July 7 - 8, 2009

Today we left Hamburg and drove across northern Germany into Denmark and the start of the Scandinavian Expedition. But first we still had some business to take care of in Hamburg.

We wanted to top off the propane in our cylinder so that we wouldn't have any worries about running out while above the Arctic Circle. Our research had indicated that the German propane cylinders utilized the same fill valve, an Acme valve, used throughout the Americas. HAH!

So when we arrived at the gas distributor we were informed that our valve was similar to the OLD valves that used to be used in Germany. After several trial and error attempts to fit adaptors, we located the correct adaptor and were able to fill our cylinder. It appears that the best adaptor for our cylinder would have been the one that would allow us to fill at any place that fills automobile cylinders. Maybe when we return to the States at the end of this expedition we will locate the proper adaptors and hope that they do in fact work when we return to Europe for the 2010 Expeditions.

We were finally ready to head north, so we made our way out of the city and onto the highway. Shortly after lunch we arrived in our first Scandinavian country, Denmark. Denmark is not a member of the EU and does not use the Euro as its currency. No problem, if you can find a bank, which we could not. No problem, we still have left over euros and our credit cards for any emergency.

Denmark is actually quite a compact country consisting of three large islands and many smaller ones. We crossed over onto the island of Funeu and found a campsite in a local marina. The attendant there was more than willing to accept our euros for payment of the night's camping fee.

In the morning we found that the marina had receptacles for used motor oil and filters. Wanting to take advantage of this convenience, Don decided to change our oil and diesel filters. After draining the used motor oil, we found that the oil filter was frozen on and our filter wrench wouldn't make it budge. We think that the last mechanic failed to apply a film of oil to the gasket and that the gasket had melted onto the engine. We worked so hard at turning the filter that our wrench actually cut through the metal canister - but the filter refused to move. Luckily the marina had the number of a local mechanic who made "house calls" so we called him and asked him to come out with a stronger filter wrench. In the meantime several boat owners come over and all offered their assistance, but none succeeded to remove the filter. The mechanic finally arrived and took maybe 10 minutes to wrench the filter loose, and charged us the unbelievable fee of 120 US dollars! Whew, we knew Scandinavia was going to be expensive, but this was really a rude introduction.

We were able to get cleaned up and on the road again just before the sky opened and the rain and thunder began. We are on our way as quick as possible to Norway as the summer is half over and we have over 1,500 miles to travel before we get to the top of Europe. We will have more time to explore Denmark and Sweden on our southbound return.

As Denmark has many islands we have to cross, we have to travel either by ferry or by toll bridge. Since we are traveling rapidly, we decided to cross the toll bridges. The first across to Zealand where the Capital Copenhagen in located, and the second across the Oresund Strait to Sweden. Wow, talk about expensive - the two bridges cost a combined $147US to cross. This has been the most expensive start of any of our expeditions. Hope this doesn't continue and that we can start talking about something other than the high costs here.

Our first night in Sweden we found a quiet side street in the town of Malmo to park on, then walked into the old center to explore and find a nice place to splurge on dinner. The city center is surrounded by an old moat and many of the streets in the area have been converted to walk streets, very nice. Finding a couple of very attractive plazas surrounded by old restored buildings, now housing restaurants and bars, we chose one that we could see had large plates of pizza on patrons' tables. We weren't disappointed, the pizza was as good as it looked.

After dinner we walked back to "camp" and were in bed by 10 pm, even though the sky was still bright as day!

July 9 - 10, 2009

Today was primarily just a driving day as we are pushing on towards Norway so that we can take advantage of as much "summer" as possible for our drive up the coast towards North Cape, the northern most point in Europe, which is well above the Arctic Circle. We did get off of the main highway, however and drove, as much as possible, on the the lesser roads. This allowed us to drive through small farming communities and through the countryside, a much nicer and more peaceful drive. We were also driving in and out of rain throughout the day. We found a nice parking spot at the tip of an island overlooking a quiet little harbor north of Goteborg, Sweden.

More rain today as we drove into Norway. The scenery is very beautiful with rolling hills and large farms. We stopped just before crossing into Norway to fill up on fuel and to browse through a supermarket. We have been warned that the prices of everything are much, much higher in Norway than elsewhere in Europe and we want to have our stocks full. The market was an absolute zoo with loads of people buying tons of things. We think that most of the shoppers were Norwegians coming across the border to save a few Kroners (their currency).

We crossed into Norway and drove to Oslo where we had been given information on a camping area at one of the harbors in town. The parking area turned out to be very central to the city so it will make our sightseeing easier in the morning, if the weather cooperates and we are able to ride our bicycles.

July 11, 2009

The day started out sunny but the clouds moved in pretty quickly so we filled day sacks with our waterproof clothing just in case of rain, which was a wise precaution as it did rain on us later in the day.

