Ostersund, Denmark – Bergen, Norway

The Gamla Teatern Hotel in Ostersund was built in 1883 and when completed it was the largest ‘wooden’ building in the world.  It has 64 accommodation rooms, conference rooms and a lovely old fashioned theatre.  The decore is very  baroque with red and gold swirly carpets and red and gold stripey wall paper with swathes of luxurious dark red velvet but it is a beautiful hotel and full of character!  There were candles all over the dining room for both dinner and breakfast!

It was a beautifully sunny day for the 526km drive to Arjeplog.  Adrian and Ann found a charming little café which many of the cars stopped at, run by a wonderful old man called Klaus who was everyone’s best friend by the time they all left.  Lesley and Nicholas found a whole herd of reindeer in a town square and Ronald and Ann posted a photo of the sign announcing our arrival in Lappland.

We had three self-start regularities over varying terrain through the pine forests and round lakes and we started to see some reindeer occasionally at the side of the road.

Our accommodation that night was at the Simloc Hotel in Arjeplog.  We had a code to access the hotel and it was totally unmanned from 4pm to 7am the next morning.  The rooms were very spacious with small kitchens in each.  We dined at the local steak house which served up some delicious steaks!

We departed in the rain the following morning and headed for the first jogularity at 22.16km.  There were 6 timings to make over 80km in 80 minutes.  It was on dirt and took us through the forests where the roads were quite good but then there was a 10km section of road which had tarmac for 50meters and then a dirt section full of pot holes.  Some careful driving was required. 

Our route took us into the Arctic Circle and some of the cars went off route and took the tarmac road through Porjus where they found the ‘best place for lunch’!  The owner showed Ann a picture he had taken of the Northern Lights above his restaurant two days before, a sight we would all love to see.

It was still raining as we drove into Finland and Adrian posted a photo of, a sign he had seen which he thought might suit the Finnish philosophy “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s learning to dance in the rain”!

We passed and drove through herds of reindeer  standing on and by the road and even saw some beautiful white reindeer, who appeared to have pink tinged antlers.  We drove through Jokkmokk and over a small wooden bridge which doubled as a railway and through the Ekopark Pitealven.  It had rained all day as we navigated the pine forests and lakes and we arrived in Levi at the Hotel Panorama for our one and only night in Finland.

We awoke to a gloriously sunny day and discovered a magnificent view of the valley from the hotel with ski lifts just outside.

Our journey to Kirkenes was mostly on dirt and we stopped at a wonderful café miles from anywhere in the middle of a 100km stretch of dirt road which can only be accessed by snowmobile in the winter and in 1999 the temperature reached minus 51.5 degrees centigrade!  It was full of stuffed birds and a few second hand clothes, a traditional local smock for a man and some reindeer pelts.

We stopped for lunch in Inari and several of us took advantage of the shop opposite to stock up on Norweigan woollen jerseys, hats and gloves.  Rod put his drone up for some aerial shots of the cars with all drivers and navigators before everyone continued on to Kirkenes.

On arrival at Thon Hotel, we had 10 mins to check in and drop our bags before hopping on a mini bus which took us to the nearby port for a trip to the Russian border.  We passed large fishing boats on the way, piled high with empty crab cages, ready for the crab season to start.  Klaus, our driver and owner of the company, drove us to the port, regaling us with stories of the local area.  At the port we were issued with overalls and life jackets before we boarded a purpose built wooden long boat 45 feet in length called Trifon.

It was a beautiful evening and we headed up the river towards the Russian border and stopped at a wooden built camp furnished with a large wigwam tent and a smaller round room with fur covered seats round the edge and a burner in the middle perhaps for making hot tea in the winter.  The yellow and red border posts were just beyond but we were warned not to step on to the Russian side as they had been known to arrest and fine people for such a serious crime!

Klaus told us about the history of Kirkenes, the relationship they had with their Russian neighbours and about the nearby dam and Russian church.

