16 June 2008

Welcome to Great Britain!

Rain and sheep - what else did I expect?

Back in Norway, (to be precise: back in Trondheim) I took the occasion to visit the production of Lundhags (see Equipment overview) one more time. They had supplied me with fantastic outdoor gear for the winter and now their new summer collection is out.
Here on the coast it finally rains and a cold wind is bashing into my face from the North-West. I am able to test my new jacket and pants. Very light fabric! It weighs almost nothing and has a minimum pack size. But it keeps me perfectly warm and the wind and water out. Great. Thank you Lundhags!!!

The cycling path along the coast is fantastically marked! It is part of the North Sea Route that follows the shores of the North Sea for 5000km through Britain, Benelux, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. I meet lots and lots of cyclists here following this route bit by bit, Another holiday, another country. A fantastic international idea.

Compared to the Norwegians (who usually look at their own shoes when they talk to you and look at your shoes when they try to hit on you), I perceive the British as very polite. Everyone greets you with a jolly "hello" and asks where you are headed or where you come from, how you like Britain...

The coast between Newcastle and Edinburgh is a mix of sandy beaches and rough cliffs and volcanic rocks. I often sleep right behind the dunes and enjoy the evenings looking at the sea, the birds, the waves.

In Edinburgh I meet my mother Margit and her friend Gabi who are on a holiday trip through the highlands. We set off to explore the capital of Scotland with its unique ancient architecture - very tall stone buildings and small alleyways (so calles "closes"). Edinburgh ran short of space and so the buildings had to be erected higher than usual.

I stroll around without knowing where I am heading and find an old cemetary where Adam Smith (18th century Economist, Philosopher), author of "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" is buried. Inmidst massive monumental graves I find this tiny plate (see picture) with just his head and name on it and think to myself: "What a modest man he must have been..." when I realize that the green is sprinkled with these little plates. They lead to a gravestone the size of a shopping window surrounded with tall fences. Not the most modest way to end.

Gabi, Margit and I spend a couple of relaxing days on a camping site outside Edinburgh and enjoy the sunny weather in the city center with coffees, ales and bar food. Holland wins against France and Czech Republic looses against Turkey. Tonight, Germany will play. But by then I will be on the road again, somewhere between Edinburgh and Glasgow on my way into the Scottish Highlands...

Queen of Scandinavia - from Bergen to Newcastle

I love ships. Big ones, small ones. This one is a big one. Its name is Queen of Scandinavia. 10 decks, casino, several restaurants, tax free shop and the usual "Mermaid Bar".
Boarding the ship I meet the guys from Mungus HiFi in their van on the way back to Glasgow :)

The trip takes 27 relaxing hours. I had to take a cabin but now I am happy about it - it is a single cabin - just me, my book, a couple of Grolsch beers and a massive pack of roasted nuts.

Cycling on the left side (which is the right side if the right side is the wrong side - you decide) Newcastle is exiting. But I stay just long enough to find a map of Great Britain, an ATM and a pint of Cider. Then I follow the coastal cycling path direction north - Scotland. After my Norwegian days of abstinence, my tolerance for alcohol is now pretty low. With the pint of cider in my legs I don't get very far. I soon crash for the night in the sandy dunes of Whitley Bay.

6 June 2008


The road from Sognefjell to Bergen leads over a last 1000m pass and then the terrain gets so steep and rocky that there are simply no more roads other than the national highway. The highway is very narrow, traffic is horrific and I have the impression that I spend more time inside of tunnels than outside. My nerves are at their limit - a riding mistake can have very serious consequences here. I don't feel well and my stomache aches from the stress. I take long breaks between the tunnels and try to find bypasses but there aren't any.

This stretch of the road is not recommendable for cyclists and as I happen to learn later: it is not recommended to cycle here - the guidebooks suggest to take the train into Bergen.

Well... I tell myself that you can't be a winner everyday and finally get my humor back by blasting AC/DC's "Highway to hell" on my little handlebar stereo... then Metallica and Rage Against The Machine take over. It works.
And then - finally - I find a cycling track following an old road along the shoreline. I don't mind the road conditions, it could as well be deep mud here or river pebbles. I would still prefer to push or carry my bike rather than spending another minute in one of the hellish tunnels. But the road is tarmaced and nice and peaceful and takes me into the center of Bergen. And suddenly I realize that this is the end of my time in Norway. After seven months in this wonderful country I will leave for Great Britain.

Downtown Bergen I visit the famous "Brygge", a UNESCO protected area of old wooden buildings in the harbour. It is spoiled with tourist shops nowadays but still gives you an impression of how life in a fishing and trading harbour must have been hundreds of years ago. I find one alley especially authentic - a strong stench of rotten fish and vegetables creeps through the stilted wooden floor. When we think about the good old times we usually see nice architecture, wood carvings and old taverns. But we forget how much it must have smelled in those times before washing machines, deodorants, automated floor cleaning machines and central garbage collection had been invented.

