For this entire trip I have been trying to be extra polite, extra friendly and extra rule and law abiding i.e. not crossing at red lights etc. My feelings are that there is nothing that I can do about our ostentatious ‘American’ camper so I will bend over backwards to try and leave as good an impression about Canadians as I can. When we were back in Canada for my mother’s birthday it also happened to be Canada Day. Mike and I went to Walmart looking for a Canadian flag that I could glue onto my backpack. Instead of a flag I found a red Canadian backpack for $4.88. For my non Canadian friends that is less than 4 Euros or USD. I bought one and took it home expecting it to be extremely cheaply made. It isn’t the best of knapsacks but I use it basically as a purse and to throw a few groceries and things into. It looked like it would work out much better than I had expected so we went back to Walmart and bought two more. My thoughts were that if we were lucky one knapsack might last me one year or one season in Europe. Six weeks later it looks like my $4.88 knapsack might last for a lot longer than I expected and I use it every day. I do try and promote Canada while traveling in Europe much more than I would ever think of doing at home.
We are parked at a marina with very few other campers but lots of boats. This is great since most of the campgrounds are packed around here. We are about 20 minutes from Stavanger where we had intended on staying. That didn’t work very well because after we modified one electrical circuit in the camper whenever we plugged into the 220 system at the Stavanger campground we tripped a breaker. After doing this many times and repeatedly kicking all the surrounding campers off their power they politely asked us to leave. We hadn’t paid yet and they wouldn’t allow us to use our generator. That made sense because the campground was what Europe calls a “city campground” which means it is right in the city but is fairly small and often quite crowded. I wish we had more of these in North America. Anyway it worked out really well, we moved to this marina campsite 20 minutes away and we are having a great time. Mike managed to fix the breaker problem. The three boats nearest to us have 8 kids between them. One 7 year old has adopted our camper is his second home. He knocks on the door, comes in and without saying much goes straight to our 21” Android tablet, turns it on and watches You Tube videos. He then asks us for more candies and continues watching his videos, many of them in Russian which he also speaks. This group of children wear their life jackets almost all the time. It is just taken for granted. One of the father’s said that it is now at the stage where the children almost feel undressed without the life jacket when they are outside. I think it is a great habit the parents have entrenched. One of the children did fall into the water today. He wasn’t in trouble but it helped justify the life jackets to the kids. One of the women was in our camper for a while this evening. She is not originally from Norway and says that she found it very different initially but that it has to be one of the best places in the world for children. According to her, business’s often have areas for the kids, if you go shopping you will often find a corner with lego blocks and toys in the store. Schooling, health everything is provided for them more so than in most other countries. She also said that it is very easy to make friends here and that everyone smiles a lot. I thought that was a nice comment. As I sit here writing this I started on my own, then one boy came in, a little later a young girl joined him and now her younger sister is here and there are three children in here basically ignoring me as long as I provide food, drink and Android!
This camping in marina’s is great. We don’t need all the facilities of a full campground and would rather not pay for them. Marina’s range widely in price but are usually somewhat cheaper than a full campground and walking around and watching all the boats is really nice. We will be in this marina for probably 6 days as there is quite a bit to see in the area. In the previous 5 days we parked in various fields, sometimes near water, with other campers. There was no electricity or wifi in these areas but the price was right – $0. Just to put it into perspective the charge at this marina for camping with the online discount is 180 NOK or $27 Canadian. In this marina that gives us electricity, fresh water, a dump site and full time INTERNET and very nice neighbours. There are also showers etc. for other campers to use.
Today for the first time in Europe we unpacked our inflatable boat and tested it out. The area we are camping in has a lot of small islands and we are quite protected from the ocean waves. We weren’t out long. It really is too cold to enjoy a long ride sitting inches above the water and the clouds were getting darker but none the less it was very nice to have the wind blowing and to actually open up the boat. We took it around the island we are camped on and we had a look, from a distance, at an oil rig. Stavanger’s major industry is North Sea oil. When we got back to the RV we had a visit from a woman who lives in Winnipeg. She is originally from this island and comes back to visit family for a few months each year. She saw our licence plates and couldn’t resist dropping in to say hi. She is working in a nursing home while she is here. She said that the wages here are about twice as much as the same job in Winnipeg. Of course, the cost of living is higher here as well.