We boarded Trifon for the return journey and headed back to the hotel for dinner and later on hoped the Northern Lights might grace us with a small light show but to no avail!

The following day there was a queue of cars at the local Shell garage, for the car wash, all keen to be rid of days of caked mud.  The local police turned up for the spectacle and were delighted to be photographed with Ronald and Ann by the Ferrari!

At 11.30am we drove to the port and boarded the Hurtigruten Midnatsol Ferry.  We removed our luggage from the cars and the drivers drove the cars on to the ferry one at a time. We would be on this ferry for five days, disembarking every morning and meeting it in the early evening, allowing us some fantastic driving around the fiords and using the Midnatsol as a floating hotel and viewing platform, so avoiding the need to check in and out of hotels – what a fabulous way to travel!  We then had a wonderfully relaxing day on board, starting with lunch which was an amazing smorgasbord of fish, meat, salads, salami’s, soused herring, catering for every taste.

Toby and Chris disappeared to the car bay to work on the Porsche and changed 9 of the 12 spark plugs, to help sort a miss-fire at high rpm – (Toby said “What an amazing twin plug, 4 litre, fuel injected, 450 hp monster!!”).

Midnatsol stopped in Vardo for an hour and several people from the rally disembarked and went to have a look at the Church.  Ronald and Ann were half way back when the ferry blasted out its 5 minute warning of departure so they had to run to make it back in time.

We sailed through the fiords, the hills on either side quite small but they were to get bigger and bigger as we travelled south.  We had reindeer for dinner which was a first for many of us and it just melted in your mouth!

The ferry stopped over night at various ports but at 10.45am we arrived in Hammerfest.  Serge reported that the Jensen was not handling well so Toby had a look and found that the steering rack was loose so nuts and bolts were tightened all round.   We all met in reception from where the drivers went down to the car deck to drive the cars off the ship and the navigators met them on the quay.  The cars were let off the ferry one at a time with the help of a rising platform and we soon left the port gates where a crowd had gathered to gawp at and photograph the cars.  As we left Hammerfest, we passed herds of reindeer wandering along the road and continued to see herds as we drove south.  The road followed the sea for much of the way and we passed large wooden drying racks for the fish along the shores and in the middle of the fiords were the huge circles indicating the presence of fish farm.  The scenery was reminiscent of Scotland with snowy patches on the mountain tops and we stopped at Kafe E at a petrol station for lunch and a good plate of chips!

There was a long bridge on to the island of Kagen followed by another bridge to the island of Skjervoya and we arrived in Skjervoy about two hours before the ferry was due to arrive.  There was much excitement amongst the local boys when they saw the cars, especially when Ronald reved up the Ferrari, followed by Serge in his Jensen V8 which almost blew them off the dock!

Back on board we had dinner and retired for the evening ready for the 0800 departure the next day.

It was a little overcast the next morning as the cars set off from Harstad, a town of approximately 25,000 people situated on Norway’s largest island of Hinnoya and on the outskirts of which you can find the world’s northern-most medieval church.  The city enjoys the midnight sun in the summer months from  22 May to 18 July and the polar night, when the sun is always below the horizon, from 30 January to 12 January.

It was a day of island hopping, over bridges and through tunnels, following fiords flanked by mountains and then along the sea shore overlooking the open ocean.  We arrived in Svolvaer in the island of Austvagoya where the Midnatsol was due to dock at 8.30pm.  Everyone arrived at Svolvaer at about 2pm and there was the opportunity to drive a very scenic ‘loop’ via Vestragoy and Lekres but there was a lot of rain about and only Adrian and Suzanne braved the journey!  John and Fen and a few others holed up in the local Thon Hotel in Svolvaer and a bridge tournament ensued while Ann and Ronald checked in for a massage at a nearby shopping center followed by the hairdresser for Ann at 5pm!   

Before the ferry arrived there was the opportunity to visit the Lofoten Krigsminne Museum which offers the largest exhibition of rare uniforms and artifacts from World War II. It even included Eric Eichman ceremonial presentation Luger. It really brought home the poignancy of the war and occupation by the Germans.

