Asking Harry what he thought of Norway in three words he said ‘Get back to me, not right now’. At that present time he was, if I remember correctly, at a particularly stressful roundabout and when it calmed down he quietly began to ponder and I forgot to get back to him. However, he finally got back to me by answering with the word awe-inspiring.
‘But that’s only one word’ I said.
‘Well I don’t think it needs three others, I’ve googled it and it fits just fine’.
Point taken, and actually he was right. Asking him again just now to clarify why he chose awe-inspiring, he is again consumed by stress from a game on his phone, he replies ‘I don’t know, just is’. I guess Norway is too awesome and impressive to describe, it just is awesome and impressive and lets be done with it. He was right because even when I try to explain my original three words of how I thought of Norway (wild, prehistoric, and efficient) they seem appropriate but don’t capture Norway quite as I would have liked them to now. Norway is wild, prehistoric, and efficient in my head and memories but describing it as that in words does not seem to do it justice. I guess I am still so awe inspired, amazed, astonished by Norway that it really has made me a bit speechless. So i’m sticking with Harry.
It is a given that the nature in Norway is truly unbelievable but what we found really interesting was the full throttle encouragement to enjoy it and immerse yourself in it. We first encountered this when we went to Preikestolen, or Pullpit rock. I assumed we would have to walk up to it in the day time and it would be a day trip but we actually began the short hike at 9pm and camped on the scrub land just behind the cliff drop. We camped fairly far away from the cliff out of fear and perhaps to be sensible but some people were camping above it on higher cliffs, some very close to the cliff edge itself on the rocks, and at this point in intensely thick fog. There are no guard rails to stop you if you fall and a fairly small sign saying don’t camp too close to the edge. At the start of the hike there are signs advising to prepare for all weather, take water and snacks, etc etc, but I was so surprised at how lax the Norwegians were at letting all these people march up so close to the edge of this incredibly high and vertical drop. Perhaps this is the fault of the often extremely over the top health and safety laws in the UK, even though we ridicule them often, that I found the Norwegians approach a shock. Congratulations to HSE, I guess your work is done and I now assume your rules are the norm now. It seems the Norwegians have more faith in people respecting nature and its power but also that one enjoys it at their own risk.
Again we saw this at Engabreen, the tip of the Svartisen Glacier. There are organised trips that take you onto the glacier with ice picks but the hoi polloi are allowed to calmly stroll beside, even under waves of the glacier that overhang the path it has carved over millennia. Again this was spectacular, to be so close to such a mass of moving, melting, bright blue ice, but also slightly daunting, especially when it made some loud grumbles and groans. Their love for nature is passionate, it seems such a huge part of their national identity and so it should be when you live in such an awe-inspiring place, sorry Harry. We were just surprised at how nonchalantly they let people venture off into the unknown, often putting themselves at risk. It was nice to have a feeling of no boundaries for once, you can camp almost anywhere you want and go almost anywhere you want (unless it is under threat or protected). I think maybe the British version of these rules and regulations of how we act around nature are turning us into sissies and perhaps preventing us from really enjoying everything nature has to offer, and what nature really is and what it means. My idea of feeling at one with nature and being truly immersed in it at home is very different from my experience in Norway, it was as if I had never immersed myself in nature at all.
What was unexpected was the amount of traditional American things too. It was like being back in Cuba sometimes as Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Pontiacs and the like purred alongside us on the roads. Every major road or scenic route had a large group of Hell’s Angels and a Harley-Davidson seemed the motorcycle of choice everywhere. At one point further south on the Vuddu Valley road, out of nowhere is an American diner, shop and museum with old American cars and trucks lined up outside. It came as a bit of a shock after being in the Norwegian wilderness to suddenly stumble upon an American highway scene. Food wise there are hotdog stands at most petrol stations and on every ferry we went on. We actually had quite a few because they are very cheap compared to most foods in Norway and they pull out all the stops and whistles for sauces and extra toppings, long live the crispy onion and hot dog sauce combo. Their supermarkets are brim full of American and TexMex groceries too, also brim full of everything else. I last visited America about six years ago but from what I can remember their supermarkets appear quite Walmart-esque, you can get everything you want all in one shop.
In our guide book there was a lot of chat about Norwegian national pride, the Norwegian traditions and their pride in creating their life and belongings with their own hands. This seems quite reminiscent of the American dream and when researching this more, Norway modelled their constitution upon the American one and its attitudes to democracy. The American revolution in the 18th century and creation of a United States Constitution seemed to impact upon the Norwegians and many emigrated to help build the ‘New World’. We saw a statue and a memorial in Bergen, from the USA, expressing gratitude for the Norway’s help in the past. This Americana vibe was definitely unexpected because the Scandinavian vibe seemed far more realistic. With Norwegian flags flying outside most houses, enclosed by white picket fences and enormous Ford Wranglers and Toyota pick up trucks parked in the yard, the Norwegian dream was strong.
