June 19, 2013
I was leaving Stavanger the next morning accompanied by bad weather, gloomy moods and my player music starting to annoy me. I’d slept well, had enough strength to spin, and only rapidly deteriorating weather was bringing me blues.
Somewhere in the suburbs, following my paper map (I had accumulated a pile of paper maps already) I got to the underwater tunnel connecting Stavanger with an island I needed and a point on the map called Mortavika – I wanted to take a ferry there continuing to follow the E39.
I sat down to have a smoke at a bus stop. The tunnel was five kilometers long, and it’s banned for cyclists.
Soon I was joined by a pretty Norwegian old lady, we had a small talk, and it turned out that she was heading to Haugesund to visit her sister. When the bust arrived, the lady volunteered to ask the driver if I could cross the tunnel with my bike in his bus. The driver took the bike and out it in the luggage compartment, asking me about who I was, where I was from and where I was going to. For some reason he got very enthusiastic over the fact that I was Russian – he brushed the whole matter of the bus fare and offered a ride to the ferry in Mortavika and, on the ferry as well (the price of bus tickets in Norway includes the cost of transfers on all the ferries on the route).
So I relaxed and entered my very first Norwegian tunnel.
By the way, I hate tunnels with all my passion since then. It’s impossible to take a deep breath and you feel the heaviness of sea or mountains above all the time. It was really hard to bear. Claustrophobia is my thing indeed, hell yeah!
On the ferry Ketil told me that he was a passionate admirer of Russia, bikers, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and the Bolshoi Theatre. He said I was very lucky to have met him because the bus fare for transfer from Stavanger to Bergen was more than 700 NOK (you can live on that money in Norway for a week at least). But since I was a “crazy woman from Russia” he would take 60NOK only, which was the cost the smallest route section – all buses are equipped with on-board computers to calculate bus fares. 60 NOK equals, say, a sandwich with a Coke.
This is Ketil – an artist, a bus driver and a very nice man. We talked a lot at bus stations in small towns and in ferry canteens. Long conversations about Russia, Norway, my vague plans, his house (he even gave me some pictures of his house and his boat) and art, the everyday life of shuttle drivers.
Ketil was the first local in Norway, who talked to me for more than ten minutes. Up to now I can not find any explanation why my observations of people of Norway do not have anything to do with the description I’d met in various resources. All the people I meet on the way, including the Norwegians themselves, describe the Norwegian character as cold, unfriendly, kind but aloof. The Norwegians usually have a shut-in personality, they are loners, they seem indifferent to everything. They value privacy and do not open up to strangers unless it is absolutely necessary. There is no concept of “Norwegian hospitality”. They are well-bred and polite, but they would take any interest in you.
We were swirling along the E39 to Bergen, hopping from one ferry to another. Wild, alien landscapes were blasting past. The rain sheeted against the windows, and sometimes nothing could be seen. Then I wrapped stronger in my sweaters and dozed. I can’t bear not moving for a long time, so I’d better sleep.
Still, sometimes the rain stopped, the sun peeped out occasionally, highlighting the yellow crowns of thick forest roadside. I turned my head and camera a lot, the passengers were staring at me. It’s probably quite rare to see a tourist in a regular intercity bus.
I have to admit, after the abundance of gingerbread houses covering Stavanger, my eyes were resting on the harsh landscapes, especially since all that rainy wilderness was outside and I did not have to get wet.
And here we are in Bergen.
I was not planning to come here so soon, but the weather and Ketil had changed all my plans. After the hastelessness in Stavanger, Bergen seemed a motley, crowded and noisy city, multicultural, designed for the young.
Crowds of tourists and locals, street musicians playing Johnny Cash, magic smells from the fish market, the sun, clouds, the rain and the sun again. On this background I felt like I was stuck in a valley, having a whole range of dangers to overcome in order to get out. These mountains around gave me palpitations. I did not know then I would be climbing one of them the next day.
I found Tourist information in the port and, as usual, took their city map. Every Norwegian city has such an institution where they provide you with a map, mostly of the downtown, and give the necessary information, for example, the full timetable of city transportation. I come there for maps.
I rode a bit in the downtown looking into the alleys. I got hungry and needed the Internet to find a way not to spend another night without a roof over my head. So I started asking around for a low-price diner with wi-fi.
I asked a guy sitting at a table of a street café to recommend an inexpensive cafe with Internet access. He showed the nearest place of such a kind on my map, and I set out on a search. Though I did not find that particular café, I ended up in a pretty cozy bar with cheap coffee (25 NOK), Wi-Fi and a nice bartender who was so kind he even called his couchsurfer acquaintance when I told him that I had just arrived to Bergen looking for a place to crash for the night. It was about 9PM, I was going through CouchSurfing sipping orange juice reminding me vaguely of my long gone childhood. Again, it started to rain. I ran out on the porch to have a smoke and to correct the covers on the bike parked near the entrance.
