Hi everyone, Katelyn here. For the last five years I have been moving around Europe for my Dutch husband’s career. While I am no Bicycle Touring Pro, mine and Darren’s friendship has grown because of our similar, nomadic lifestyles. We keep in touch fairly regularly, comparing travel stories, changes in perspectives, and exchanging ideas (aka, Darren helps me with all things technology).
A few months ago, I knew that I would be in yet another transition period this summer and Darren told me about his plans to bike across Norway on the Fjord Cycling Route Bike Tour with a company called Berg Fritid. I marked the tour dates on my calendar as I have done in the case of many of his bicycle touring trips, in case of the off chance that I could go along with him. When I stopped to consider what was really important to me for the summer, travel was at the top of the list. So I bit the financial bullet and booked plane tickets out of my home in Greece to Holland, to Los Angeles, to Colorado, back to Los Angeles, back to Holland, finally to Norway, back to Holland, Los Angeles, Oregon, Holland and then Croatia. You’re still following, right? Great. Now let’s talk about Norway!
There are some people who go on trips to foreign countries only after researching up and down all the details of their time there – from lodging and transportation to language, food, culture, etc. I am not that type of person. I’m more of a get-there-and-figure-it-out kind of girl. That being said, I originally thought I had signed up for a cycling tour in and around the city of Bergen, Norway – the city I flew into the evening before the start of our tour. However, our tour was actually a large loop that started in the small town of Matre, Norway – a ninety minute bus ride north of Bergen. I hadn’t considered much of the logistics for the time before and after the tour. Luckily for me, Darren is logical, well-traveled, and map savvy.
Day 1: Matre – Stordalen, Norway
We started our first day of the Fjord Cycling Route Bike Tour early enough to pick up some provisions at the supermarket and withdraw some cash at an ATM before finding our 12:30 bus (Bus #430) out of Bergen’s bus station and into Matre.
We arrived in Matre just after 2:00pm where we were greeted by Arne, the man who runs the company Berg Fritid and our tour, the Fjord Cycling Route Bike Tour. We walked with Arne the few hundred meters from the bus stop to Matre’s local museum, called the Bjorn West Museum. The bikes we had rented were waiting there for us along with all the necessary tools, safety vests, head lamps, and panniers we would need for our six day cycling journey. After packing up our bikes, we headed into the small museum with Arne where we learned some interesting facts about the area and its history.
Nature has always been at the center of the evolution of the small city of Matre (population 100). It was once a farming area dotted with small cabins that housed farmers and their families. Later, when Norway was occupied by Germany in the Second World War, the area was used to train Norwegian young men to fight against Russia. This group of soldiers was referred to as Bjorn West, which is of course where the museum gets its name. During the war, the same natural surrounding that provided ideal farming became the ideal place to seclude and train soldiers who were able to survive within the shelter of the farmers’ cabins. Years after the war, Matre developed a hydroelectric power plant that is now one of the world’s largest plants of its kind and is visited by researchers the world over. Nature has played a central role throughout the history and development of Matre and it is nature today that provides the beautiful scenery that makes it a such wonderful place for cycling.
After packing up our bicycles and receiving our instructions for the entire self-guided bike tour from Arne, Darren and I set out on our bikes for our first leg of the trip. We stopped for a picnic lunch next to the river and it’s a good thing we did because I needed the fuel for the 3.2 kilometer, 11 percent incline ahead of us. The incline was tough for me. I am an avid gym go-er and former Division 1 athlete; but my cycling experience is limited to keeping up with my older brothers as a child, city cycling during annual visits to Holland with my Dutch husband, and spin class. A lot of spin class.
Aside from the burn in my legs and getting used to the gears on my new rental bike, the climb up was enjoyable and made easy by the fantastic scenery, numerous waterfalls, and the occasional stop to pick wild strawberries. It was great to get the big hill out of the way at the start of the day because we only had fourteen kilometers remaining after our climb. Those fourteen kilometers were on a smooth, paved road. We stopped for water along the river and took plenty of pictures. Before we knew it, we found the sign to STORDALEN FJELLSTOVE, our hotel for the evening, situated on a small lake we’d been cycling around.
At the Stordalen Fjellstove, the reception area was also the kitchen counter. It was there that we found our key accompanied by a homemade wood key chain decorated with our room number – five. I was absolutely delighted by the bunk beds offered in room number five and equally charmed by the room’s wood walls, flannel curtains, lake views and hilly backdrop.
After showers, we went back downstairs for dinner. We’d unknowingly provided them with a bit of a challenge since Darren is vegetarian (almost vegan) and I am vegetarian except for a small amount of fish. Throughout our trip, we learned that meat and fish are a large part of the Norwegian diet. In a later conversation, we were told that the Norwegian government suggests a plate of one third meat, one third potatoes and one third vegetables. As vegetarians, we often center our meals on vegetables and fill in the gaps with dairy, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. They certainly rose to the challenge and we sent our complements to the chef as we tackled the most beautiful, enormous platter of every vegetable in the country, flavorful rice and two fillets of the most amazing salmon I have ever eaten.
