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Aussies on Tour in Norway & Germany: An Overview PDF Printable Version E-mail


Aussies on Tour in Norway & Germany: An Overview

Martin and Pam Williams
Summer of 2017

Introduction

The detailed, day-by-day account of their journey, the places where they stayed, co-ordinates which also link to a photograph of each stay (they don't use campsites), and distances between stays, is also on this website.

In 2016 Martin and Pam travelled over 10,600 km (6,650 miles) around France in their new motorhome, a Marquis Majestic 125. In 2017 they returned to Norway - a place they decided in 2012 was their new favourite country. The following account covers almost 8 weeks in Norway, their outwards journey across Germany, as well as Scotland later in the holiday. In 4-months away from their Western Australian home they covered almost 13,500 km (8,450 miles).

Most of the trip went to plan, but more of that later!!

Links to full descriptions of five of their previous motorhome journeys in Europe (2011 - 2014 and 2016) can be found on this website in
 Fellow Travellers.

Link here to some pictures of their trip and where they stopped overnight.

Martin writes:

Getting to Norway from the UK

Gone are the days when there was a ferry from Aberdeen to Bergen. Of course there are UK east coast crossings to places like the Hook of Holland but they are expensive and it's quite a long crossing – not good when the North Sea is misbehaving and heaving. It might not be the only thing that's heaving!!

As we wanted to cross Germany at about the level of Cologne to Dresden along the E4, we drove from our base in Derby down to Dover and crossed to Calais on the P&O line. That's the same crossing that we used in 2012.

Motorhome Mumblings

There are many advantages to travelling around in a motorhome especially in Norway. With their constitutional 'Freedom to Roam' there are virtually unlimited safe places to stop, many in remote arreas with stunning views. Many are near water and you soon get used to the sound of water, sometimes lapping, sometimes rushing and many times falling; you are never far from fjords, lakes, rivers, rapids or waterfalls in Norway; after all it does have five of the world's twenty highest waterfalls.

Finding a flat spot to park for the night can be a challenge though and in the summer months so can sleeping. As one drives north the midnight sun poses a problem in terms of getting to sleep, or even pursuading your brain what time of day it is; is it time to eat – we missed several evening meals, is it really time to sleep?? Our motto was 'make the best use of the light' – it certainly saved on leisure battery use.

Another advantage for us was that our van is under 6 m in length so on the many ferries we were charged the same as a car, any longer and the price doubled! Lucky for once that we didn't have bikes on the back!!

So a shorter van and free accommodation certainly helps to keep costs down in what really is an expensive country.

Cities, Towns or Villages?

We find that generally motorhomes and larger conurbations do not mix very well. We normally aim for smaller places and prefer villages to towns and towns to cities. Many aires (motorhome stops) are outside town and  lots of motorhomers cycle in to the centres.

This year we wanted to visit several larger places across Germany and the list included Cologne, Dresden and Berlin. We added Eisenach and Erfurt to link them all together as we traversed the country. Along the way these were two of the many places celebrating Martin Luther and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The major centres had surprising differences and not just in architectural style.

Cologne was unbelievably crowded without any visible police or army presence – we loved the cathedral, the understated St Martin's Church and the old market area, the sculpture park and the constant barges and tourist boats up and down the Rhine.

However, we never did find a free public toilet in the city.

By comparison Brussels, which we added on the way to Germany, seemed quite empty but it had regular and very visible army patrols but no obvious police presence. We loved the gardens, the Atomium, Le Grand Place, the spoken French, the cyclists, the buskers and the Mannekin Pis, which had been dressed in Chinese costume!! The city had lots of free public toilets.

PhotoGuarding the 'Chinese' Mannequin Pis Statue

Eisenach and Erfurt were pleasant towns both with a Luther focus; the latter town sported a huge fun run when we were there. It also has a multitude of towers, the Petersburg Citadel and the big square with the glorious twin churches of St Severin and St Marys.

