......AND THEN IT RAINED AGAIN
A trip to Norway, Sweden and Finland in 1999
I had broached the subject of this tour around Christmas time with my wife, Christine, in view of the fact that my 50th birthday was coming up, but she felt that 4000 miles was probably a bit too far for her to travel in the time we could manage, and suggested that I went with my lifelong pal, David Durham. His wife Brenda also felt the same and we were given signed ‘pass-outs’ for almost three weeks!! Apart from the normal organisation for a trip like this, the only extra thing to be done was to fit a CB to David’s bike, so that we could communicate. I was fortunate in that my Wing had a CB fitted when I bought it.
Wed 16th June
I met up with David, my fellow traveller and confirmed BMW rider, for this special trip, at Staindrop, near Barnard Castle, it being a fairly regular meeting point of ours, and is about the same distance for both of us to travel, he from Hull where I was born and me from Southport. Unfortunately he was a bit late, so as our favourite cafe was closed, I went into the pub next door for a bite to eat. When he finally arrived and we had checked all the last minute details, we set off on a fairly comfortable ride to North Shields and on to the Royal Quays for the ferry to Bergen with Fjord Line. We had to stand in a queue with no shelter for over an hour, thankfully in the dry, but it was quite windy and when boarding started there was a very steep external ramp to negotiate, round a ninety degree turn into the ship and then park the bikes alongside a rail, being once again treated as 2nd class citizens, having to tie our own bikes down with dirty ropes. I’m not entirely sure in these situations, who would be responsible for any damage, should it occur, as the Ferry company have played no part in securing the bike, perhaps we have a legal expert out there who might give us all some guidance for future reference?
We found our simple but adequate cabin, where we quickly changed and went off to the restaurant for a bite to eat and met an old colleague of mine, Frank Riley, now retired from the Technical College in Southport, where I had worked. Entertainment was sought in the evening and then when returning, we discovered that our cabin had a rattling door, but with the key fob jammed in the frame, that was soon sorted out. The following day we still kept getting lost on the ship as there are two identical looking staircases and restaurants and cafes on two decks. On visiting the duty free and shop, we also got confused with Trolls (Norwegian mythical beasties) and T.rolls (Toilet rolls!), both commodities being for sale there. As the ferry docks at eight in the evening we also opted for the extra nights stay on board, but still had to take the bikes off the ship and then back on again, apparently for customs and immigration reasons, but not up that ramp again! We went for stroll into Bergen and then had a problem getting back on the ship as we had neglected to take our boarding cards with us, but the security personnel accepted our cabin key as proof that we were bona fide passengers.
After a fantastic inclusive breakfast the following morning, we had a dry start on the bikes, up North, and over a few ferries, to Stryn, where we stopped for lunch. We had been stopping to take pictures all the way, so consequently had not travelled very far. The CB was fantastic the first time in real use, as BM man had very carefully cobbled the rig together, leaving nothing to chance and it worked extremely well. We started to feel really tired at about two in the afternoon, as it was getting very warm and the previous two nights sleep were not completely undisturbed. Our route took us over a snow and ice pass to Geiranger, which dramatically lifted our spirits and levels of concentration.
We checked in at a very comfortable hotel at a reasonable price in Utsikten with incredible views over the Geirangerfjord, and later took a walk down into Geiranger village where David had fish and chips and I attacked a huge pizza and a glass of the local brew. It rained heavily on the 1 mile uphill trek back to the Hotel but so what?, we were on holiday.
We had our breakfast overlooking the Fjord with a mixture of sunshine and cloud and after packing, took the ‘Eagles road’ out of Geiranger and on to Trondheim, via lots of ferries and toll tunnels, which were often rather dark and wet. Esso and Statoil service stations were also very useful for hot drinks, snacks and toilets, being considerably more upmarket and friendlier than those we are used to at home. We were to use these on a great many occasions during the trip when filling up. We must have missed a turning after one ferry, as we ended up in Kristiansund after another toll road. We noticed many old people here and judging by the lack of signposts they were probably still trying to find their way out of town! Arriving back at the toll booth, I explained to the lady that we had taken a wrong turning and she took pity on us poor, wet, motorcyclists and let us through without charge. We pressed on to Trondheim in heavy rain and found digs in very cosy farmhouse, where the farmer moved his tractor out of the barn for us to put our bikes in, all for £12 each but unfortunately without breakfast.
