Thursday, June 02, 2011

Across the water to Norway

We boarded the ferry today for the super-fast crossing from northern Jutland to southern Norway -- from Hirtshals to Kristiansand. It only takes about 2 1/2 hours with the catamaran, but oy, is that a big boat. At least a hundred cars and more than 50 motorcycles (probably more motorcycles -- there were droves of them!). Mark spent quite a bit of time out by the stern of the boat, watching the huge roostertail that the engines kicked up. I'm glad I don't get seasick -- it was a relatively smooth crossing, but the poor guy at a table across the way was sick from the moment he got on the boat, I think.

It's a public holiday in both Denmark and Norway today -- Ascension Day -- and most everything is closed. But we stopped by the Kristiansand Kannonmuseum, just in case, and they were open. It's a WWII german gun emplacement on the coast, controlling the narrow straight of the Skaggerak, so not quite my cup of tea, but Mark loved it. Poked around at the enormous gun (the largest land installation, it fires a 21cm shell) and the destroyed batteries for awhile. It was gloriously sunny, and the walk was nice.

There's a 2km long tunnel to a nearby island that we accidentally took (well, we drove through it twice, since we didn't intend to go to the tiny island). It goes under the fjord mouth. Yeah, my day is fabulous -- boats, which I hate, and then under the water in a tunnel. But we found our way and drove all the way south to the Lindesnes Fyr (Lighthouse) on the southernmost point of Norway. The weather was calm, so it wasn't as exciting as it apparently can get when the wind is up, but it's a lovely view.

I'm sure I'm going to say that about a thousand times per post -- it's a lovely view. Lovely! Gorgeous! Wish you were here! Beautiful-beautiful!

Seriously,though, this place is gorgeous. As we were driving on the very narrow and unmarked roads down to Lindesnes, we both commented on how it felt a lot like driving in Boulder -- rocks on either side of the road, curvy, twisty, hairpin turns, trees everywhere. Just here, there is water. Lots and lots of water. And views out over the ocean past the rocky coastline that nearly made us crash three or four times because we were gawking like idiots.

And in the first ten minutes we were in Norway, we reached a higher altitude than we've been in the last two weeks. Seriously, Denmark is f-l-a-t, with barely a rolling hill to block the view all the way to Germany; Sweden is more hilly, but the south is farmland and, predictably, flat. Norway? Up and down. We decided that the roads were obviously Scottish Roads.

Let me explain -- in Scotland, there seems to be a rule that the roads must be windy and curvy, or roll up and down, or both. It's consistent -- as if the crew got together before the job and the chief told them, "Ok, lads, we've got enough stuff here to build 200km of roads, but it's only 100km to Edinburgh. We've got to use ALL of the materials, or we won't get paid. Have at it!" For every kilometer the crow flies, there are 2km of road. It twists and doubles back, or loops out widely side to side, or it galumphs over the hills like a roller coaster ride. Or, in some really fun cases, it does both. The only stretches of road in Scotland that are straight are the ones that the Romans built.

Now, Ireland is nearly the exact opposite -- every single road connects two points directly. It's just that every single point is connected to every other single point directly -- it ends up looking like a deranged spider laid out the roads, since every single house is connected to all the neighbors by a path from door to door. No extraneous winding here, thankyouverymuch, no unnecessary detours. Just a web of roads that meet at odd angles and go everywhere. Ever been at an intersection with six or seven outlets? Irish Roads.

Norway has roads of the windey-up-and-down sort in spades. And these are the "good roads", our host this evening told us. We're in the south, in the valley town of Kvinesdal, and the south is where most of the people are, so the roads are wide, marked, and well maintained. I might argue with wide and marked, actually -- about half the roads we drove on today (on the way to perfectly normal tourist destinations, I might add) had no center line, and were barely wide enough for two cars to pass, and in some cases far narrower than that. Oh, there are two-lane divided highways, but they seem to change abruptly from a lovely wide boulevard to a roundabout and then to three little roads that hairpin their way into the woods.

It was a blast!

Our B&B for the night is a 1930s guesthouse that has been bought by the local church and run as a church meeting hall and still rents out rooms. It's a bit dated in terms of decorations, but the room is clean and large, and everyone is very friendly. We've got a really nice view out over the water (if you ignore the excavation for a garden right outside the window) through the two french doors.

We ended up at the only place open for food at 9pm-- a pizza place populated by every teenager in Kvinesdal, I think. Good pizza,though. Of course, it's now 11:08 and it's light enough outside that I could read a book. It doesn't get really dark until after midnight -- and the sunrise is officially at 4:30. We're getting used to sleeping in the half-light.

Tomorrow? Up and north to Lysbotn to take the ferry down the Lysefjord to Stavanger, and then backtracking a bit to admire the scenery. It's even supposed to be sunny!

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