August 19th, Day 1 of van life 🚐
Ferries, Tunnels and Fjords
We were SO excited to be driving out to see the fjords. We were also excited (and felt very lucky) to be borrowing a vehicle that we could also sleep comfortably in. Otherwise, the cost of renting and fueling a car (plus sleeping accommodations) probably would have been a hefty price tag and we may have missed out.
We met Åsmund at his office where he handed us the keys to the van and wished us good luck. We thanked him, then made a quick stop by the grocery store to stock up on food for our trip. I was excited to choose items without regard to weight or packability.
As we left town and got on the highway, we realized that we didn’t know what the speed limit was.
Or what most of the traffic signs meant.
We searched Google and made informed guesses at the rest, hoping we didn’t spoil the trip with a stack of traffic tickets.
We experienced our first of many ferry rides, the rumble and slight sway a wild sensation after traveling on foot for over a month.
Our first camping spot was a parking lot by the beach in a place called Teistholmen in Kristiansund, Norway. We decided to take a short hike among the boulders to catch the final colors of the sunset. When we got back to the van, we cooked our noodles and set up our bedding. Since the whole backend of the van was empty for cargo, we used our air mattresses for extra cushion (and insulation) under our sleeping bags.
August 20th, Day 2 of van life
The next morning we awoke refreshed and excited that we didn’t have to break camp or walk all day with heavy packs. We took our time cooking and eating breakfast, making extra coffee for our thermos before we started the drive.
Along the way, we spotted a waterside park and stopped to play on the playground equipment.
The drive for the day included two ferries and a several-kilometer-long underwater tunnel. Growing up in the middle of the country, these coastal things were exciting novelties to us.
The first fjords we saw were gorgeous and dramatic, with clouds hanging low, only occasionally allowing sunlight to burst through.
We were amazed at the number of waterfalls we saw. By the end of the afternoon, we stopped pointing them out because they were so common. The temperature was much colder here and an afternoon rain made me even more grateful that we were not on foot with our packs.
It also made me appreciate the rainbow at the end of the shower even more.
Snarler, Grinder, and Geirangerfjord
We were driving along when, without warning, I yelled “SNARLER AND GRINDER!”
Andy looked at me like I had completely lost my mind but he turned the van around. Then he joined me in witnessing the glory of this sculpture.
In Norse mythology, Thor travels in a chariot pulled by two goats whose names, translated in English, are Snarler and Grinder. We listened to the audiobook “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman over our holiday road trips several years ago so when I saw this, it was like spotting Mickey Mouse at Disneyland (as evidenced by the joy on my face).
After this celebrity sighting, we drove on to Geirangerfjord. From the top looking down, the cruise ships looked like tiny toy boats in a bathtub. The vastness of the fjord and the sweeping, dramatic clouds contrasted with the steep, sheer rock faces was breathtaking. It was the most stunning natural beauty I had ever seen.
We stood at the lookout for the longest time, trying to fathom the scale and grandeur.
We continued further into the park to the Geiranger Skywalk, the highest fjord view, from a road at 1500 meters, almost 5000 feet.
The view wasn’t totally clear because of the cloud cover but wow was it exhilarating. The wind came up through the grate of the skywalk and you could see ALL THE WAY DOWN beneath your feet. It made my legs ache, imagining just how high we were.
We decided to camp further back in the fjord and we saw a large glacier on top of a nearby peak. This landscape was the most dramatic, moody, gorgeous thing I have ever seen.
And I love experiencing things that make me feel so small.
That night, we ate dinner in our cozy van as cold rain fell on the fjords.
August 21st, Day 3 of van life
Stave Churches and Bergen
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast because we had a long day of driving and sightseeing ahead of us. As we drove, we listened to one of our favorite podcasts, Lore. It was the perfect pairing for a landscape that looks like the home of trolls and elves.
We stopped along our way to see Fantoft Stave Church, one of the few remaining stave churches in Norway.
This is a reconstruction, as the original was burned down during the Norwegian black metal scene of the 90s (which I first learned about on another favorite pod, Disgraceland ).
We stopped for a bit in the picturesque town of Bergen to take in the colorful shops on the wharf and try some local fare at the market.
We shared a moose burger and a reindeer sausage and they were absolutely worth the splurge from the instant noodles.
We didn’t stay in town long because we knew we had a long drive back and we still had a few things to check off the list before the journey ended. We drove until almost midnight, then we pulled off on the side of the highway and crawled in the back to sleep. It was cold and rainy and at this point, our air mattresses were full of leaks.
We bundled up and passed out, exhausted from a full day of road-tripping.
August 22nd, Day 4 of van life
The last of the fjords
It was our last full day in the fjords and we were trying to take in as much of the views as we could. We visited Nærøyfjord, the narrowest of the West Norwegian Fjords.
The road was guarded by an assertive pony and his fuzzy-faced bovine friend, but we luckily made it through without any damage to the family van.
On our way to see some more stave churches, we drove through a tunnel that was 25 km long.
That’s over 15 miles.
For context, there were many days on the trail where we walked the whole day and only covered that distance. I tried to imagine how strange it would be to walk underground for an entire day, never seeing the sky. It was long (and disorienting) enough that there was a rest stop in the middle of it.
We stopped at Borgund Stave Church, built in 1180. It’s one of 28 original stave churches still standing and it’s the one with the least alterations. It was the most ornate and impressive one that we saw on our trip.
A quick observation of the tar-coated beams makes me wonder how they didn’t all burn down sooner, most of them existing for centuries before electricity.
A beautifully structured tinder box.
August 23nd, Day 5 of van life
For the drive back to Melhus, we decided to take a different route and see a different landscape, further inland near Jotunheimen National Park.
The dramatic vertical heights of the fjords contrasted with the wide-open grazing lands framed by distant mountains. We spotted some reindeer grazing near the road and even though we knew they are basically common livestock here, they were a novelty to us. So we stopped to watch them for a bit.
It was another cold, rainy night when we pulled into an empty lot off the highway near some woods. It was cold and rainy every night of this trip, which made me even more thankful that we didn’t have to sleep in the tent.
As we bundled up and settled into our sleeping bags, we reflected on the moments and the people that came together just so, allowing us to meet distant family and tour this majestic land in a borrowed van.
What a wild ride. ❤️🚐