Still wet, but no rain as yet, as we picked up the E6 towards Narvik where the signpost showed it was 1000 km away, my heart sank when another toll road appeared but this time it was free for motorcycles, as were a great many of the next sections of the E6. We stopped at Grong for lunch and I had been hearing a noise from the front brakes, so we removed the rotor covers to find everything normal. I think that riding at around 80 kph most of the time made using the brakes almost unnecessary, so at very low speeds when coming to a standstill, all of the wet mud was being scraped off the rotors by the pads and the sound was being amplified by the covers.
We met up with two chaps, one with an old XS650 and the other, a newish Revere, whom we had met on the ship and they were also fed up with the rain, but bought us a coffee at the Nord Norge centre by that very impressive archway - thanks very much, it was really welcome. One or two sections of the E6 had been dug up and left, but not too difficult to negotiate with the Wing or the BM. We stopped for a really good meal at Korgen, way up in the mist, where we were joined by a girl on a modern Triumph who rode with us all the way to Mo-I-Rana where she turned off and we went in search of digs. A really great Motel beckoned and we met a cyclist from Skipton, well into his sixties and all on his own, I hope I’m that fit when I reach his age!. The room had a heated bathroom floor, great for drying boots and gloves, hummed a bit in the morning though.
On board yet another ferry
We found the waste bin in the room very useful for holding water to wash the bikes down a bit. Back onto E6 and on to the Arctic circle centre. We encountered a couple of really bad bumps with graunch marks on this road and a 4 wheel drive and caravan had a tyre blow out just as we were approaching, the deafening bang had us both ducking our heads and saying over the CB ‘what the ..... was that!’, a bit like the Mayor of Hiroshima. We got our certificates for crossing the Arctic Circle and did some of the other things that tourists do, like watching a slide show and writing cards over a welcoming coffee. As we came out from the centre it was drizzling with rain, which it did for the next 20 or so miles until the scenery improved again and we pressed on ever northwards. Having had no problems so far finding accommodation, we made the decision to keep going late into the evening and called it a good day just beyond Narvik. Travelling at these speeds you can certainly get the miles done without much fatigue and for me, having the cruise control was a real benefit. It also brought another bonus, in the form of greater fuel economy, and although our experience was that fuel prices varied from a little less to a little more than in the UK, I was able to get almost 50 miles more than I can in England before the light came on. This particular night we elected to try a Hytte, a very basic wooden hut, which cost more than the farmhouse had a couple of nights previously. Not doing that again unless we are really desperate!
Up late today for no real reason, been raining during the night but the roads are drying out now, up a steep gravel slope from the Hytte (funny, I don’t remember coming down that last night!) and back once more on to the E6, to find some breakfast (no, you don’t get that with the Hytte either) This we found at a delightful hotel less than 10 miles away at Gratangan and it made us wish that we had carried on that little bit further the previous night, but that’s easy to say after the event. The scenery became even more dramatic as we moved on, stopping in Finnsnes to exchange some more money and then onto Tromsø for an overnight stop. This was one of those awkward days when sometimes you have wet weather gear on and then its sunglasses time and quite hot a little later. As we approached Tromsø, both wearing sunglasses, we encountered our first unlit, rough surfaced, wet tunnel, to be confronted almost immediately with a roundabout inside it! I’m glad I had packed two pairs of underpants for the three weeks!! We found a ‘Scandic’ hotel here with everything we needed, including a swimming pool and sauna, a bit pricy but we had saved a little bit the night before. We caught a bus into town for a bit of a stroll around the place and to have our evening meal. We also had the added spectacle of watching one of the ‘Hurtigrute’ cruise ships leaving port on its way to Kirkenes near the Russian border, which was also one of our destinations.