When we arrived in Dresden it looked spectacular in the sunshine and it seemed even less crowded than Brussels. No army patrols but there was a big police presence; apparently there was an important political meeting and they'd drafted in police – on foot, in cars, in vans and on horseback. Low-key but there constantly.  We stayed in Dresden for about 4½ days and we loved it. Some of the modern architecture was brilliant but the restoration and reconstruction work since the war was fantastic – the castle, opera house, Zwinger, the Frauenkirche and the squares - a terrific blend of old and new architectures. All the toilets cost 50 Euro cents even in the shopping centres. We did eventually find a free toilet in the concert hall.

After side trips to Pirna and Eberswalde we drove up to Berlin. In the 3 days we were there I don't think we saw anyone in a uniform – no police and no army patrols. Big crowds only at a few key places, such as the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Reichstag. It was clean, felt safe and seemed a very livable city which we mostly walked around with a few trips on the S-Bahn trains. Lots of bikes in evidence, oh and Trabbies too – the Trabant was an East German car with over 3 million being produced over 30 years.

Photo: 'Berlin loves you'  - Trabbies and bikes

The city is full of fabulous buildings and monuments – our favourites included the above three places and The Wall Memorial, Museum Island and Gendarmenmarkt with its Concert Hall, French Cathedral and our favourite, the Dom – this church had been fabulously reworked and rebadged – it staged a Bundestag Exhibition of Parliamentary History when we were there. And it had free toilets.

The Jewish Memorial was unbelievably moving but our trip to the Charlottenburg Palace was a bit of a waste of time. 

One intriguing thing was the overground blue pipes that crop up throughout the city – apparently they carry ground water, usually from building sites to storm water drains. Did I say blue? Some of them were pink!!

Photo: Berlin Brandenburg Gate

Our German tour ended in Rostock and Lubeck before we headed up Denmark to Hirtshals and the ferry across to Kristiansand in Norway.

Norway

Brochures describe a trip to Norway as a feeling.

We were in Norway and experienced that feeling for almost 2 months; that is us and about 5Ό million Norwegians and seemingly tens of thousands of motorhomers – up north every 3rd or 4th vehicle was a motorhome! Many of them local – a huge increase since we were there in 2012 when they were mostly German vans.

It's a big country – very long and thin. We drove over 6,350 km along Norwegian roads arriving and leaving by ferry from Kristiansand in the south. The furthest north we got was Andenes to the north of the Lofoten Islands, a drive of about 1,850 km. Until Narvik a lot of the driving was along the E6 highway. Many people ask us if we got to North Cape. We decided against going there - it was another 750 km, mostly along the E6, taking at least 11 hrs more driving with quite a few tolls along the way.

The E6 is described in the Lonely Planet as the Lemming Route suggesting that it is boring. To us it was far from boring although it is quite busy – especially at the southern end.

Norway's roads are amazing – and the engineers are constantly pushing the envelope - they will happily drill through mountains - like the 24.5 km long tunnel between Aurland and Laerdal; in the summer we prefer to take the Snow Road over the top; it is closed for most of the year. If the sea is in the way they add a bridge or a ferry and in many cases they drive sub-sea tunnels such as at Kristiansund where there is a sub-sea tunnel in and out of town; both are over 5 km long; very steep descents and steep climbs out! It's a scary feeling diving into a tunnel when you can see the raging sea alongside! The country has over 30 sub-sea tunnels. Currently the longest is 9 km long, although they are driving a 14 km one, with a 25 km long tunnel on the drawing board!! In addition, the roads are constantly being upgraded in major and very impressive projects; they just remove large chunks of the mountain.

Photo: Norwegian road upgrade - E6

National Tourist Roads

In 2012 we travelled over eight of the eighteen roads that were originally designated as National Tourist Roads in 2004. In 2017 we repeated some of the routes including the Trollstigen (106 km), Lofoten (230 km) and Aurlandsfjellet (the 47 km Snow Road). We also added Andoya (58 km) to the north of the Lofoten Islands, The Atlantic Road (36 km) between Kristiansund and Bud, about 200 km of The Helgeland Route of 433 km down the coast and the Gaularfjellet (114 km). They include some of the most amazing scenery and fabulous lookouts and were some of the highlights of our visit. Very highly recommended

So the Roads are getting busier, right?

We have had long driving holidays in Europe for many years and one thing that did strike us this year was the big increase in the number of trucks on the roads, particularly on the German Autobahns. The inside lane always seemed to be a continuous stream of trucks, almost a vast parking lot at times. It got worse as we moved east with a huge number of vehicles streaming over the Polish border. 'Logistics' seemed to be the key word, appearing on every second truck. It seemed that for each load going from A to B, there was another going from B to A; probably a fundamental universal law there somewhere, action and reaction 21st Century style. A perverse law of logistics! It didn't feel very logical to us!

Photo: Truck car park – inside lane on the E7 Hamburg

Truck traffic is predicted to grow so it won't get any easier. They all pay a toll, so that's obviously little deterrent. The UK motorways seemed to have caught the same disease, although the Norwegian and Danish motorways were much emptier. Not sure about French autoroutes – we keep off those as they cost money. The Autobahn toll for foreign cars will be introduced in 2019 so I'm not sure what we are going to do then!! One thing that they should do is sort out the many roads that are closed or that take you off on an 'Umleitung', a deviation – it was a bit of a joke at times, although not really a funny one!

So how did our trip of 13,500 km go, was it safe? Without incident? Well not quite .. a couple of days before the end of our two months in Norway on one of the National Tourist Roads – the Rv13 – we damaged the back of the van. Well, I backed into someone to avoid a bus hammering down a narrow section of the road near Lofthus to the north of Odda. No-one hurt and the van was still drivable but it did take the edge off the bien κtre somewhat. We headed back to the UK to have the damage repaired.

The Common What?

The 'Common Market' was created in 1957 and later it morphed into the EEC – The European Economic Community - so you would think that there would be quite a lot of commonality after some 60 years. Far from it in our experience. Obviously countries want to retain some cultural identity but when it comes to electrical standards or engineering standards there seems to be a huge resistance to converging on a single standard.

Take the roads for example. OK the UK will never change to driving on the right, even if the Swedes did it in the 50's it's a bit late for that. When you drive from Holland, Germany, Belgium and into France they all have different colours for road signs, road markings, road conventions and road architecture, No chance that road rules such as 'priority from the right' are the same across the continent. Even the traffic light sequence is not consistent. They do agree on the 'STOP' sign; perhaps that is one good thing!   Let's hope they get it right for self-driving cars!!

The UK still uses miles to measure distance but fuel is measured in litres. They still have an each-way bet on milk however which is sold in a pack that looks like 2 litres but is actually 2.272 litres, which is 4 pints!! The pint bottle of milk is still – yes - a pint of milk.

The classic example is LPG. Why is there not one single fitting? In the UK and in France there are so many different proprietary gas bottles. Different fittings, different threads etc. This is a big issue for motorhomers – you either carry extra gas bottles with you, or you limit your trip to a time that matches your gas use for cooking, heating and refrigeration, or you get them filled which has not been easy until recently. Now at least we have refillable LPG tanks so you can use autogas bowsers anywhere. But we still have different autogas connections across the continent .. how come? Autogas is autogas isn't it?!! Apparently not, so we still have to carry three adaptors.

There is obviously profit in not being 'common'.

When it comes to the basics of life in a motorhome, filling with water, emptying the grey water and the toilet, it can be equally crazy. France has loads of places, Holland virtually none. In Germany it was tough to find such places but in Denmark every stop on their motorways had fresh water, grey water and black water dumping – frequently an extra facility for caravans too. They also had designated places for motorhomes to stay overnight on their service areas. Norway has more water than you can poke a stick at but it was still a bit of a challenge to find places to empty the toilet as we don't use camp sites.

And then of course there are the common financial standards with bank cards etc – read on .. ..

Too Tech or not too Tech?

In Australia there is a lot of talk about the cashless society and mobile cashless payments. There's been a big move away from ATM use with 75% of retail purchases in Australia using the PayPass / PayWavecontactless systems.