We found the dreamers themselves quite charming. The Norwegians seemed unfazed with the sheer volume of tourists in their land and the majority of them are welcoming and keen to make sure you are heading in the right direction to get the most out of your stay. They seem to take no prisoners in certain situations, they can be blunt but it is not in an aggressive way, you will just do as the Norwegians do. The sense of Norwegian pride was shown to us by almost everyone we met. Bartenders and waiters wanted us to try the really local products and they knew every snippet of information about them. We met a very helpful man fishing who not only identified our fish for us, google translated the Norwegian name into English, told us the best way to cook it, and grabbed it off Harry when he tried to knock it on the head in our daintily English style, and proceeded to slit its throat by shoving his thumb into the gills and ripping it. Getting his hands covered in blood was no problem and he even went to get his own fishing rod to join us. Another lovely lady we met on the beach marched us off to find a tiny hidden hobbit house on Kvalvika beach, she thought maybe it had been dismantled but wanted us to see how amazing it was. She couldn’t remember the name of the documentary about it so when her husband returned from climbing the cliff above the beach he sourced it for us. Norwegians seem to go out of their way to make sure you are enjoying your time in their country. Everyone has of course wished us well as we head ever closer to Russia and Mongolia, we even have a few Finnish and Norwegian followers of the blog now.
Alongside the Norwegian locals the majority of tourists are actually Norwegian. With such a huge number of people going on holiday in their own country you get the feeling you are in the right place, they are perfectly content with their own country and all that is has to offer in terms of tourism. The Germans and Dutch take second and third place, with Brits coming in somewhere bottom. We only met 4 other kinsmen, two of which seemed like they live in Norway, the other two who were as surprised to see us as we were them! Pauline and Bill live full time in their motorhome with their terrier Lilah, and when they want to be back on more familiar soil they reside in Scotland where wild camping is allowed. We had a lovely evening with them drinking and chatting in their motorhome, swapping stories about Norway and living in vehicles in general. It was so nice to do this, hopefully you are both reading this now and enjoying your trip down Norway and beyond, we are very grateful you popped over to say hello and it shows what a good old gass can do to your spirits.
The same week we met Oli and Manuela and their amazing Belgian Shepherd, Strider, after Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. Harry went over to praise how fab Strider was and this quickly turned into a BBQ with the fish we caught and the swapping of a lot of home made alcohol. Despite spending most nights with other campervans nearby, in camp sites or in the wild, most people seemed to keep themselves to themselves. Maybe it was the language barrier, age gap, or we smell a lot worse than we think but we hadn’t really met any camping buddies so to speak. With such long nights and incredible weather this seemed odd. The BBQ and sesh with Oli and Manuela was the first time we really hung out with other campers and it was so lovely and fun! So much that we all decided to stay another night at the camp site because we were too hungover to face driving on. They are both as mad as a box of frogs but really nice people, so if you both are reading this too, Rock On!!
Even if we haven’t met many any other camping neighbours, it is so lovely to see how much people are really enjoying themselves in every country we have been too. The combination of good weather, beautiful surroundings, and camping seems to be the elixir to happiness. I am definitely coming to an agreement with the van and feel a lot happier about living in it. Swapping stories with Bill and Pauline, Manuela and Oli, and other talkative strangers we have met, has made me come to terms with how wicked our trip is. This trip isn’t just about living in a van and because I was so grumpy at Tina half the time I was almost oblivious to the best part, the fact we are driving to Mongolia and back again via various amazing places. I have learnt to laugh off a lot of the things that annoy me and if I do have a strop it’s usually a lot calmer and shorter than the original ones. In Helsinki I saw this pen drawing of a seal, he is quite plump and poking out of the water with a happy wee grin on his face. He made me feel so happy so he is now pinned in the window and if I ever feel grumpy, Harry just says ‘seal’ and I look at him and feel immediately better, he is so great, he is the best seal.
So we are entering phase two of Project Van Life and Project drive to Mongolia. I write to you about a mile from the Russian border which we shall hopefully cross without hassle at 6am tomorrow. Whilst confirming the route these past few days it has dawned on us how far we actually have to drive and in such little time. It has been quite hard coming to terms that we are going all this way and that we won’t be able to do certain things to experience the culture, there simply isn’t time with just thirty days to get in and out of Russia with a small detour into Mongolia. But this is expedition phase and the next 13,500 kilometres are going to be unforgettable. We still aren’t sure what lies beyond the border with so many differing accounts of Russia and Mongolia and their roads but its over and out from the three of us for now, see you on the other side, Mother Russia awaits.
If you want to see where we are this next month we have a satellite tracker. The different coloured paths are our vague planned route and the dark blue line with dots is our actual tracked route. The password is Mongolia2018