This campground is on an island with another island between it and Stavanger. To get here you enter a 5km tunnel that runs under the ocean, then under the middle island and then under the ocean again finally coming up on our island without any exits. This country is tunnel mad. There are bridges and tunnels everywhere. One long stretch of road recently was tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge….. for a long time with basically no level roadway in between. The main highway north that we are following is E39. There are a lot of places on the west coast where you need to take ferries just to stay on E39. I read that within 20 years Norway wants to allow you to drive without ferries all along E39. That has to mean huge new tunnels and bridges. What a massive undertaking. One of the tunnels I heard about recently is supposed to be 25km long. I have family members who wouldn’t enjoy traveling in this part of Norway at all. Mike isn’t even sure what the purpose of some of the tunnels is. He says that it doesn’t look like you are tunneling under mountains or water, possibly the tunnels simply allow animals to wander above but that is sheer speculation.
One compromise that we are making is that we are trying to stick to the E or “Europe” highways such as the E39. We believe that these roads are friendlier for large vehicles. This is “friendlier” NOT large vehicle friendly. It just means that the smaller roads are even worse. Sometimes we can’t take the chance on the more interesting coastal roads but luckily we do have the car and if it is important enough, we will drive back along those roads once we are parked or camped for the day. We are learning that if the road in Norway has a yellow line down the centre it means that it meets Norway’s road criteria which is very narrow by our standards. When the yellow line down the centre disappears and you see a white line on each side this means that the road is narrower than the standard. It often means that it is a two-way road that isn’t much wider than a single vehicle. You have to be prepared to back up which we cannot do towing the car. Mike is getting good at using Google Street View ahead of time to look at roads that we might need to take to get to campgrounds or other places to see if they have yellow lines. If they do we try them, if they don’t we try very hard to avoid them.
If you have heard on the news that Europe has been having a record breaking heat wave all summer you should be aware that the heat wave is in Southern Europe and Mike and I are in northern Europe. Northern Europe is having record-breaking cold weather and rain and the locals are very unhappy. Mike and I don’t mind the “bad” weather that much as the cooler temperatures make for a nice bike riding and walking. I could do with a little less rain but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen for a while. There are enough dry days/hours for us to get our exploring in.
Stavanger is at the western end of what is considered Norway’s Southern Coast. After Stavanger we will be on the Western Coast which is more rugged with narrower roads and many ferries required to stay on the highway. Near Stavanger is the Lysefjord which is lovely. We took a 2 ½ hour boat tour from Stavanger about half way down the fjord. It was August 12 and I broke down and put my long johns on and wore my winter coat. It was chilly on land and I figured with the wind on the boat I would need more and I was correct. I found a pair of winter gloves in my pockets and put them on as well and noticed other people looking enviously at my gloves. One of the advertised highlights of the tour was seeing Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock. This is a 25m x 25m ledge 2000 feet (600m) above the sea that protrudes from the cliff like a pulpit in church. From the boat there wasn’t very much to see. It was so high that the people who hike there were tiny specs and the ledge looked very small. Mike and I are considering doing the hike up to Pulpit Rock tomorrow if the weather holds. We don’t really like climbing and large elevation changes so we will see if we do this or not. It is a 4km hike to get up the 2000 feet to the ledge and of course then 4km back down. The down can be worse than up when hiking. You will definitely hear what we decide to do.
On the way to Stavanger we wandered around the village of Tvedestrand. The houses were all wooden and there appeared to be two distinct sections to town one up and one down and I do mean up high and down at the water. It made for very interesting driving and we were more than pleased that we were in the car and not the camper. A few nights later we camped in Flekkefjord. It is another small town with houses just perched on hills.
We did get stopped by the police because of our towing the car. Actually I think they stopped us because the brake lights on the car under tow didn’t work. We managed to convince them that everything was fine. The car has a special braking system tied to the RV brakes and I don’t think that it is working as well as it should. We are not sure exactly how to do further diagnosis of the problem but we do need to spend some time on it shortly. Towing a car the way we do, without a trailer, cannot be done by anyone with Norwegian licence plates. It really isn’t legal here. EU rules, which Norway often sticks to, will usually permit things (such as towing) that are legal in your home country to be allowed in Norway. This helps us when it comes to towing the car with all four wheels on the ground but in any scenario the brake lights do need to be working and we are having a problem with that. It isn’t as easy to fix or to diagnose as it sounds.
Norway must have put some effort into areas for campers to stay overnight in the last few years. I didn’t realize this until I tried to use Google Street View to see where we were camping. The area is always correct but often the actual camping site is still just a field or a marina and not set up for campers.
This coming Thursday August 17 the kids start back at school and the summer holidays are over. The parents tell me that they are looking forward to things being back to normal.