10 Days in Norway
Lee Robinson / July 15, 2017
19 min read • ––– views
A few years ago I stumbled onto a picture of the legendary Trolltunga while browsing Instagram. I was captivated by its beauty and decided to add visiting Norway and trekking out to visit this abnormal rock structure to my bucket list. Since then, I had been keeping tabs on prices for flights to Oslo, Norway. In March 2017, I noticed that the round trip prices from Chicago to Oslo had significantly dropped due to a special sale. I contacted my friend Andrew asking if he would want to join, knowing he also had the same desire to explore and hike through Norway. Andrew was starting physical therapy school at the end of summer and would soon have limited free time (and a limited budget) so this was the perfect opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime with one of my best friends. We also invited Andrew’s friend JD who I'd not met but had heard great things about. I checked my work schedule and PTO balance and took the plunge - I purchased my plane ticket and committed to the adventure. The three of us were ecstatic and hungry for an unforgettable experience. Throughout the next two months, we planned out our trip determining where to stay, what to visit, and how to most effectively use our time. You'll find my daily travel logs below. Enjoy!
I could hardly sleep the night before we departed for Chicago. I kept envisioning what things might look like based on pictures I’d seen and mentally walking through all the places we’d soon visit. That afternoon we left for Chicago and caught a late flight to Stockholm allowing us to sleep throughout the night. As we arrived in Stockholm, we noticed some extremely long lines at customs which were holding all passengers of our connecting flight to Oslo up. Our flight ended up getting delayed a tad to allow everyone to make it through customs in time. Nevertheless, we boarded our small puddle jumper plane for the one-hour flight to Oslo. From the Oslo airport, we took another flight up to Bodø. In the airport, we realized that Andrew had apparently lost his wallet somewhere between airport transfers. After about an hour of searching and contacting the airports, we declared it a loss and moved on – the first bump in the road on this trip. We had about 5 hours to kill until our ferry to the Lofoten Islands, so we ventured out into the city and explored the downtown area as well as the pier. Shortly after, we (attempted) to find the ferry which turned into a long process. We eventually found the ferry boarding room - a small, almost empty building out by the water. There was only one other person inside, which made sense because our ferry was at 12:15 am – not exactly ideal. The next ferry wasn’t until 7 pm the next day, so it was really our only option. As our boarding time finally rolled around, we walked outside to find a massive ferry. The ferry’s main purpose was to transport cars out to the islands and wasn't necessarily intended for passengers. We watched a variety of semis and smaller cars drive up into the bay of the ship. There were only about five total passengers on the ferry. Finally, we embarked on the three and a half hour trip out to Moskenes.
Norway has two seasonal anomalies that attract tourists: the northern lights which are best seen in the fall, and the midnight sun which we had the good fortune of viewing on our ferry to the islands. Its color palette is hard to describe – an array of yellows, oranges, and purples. In combination with the Arctic sea and the vast mountains, it was a sight we will never forget. 4 am arrived and we docked at Moskenes. We were scheduled to pick up our rental car at 9 am when the business opened. We weren’t entirely sure what we planned to do for the next 5 hours and were all extremely tired. Beside the unloading dock, there was a building that contained restrooms and a waiting room. Extremely tired and unsure what to do, we attempted to sleep in the waiting room until we were able to get our rental car. This “waiting room” wasn’t much bigger than the bathrooms – a small, 6x6 room that had two benches and plain white walls (but at least it had heat). What followed was the most boring five hours of our lives. None of us could sleep, we had no food, and we had no water. Nothing on the island was open and we would have to walk to retrieve anything. We booked our rental car over Facebook Messenger, so we were a little skeptical of how things might pan out. After 9 am had come and gone, we started walking around trying to find someone to talk to about retrieving our car. We found someone who obviously could tell we were waiting for a car and said he would call the owner. About five minutes later, the owner buzzed over and handed us the keys to our car. Immediately, we rushed to the nearest convenience store to get food and water. After downing some basic junk food we felt much better - now we just needed a place to sleep.
