Tuesday, June 07, 2011

North to Alesund

Woke up early this morning to drive up the tourist road (E39) from Bergen to Alesund (and perhaps beyond). We started off fine, but almost immediately took some detours...which is entirely typical, we haven't ever gone straight anywhere on vacation.

It drizzled a bit this morning, but mostly stopped raining and the fog set in. Serious, pea-soup type fog that sank over the tops of the mountains and wreathed the fjords in clouds. It was impossible to tell how tall anything was, since only about a hundred feet was visible above the water, if that. The rest? Hidden in the dense fog. So, we should have known. Today was going to be a gray, fuzzy sort of day.

The drive to Alesund should take about six hours,including ferries. It wasn't half an hour in and we were ignoring the GPS and driving off into the hinterlands on a tiny road with a "scenic viewpoint" marked on it. Cool! A beautiful scenic! We drove 45 minutes out of our way to weave up a little, hairpin-turn road and the fog got more and more dense...it got harder and harder to see...eventually, we could see about ten feet in front of the car. Some scenic view!

We drove over an hour to see something awe-inspiring...and this is what we got:

that's mark, btw, standing about 15 feet away in the fog. Any further than that, and I couldn't see him at all. We drove on, and every time we'd read one of the road-turn offs that signalled a 'scenic viewpoint', we laughed all the harder. All the scenics are the same: gray, fuzzy, and wet. It wasn't until we drove back down to fjord-level before we saw anything at all in the fog! So yeah, sure, Norway is sooooo scenic...hah!

I joke, of course. Norway is jaw-droppingly gorgeous most of the time, and even in the fog, the fjords and mountains and valleys are pretty enough to cause accidents, with all the tourists stopping their cars by the side of the road to gawp. (Us included). The drive on E39 follows the coast some of the time, up valleys for others, and in general is a panoramic view of Norway all in one fell swoop. We spent a bit of time on the road much closer to the coast, turning off to towns with interesting names or with the little brown signs that signal a landmark or tourist site.

Lots of tunnels today. The Norwegians seem bent on replacing all the ferry services with bridges over or tunnels under the fjords. I'm a little freaked out by tunnels under the water, but after awhile, the uniformity of the tunnels is sort of reassuring -- they are all the same width, all the same height, only the length (anywhere up to 24km in some cases) is different. It's like they just plug in the Norway Tunnel Machine, tell it how far to go, and it produces this lovely tunnel like a worm eating a hole in an apple. Some are lined (we think with some sort of rubbery stuff) to eliminate the drips, and most are lit. I say most - there are some tunnels with no internal lighting. It's a bit disconcerting to drive into a dark hole in a rock face. Headlights are enough, of course, and it doens't appear to be related to the length of the tunnel--some short ones are lit up like a carnival right, some long ones are entirely dark and have only reflectors. Weird. It doesn't help that I forget to take off my sunglasses when we drive into tunnels, so I think they're black as pitch!

We kept taking little side-roads and detours to drive around this or that fjord or lake or see a waterfal...until we noticed that the countdown on the GPS had us arriving at our hotel at about 8pm, and we still had three ferries left to catch. We stuck to the standard tourist route from Forde on north to Alesund, we caught the ferry across the last sound just as it was leaving at 8:50 -- we drove on, the gate came up -- which saved us an hour wait for the next one. Actually, all day, we arrived just in time for ferries, we never waited more than about 10 minutes from the time we drove up to the time the ferry left. I think that this might be Mark's superpower.

Dinner was hamburgers bought from the stand at the ferry terminal. Not bad, actually, but not the first choice. We keep forgetting that most towns around here, even the large ones, roll up the sidewalks and close entirely by 6pm. A few restaurants may stay open until 8 or so, but cafes and everything else? Not a chance. Restaurants in Bergen were open until 1o, perhaps, and you can always find a Pizza-Kebab-Sausage joint open until 11 or even midnight in the bigger towns, but in most places...after 8pm, you are stuck with what you can eat from the gas station, if you haven't planned well.

And what it is with Pizza-Kebab-Sausage-Burger joints? They always come as one combo-restaurant here (and in Sweden and Denmark). Never just a pizza place, the menu will have various sorts of Kebab or Gyro on it, and three or four kinds of sausage (including one sort of long hot dog wrapped in bacon, and plates of fries with "chopped meat". There is an odd habit of eating pizza (with, say, ham and pepperoni and bacon on it), with piles of lettuce and a sort of salad dressing drizzled over the top. We can't quite figure it out, but we do chuckle at some of the combinations of toppings (cucumbers? lettuce? really?) . They must think we're weird for ordering just pepperoni. Ah, well.

Our hotel tonight was a brilliant surprise -- from the outside, it looks a bit sketchy: directly next to the ferry terminal (and I mean directly - you drive into the little parking lot directly from the ferry, the hotel is maybe 100m from the boat), and with a sort of washed-up, beach-front sort of look to it. We were a bit apprehensive, and the frazzled and slightly ditzy desk clerk didn't help that impression...and then we saw the room. Completely redone, big bed, couch, chairs, table, enormous bathroom, walk-out balcony. Absolutely BRILLIANT!

Tomorrow? Off to drive on twisty roads up and down mountain passes.

No comments: