Norway is an extremely geographically challenging country. Situated partly in the Arctic Circle, the mainland has an alpine mountain range running through the length of it, rising near vertically out of the sea and carved up by massive 200km long fjords. Add to this some 80,000 islands peppering the coastline, most of which seem to be scattered around Bergen (a fact which will become significant later); it makes for a cartographers nightmare.
And, with only 5 million inhabitants it is Europe’s most sparsely populated country, with only places like Australia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Canada, Iceland, Greenland and a few African countries with a lower population density.
Norway is, for the most part, inhospitable.
What all this means is, it’s actually rather difficult to get from A to B.
The nearest city from Bergen is Stavanger. In terms of distance, it is about the same as Auckland to Hamilton. To fly it takes 25 minutes. To drive, or take a boat, it will take 5 1/2 hours.
Combine this with the fact that this is also one of the world’s most expensive countries; it is not an ideal place to take a holiday.
It is however, awesome for tramping.
But, with the weather not quite warm enough for tramping, and with the country closed for five and a half days over Easter, we decided to nonetheless and try and explore Norway non-backpacking tourist style.
Our destination was Haugesund, a coastal fishing town situated half way between Stavanger and Bergen.
To get there, we would take a boat.
It should be a pleasant enough 3 1/2 hour journey, flanked by snow-capped Scandinavian mountains to our left, negotiating our way through a maze of islands on our right (and left), on a comfortable and laptop friendly ferry, complete with restaurant, and motion sickness control.
Although, usually susceptible to sea sickness, I’ve had a very positive experience with Norwegian ferries so far.
They’re large, fast, and very smooth.
Within a few minutes, our boat, travelling at 65kph, was soon in the middle of nowhere. And once again, we were reminded just how rugged and wild Norway is.
Smoothly weaving its way through the myriad of islands (I can only imagine the technological challenge this trip would have posed before the time of GPS), we enjoyed the expansive scenery, while occasionally tinkering with the iPad, and other techno devices on hand.
And, then three hours into our trip, something happened.
I could no longer see land to my right.
The Scandinavian mountains remained on our left. The boat had definitely not turned around. But, the cosy buffer of islands was gone.
We were now in the open sea.
The North Sea.
The waves proved too much for even this boat to cut through. The last 20 minutes were a heaving hell, as I unwillingly rocked back and forth huddled in the back corner of the boat, nauseated, and trying my damndest to not make use of the foil-lined sickie bags (the staff were prepared).
I had no choice but to wait it out.
However, this too would pass.
We finally reached our destination and stepped off at Haugesund.
Still overwhelmed by sea sickness and unable to function properly, we made a beeline for the nearest hotel at 900NOK. I collapsed on the bed and stared at the wall. I’ve never been a fan of hotel art, but now my eyes were centered on a hideous monstrosity that could only have been put in place by Penny the sadistic, basil-fawlty incarnate, people-hating hotel owner from an NZ town which shall remain nameless.
Knowing their guests would likely have just stepped off a heaving boat right off the North Sea, the owner decided to adorn the walls, with a mind regurgitating dizzying Photoshop overlay disaster. Unable to do anything but lie on the bed, I weakly summoned Brian to cover up this projection of evil, so as I could at least stand some hope of recovering.
Eventually, I did recover sufficiently from our ordeal, to venture out. One thing was certain though; I would never be going on another boat again.
We were stuck here.
In the middle of nowhere, so close, yet so far from Bergen.