Wed 23rd (St Anaftans day)
Another fantastic breakfast and then away towards Hammerfest. It was this place, or at least the graphic description of it in Bill Brysons’ ‘Neither Here Nor There’, which, for me at least, had provided the impetus for this trip. This was a good dry day with only two rather long ferry trips and whilst waiting for the first of these, I struck up a conversation with a Volvo owner (yes, I know I should know better, but it was standing still!) from Magdeburg in the former East of Germany, an area which Christine and I have recently started visiting. Most of this chat about bikes, cars and holidays was conducted ‘auf deutsch’, only occasionally having to resort to Trevor White’s ‘Ansunfeet’, so I felt quite pleased with myself. We joined the E6 yet again and we felt that the scenery was so incredible that it was worth fitting the video camera to a bracket I had made, which bolts onto two special studs replacing the screws on the clutch master cylinder cover. I knew from trials at home that this system worked, but because of the poor positioning of the mounting hole on my particular camera (a long way from its centre of gravity), a small amount of vibration might show up on rough road surfaces. I could always edit this out, but when I viewed it later, it was mostly quite good. As we stood parked up in a lay-by, a chap on a V MAX pulled up to offer assistance, so we explained what we were doing and during the ensuing conversation, he told us that he was returning home to celebrate St Anaftans day (midnight sun and all that) with his family in Alta where barbies, bonfires and general merriment were to be the order of the day.
We arrived in Alta at around six in the evening, still quite fresh and after refuelling and having the now regular hot dog and fresh coffee from the ‘Buttik’, we decided to go for it and head for Hammerfest.
This was along a rather bleak and lonely stretch of road in Sami country (Lappland) but good for the 90 kph limit along most of its length. We did stop just once at a Sami roadside camp and were tempted to buy a reindeer skin (if we had had the space we might have even bought four!! - Sorry Rabbi). In the event we resisted and reached Hammerfest and a lovely little hotel just after 9 o’clock. This is the most northerly town in the World and we had made it there! Washed and changed, we went in search of food, had a good wander and photo session, then climbed the zig-zag path over the hill after midnight, back to the hotel, with fantastic views of the midnight sun, which cast some very long shadows. It’s all a bit strange really as your body is telling you that you are tired and ready for a sleep, but conflicting information is being received in your brain, telling you its afternoon and OK to carry on.
Awakened by what sounds like cow bells, peer out at three in the morning to find reindeer munching grass, right outside the bedroom window - more photos. Finally got to sleep and then woke up to find it was raining again! Apparently the Norwegians say there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes, and I can see what they mean, because it no longer seemed to matter to us, having taken really good wet weather gear with us. Leaving Hammerfest we encountered a poorly surfaced stretch of the E6 which gradually improved as we turned off towards Nordkapp (the North Cape). It was really heaving down and we had to follow a large lorry for ages, it not really being safe to pass in this filth on such a winding road. A few days earlier a new section of toll road had been opened with a quite spectacular bridge and two very long tunnels, so those kept us out of the heavy rain for a short while. One of these two tunnels actually goes under the fjord and is a credit to the determination of the Norwegian civil engineers in overcoming a seemingly impossible set of obstacles. Arriving in Honningsvag and after encountering a huge pothole hidden under an even larger ‘lake’ in the road, we arrived safely at an extremely welcome filling station for all of the necessaries. We chatted here for a while to a very wet couple from Italy on a ZZR who, nevertheless seemed to be enjoying themselves.
From here it was only a short ride to Nordkapp, where you have to pay 175 NOK (£14) to get to the end of the road where the visitors centre is, a bit like Land O’Groats or John’s End. Problem was that within a few hundred yards of paying, the fog came down, giving the same effect as having a misted up visor, which would have been free!
Anyway we had a bit of rest and were even allowed to park in a very poor gravel car park, with the by now customary, pot holes, ridges and puddles, well, Th..Th..Th.. That’s tourism folks! It was still wet as we re - joined the E6 and headed for Lakselv, which I learned means ‘salmon river’, finding a good, but slightly shabby looking hotel. Later that evening, as we were sitting having a drink, a very scruffy looking 1500 Wing pulled into the car park, closely followed by a new pale green SE. Chatting to them later we discovered that the older bike was the subject of a successful 1989-91 Guinness record bid, having travelled all of the way around the World in two years.
He (Jari) had visited 43 countries and travelled 108,000km --- and we thought that we were going some!
As we loaded the bikes today, an air of despondency crept in, as we were about half way through the holiday and still had over 2000 miles to do back to the ferry. We also wanted to reach the Russian border, but didn’t want to retrace our steps back along the E6 afterwards. These feelings soon melted away in the morning sunshine as we pulled in for a break at Tana Bru following some quite spirited riding along a very well surfaced stretch, with ever improving views all around us.
This is as far you can go without entering Russia!
Through Kirkenes and on to Grense Jakobselv, we arrived at the Russian border just after 6pm and stopped for a few minutes next to a large yellow sign board which informed us that it was forbidden to take photos of the Russian military. I took some video of the board itself. Some minutes later a Norwegian Army Landrover came trundling up and four armed personnel jumped out. They inquired if I had a ‘wideo camera’, to which I replied that I had. They said that the observation Tower, which was some 3 miles distant, perched right up on a hill, had reported me using a camera and said that I must not take photos of the Russians. It was all quite light hearted, but lessons had been learned and collars had been felt!
Retracing our route along the gravel road we arrived back in Kirkenes and found accommodation, where we quickly changed and walked down into the ‘centre’ for a meal and a spell of watching the antics of the reversed hat brigade, cruising up and down in a variety of unwanted machinery accompanied by the familiar thump - thump of the stereo which probably cost more than the cars had. This had been a regular feature all along our route so far, there appears to be very little for the local youths to do in the evening. Strangely enough, there were also a large number of women doing the same - I wonder if they ever get together?
With yet another good breakfast inside us, we finally left the E6 at Neimen and entered Finland, after chatting for some time with one of the customs men at the border crossing, himself keen to become a motorcyclist. We stopped for our usual supply of contingency provisions at a little supermarket before pushing on in the increasing heat, past many of the 1000 lakes. This took us along quite flat and sometimes rather boring stretches of nicely surfaced roads for hour after hour, at the national limit of 100 kph. Our goal today was to reach the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia, close to Finland’s Western border with Sweden, which we managed by about 9 o’clock and immediately found a suitable hotel in Tornio at a very fair price, inclusive of breakfast. More cruisers in the late evening and this time another annoyance - mozzies - thousands of the little blighters, all intent on having their evening meal too!
Yet more cloud as we left Finland today and pressed on into Sweden, The bikes still covered in yesterdays carpet of dead mosquitoes and various other previously flying beasts, its going to take an angle grinder to get these off when we get home! As we fill up with fuel I’m amazed (as I often am when riding on the Continent) at the consumption over the last tankful, 231 miles using 19.76 litres of cheapo unleaded, this is 53.14 mpg, the best I have ever achieved by more than 7mpg and getting ever closer to the consumption of the K100 BMW with me. I know we have been riding at a relaxed pace, but sometimes I wonder if petrol in ‘dear’ old UK is of an inferior calorific value, has anyone else noticed the same?, perhaps we ought to do some tests? During the next several hours I started to change my opinion of Volvo drivers, I always thought that some of them were idiots, now I know that they all are! The Swedes have also developed another national pastime to catch out unsuspecting motorcyclists, it goes something like this: first you dig up great lengths of reasonably good road, and leave behind the roughest layer of hard-core you can get hold of, next you collect most of the previously dug up road and scatter it a few kilometers further on, onto a good piece of smooth tarmac, on a blind bend -- good innit? It certainly guaranteed some of the best buttock clenching riding I have ever done! All joking aside we were glad to find a hotel in Östersund that night, not far from the Norwegian border and felt exactly the same about Finland and Sweden as Bill McAlister had done in his excellent report in the Gold Wing magazine from last year.
Our plan by now was to spend the last week in what we both considered to be the most interesting part of Norway, the Fjord area to the North East of Bergen, so on the Monday we headed out towards Trondheim and then on to a winter ski resort in Oppdal. The front tyres on both bikes were showing obvious signs of wear by now, probably due to all that downhill bend swinging, whilst fully laden. The wear was somewhat unusual in that there were feather edged ridges which were tram-lining like mad in the wet, but there was still plenty left on them to get us home! This was the first place that we had found a restaurant with my favourite pepper steak on the menu -- boy was that hot! We had parked the bikes under a canopy at this hotel and although it was drizzling with rain the following morning, we felt it worthwhile washing some of the crud from them before we left. This turned out to be a good move as the sun came out and the roads dried up before we left and I refitted the video on its bracket again to get some more shots of bits that we couldn’t stop for. We did stop for lunch at a lovely little place, called Vågåmo with a wooden Stave church and met a Norwegian chap with a new black SE, who was quite surprised to see a Wing from GB.
When we visited the church we also enquired about the whereabouts of a seaplane flight over the glacier and the guide in the church said it was well worth the trip and in a very matter of fact manner, said that one plane crashed last year, killing all of the occupants, oh! thanks very much! From here we headed off over the Jotunheim national park, up beyond the snow line and then down to Sogndal for our stay in a rather splendid hotel by the side of the Sognefjord, the largest of Norways fjords. This was the first occasion when we felt we could afford the time to stay in one place for two nights and maybe have a leisurely day in between.
Up bright and early today to investigate the possibility of this seaplane trip over the Josterdal glacier and surrounding areas. It was in a little Cessna and although the flight was a little turbulent, the views were quite magnificent and I managed to capture a fair amount of it on video and David took a lot of still shots too.
Withdrawal symptoms took over in the afternoon and we got the bikes out for a short ride to another Stave church at nearby Urnes . We elected to leave the bikes in a car park and go as foot passengers on the little ferry to the village, where a rather energetic climb for over a mile rewarded us with the fantastic sight of this magnificent church, with picturesque views of the surrounding mountains and the fjord below.
On our way back down to the last ferry of the day, we succumbed to the temptation of a large punnet of fresh strawberries, which were all gone by the time the boat arrived! Into the village by our hotel for more food that evening, we spotted the ferryman rollerblading up and down a purpose made ramp in the main street, probably to relieve the boredom of going back and forth with all of those grockles! There were also the by now familiar cruisers, one in an RS Escort and another in a nicely painted Granada with wheels which appeared to have come from a steamroller!
Thurs 1st July
This was probably the wettest day of the whole holiday, starting raining just as we were loading the bikes and not giving up until the following morning. All of the roads seemed extra slippery and rough and everywhere we visited seemed uninviting, so we gave up in mid afternoon, finding a hotel not far from where we had started out about 50 miles earlier, at Hermannsverk. We seemed to be almost the only visitors and made use of the swimming pool and free coffee facilities for most of the rest of the afternoon. We also had our evening meal in their own excellent restaurant to save getting togged up for a walk in the rain. The other thing that we noticed was that most of the hotels seem to operate some kind of price reduction from the published prices at reception, for all sorts of obscure reasons, weekend rates, high season, no ‘R’ in the month, etc., which seems to be the opposite to the system here in GB. We wandered down after breakfast to take a few things to the bikes, saving carrying everything in one go, to find the Wing lying well and truly on its side with the screen folded up against a pebble-dashed wall, oh shoot! We summoned the guy at reception and all of our strength to right it and found that the centre stand had punched a hole in the tarmac and then discovered that there was no foundation beneath it! The damage was confined to the screen, the right hand mirror body, the right hand front crash bar and some deep scratches under the right hand pannier. The hotel owner gave me all the details of their insurers and offered to pay compensation, which I declined as I had no real idea of the cost. After some delay we were on the road again, the bike showing no ill effects of having spent time on its side, heading for yet another ferry, all of which seemed to cost around 30 NOK each (about £2.50), on our way to the Flåm railway. This was another one of our ‘musts’ and climbs to over 800 metres in about 20 kilometers and has 5 different sets of brakes for on the way down! It really shows how the Norwegians overcame some of the most difficult terrain imaginable. From here we did some more ‘pass storming’ and scenery snapping before stopping for a well earned lunch.
Late in the afternoon we caught up with a Norwegian caravanner who was driving along with the caravan door flapping open and the keys still in it. David overtook him and I came up behind and signalled for him to pull over, which he did, and after all was secure he thanked us and drove off. Just as we were about to leave this little lay - by, David got wrong footed as he flicked up his side stand and over went the BM with a hell of a whack. I quickly put the Wing on its side stand and rushed over to help him, only to be dragged back around the throat by my intercom lead. Damage this time: 1 cracked fairing shell, scratches and scrapes on the fairing lower and pannier lid and the mirror was catapulted into the bushes, but thankfully not broken. Oh, and one extremely long, now uncoiled intercom lead. All that was for trying to help someone -- Hey Ho!
One thing that we had both remarked upon during this holiday was the amount of work that must have been done to create these tunnels all over Norway, many of which were almost perfectly straight with a curve at either end and we wondered if this was so that drivers are not peering into a dark hole with a patch of bright light at the end, which might obscure a vehicle. On todays ride we found some quite different examples, which were spiral tunnels, climbing a fair height, often curving clockwise for half of their length and then anticlockwise for the other half. To produce something like this today would not be too difficult with computer positioning devices, but what about then? How on earth would they be able to guarantee entry and exit points accurately, especially when some are very close to a fjord?
Our next overnight was to be Voss, and to get there meant that we had to cross the Hardangervidda, a very bleak but eerily beautiful expanse of snow, ice, waterfalls, and little huts struggling to hang on to the bare rock in the rather hostile climate. The roads over this section, probably one of our coldest rides so far, were well surfaced and had many bends with good visibility, so the pace was somewhat quicker although more relaxing.
We picked quite a large hotel in Voss as there seems to be very little difference in the prices and we were not disappointed with the quality or the breakfast the following morning.
We had a little chuckle when we saw a Swedish coach outside with BÅSTAD BUSS emblazoned across the front, it probably means something else to the Swedes, but I bet other motorists have shared the same sentiment occasionally.
Just a gentle ride today, through quite a lot more tunnels, to reach Bergen, where we wanted to spend the day mooching about before catching the ferry back to Newcastle on the Sunday. We found a small hotel quite close to the centre, with parking around the back for our bikes. So it was a quick change and then into the town as tourists, doing some of the touristy things like going up the Ulriken mountain, the highest of those around Bergen, in a cablecar and feeding our faces (again). There were certainly some impressive boats moored in the harbour, some looking like they had just completed a round the world voyage, whilst others looked like poseurs playthings. Later that evening a very large mobile crane appeared with music and all the atmosphere of the fair surrounding it. This was to be a kind of bungee jump with a difference, in that the ‘volunteer’ was strapped into a harness then attached to the stretchy bit, they then stood on a very large metal block and were anchored to it. After the bungee was hauled up to the top of the jib (80 feet or more in the air), a catch was released from the harness and they were catapulted skywards. Eventually they got to the point where the bungee became slack and they started their oscillations until being caught by the team by their feet (or anything else which might be dangling!) and brought to rest. To be put through this ordeal cost about £20 and there were plenty of takers! Quite a number of motorcyclists also assemble in this area in the evenings and I had my first look around the new BMW 1200 LT, which I am told is supposed to compete directly with our beloved Wing - radio, reverse gear, big panniers and all that. All very futuristic, but not for me I’m glad to say.
The following day, after a stroll around the town, we had but 500 metres to travel to the ship for our return crossing. It had, apart from the weather, been a remarkable trip and covered over 4200 miles taking in some of the most exciting scenery I have ever seen. For all those people who believe, as we probably did, that Scandinavia is expensive, all I can say is that it compared very favourably with other Continental holidays that Christine and I have enjoyed with the Wing and was no more expensive than some we have had in England and Scotland. I’m not sure that I would need to do the whole ‘Going right to the top’ bit again, but the Fjord region is certainly on the list to do again sometime. We were very fortunate also to have two very smooth crossings, as that part of the North sea can be a bit bumpy. Right, where are those maps? let’s start planning the next one!