We couldn’t check into our Airbnb until 3 pm, but had contacted our host and explained our situation. He allowed us to come in early and use the kitchen/living room/shower until the room was ready. We all proceeded to shower and get a much needed fresh change of clothes. At this point, I’m not sure how we weren’t all crashing with as little of sleep as we had. After sitting down and discussing our options for the day, we chose to hike a nearby mountain called Reinebringen. None of us knew much about it, except that the view from the top was spectacular. Our host gave us directions to the trailhead and we set out to conquer our first mountain of the trip. I’m still not entirely sure how we managed to push through this first hike, running on virtually no energy. It was a three-hour round trip hike with a hefty elevation change. The snow had started to melt so there were some loose rocks and slippery edges that we had to combat. The top portion contained a little bit of standing snow, which luckily we were prepared for with waterproof gear. It was challenging, however, the feeling of hitting the summit and seeing the view made it worth every minute of the struggle.
After trudging back down the mountain, we were drained. We decided to drive around and search for a local restaurant serving fish. We found one with a daily special of freshly caught halibut along with mashed cauliflower and sweet potatoes. To say this meal revived us would be an understatement, but at a cost. We quickly realized how expensive eating out would be and decided we should probably buy groceries and prepare meals for the rest of the trip (barring a few exceptions). We hopped into our quaint Toyota Camry and buzzed back to our Airbnb, getting some well-needed quality sleep.
Our Airbnb was located in a village named Å, at the southernmost point of the Lofoten Islands. It was a house tailored towards backpackers, hosting guests from Airbnb, Booking.com, and other similar websites. There were multiple floors and rooms, and overall it wasn’t too shabby for being located in the middle of nowhere. After showering and eating, we left fairly early in the morning and set out on E10, the single main highway throughout the islands. Like many other roads in Norway, this road was 1 ½ lanes wide but surprisingly well-maintained. Around every bend, there was a new spectacular view of the islands. We had to stop multiple times to take pictures and shoot videos. As lunch time rolled around, we planned to get some groceries and return home to cook our meal. The first grocery store we saw earlier in the morning was closed, which we thought was due to the time. The second one we saw around noon was also closed. And the third. And the fourth. Coincidentally, we also had been commenting about how patriotic Norwegians were with almost every house sporting some size of Norwegian flag. It finally dawned on us that it was Norway’s Independence Day which meant that a lot of stores were closed. We found one that would open in a few hours, so we killed some time in a larger city called Leknes. As we explored the outskirts of the city, we stumbled onto a Viking campground. We drove down to the bottom on a single dirt road to find a Viking ship and various row boats. Eventually, after finally getting groceries and eating a quick snack, we headed back south.
We stopped at the trailhead for Kvalvika Beach and decided to give the hike a shot. It was a 2km hike which we figured would only take a couple hours. As we reached the beach, we realized that the spot we wanted to be at was an outlook point located higher up on a mountain called Ryten overlooking the beach. Not giving it much thought, we blazed forward up the mountain towards the lookout. This changed things drastically. This hike turned out to be even more difficult than Reinebringen (the previous day) with a more harsh incline. After another hour of hiking, we made it to the summit completely worn out. Somehow the view from the summit managed to top the previous day as well, leaving us in awe. We could see for miles, viewing the surrounding towns as well as all the connecting roads. At 500m up you could imagine it was pretty windy... Regardless, after coming that far and hiking with a 15lb backpack of camera equipment, I had to attempt to fly my drone. I ended up only flying for about a minute but managed to get one shot that made the entire endeavor worth it. Shortly after beginning our descent down, we had the harsh realization that the hike was so difficult because we had strayed from the beaten path. We trekked on, however, and pushed forward towards returning to our car. What we had anticipated being a couple hours turned into five, leaving us extremely famished and dehydrated. As we arrived at the car, we destroyed the single chocolate bar we had purchased giving us enough energy to make it home, eat a warm meal, and get a good night’s rest.
Without much planned for the following day, we woke up early and decided to get in the car and aimlessly drive. We had become friends with our Airbnb host, Ian, who joined us on our adventure. As we drove through the islands we stopped frequently to take pictures, fly the drone, and soak up the scenery. This took up the better part of the day and before we knew it, we were back home taking a power nap. We wanted to photograph the midnight sun that night, so after our nap, we headed back out to find a good view. As we progressed down the road, we noticed a massive wave of fog rolling in behind the mountain range. We quickly sped over to where it appeared the fog was originating from, only to be stuck behind bridge construction. We had to wait 30 minutes before they were at a stopping point, which was holding up all traffic on the only main road throughout the island. Luckily after the time had passed, the fog was still holding steady and we barreled down the road after it. After finding a place to pull over, I set up my drone and lifted off for the skies. We all huddled around my phone screen as we watched it ascend further and further up through the clouds, eventually breaking through to a movie-like scene. This was hands down the greatest drone flight of my life. Unfortunately, on the way down, my phone just randomly shut off with plenty of battery life left. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening - if the drone was gone or if I could still control it without the screen. Panicking and fearful that I would lose the amazing footage I had just captured, I quickly descended the drone trying to spot it out of the sky. This was also the first time I’d ever flown my drone to the maximum height (500m) and the furthest distance at the same time (3000m), so I was already a little on edge before I ran into this problem. Thankfully, we did end up seeing it and I landed the drone safely (phew). We packed our gear up and headed back to our Airbnb. It was a successful night. Unfortunately, the night wasn’t over by a long shot.
As we proceeded back to town, we approached the same bridge we had crossed earlier. We had all kind of forgotten about the construction and realized we were going to have to wait until they stopped for a break again before making it home. What we didn’t notice on the way over was the sign (in Norwegian) that said they would only be stopping at 11 pm and 4 am. It was currently 12 am. Our hearts dropped as we realized we were screwed. We attempted pretty much everything to get them to quickly move to the side allowing us to go home, but they refused. We all somewhat attempted to sleep in the car, only to fail miserably and become agitated. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, the bridge opened and we drove home defeated.
Our ferry back to Bodø left at 7 am so there wasn’t much use in sleeping now. We packed our bags, ate some breakfast, and headed to return our car before boarding the ferry. The ferry was calm so we were able to stretch out and finally get some sleep. After arriving in Bodø, we caught a cab to the airport and flew back to Oslo. The next leg of our trip had begun. We picked up a rental car at the airport, opting for a little nicer model – a Volkswagen Gulf with some extra features. We drove into the heart of downtown Oslo and arrived at our modern looking Airbnb, which was just recently renovated. After quickly showering and changing, we set out to explore Oslo with the little daylight we had left. Oslo was extremely clean and decently busy, full of vibrant art and new architecture. We strolled down the pier and grabbed a bite to eat before returning home and falling asleep quickly.
Our plan for the day was to drive from Oslo to Odda, a six to seven-hour drive across the western countryside of Norway. We departed early and hit the road, initially staying on more populated highways but quickly dispersing into small, windy back roads. This drive had everything you could imagine – snow covered mountain peaks, vast waterfalls, majestic fjords, and mile-long tunnels. Throughout our entire trip, we only saw one cop car. We noticed in the more populated areas they used cameras to regulate the speed, but on the backroads, this was not the case. We took advantage of this as we winded around the sharp, almost single lane corners. Our Airbnb was located just outside Odda, nestled in the countryside smack dab in the middle of a fjord. The small cabin also had a dock down to the water where we got to spend some time relaxing. Our typical night time ritual of getting groceries and preparing a supper commenced. We took the opportunity to relax for the rest of the night, slowing our blistering pace down a notch.
Rising bright and early, we hit the road for Bergen. It was about a six-hour drive depending on how lost we got and how many times we stopped to take pictures. The drive across Norway continued to extraordinary with more fjords and crystal clear still water. As we arrived in Bergen (Norway's second-largest city) we first stopped at the Bryggen Wharf. This legendary destination was full of culture and strangely reminded me of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. We sampled some fresh fish from the market, strolled along the boardwalk, and took in the scenery. I had a shrimp stick, but also tried some fish eggs, monkfish, and scallops. Shortly after, we drove over to the bottom of Ulriken, the highest of Bergen’s famous "Seven Mountains". There was a cable car that took you 650m up to the summit of the mountain. From the top, you could view the entire city of Bergen in all its glory. I quickly unpacked the drone and got some cinematic shots of the city before we returned down to the ground. Our final stop was to experience the local bar scene, so we stopped into a bar/restaurant by the wharf and grabbed a beer. After (a few) drinks and some quality conversation, we left the pub and headed over to a local bakery. I got a custard filled pastry sprinkled with almonds on top - delicious! With our stomachs full and our thirst quenched, we headed back to Odda to rest and prepare for the Trolltunga hike the next day.
Before returning to our cabin we decided to stop by the trailhead for the hike to make sure we knew where we were going. As we pulled up in front of the trail, we saw a cardboard sign with some black marker scribbled across the front that read "TRAIL CLOSED DUE TO FLOODING". Our hearts dropped. One of the main reasons we traveled thousands of miles to another country was now out of commission. For the next thirty minutes, we were all just flustered and not thinking clearly. Finally, we decided to look on Instagram to see if anyone had uploaded any pictures recently. We were attempting to gauge how bad the hike looked in terms of harsh weather, other hikers comments, and what type of gear they were wearing. We saw a mix of good and bad - some people reporting it went smoothly while others suggesting not to attempt the hike and that they had ended up turning around. Luckily, we were prepared with the right gear so we felt comfortable in that department. I was initially hesitant about doing the hike and decided it might be best to sit this one out. The other guys were also skeptical but thought since we'd came this far, we really had no choice but to endure the hike. Eventually, I gave into their way of thinking and decided to go for it.
How bad could it be, right?
I can summarize the entirety of this day in one word - intense. The Trolltunga hike is a 22km (14 mile) trek up a mountain range towards the "troll's tongue" - a rock formation extended out over the edge of the mountain shaped like a tongue. During this time of the year, the snow is just beginning to melt so approximately 80% of the hike was through thick snow (in some places knee deep). It took us five hours to reach the summit taking multiple stops and a lunch break. I think the view speaks for itself though.
We spent about an hour at the top resting and taking in the view. Like usual, I unpacked the drone for a quick flight. It was quite windy at the summit, but it didn't seem unmanageable. I decided to take flight and hope for the best. What I couldn't foresee was the amount of wind further up in the air. My drone started to fly strange before a massive gust of wind swept it away and out of my control. I frantically tried to steer it back in the clear as the other hikers watched my struggle. It ended up crashing down hard into the snow but luckily remained in one piece. To my surprise, everything still worked and nothing was broken - very lucky. That was enough adrenaline for me so we headed back to the start. The hike back took "only" three hours since we moved quite a bit faster and even slid down some snowy parts of the mountain (it was perfectly safe, Mom). We were fortunate enough to be equipped with proper waterproof boots and pants, unlike some other hikers we saw. The mountain water was clean and cold, which came in handy as our water supply started to diminish. As we approached the end of the hike, we began to fatigue. While stepping through a difficult area, Andrew slipped and landed on his butt and began to slide down the mountain in front of us. It was quite frightening since we couldn't see what was below him clearly, but luckily he ended up just landing hard on his rear (although giving us quite the scare). In total, it took about nine hours from start to finish. I can honestly say it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. A fitting finale to the trip of a lifetime. I think I've hiked enough for the next five years.
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