Having picked up two American hitchhikers in Norway, one random thing I’d like to contrast and compare are Americans and Scandinavians. Scandinavia loves hot-dogs, even more so than Americans do – at nearly every service station, supermarket, ferry and many other locations fresh and not-so-fresh hot-dogs are available for consumption. They come with a variety of curiously delicious sauces plus an accompaniment of crispy onions. In fact in lots of places they are the most affordable snack in an otherwise high-priced part of the world.
Along these lines, a random titbit I’ve picked up is that there are about the same number of Americans claiming Norwegian heritage as there are Norwegians in Norway! About 5 million if you’re interested. This doesn’t surprise me for two reasons: firstly, because of how America was founded and secondly, there are a lot of similarities in the way the countries are built and their levels of relative wealth. It is almost like Scandinavians and Americans are bipolar alter egos – opposing poles of the same existence – Americans sometimes brash and over the top, Norwegians frequently reserved and inward looking.
My American hitchhikers certainly felt that car was a great way to get around Norway and I would agree. Whether by car, campervan, caravan, bicycle or motorbike, the roads are yours in Norway. There’s definitely an argument for a cruise and one option is the Hurtigurten – a constantly running ferry, which used to supply the whole West coast, now turned semi-cruise. I debated it as it came highly recommended but it was not to be: I wanted to hit the Atlantic road. What is certain is that public transport is not the one in Norway – by all accounts, the system is not setup as well as other European countries. And as driving is what I set off to do, by Jove I would drive through the Polarsirklene (Arctic Circle) to get to my next stop in the Lofoten Islands.
The islands are high up in the world, well into the Arctic Circle and the E10, which links them together, forms another tourist road. David had recommended them and having disappointingly completed the Atlantic road some rest and recuperation on the islands was desired. To get there I chose the 4-hour ferry option from Bodø to Moskenes through part of the Norwegian ocean. There’s a possibility of whale watching (I didn’t see any) and it put me right at the furthest tip of the islands meaning I could drive the E10 to Finland through Sweden. The ferry was an interesting one.
With the waves crashing against the hull, a deck walk was treacherous but with potential whales on the cards it was totally worth it. As the ferry was not at even keel to say the least, passenger eyes misted, pinballing in shaken heads. I saw many sick bags taken by others and even my normally strong stomach churned at several of the rolling waves. It’s where I wrote most of the last post but with no internet you had to wait. A true delight on the ferry was meeting a lovely German couple, Malte and Isabell. They were enjoying their university summer break with a casual 1500km cycle in Norway – massive credit but rather them than me!
Upon arrival in Moskenes, I came off the ferry and had the choice of left or right. Thank Odin I turned left towards Å (pronounced O). This little fishing village at the end of the Lofoten island chain is rather remote (definitely worth a Google). Their main produce is cod dried on large wooden frames. The stockfish is then sold to Southern Europe or powdered and exported to Nigeria – it has been for centuries of Viking trade.
Åt the end of the world
It’s here I had a dinner party. By chance, my new German friends had also turned left (although I think they’d planned to unlike my fortunate self). We met in the car park at the end of the earth. With a little cooking we dined on a sweet and sour stir-fry sat on Pico’s removable seats. It was a treat for me to have company for dinner and a treat for them to have something other than pasta with butter – you can’t carry much food on a bike! Later Julian, who had incredibly cycled from Romania, joined us and between them I felt thoroughly humbled as my journey paled into insignificance. Even later, Peter, a German fellow of many overland journeys himself came upon us and the 5 random personas delighted in a car park discussion on everything from Russia-Finnish politics to the best route to China. It was another memorable evening.
Malte and Isabell waiting for dinner
At this point a minor malady was realised as my solar shower had decided to dispense its watery load over the entirety of my car. Pico had had an accident. As I poured the water out of my shoes, it was too late to resolve and a wet night in the motor transpired. With joy I discovered the next day to be a dry one and the whole day was spent with all my possessions carefully stacked outside Pico as I strove to dry him out. We succeeded with a lot of paper towel and a stiff breeze.
To treat myself I’d booked onto a Viking feast at the Lofotr Viking museum in Borg. After a short drive up the road I was the recipient of a finely cooked meal of roasted lamb, barley stew and vegetables in the largest Viking longhouse in the world. Sour cream, loganberries and a performance from a Viking chief and his wife complemented the dish excellently. Meeting Sue, a joyful songstress from Quebec, and Kari, a smiling Norwegian from Oslo, topped it all off. They were friends from university in Guelph, Canada and on a little catch-up holiday. Even better was finding notes from both of them the next day tucked under Pico’s windscreen wiper and a CD from Sue – it’s been played in the car already!
Sue and Kari plus me for a Viking dinner
It was here I had a pretty special evening: special in many ways and several very important ones. It was special because that Monday marked 4 weeks on the road. It was special because I’d found a very beautiful part of the world and built a makeshift shelter with a fire to have a BBQ overlooking the fabulous sandy Uttakliev beach. It was special because I closed a chapter on my life and opened a new one for the future.
Pico at Uttakliev beach
There are many reasons I came travelling. From the sense that it was time for an adventure to completing a dream I’d had for almost ten years after 3 friends and I had wondered what the furthest you could travel overland from the UK was (Singapore roughly in our minds!) Another reason was that if I didn’t do something like this now, when would I.
And one of the other big ones is that it was a treat to myself. Almost 6 years ago I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression while at university in my 3rd year. It’s not something I would wish upon anyone and with hard-work to understand myself a little better and some wonderful support from family and friends plus the buoyancy aid that anti-depression medication can provide I became a new me. You’re never the same person after an illness like that but you can find a different person that you are very happy to be.
So, with a blazing fire, a bottle of champagne and a beautiful view, I said goodbye to the past, celebrated the now and welcomed the future. The rune fortune telling in the Viking museum had even suggested my present was a creative vision and my future was one of new beginnings and regeneration. On that beach I burnt my last packet of Citalopram, the medication I used to take. I closed an important chapter on my life.
I will never be able to put down how important, wondrous and special that evening truly was to me. My brief attempt above doesn’t even come close to explaining it all. So I shall leave it at that and ask you to wish me luck in the next chapter ;)
A shelter, a fire and a BBQ
To wrap up, Norway has blessed me. Initially, I thought I’d love to live here - there’s certainly a lot going for Norway – it’s beautiful and the quality of life is exceptional. As Slartibarfast (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – read it) once commented, the fjords were his greatest work and one he won an award for. This is certainly something I could put my name to in agreement – Norway’s scenery is divine.
With reflection and knowing myself a little better, there’s just not quite enough individuality for me. The quality of life comes at a price of conformity it would appear – who’d have thought something in Norway would come at a price for a Brit at the recent exchange rates! What I can say is that I will recommend it to everyone and anyone whether it’s for the landscapes, the Midnight Sun or the Aurora Borealis. So with a fresh step in my soul and Pico to carry me, we drove the Lofoten Islands tourist road back to the mainland and off into Sweden. This bought two more lovely hitchhikers, Paul from Barcelona and then Jordan from Australia, for short but sweet lifts. I hope to pick up many more.
Until I write again, adieu…
Saturday 27th August – Å, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Sunday 28th August – Borg, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Monday 29th August – Uttakliev Beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway