meant when we would see somewhere beautiful and decide to suddenly pull off the road, that it was easier to do. Smart Norwegians.

Another thing to note – a huge amount of the journey is through tunnels. This is a bit of a bummer as you might see a beautiful area, want to pull off and check it out, only to be back in another tunnel and the view is completely different on the other side. It is ok though, we still managed to pull off into a lot of the areas we wanted to see and usually those views were even better.

Third – there aren’t as many toilets as you would expect. When you see one, use it, or if you have kids then have a portable toilet. I found myself desperate at one point only to finally find a toilet at a tourist attraction. The horrible discovery for me at that moment is that it required Norwegian coins, of which we had none because we’d realized we didn’t need cash at all in Norway. In some instances, you really do. We soon pulled out cash at the next stop and yes, if you’re wondering, we did end up finding a public toilet later down the road.

Most people in Norway seemed to be on tours of some sort, whether by bus or by boat. The key to success was in dodging them, and we seemed to be pretty good at it. As we were casually driving along on the way to Flam, we saw a beautiful waterfall in the distance. As we neared closer, we realized we could actually go right up to the waterfall. I couldn’t believe it, we were there and no one else was! We could enjoy the beauty of this magnificent waterfall in peace. Suddenly in the distance we see not one, not two, but three tour buses arrive full of Italian tourists. The place was swarmed! People were running up to the waterfall trying to beat their fellow tour people to get the perfect photo. We left at that point, smug in the realization we had experienced something pretty special – the lull in tour bus arrivals.

Eventually we arrived in Flam. This is one of the biggest cruise stops and seemed to be on every itinerary. Yes, it was pretty, but it was not as pretty as I expected. We stopped, had lunch with the view of a huge cruise boat in front of us (it’s a bit of an eyesore), wandered the town, that was just full of souvenir shops and a few restaurants, and left. In hindsight, it was only half of the beauty that we would see later. I’m glad we didn’t stay there.

Food-wise, for breakfast that day we had our free breakfast at the hotel. For lunch, we had bought a load of bread from the supermarket ($4 for a huge, heavy loaf) and had packed in our bag some peanut butter and jam from home. We also had pringles that we had packed from home, and had bought a 12 pack of pepsi from the supermarket the day before ($8). We also had our water bottles filled up. Total cost of lunch – about $5.

We left Flam and continued onto our campground that we had booked in at. We were staying in Laerdal, a small town about thirty minutes from Flam. This involved us going through the longest tunnel in the world – a whole 24.5km through a mountain. The tunnel was broken up by rest areas that were brightly lit, apparently this is a way of stopping ‘tunnel vision’ – it’s actually a thing. We felt a little disoriented by the time we made it out of the other side and despite the ventilation, a little high on fumes, but we did it!

The town had everything you would want – including a great sized supermarket. This was the halfway point to our next journey. Our little cabin was absolutely adorable and we could drive right up to it. It had a separate bedroom, lounge, outdoor furniture and a full kitchen – including a stove and oven. Our one night cost about $125. Wifi was terrible, but that meant we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves and stopped me from checking my work email.

That night we were able to cook our own food, which was awesome. We had brought some brotchen from home and bought some local cheese for $3. We lay slices of cheese on our bread for cheese bread and had raviolis – brought from home. Total cost of dinner – about $6 with only $3 of that bought in Norway. We also sat outside and enjoyed our meal with Bacardi brought from home (we packed a new, sealed bottle in our checked luggage). One of the funny moments was watching all of the campers outside, enjoying their meals. An older German couple parked up near us were enjoying wine with their franks. Suddenly, the old man flings his empty carton of wine across the ground. I guess he was really upset he had finished it. Soon enough, a new carton appeared. I really need to try German wine in a carton before we leave, I have heard it’s pretty good! Dessert was chocolate, again brought from home.

Day three – the most epic road trip

We packed up the car again and headed onward, further deep into the fjords. Our journey on the GPS said it would take about 3 ½ hours. This actually turned into about a six hour road trip. The journey was so spectacular, so beautiful, so unspoiled that we had to stop regularly. There was virtually no one else at our stops. I think we found the true Norway on this part of our journey. Tour buses flew by us, and we saw people trying to take photos out of their windows, but they never stopped.

At one point, our GPS sent us down a road. We were looking at it and wondering, how on earth do we get over to the other side? Suddenly the GPS goes “board ferry.” Geez, thanks for giving us the option! The ferry ride cost $10 for the car and was payable by credit card. It was pretty random.

I don’t have too much to say except make sure you bring your best camera, stop and take photos, enjoy the views and let everything soak in. People commented that my photos looked a lot like New Zealand. Yes, Norway was so much like New Zealand! But, in this case, Norway outshines New Zealand’s fjords. I will always say New Zealand is amazing as it has a bit of everything and it does that well, but Norway’s fjord’s are amazing due to the sheer number and size. There’s a view around every corner and it just keeps going. For miles. For hours.

At one point, we started realising that there was a glacier in the distance. As we got closer, it appeared that our route was going to be taking us right by it. We pulled into a bay near it and decided that was the perfect place to eat lunch, and then decided to try our luck and walk up to it. It was free, and we could get right up to the glacier. Considering it’s beauty, it was amazing at how few people were there.

Eventually we made it to our campgrounds where we had an ‘apartment’ booked for two nights. This was a fully self-contained room with a kitchen and bathroom. It was beautiful! The door reflected the stunning lake view. I couldn’t believe it. As we were driving into the area I felt like we were about to get disappointed. The towns seemed a little more run down than what we had been seeing on our drive. However, we turned a corner and suddenly the most pristine looking lake shone in front of us. It was a most brilliant turquoise blue colour, almost unable to be captured on anything except in the mind’s eye.

I cannot even describe the feeling of tranquillity here. We let ourselves relax deeply in this little secret paradise. Campers were lighting fires at night, people were fishing for their dinner, it was quiet except for the occasional buzz of boats and children happily playing. I almost get goose bumps writing about it. If you were ever in need of a little soul-searching then this is the place to do it. Friends, family, if you want the name of this place then comment below and I will give it to you privately. Our apartment was a little less than $100 a night. Unbelievable.

Our food that day was our breakfast at Laerdal, home cooked eggs ($4/dozen free range), cheese etc. Our lunch was sandwiches again with chips and granola bars from home. That afternoon we went to a local grocery store on our way to our campground and got some chicken hotdogs (we’d got a little jealous of other campers and their hot dogs the night before and wanted some ourselves) and tomato sauce. The hotdogs were a huge pack for $5 and sauce was about $1.50. We also got 3 1.5L bottles of pepsi max for $5 (it was buy 2, get 1 free) for our rum. That night we had cut up hotdogs in pasta with cheesy brotchen again. Yum! We truly treated this like a camping holiday, even though we had the facilities for more.

Day four – The Geirangerfjord and relaxation

We got up bright and early to fog. Given our experience on previous days, we decided to risk it and get up and drive one hour to Geirangerfjord and hope that the fog lifted by the time we wanted to do the fjord cruise. As luck would have it, and we got lucky with the weather for our entire time in Norway, the fog did lift about half way through our drive.

Geirangerfjord is UNESCO-protected and is full of dramatic mountains and deep blue waters. There are waterfalls cascading down the sides of the mountains. It’s simply beautiful. We took the cruise from the opposite direction most people take it due to where we were staying. We went from Hellesylt-Geiranger. The way back was definitely more beautiful and that is the way that most people take it. Either way, we got to see it both ways so it doesn’t matter. It was one of the more expensive things we did on the trip at $45 for a road trip ticket each. The cruise was 1 ½ hours long each way. We chose not to get off in Geiranger, as we wanted to get back to our campground that afternoon, but that is an option and you can take a later boat back for no extra charge.

When we returned to the campground, Nick was looking wistfully out at the lake. We had talked about taking kayaks out that afternoon, but the water was a little choppy compared to the day before, when it was crystal clear. We ended up taking out a motorboat for an hour ($12) and set off to explore the beauty around the lake. All I can say is wow. We have talked about returning to this beautiful spot, even when we are back in the USA.

Food-wise, Nick did an amazing job cooking breakfast. We had eggs, Nick cut up the hot dogs to make poor man’s bacon, we had rehydrated potato hashbrowns from home and cheese. Amazing! For lunch, I hate to say it but we had the same lunch again of sandwiches, chips, cereal bars. For dinner, we cooked up hotdogs with mac’n’cheese from home, a true camping meal.

Day five – leaving paradise

After another delicious breakfast like the day before, we checked out right at the last moment, at 1200. Our plan had been to slowly make our way back to the airport in Bergen for our flight out to Stockholm later that night. Unfortunately, our GPS took a different way back and it was much quicker than expected. It did take the full five hours, but with no stops we were at the airport sooner than expected. If we were to do that again, we would take the way back that we had come from so we could see the beauty all over again from a different angle.

We did end up having to take a ferry back over even from that direction. We crossed at Lavik, and it was about $12 for us to take the ferry back. We enjoyed our last lot of pb&j sandwiches for the journey and finished off the food we had packed away. I can honestly say that this was one of our cheapest vacations due to eating like we were camping. In our experience, Norway was not expensive as all we had to do was buy perishables like cheese, eggs and bread.

One other thing to note about Norway is that if you are camping, you will be charged for bed linen and towels if you don’t bring your own. I bought yoga towels (2 for $15 off Amazon) and we packed bed sheets in our checked luggage. That saved us $75 over the three days!  It pays to do your research on these things before you leave as if we hadn’t saw that, that would have added an extra unexpected cost!

On the journey back to the airport, it came the dreaded moment to fill up our rental car. This had been the biggest expense we were expecting while there. We were also upgraded to an SUV when we picked up our car from Hertz, so we were expecting a horrible bill. It was actually fine. We filled up once in the fjords for about $45 and then once we got to the airport area we made sure it was topped up to full. Our total fuel cost was about $75 and we covered almost 1000km with all our detours.  Again, the horror stories did not hold true. I’m not sure if Norway has experienced a big downturn but that cost was pretty much the same as German economy prices.

As you can see, we did do this trip on a budget. We probably didn’t need to be as extreme as we were with taking food – the supermarket prices were fair and reasonable. Our biggest expense for our time there was the rental car, which came in at $100/day. I’m so glad we did that though, and that we didn’t do a cruise. When we travel, we try to stretch our expenses over a large period of time. I started booking this trip from April and then gradually paid for things over that time, so that while we were there we only had to pay for a couple of things in person. That reduces the impact of things like the rental car that were expensive.

Long story short, just go to Norway. Skip the cities and head to the beauty of this country. I hope we can go back again and go back to the campground and then head further north into the wilder parts of the country.

Part III of the Scandinavian tour will be next, with our short stop in Stockholm, Sweden.

Emma

 


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