I didn't plan to stay too long in Bergen but unfortunately I just missed the ferry to Newcastle and the next ferry leaves in 4 days. I don't know really what to do with 4 whole days and start wandering around the city center.
As I walk over the main square I see a group of Rastafarians setting up a massive wall of loudspeakers - the Bergen Reggae Festival is about to start...
Wait a minute, aren't those guys over there Zlatan and Espen, the guys who used to play Reggae in our bar in Tromso? Yes, it is them! And the Rastas are Mungus HiFi from Glasgow in Scotland. They need help setting up their venue and so I am hired for two days helping with the light installation for a free ticket and a couple of beer. I love it.
I also meet Erik, a guy who is about to cycle from Bergen to China (he has some sort of a bet about it going with some friends) and a Portugese guy who had already cycled around Europe for the last 5 years (he stands in the harbour with his bike and a map of Europs and tourists tip him money for the next 5 years). Then I meet Janine who invites me to a BBQ on an island on the coast. Time flies and suddenly I am not looking forward to taking the next ferry to Newcastle anymore. I wouldn't mind staying another 4 days...


Norway is a very mountaineous country. Which certainly is one of the reasons for its enormeous beauty!
One problem that comes with mountains is that (in rich countries) people tend to build plenty of tunnels. Tunnels for cyclists are almost as bad as E605 for Rats. It's a killer.

Some of the tunnels that I cycled were longer than 3km. Three kilometer, that is approximately two miles! One of those really long ones connected two islands - thus it was under water! 114 meter under the surface. I felt like in a spaceship - anxious to get out as fast as possible. The fumes in the tunnels are bad and the roads are narrow. I have the feeling that most truck drivers have never in their life ridden a bicycle, especially not a fully loaded one.

This particular tunnel on the pictures had NO LIGHTS at all!!! It was 700 meters long and it was pitch black dark. The second picture shows the tunnel after roughly 100m, the third picture was taken after 200 meter. Even with my flashlight shining into the tunnel it was impossible to see anything at all. I had to shine to the walls on the left and right to get some bearings about where I was.
Cycling blind is a very funny experience... try to close your eyes on a (EMPTY!) and straight stretch of road for 5 seconds and you will know what I am talking about.

The ride across Sognefjell

From Trondheim my way takes me to Bergen - a beautiful City on the westcoast from where I plan to take a ferry to Newcastle in England. The first possibility is to take the coastal route. It is definitely the easier option but I need to use a lot of small ferries. The second option is the inland route that leads through Dovrefjell national park and then diverts into the mountainrange of Sognefjell. There will be lots of ups and downs!
I choose the second option. Somehow I feel that I haven't yet seen enough of those Norwegian mountains.

To avoid the big roads with heavy traffic, I try as much as possible to find small sideroads. A tiny gravel road takes me into an almost empty countryside with roaring rivers (it is spring time so all the snow is melting here) and high waterfalls. The roads acent very steeply and the temperature rises to 30 degrees Celsius (about 1000 F :). I sweat and swear as the road would and would not stop ascending.
The dwellings here are all built in an old fashioned style; with grass roofs and beautiful wood carvings. On one of the pictures above you see an old train station that is still in use.

The road and the wind decide to form a coalition against me. The terrain just doesn't stop ascending and I now face a steady headwind. But some years ago in Tibet I already had time to get myself psychologically acquainted to this. Then I had to cycle up to more than 52oom. Knowing that there must be and end to this I keep going. And no matter how low or how high the altitude of the pass - reaching the top is always a nice triumph :)

On the pictures you see the thick ice that is still covering the lakes on Sognefjell (it is the beginning of june!!!) and high walls of snow piling up at the roadside. I take lots of banana breaks on the way up and on the way down meet two Dutch ladies (going on 50) who are pushing their bikes uphill for the last two days! My deepest respect! They are on a 4 month trip through scandinavia, all the way up to Nordkap (officially the most morthern point of mainland Europe) and then down again back to Netherlands. Their route isn't fixed. They just go along... Travel at it's best.

In Urnes, I visit the oldest Stabkirke (special style of church) in Norway, protected by UN world heritage and a proud 45 NOK entrance fee.

There are waterfalls everywhere!!! Thundering into the valleys from enormous heights they often create a small localized rain shower which is very welcome in these temperatures that reach almost 30 degrees Celsius. If one compares those falls to Niagara or Victoria falls they certainly aren't as impressive in terms of power and monstrousity. But their remoteness, the quietness of the surrounding nature and the absense of large crowds of tourists makes them special. So I often just sit and gaze and rest my legs and my mind.


Trondheim is a bigger city in central Norway. In earlier yimes it has been the capital of Norway so there are many monuments and old arcitecture here. I stroll around the city and enjoy the good weather. Three days I spend in a beautiful community called "CampHill" - my brother used to work for them during his first year in Norway in a center where handicapped and people with drug habits live and work together. A very relaxing time... and I manage to get a shower and wash my clothes after ten days on the road... It was high time.

The new look

Here is a picture of my bicycle now that I am on the road again. The weight is about 40kg, I guess (without food and water).

I am especially proud of my little stereo that I jerry-rigged from a couple of 1,5V batteries and my old speakers. Now I can listen to music and audiobooks while cycling and without the earphones bothering me. Juhu! The picture was taken in southern Norway... flowers everywhere... it feels as if I was going to San Francisco :)