Friday, September 7, 2007

Observations of Norway

I'll try to be quick, as this is our last day before the loooong trip home, and there are things to do. I might have waited until I got home to do this, but frankly, I doubt I'll feel like it. (g)

So, here we go-- a "few" observations of Norway (combined with notes on what we did while there. . .)

First-- We left on Monday and drove back on Wednesday, so this was a whirlwind tour. ;o)

Overall impressions of Norway vs. Sweden, based on my very limited experiences of both-- Norway has the more dramatic landscapes-- the take-your-breath-away "oh, wow!" sort of thing. Sweden has a calmer, gentler beauty. It's snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and fjords vs. more gently rolling farmland and forests, interspersed with lots and lots of gorgeous lakes. In addition to being easier and more convenient to travel through (as opposed to "mountain driving"), Sweden also seems to have more to offer in the way of shopping and eating-- at least, from what I've seen. I should note that Donald said Norway is generally thought to have the spectacular views, while Sweden is thought to be superior for "culture". I don't know enough about it to comment, so I won't. ;o)

On the road--
  • Norway has quite a few traffic cameras-- more than I've seen elsewhere. They're also supposed to be pretty strict on speed limits.
  • Every so often, there are road signs inviting you (in Norwegian) to stop and sleep (by the side of the road, I think), if you're feeling very tired.
  • More tunnels than I'm used to, and longer ones, too, than I've seen in the US mountains-- but more on that later. . . ;o)
  • Some of the roads were incredibly narrow. We're talking single-lane width having to accommodate both lanes of traffic-- and to make matters worse, on one side there's a very steep drop-off. You don't meet many cars on these roads, fortunately-- or at least we didn't-- but when you do. . . My worst fear was that around the next sharp curve would come a crazy local guy going so fast that we'd crash, sending one or both cars plunging dramatically into the abyss. (g)
I took most of my photos from the car. (g) This was partially an effort to save time. (I couldn't ask Donald to pull over every time I saw something wonderful, or else we'd never get to our destination.) It was also because most of the road we traveled wasn't very well supplied with "overlook" parking. Also lacking in the hospitality department-- (on part of the road, at least) decent "facilities" (though they got better in spots), affordable fast food places, warning of "rest spots" along the road (they gave you plenty of advance warning, but neglected to tell you exactly when to turn, and as a result we sailed right by some of them, oblivious until it was too late, etc. They were pretty good about having information in English, but almost all information was in the form of info boards-- not much in the way of maps or brochures.

(Back to the bathroom thing-- It seems that in some places, it is considered a privilege to have access to a restroom. For instance, in the one fast food restaurant we visited, you had to pay to go to the toilet if you were not a customer. I guess I can understand that-- they don't want tons of people coming in just to use their bathrooms. But I've also seen this in what would ordinarily be public restrooms-- in a library, on public streets in a large city, at "natural wonder"-type attractions. It strikes me as very odd. Yes, I guess it does cost something to maintain them, but in some of these places-- the library, for instance-- that seems like something that the government would take care of. I can't help but wonder what you're to do if you're stranded without money. Do they really want you to wet yourself rather than treat you to a few squares of t.p., a bit of soap and water, and a complimentary flush? (g) Ok, enough ranting.)

In the mountains, we saw lots of rock. Rock is everywhere. Huge boulders. The country is very well off, as far as stone goes. ;o) (Sweden is flooded with rock, too, however. They're doing road work in some spots, burying cables and preparing to widen some roads. It's obvious that in many-- most?-- places, you needn't dig down deep-- if at all-- to find stone. I would love to have some of that for my garden back at home. . .(g))

There are also many many many many sheep-- not wild, but allowed to roam freely in most places. The result-- more than once, we came upon sheep in the road. The lambs were sometimes a bit skittish, but the older sheep just stay right where they are (in the middle of the road sometimes) while you maneuver around them. (g) Some of them wear bells around their necks, and the clanking seems to carry very far in the mountainside.

There were so many beautiful streams and waterfalls, but hardly any places to stop and photograph them or get closer to them. I don't know why. . . Possibly Norwegians have become too used to them and don't consider them worthwhile viewing?

We also saw--
  • A few houses with lots of gorgeous gingerbread, including one right by the roadside that was amazingly intricate-- it even had little dragon-head cut-outs!-- but was rather faded and dilapidated so that it looked rather haunted.
  • Homes with grass/sod roofs-- very interesting.
  • Many hairpin curves
  • The Swedish "ö" supplanted by the Norwegian "ø", and almost as soon as we had crossed the border, too! (g)
Of course, we also saw--
  • Mountains-- some green with trees and other vegetation, others rocky and barren, and some even capped in snow
  • Fjords-- Intense landscapes with mountains plunging steeply into sparkling water
  • Green water-- in places, the water was an exotic shade of green. It's supposed to have something to do with the minerals in the water, I think.
  • Snow-- and much more of it than I had expected to see. Donald said there must be about four inches in one place we drove through. I didn't exactly "play" in the snow, but I did get to touch it and make a few snowballs. :o) It was a very pleasant surprise to find real snow. At first, we thought we might not see any-- and then, we expected it to be icy-- not "real" snow. But as it happened, there was an early snowfall, which brings us to the next bullet point. . .
  • Rain/sleet/snow mix falling as we drove-- As it was happening, it was a bit nerve-wracking, actually. (g) We were up pretty high in the mountain tops, on Monday. The wind was fierce, blowing the rain/sleet/snow horizontally. The water below us was whipped into a frenzy by the wind-- whitecaps everywhere. We could feel the temperature falling, and the road was mostly our own-- always gives me a queasy feeling to be the only "fool" out on the road in bad weather! ;o) But then we passed by a few houses (in this inhospitable place) and saw a sturdy Norwegian and his dog out enjoying the weather (the dog was actually smiling-- a husky, we think), so I felt a bit better. (g)
What else should I mention before bringing this to a close?

We drove through the longest tunnel in the world-- 24.5 km, just over 15 miles long. The day before, we'd driven through much shorter ones-- the longest were 2 and 3 miles long, I think-- but some of those were pretty narrow-- much more claustrophobic. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if there were an earthquake while we were in those tunnels. . . Not at all likely here, I know, but I'm prone to picturing worst case scenarios.

We went through past of Oslo on our way in and came across a few crazy city drivers. Not enough time to see much else.

"And" in Norwegian is "og". It looks like something from a troll language, doesn't it? (g) No wonder, then, that in Norway we found Trollstigvegen (the Troll's Road, which is very steep and rather scary, with a warning in one place not to stop, for fear of falling rocks!) and Trollveggen (the Troll Wall, also known as the 5000 foot "Vertical Mile", the tallest vertical rock face in Europe). Something I just read online claims that "A stone dropped from the summit touches nothing until it reaches the valley floor a mile below." Believe it or not, there are some crazy people out there who actually climb this thing. While we were taking photos, we heard a crack and Donald spotted a place where snow (and/or rock) had given way, leaving a slow-seeming drift of snow from one level to another. (We got some photos of it-- not sure how they turned out, though.)

Our first night in Norway, we stayed at the Aurland Fjordhotel, in a room with an incredible view from its little balcony. The second night, we opted for a cabin at a place recommended by Jocke (and paid less than we did for the room in the hotel, for a whole cabin).

We took lots and lots of photos, which I'll get around to editing and posting *some*day. ;o)

And that'll do, I think. Now it's time to get some other things done.

Tomorrow's a *very* early morning for us, I think, to be followed by a long day of traveling. I have a feeling that by the time we reach Memphis, the only thing keeping me going will be the thought of collapsing in bed at home. ;o)

I hope you're all well at home! Looking forward to seeing you in just another couple of days!

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