We found that we could tour the city in a big loop, using the ferries to cross the harbor to the city center. We rode our bikes to the Viking Ship Museum where three Viking ships are on display. The ships were excavated from burial mounds around the turn of the 20th Century (1900's). The ships served as elaborate tombs for their occupants. Although the ships had collapsed from the weight of the clay and soil covering them, they were painstakingly pieced together by researchers along with all of the tools, implements, sleds, carts, furniture, etc. that was buried with them. The ships were buried around 900 AD and are the most complete Viking ships ever found. The museum was fabulous and the ships incredible. To think that the Vikings were brave enough to cross the North Atlantic Ocean in these ships is just amazing.

After the museum, we crossed the harbor on a ferry that deposited us right next to city hall. Being a Saturday, the city was populated with mostly walkers and bicyclists - and very few vehicles. After riding around central we made our way to the Cultural History Museum to explore their Viking History room and see all of the artifacts recovered from various tombs in the country. There was also a display on Stave Churches which are peculiar to Norway, most of them built in the 12th century. We gathered up a list of Stave Churches to visit along our path and will talk about them in more detail as we visit them.

Our final stop in Oslo was at the Vigelandsparken. This large park is the work of one man, Gustav Vigeland, who spent 20 years carving stone and creating large bronze statues of humanity as he saw it.  The park contains statues and fountains and a 20 meter high obelisk of men, women and children living their daily lives, happy, sad, driven etc.  It was an amazing accomplishment and we enjoyed visiting the park very much.

When we returned to camp, we decided to accomplish some additional maintenance to the Fuso. We needed to rotate the tires, all eight of them, and decided that this spot was perfect for the job. Well, some two plus hours later (with a rain break in the middle) we had accomplished the work and collapsed exhausted into our chairs. After dinner, we watched as the sun settled lower in the sky, not dipping straight down as we are familiar with, but rather moving on an angle across the sky. When we reach the northern point of Norway later in the month, we hope to capture this movement on film. Should be interesting to try.

July 12, 2009

We started our trek across the country to the fiord region today. Along the way we stopped at four interesting churches. The first, in Kongsberg was built in the 1700's during the silver mining boom and reflects the wealth of the region at that time. Although the exterior is really nothing special, the interior was unlike any church we had seen.  First of all, it was wide, whereas most churches seem to be long.  In addition, the pulpit was above the altar, apparently to "ram home the point that the priest's stern injunctions to work harder were an expression of God's will" as expressed by our Rough Guide.  There were also very hierarchically placed seats, with the King's box, of course, directly across from the pulpit, and others arranged in descending order of the occupants' importance.

Our route then took us up along the Lagen River which supports the largest population of native salmon in Norway. We chose this route so that we could stop off and explore several of the Stave Churches in the villages lining the road.

Stave churches are a distinctly Norwegian design and mostly date back to the twelfth century.  The staves are actually the upright posts in each corner of the church that support the entire structure.  You can visit www.stavechurch.com for more detailed information.  The most picturesque of these churches are stylized with a raised central section that, when viewed from outside, gives the buildings an almost pagoda-like look.  The other main draw is that the door frames around the entrance were decorated with intricate carvings of Viking design, intertwining serpents or dragons and floral or vine tendrils.  Most of the surviving door frames are in museums but a few remain in the churches.

Ornate painting above the altar

The other sight that we kept seeing were the old farm buildings.  The farms are interesting in themselves, but the small barns are even more interesting.  The barns are supported by posts set onto large slabs of granite, so that they are basically free floating buildings.  now consider that the barns are two stories tall and that the second story is larger than the first story.  Most farms had two such barns, in addition to their main large barn, and each would hold different animals during the winter.  Oh yes, most of these buildings had sod or grass roofs, we even saw a few that had trees growing on the roof!

We found a nice free camping area, even set up with bathrooms and showers, near the river. Then it started to rain again. This region around the city of Bergen is know to have lots of rain, on average some 260 days of rain every year!

July 13, 2009

Our route today took us across the Hardangervidda Plateau, considered to be the largest mountain plateau in Europe at approximately a hundred kilometer square area.  It is truly a beautiful area, one that some people might be quick to call desolate.  However, although it is entirely above the tree line, the rocky surface has pools, ponds, rolling hills and rivers crossing it's length.  As the rain stopped for a bit, we were even treated to our first view of a glacier in Norway.  It was a ways away, but the blue ice was clear in our binoculars.

As we left the plateau we come down to, yet another one of these 100 km things, the 100 km long Hardangerfjord - our first of the many incredible fjords in the country.  Coming down we passed through countless tunnels and one tunnel that completed a full 360 degree turn - underground!  We also were treated to the first of many ferry rides to come.  Ferries are considered as essential links in the highway system as not all fjords are able to be crossed by bridges. 

After crossing the ferry we drove along the narrow, winding road passing through numerous picture postcard villages, oohing and ahhing at the vistas across the fjord.  As we said, the road was very narrow, and in multiple spots it was so narrow that we had to stop and pull off of the pavement so that busses and trucks could get by.  We found a great little spot on an old wharf/parking lot in the small town of Oysteren to spend the night. 


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