Two of the cars returned to Stokmarknes to catch the ferry at the earlier stop at 2.15pm and there was much speculation from those left at Svolvaer as to whether they would make it in time!  They made it!

That afternoon the Captain decided it was calm enough to take the Midnatsol up the Troll Fiord which was a beautiful but very narrow Fiord, with the steep mountain rock faces rising high on both sides.  The Captain took the Midnatsol through the narrow 100 meter wide entrance and up to the end of the 2km Fiord to view the waterfalls and then with immense skill turned the huge ferry on a sixpence, with what looked like feet to spare at bow and stern, and then exited the way we had come in.  The skill with which the ferry was manoeuvred here and while docking was a pleasure to watch.

We arrived at Sandnessjoen the following day at 12.30pm for the 363kms to Rorvik where the ferry was due to dock at 8.30pm.  There was no packed lunch that day so some managed to grab a quick lunch from 11.30am before disembarking at 12.30.

It was a beautiful day and we drove through the stunning fiords and then inland and through the pine forests in the valleys.  The roads were excellent and there was the option to meet the Midnatsol at Bronnoysund at 3.45pm ferry but everyone continued on towards Rorvick.  Just outside Bronnoysund we queued for the ferry and Toby and Patrick took the opportunity to address a major oil leak in the Ami 6.  They found that the oil cooler had come loose on the newly built engine so hastily repaired it  before we caught the 30 minute car ferry across the fiord and then continued south along the coast road, through the long Hestnes tunnel and on to Rorvik.

The following morning we awoke to find ourselves in Trondheim, the ferry having docked at 0630.  Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway and was founded in 997 as a trading post and served as the capital of Norway during the Viking Age until 1217.

We disembarked mid-morning and followed a beautiful route in land, past lakes and and up and down steep mountain roads.  We drove through Park Trollheimen and then made our way back to the coast to Kristiansund.  The city lay in ruins after the war and was rebuilt wit a distinctive architecture, decorated in shades of red, yellow and green, giving Kristiansund the nickname the polychrome city.  Although this was not the last night of the trip, John and Fen Aird were due to leave us the next day so we all gathered before dinner for prize giving.  Adrian and Suzanne were declared the winners of the regularity/jogularity and the Captain very kindly joined us to present the winning trophy and prizes.  Rod then treated everyone to a film and photos of the past two weeks!

In the morning we said goodbye to the Midnatsol – it had been a marvellous way to see Norway and hopping on and off the ferry was a wonderful idea, allowing some of us to stay on board for the occasional relaxing day if needed, or to embark on a beautiful scenic drive around the fiords of Norway.   It rained all day as we meandered our way south past fiords and along valleys with tall steep sided mountains to left and right towards Bergen.  The route took us up and over the mountains, up steep switch back roads to the look-out at the top which offered a birds-eye view of the switchback road going down the mountain.  We passed many houses with large barns outside with wooden ramps or earthen ramps to the top floor of the barn were the farm machinery was kept.  Many houses and sheds had live grasses growing on their roof giving them a soft fluffy look! 

We stopped for lunch and coffee in a café in Vikoyri and several of us visited the local shop selling duty free goods.  The reindeer pelts were popular but one could also buy traditional dress, local colourful reindeer boots and paintings, woollens and other gifts.

We arrived at the First Marin Hotel in Bergen and there was time to visit the local fish market and view the beautiful architecture before we were all taxi’d to the Brazilia Restaurant for an excellent Brazillian buffet, where cowboy hatted waiters arrived at ones table with huge scewers ladened with beef, pork, chicken, chorizo sausage or lamb and one could choose to have a slice or two.

It had been a most wonderful trip and everyone was so pleased their cars had made the journey.  We had been given a wonderful taste of Scandinavian and Norweigan countryside, architecture, food and wildlife.  We were sad to all go our separate ways again but happy to have had the opportunity to experience such a fabulous trip with a great group of participants.