Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Norway adventure

The 2nd leg of our summer travels started with a trip to Norway via boat and ferry.  I have always wanted to visit Norway and now that we are living in Finland, we finally decided to take the family via the ferry from Helsinki.   I have a good American friend who married a Norwegian man and they have been raising their family in Norway for the last decade.  We took the car on the ferry that left from Helsinki to Stockholm, Sweden.  The route was to drive across Sweden to their city just South of Oslo.  It took about 7 hours to navigate across the heart of Sweden before finally crossing the border into Norway.  We have never driven across Sweden before and to be honest it isn't all that exciting, but easy driving.  It is a mix of farms, forests and some large lakes and is pretty much flat the entire way. Once the border of Norway is reached, the mountains and hills seem to pop out from nowhere.  Norway is definitely a geographically diverse country and has a great mix of mountains, sea and forests.

That night, after the long drive we finally reached our friend's home in Asgardstrand which is a small village about 1 hour south of Oslo.  We actually had to take the car ferry across the bay to get to their home city and that 30 minute ferry ride cost approximately 35 Euros.  Welcome to Norway, probably the most expensive country in Europe.  We actually ate out a few times and I won't even mention in this blog the prices, because they were exorbitantly high.  Their little town was very picturesque and located right on the water.  This small village is also home to Edvard Munch who is famous for "The Scream" painting.  During our stay, our host treated the children to several boat rides in the harbor with his little speed boat.  My daughter had a complete blast driving and gassing the boat.  He also took us to a tiny island where we docked and then jumped off the boat and let the children climb up the little lighthouse.

After two nights at their home, we traveled up north to visit some of the famous fjords.  We made the 5 hour ride to Flam, which is famous for the Flam train ride.  Several times during our drive we were stopped in the road by sheep just hanging out.  It made the Netflix series "Lilyhammer" (based on Lilehammer, Norway) seem more realistic as once the main character Steven Van Zandt had to stop his car in the middle of the road to let sheep cross. This railroad takes you on an hour journey past many wonderful waterfalls, streams and other marvels of nature.  We really enjoyed the journey in this famous train which supposedly at one point climbs up to a 55% gradient, however it didn't really feel that steep.  We spent one night in Flam and the next morning, I made a quick solo hike up towards one of the numerous waterfalls.  The views were just amazing every way you looked.  A bit later we said good bye to Flam and made the journey back to Sweden via Oslo.  During the drive back we passed many mountain tunnels, including a killer 24.5 kilometer tunnel (Lardal tunnel)!  Yes, that is right, over 24 kilometers of tunnel in a car, enough to make one claustrophobic since it took approximately 20 minutes or so to get through.  It is known as the longest road tunnel in the world according to Wiki.

We reached Oslo that afternoon and parked the car to walk around the capital.  We went to their new Opera house, which features a roof that is very interesting and quite large.  The children had a great time walking all around the roof.  The roof had great views of the city and harbor.  I was pleasantly surprised by the ethnic diversity in Oslo.  They seem to have a more diverse population than Helsinki.  We had lunch in Oslo at a restaurant which was extremely expensive, continuing the high cost theme in Norway.  Soon enough we were ready to make the journey back to Stockholm in order to get back to our ferry with the car.  Since the drive from Flam all the way to Stockholm was approximately 10 hours, we decided to break the drive into 2 days. We drove about half way through Sweden to a city called Karlstad which is situated right on the large Lake Vanern.  We spent the night at the hotel before making the final 3.5 hour drive to Stockholm.  Since my father had never visited Stockholm before, we decided to drop my parents off in the Gamla Stan (old town) while the family visited the Vasa War ship museum.  The children had a nice time walking around this museum and it was our 3rd trip there.  This museum which features a perfectly preserved 17th century ship should not be missed when in Stockholm.  Finally, in the afternoon we picked up my parents and headed back to the ferry for the trip back to Helsinki.  Even though we drove approximately 2,000 kilometers during the 6 day trip, we really enjoyed the journey, visiting good friends and taking in the scenic beauty of Norway.  

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