19th June - 24th June
Our final ports of call in Denmark, Odense and Copenhagen, are marred by torrential rain and congestion respectively. Odense, we understand, is the birthplace of Hans Cristian Anderson, author of The Little Mermaid and a myriad of fairy tales. All we saw was a lot of soggy Dutch people trudging the uninspiring high street wearing as inappropriate rain garb as we were.
Suitably drenched, with the heating on full blast we dried off in the car whilst crossing to Zealand, Denmark’s biggest island and home of the capital Copenhagen. The traffic is unbelievable! This city is so heavily cyclist and pedestrian friendly that we are able to enjoy most of its magnificent Renaissance and Georgian streets, lined with ambassadorial style residences, from the comfort of the car.
Eventually we are able to park up (outside the Royal Palaces, bored with traffic regulations now) and admire the Amalienborg, the cobbled square housing the four identical palaces that used to constitute the royal residence. Two, in a typically practical and even-minded Danish manner, have been sold off for private use, whilst two remain for court functions when the royal family is in town.
A quick tour of the national museum is enlightening but not riveting. The Danish originate from wild deer hunters who strayed north through the Jutland peninsular 14,500 years ago. Whilst their prehistory is encapsulated here in great detail, their Viking heritage is only fleetingly acknowledged and where it is, in a rather defensive manner, much as the British tend to refer to the slave trade. Much accreditation is given for their construction of peaceful settlements in the UK in the 700 – 800 AD, but little to what they’re really famous for – good old rape & pillage. Oh well, we’ve still the Norwegian Vikings to come!
We enter Sweden on Sunday, via the hugely impressive Øresund crossing – 14km across the Kattegat for a princely €22.
Malmö is impeccable yet deserted, pretty but not startling. It has the feel of an important administrative centre, excelling in hosting important EU delegates in town for a conference on beetroot circumferences.
A perfunctory tour of the impressive St Petri Kyrka (St Peters Church – whitewashed yet baroque in a uniquely Scandinavian Catholic sort of way) and the city centre before we head north, through Swedens southerly reaches. The country is the 3rd largest in Europe by landmass, behind only France and Spain, yet its diminutive population of 9m is smaller than that of Belgium. And it shows – there’s no-one here! As we head north, past Gothenberg and towards Frederikstadt, the country grows in stature and we thankfully leave behind the northern European flatlands. Great hordes of lupins resplendent in pinks, purples and yellows, adorn our route, whilst endless forests of pine, larches and Douglas fir tower in majestic propinquity around us. And the road is virtually empty.
We turn west off the motorway to the mini-archipelgo of Resö to find a campsite for the evening. Suddenly the countryside springs alive, stunning us with mirror perfect lagoons of fresh and salt water, separated by skinny forested causeways. We find a suitable spot, after some searching. By now we understand why Malmö was so deserted – it’s the weekend and every Swede worth his salt has taken his family camping. This appears to be a Scandinavian national pastime, and this was only the tip of the iceberg.
On our evening stroll around the nearest sea bay (30 yards) we meet Gabë, a friendly, matronly Fin and her family, enthusiastically crab fishing. Our initial humerous disregard for the efforts are stifled when we see the near effortless ease at which they are hauling edible crabs from the water with a length of string, a clam shell and a clothes peg. A quick lesson in this simple art and we are determined to add this to our repertoire of survival skills ASAP.
A good nights sleep in our highly comfortable car (all that preparation really was worthwhile!) and we soon cross into Norway, first port of call Oslo.
We arrive through the sprawling industrial port – the manicured harbour of the postcards is reserved for the cruise ships & tourists – and park up. Only ½ million locals live here but the place has a lively, cosmopolitan feel to it, although visibly at least, by far the worst social and immigration problems of any city we’ve encountered yet. Drunks bask in the sunshine in a noisy, stumbling pack around the central station and Indian beggars punctuate the raised footway to the chic, stylish new opera house on the waterfront. The Aker Brygge, the recently renovated and trendy area around the tourist harbour, is obviously better policed, and tourists and locals alike can enjoy hugely expensive, although undoubtedly delicious, fresh North Sea prawns in one of the many smart restaurants and cafes that line the sea front. We do, and blow 2 days budget on one lunch. But worth it!
The Norwegians are a peculiar race. We were expecting stereotypical Scandinavian specimens, with blond locks and physiques toned by the rugged landscape. Technically advanced and extraordinary engineers they may be, but fit and good looking they are not. Well not many anyway. An invasion of US 7/11 stores, complete with deep-pan pizzas and microwave ready burgers, seems to have softened this once fearsome race, and they now waddle about ungainly, betraying the inconvenient secret of their convenience food lifestyle. Despite our best efforts, we cover more than 350km before we buy our first fresh vegetables, a day and a half later, beyond Kristiansand.
Into the fjords
There is no doubt about the landscape of this country, though. Every day as we head first west, then north, through this vast country gives scenery of ever increasing beauty. The charming, conifer clad lakes of the south give way to a miasma of boulder strewn valleys, then the great fjords, lined by great cathedrals of rock that plunge near vertically into the aquamarine depths beneath them. Breathtaking views merge into one, it’s hard to fully take in the sheer amount of beauty this country has to offer.
Our fifth night here, we tire of the exorbitant camping charges and on the advice of Klaus, an amiable and witty German biker we had met the night before, we go it alone. Near Bogsund, a rural village 50 or so km from Stavenger, we spy a perfect spot – a well kept meadow ambling down to a peaceful fjord. A few enquiries later and we meet Bette, the bikini clad wife of the farmer who owns said field. She greets us bemusedly and ebulliently allows us to camp in the field – a perfect spot for our first night ‘free camping’ and allows us to further hone our fishing skills. These are undoubtedly improving but we are unlikely to be troubling the Norwegian fish quota just yet. Delicious looking sea trout admire our technique, even leaping into the air near our lines to show their appreciation, but none are obliging enough to take our lures or flies. Alas, it's chilli con carne for supper!