Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Norway 1 – The Road to Trondheim

Our route to Trondheim

Crossing from Sweden into Norway was a breeze. No-one checked our passports. I don’t think we even saw so much as an official’s hat. We drove past the full car parks at the Swedish last post shopping centre, where there were many motorhomes - no doubt being stocked up with enough food and drink to last them through Norway. We’d got a few provisions in ourselves, but there’s a limit to what will fit in a small van. Anyway, we figured so what that it’s more expensive to buy your sausage in Norway, we are on this trip to taste sausage from every country in Europe and the only way to do that is to buy local. We have not just been eating sausages of course, but a good many pork related products have featured regularly on our van menus. Sweden didn’t seem to go in for a lot of little shops, like butchers, and as we sailed through the border we were keeping our fingers crossed for a change in this situation in Norway. No such luck though, we found no butchers and very few bakers, and our reliance on supermarkets was pretty much total – except in Trondheim where there was some great fish to be bought.

When the road signs warn of elks - believe them

We took secondary roads north for most of the 400 km from the Swedish border to Trondheim, including a long section on a gravel road though miles of forest. The final stretch took us alongside the river Gaula, through contrasting landscapes of sheer sided cliffs and wide, flat agricultural land. Hamlets were perched high up in the hills, with large farm complexes consisting of the farm house with decoration of carved mouldings at the windows and intricate fretwork on balconies, the barn with a ramp to the second floor and a bell on the top and grain stress which were two storeyed and jettied with grass roofs, often with tress growing from them. The Gaula itself was doing a roaring trade in fishing permits from the numbers of men in waders flicking their wrists and casting their flies along most stretches of the river. We passed one group taking photos of a guy holding a fine salmon of about 1½ m length which he’d obviously just caught. It turns out that the Gaula is famed in these parts for its salmon fishing.

Typically Norwegian - long gravel roads and farm complexes

The costs of food, accommodation, fuel and just about everything may be high in Norway, but on the other hand after our first five nights we had yet to pay a single krone for overnight stops. For the first three we wild camped, finding quiet carparks by lakes or at the start of footpaths, informal affairs where no notices said we weren’t welcome. On our first night by the lake we shared the site with midnight swimmers, who drove up just as we’d gone to bed and proceeded to whoop with excitement as they plunged into the cold water, before driving off again a short while later. 

Ant hill in the woods

At our other two spots we were alone but beside quiet roads, and were disturbed by no-one. Going to bed at midnight meant pulling up all the blinds to create a semblance of darkness and trying to sleep, but we found we could read at 12.30 a.m. by natural light. Waking up in such beautiful, tranquil surroundings was a real treat and seeing the wild life - elks, ant mountains, wild flowers, massive frothy lichen - was an added bonus, as was taking Charlie walking through some of the best scenery he's seen. Then in Trondheim we stayed on a carpark set aside by the city council for motorhomes, again for nothing. It was a small site with room for only 8 to 10 vehicles, and with no facilities, but was only a footbridge away from the historic centre.

Fresh air - good for lichen and dogs

After several days on rural backroads, Trondheim felt like a metropolis. I (Rob) was surprised at just how busy and cosmopolitan it was, having imagined it would feel somehow remote, an outpost, isolated behind its wall of mountains and twisting fjords. But it came across as a bright, attractive city, basking in a long warm spell that took the temperatures into the upper 20s, and with a clear light that came from the proximity of the sea and nearly 24 hour daylight. The local papers said that sunset was at about 11.30pm and sunrise at 3am while we were there, but a slight cloud cover and our inclination to sleep in the early hours meant that we never checked either.

Trondheim - view from our overnight parking

In its historic core, Trondheim is above all a wooden city, with many streets of picturesque clapboard houses in dark red or pastel colours. Some wooden buildings are both grander and older, such as the Stiftsgården, at the heart of the city, a palatial 18th century complex built for a provincial governor, or the elegant Hospital Church of 1706 with its slender central spire. 

Trondheim - pastel shades and old hospital church

Other buildings attested to Trondheim’s important role earlier in Norwegian history, from the independent kingdom at the end of the Viking era and coming of Christianity, as well as during the centuries of annexation to Denmark then Sweden. This was true above all of St. Olav’s cathedral, Trondheim’s oldest and most prominent monument, which dates in part from the 12th century and sports a magnificent west façade lined with statues of saints, bishops, monarchs and biblical characters, that somehow survived the reformation (although the present façade is in fact an 18th century recreation of the original, destroyed in a fire). If you’ve ever been to Lichfield you might have seen a smaller version of this west end, though in a different colour stone.

Trondheim - St Olav's Cathedral - or in Norwegian - Nidaros Domkirke

A must-see for us was Trondheim’s fish hall by the harbour, no longer a market but more an upmarket boutique and restaurant, but the range of fish – fresh, smoked, marinated and salted – was magnificent, and made up in part for Norway’s disappointing food culture where food retailing is monopolised almost everywhere by a small number of supermarkets selling a restricted, pre-packed and homogenised range, and variety or inspiration are hard to find. Outside on the quayside, boats sold boiled prawns by the kilo, or freshly-caught fish. These were a special challenge for the tourists as the boat owners spoke no English, and I (Rob) made my first effective use of Norwegian to order half a kilo of the crustaceans.

Boat selling fresh prawns - no English spoken for once!

Trondheim struck us as a very trendy city in lots of ways and it was incredibly easy to while away time there at cafés, especially as they give free coffee refills. The old wooden streets in the district of Bakklandet were particularly attractive for café-hopping, with their rather laid-back shabby chic feel, while the neighbouring area around the old wharves had been remodelled and resurrected as a fashionable hanging-out zone. We were surprised at the huge number of tourists around, some from the massive cruise ships that berth in the harbour daily, but others not.

Shabby chic in Bakklandet

On Friday 9th July we decided to move on, driving down the coast a few km to Flokk, where we queued up with the many weekenders to get one of the very frequent ferries over the Trondheim Fjord to Rørvik on the Fosen peninsular.
Trondheim - wharves

No comments:

Post a Comment