Since it was Friday, I received numerous invitations to take a walk and have a drink in the downtown, many couchers were already taken by other guests. I had trouble finding a place to stay at such a short notice. However, it was found after all, I received a text with an address, asked the bartender of the way and left. I was going to meet Alex near a restaurant in the port.
Alex, a Dutch doctor, was in a sad mood and engaged in sport fishing when I met him. It was quite late, so we left very soon. A tram ticket for me and my bike cost me about 40NOK. “What a rip-off!” – I thought, measuring all Norwegian prices with sandwiches. We stopped at a supermarket to get food for dinner, then I had shower, watched “Life is beautiful” in English dubbing, drank local beer and went to bed. That was the humblest dwelling I’d spent a night in for the whole trip. But this “residence” is no worse than a fancy hotel for an exhausted traveler. Moreover, a shower in the form of a hole in the floor brought me some tender feelings.
We woke up at 7, Alex had a shift in the hospital. I yet again loaded heavily the bike and went downtown. Saturday morning Bergen looked like a film set for a zombie movie: empty streets and deafening silence, quite a surprise for such a big city.
It was raining. I stopped at a supermarket to get breakfast (grapefruit juice and chocolate), hopped about some backstreets, got soaked and finally decided to hole up at a railway station in the port. I was bored to death.
I was supposed to stay with another host that night, but I could not figure out how to get through the day if the damn rain did not stop. I was going to dwell in Bergen for a couple of days to look around, to have some idle time and normal Internet to revise the photos I’d been taking. So I was standing there at the station looking out of a picture window. Colorful Bergen houses, a pier with numerous tourists coming and leaving… That was just sad. I wanted to move. Spin the pedals, listen to music, beat bloody rain.
The E39 highway, along which I was hoping to go further north, turned out to be a narrow road, exclusive for cars, with tunnels and ferry sites. There are also back roads, but I could not possibly get to them from the center of Bergen. So I decided to cut through the mountain following bike paths. As a result, the cutting through took me a few long hours. I climbed to the top of something very impressive and met a sweet Norwegian couple who suddenly came out of the woods. It’s them who revealed to me that I had chosen the wrong direction and had been climbing up impassibility just for nothing.
Here I am on the top of a huge mountain over Bregen screwing face into a smile at that sweetest Norwegian couple. The man new a bunch of Russian words, like “spasibo” (thank you), “pozhaluista” (please), “menya zovut” (my name is..), “borsch”). They were very nice. They did their best to talk me through the proper route, they even fished out some other mountain fellows to ask for the best way to get to Alesund.
Strange as it may seem, I was not disappointed at all in that useless climb. I cheerfully rolled down the hill in the indicated direction, brushing past thick forest of ancient, densely standing trees and rare runners. Now, I often recall that leg of my journey, impressive trunks, dense crown, deep smell of damp, wet asphalt and buzzing wheels. The road brought me to Rema1000 supermarket, where I shopped for canned fish, chocolate spread and crackers. The rain was over. I found a back road and swished off to the north along the E39.
There was no rain for a few hours, I was hot in those waterproof pants. But the weather here is so unpredictable, and thet fluffy black clouds were telling me that it was too early to change. True, quite soon it started to rain heavily so that I had to hide at a bus stop for half an hour, smoking and texting my friends to another continent (the Internet is quite good in any local “wilderness”). I was bored again. I needed to constantly move, so I waited until the rain weakened, and continued on.
I made a halt somewhere near Knarvik to enjoy the view on a beautiful fjord.
The rain was over again. I danced on the observation deck to my player music and felt as the happiest person in the world. A huge bridge over the fjord was ahead of me, then another one. It was cool, no rain. Perfect. A mushroom winked at me.
I was so glad I had decided to go further, I was moving along with eas, flying over bridges, singing along with the player. That’s when I saw another tunnel. There was no back road, I even checked with Google-maps.
“Hmm – I thought – ok, it’s time for hitch-hiking”.
I was new at hitch-hiking with a bike. However, I used to hitchhike a lot without one. When I was about 20, that was the only way I traveled between Nakhodka and Vladivostok almost every weekend. But it was my have-not youth (ha-ha, as if a lot changed since then). With those thoughts in my head, I climbed on a concrete fence and sat there studying the map with my feet dangling down. Soon, a car stopped near me, stuffed with a Norwegian large family.
The mother of the family told me that she had seen a lot of cyclists in the tunnel, so it is allowed to cross it by bicycle. I admitted I was a bit scared to do that. Honestly, I did not know what scared me the most – the traffic or the unbearable feeling that you were stuck in a grotto. Anyway, I thanked her for the advice and concern.
Then there was a guy on a tractor, who also could do nothing to help me, but said he was sorry for me. It was nice. I had been sitting there for about 20 minutes, when a huge bus came. I mean, I did not thumb it down, it just stopped. “Well, – smiled at me a mustachioed driver – do you need a ride? ‘.
“How much will it cost? I do not have a lot of money on me. ” “Just today – it is free of charge!”.
And we raced through tunnels and narrow switchbacks along the shore. I started to get sleepy, I even blacked out for a while. It was chilly to sit still, my clothes had wetted in the rain. Unfortunately, the route of the bus was pretty short, we dropped all the passengers and the driver was as kind as to go about ten more kilometers to drop me at a big intersection.
Here the road entered a mountain, passing into many kilometers of tunnels till next ferry site in Ytre Oppedal. The bus turned around and went back. I stayed there to decide if I was going to make a detour or thumb someone down.
I changed into dry clothes on a bust stop, putting on all warm items, including my former roommate’s green woolen socks on top of jeans. I felt alive again – dry and warm. I dragged heels on the decision. I snatched with crackers, waltzing by my bike to keep warm. Then a tiny car stopped near me. I saw a couple of Norwegians – a girl with the nicest smile and a more reserved companion. They asked if I was going to dive into a tunnel with my bike.
– No way!
– Well, then, we can give you a lift.
Effusive with gratitude, I started to disassemble the bike. Miraculously, we managed to squeeze it as it is without even removing the backpack. It turned out there seemed to be no end to the tunnels, and they happened to be terribly long. I was offered a can of local beer, to which I agreed as I needed some mental strength to endure these tunnels.
Naturally, there was no bike lanes at all in that area. Just narrow roads, steep switchbacks, the wildlife around, some bays with a few houses, isolated by tunnels. How the hell can someone live there?
Silje and Per were a hell of a nice couple. More than that, Pere turned out to be a musician. He gave me a CD of his band, which became my first Norwegian trophy. I have been taking it with me everywhere I go to use every opportunity to turn it on. Before they met me, they had been driving around just for fun, listening to music and chatting. They radiated calmness and wise happiness that I had never ever seen before. 10 minutes after we met I wished I could stay with them forever. But we came to the ferry site and I had to say goodbye. They turned around and went back home to live their warm, cozy Norwegian life. I for one paid 35 crowns and boarded the ferry in hope for a nap.
We arrived in Lavik around 10. Black clouds, inhospitable mountains, a very small village with a hotel designed for well-off tourists only, a shop with hot dogs, a gas station and not a soul around. I had to go down the road and look for a place to stay overnight. Honestly, I didn’t care for that trip, it was getting dark quickly with nothing around but forest and mountains with waterfalls. Scarce houses along the road with dark windows did not add any joy. All I wanted was to get somewhere as fast as possible. I did not feel like putting a tent this away from civilization, but there was no suitable place around. So I kept riding for quite a while till it got dark and scary to go further. There was actually nothing to be afraid of: there was a road along the shore with a few small villages along it. I saw some boats, heard water falls, snow-capped mountains were standing calmly on the other side of the fjord. Beautiful and peaceful. But scary. Standing there in the darkness I longed for a warm dwelling and a nice conversation with a living person.
I knocked on a booth beside the road with lights inside, but there was no answer. Then I saw a man and a woman come out of a house standing on the shore. I asked them for some place to sleep over. They advised there was a camping site just another pass further. It was starting to rain.
Then I accidentally tumbled into someone’s house, having confused it with camping site (there were suspiciously many houses on wheels parked by the house. I figured, this was too many even for a large Norwegian family). Nobody answered the door, but it was unlocked and I went inside. A gray wrinkled old man came from the kitchen waving his arms, trying to kick me out. I tried to speak to him in English, but he obviously did not know the language. The noise brought his wife, she asked me what I wanted. I apologized for the disturbance about twenty times and asked about camping. The old lady accepted my apologies and pointed to camping site, a little further along the coast. I was embarrassed for this intrusion. The mood sank even lower.
So I found a campsite. There was no rooms available, but they let me put up a tent next to the main house. But when I had just found the even place, the owner of the campsite came out saying there was a prospect of very heavy rain at night. He offered to spend the night in a tepee with a huge wooden tables, benches, a fireplace and electricity. I gratefully accepted, chose the widest bench and made a bed with all the other blankets, a groundpad and a sleeping bag. In the main house there was a shower and I stood there for half an hour enjoying the flow of hot water. Then I cooked soup on my gas jet, put my phone and the laptop on charger and called it a day.
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