Norway has always been very advanced in this area. Five years ago when we paid on any of the many and remote ferries we just paid with a bank card in a hand-held reader – we put our pin number in and away we go. This year we wanted to buy broccoli from a street vendor in Laerdal – we proffered a large bank note which the guy could not change. He pulled out a mobile bank card reader and for 12 Kroner – about $1.90, just over one pound – we put our pin number in. In Germany and in France we could pay in supermarkets by bank card and enter our pin number but in many places in the UK we had to sign with bank card use – no swipe, no wave and pay and no pin number option. Talk about retro!!

Communication 101

I suppose it's a sign of the times but everywhere we went there would be someone on a mobile phone. The words 'obsession', 'addiction' and 'fanaticism' spring to mind. It's a holiday, right, so why not take a holiday from your phone? Facebook, Twitter, Messages, Instagrams, WhatsApp and 'Uncle' Google! Doesn't anyone worry about where all their information is going? Don't they worry about big brother using their data?

Photo: A sign of the times - Communication 101

I have to admit that we did use free wifi for email and WhatsApp to keep in touch with family and friends and one thing that has improved since we were last in Norway is wifi availability – in the 5 years since we were last in Norway there are many more places that offer free wifi. So this year we did not need to rely on McDonalds!! We tended to use the Co-op for wifi, they had shops everywhere and had excellent high-speed lines. We became 'Co-op guests'. Many of the other networks seemed much less secure.

In Germany a few cities had areas with free wifi, shopping centres typically, and Tourist Offices were OK. McDonalds insisted on sending a code to your phone but it had to be a German phone number; not much use to us!

E-Cigarettes and Vaping !!!

Compared with Perth there seemed to be so many more smokers in evidence and in German cties we even saw cigarette machines in the street. No plain packaging there (but you have to insert a German ID card which includes date of birth). The other contrast was the incidence of e-cigarettes and vaping. Whole shops dedicated to them! Totally banned in Western Australia (where we live) for use and for sale when they involve nicotine.

Yes Motorhomes are getting Bigger!

When we are looking for an overnight stop we generally use the excellent French Camping Car Infos. We are always surprised that many motorhomers complain on that website that the berths in the aires are too short. We said earlier that there are so many more local vans than we saw 5 years ago, and most of them looked about 7½ metres long.  They just don't seem to sell smaller ones in Norway.

Norway in a Nutshell !

Yes, Norway did live up to our expectations, the locals are very friendly and it really is a superb country. In hindsight, two months there was probably a bit too long. We had exhausted the superlatives by the end and we were a bit saturated. The landscapes are spectacular and so open – even when there are houses and farms there don't seem to be obtrusive fences and barriers, certainly nothing as obscene as the 'asbestos' fences back home in Oz!

One thing that was intriguing was the way in which fuel prices seemed to vary, a little bit by area, but mostly by time of day. Of course fuel in Norway was dearer than any other country that we visited and we kept an eye out for the cheaper places. Fuel seemed to be cheaper in the morning and then would shoot up in price. At first we thought we were imagining it but in Fauske on 10th July we watched it. Diesel was 12.02 Kr/l one minute and then 14.90 kr/l the next. It was all about timing!!

We did love the precision on the road signs. Most countries will have a sign saying bends, or sheep, or whatever for the next 3 km. In Norway the text under the sign said “0.2 – 3.2 km” so the distance was the same but it doesn't begin for 200 m!!

There seemed to be lots of charging points for electric cars, using up all that hydro-power.

On so many calm days, there were fabulous reflections in the fiords.

We didn't see much out-of-the-ordinary wild life: one moose, three dolphin, a sea otter and possibly one sea eagle. Disappointing really when we spent so long in wild places.

One thing that did spoil the scenery was the wrapped hay bales. In most countries these are 'plain wrapped', as in Scotland, but this year in Norway they were wrapped in polythene, presumably to keep the hay dry. Some were white, some were black, many were pink. Yes, I know the reason that they are pink but they really spoiled the landscape. Really unsubtle.

So, What did we Learn?

We learned not to trust our SatNav, again!! We should know by now because we have used it for 7 years. So many times it took us on 'interesting' routes but we did see some stylish parts of some cities as a result. The instructions that we got were challenging at times and some of the junctions were crazy.

Link here to some pictures of our trip and where we stopped overnight.