I slept soundly that night on the bottom bunk.
Day 2: Stordalen, Norway
Today was an optional addition to our tour. We decided to stay an extra night at the Stordalen Fjellstove so that we could enjoy some mountain biking in the area. Arne, the coordinator of our tour, was enthusiastic about mountain biking and brought us two special bikes to use for the day. Although he gave us many options of routes with varying degrees of difficulty, and even though we woke up to a rainy day, we chose the most difficult course of travel.
The most labor intensive part of the day was actually getting up to the mountain biking area – a muddy off-trail climb that we took on foot while pushing our bikes. My feet got stuck in puddles, I knocked my shins against my bike peddles, and I wore every layer of clothing I packed. I climbed over large clumps of dirt, kept my balance while walking on wet rocks and made my way through a large patch of snow. I also fell down a few times, but I don’t regret a single second.
As we climbed higher, searching for our mountain biking terrain, we continued to get colder and wetter and the views kept getting more spectacular. I got my first sense of the Norwegian scenery with red cottages, lakes, waterfalls and the snow-spotted mountains.
Once at the top, we came to a mutual conclusion that the weather would not permit the mountain biking excursion we had planned. Darren, the Bicycle Touring Pro, hopped on his bike a few times anyway to get a feel for the kind of mountain biking that this area could provide, weather permitting. I know he loved it. I didn’t get on the bike much that day, but that cold climb will be something I will always look back on as one of the most difficult, most interesting things I have ever done.
I loved returning to our lakefront hotel and having an afternoon left for hot showers, lunch (another vegetarian feast), cups of tea, writing and listening to music; the perfect kind of rainy day afternoon.
Even after our large lunch, I was excited to see what they prepared us for dinner. They were creative again, this time adding a delicious pasta that I can’t wait to recreate at home and an array of fresh fruit and berries for dessert.
I snuggled back down in my bottom bunk for our second and last night at the lake-front hotel.
Day 3: Stordalen – Haugland, Norway
Our morning was quite leisurely considering today was our longest day of the bike across Norway tour with 66 kilometers ahead of us. After a great breakfast (I noticed thoughtful additions to the foods on offer, like Nutella and peanut butter) and packing up all of our things, we got back onto our bikes and set out. We stopped soon after for a pannier adjustment, just one of the many bike adjustments we made on the trip. It was a good lesson for beginners like me to always allow for unplanned breaks; whether for readjusting, repairing, eating, hydrating, or just taking in the scenery.
We sure did a lot of taking in scenery today as it was our most scenic day of the tour and Darren’s most scenic day of his three weeks in Norway. We didn’t have a day that wasn’t beautifully scenic, but today was outstanding as it offered the quintessential Norwegian views that made us “ohh” and “ahh” through every turn.
We started the day with another another climb that I don’t remember for its difficulty, but I do remember the very crisp air that we made our way through while looking at hills on either side spotted with snow. The highest my heart rate jumped on the day was getting through a group of cows that blocked the road. They just stared at me while trying to sense what the heck I was. All the while I stared back with equal amazement, trying to move forward without making them feel threatened. It was mostly hilarious and by the time we got to our second cow crossing of the day, I peddled through with ease.
For a while we were quite high up in the mountains, surrounded by calm lakes and the occasional red or golden yellow cabin below. Our gradual descent off the mountain eventually led to a less-than-gradual downhill ride. As I mentioned before, I am not an avid cyclist so this was my first taste of the adrenaline rush of a downhill on a bike. I was cautious at the possibility of cars and especially aware of the few switchbacks; however, “caution” does not describe my approach to downhill rides. I was comfortable on the paved roads and it turns out I am addicted to that little adrenaline rush.
Toward the end of our first long downhill, we were confronted with our first of three tunnels for the day. I suited up in my safety vest and and switched on my headlamp. We were well equipped but I still found the tunnels to be quite scary.
By the time we got to the bottom of the hill and cycled past an iconic Norwegan fjord town, I was starving for lunch, but we were only a few kilometers away from one of the recommended stops: a supposed Wildlife Museum. By this time, we were cycling right along the Sognefjord, so mountains stretched all along our left and water along the right. We stopped before the museum to sit and eat our packed lunch on the side of the highway (that we’d been cycling on) overlooking the water. We pondered how deep it was and looked up the actual definition of a fjord.
Wikipedia says a fjord is, “a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by glacial erosion.” We learned later that the Sognefjord that we were cycling on is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, more than 4,200 feet deep.
A short ride after lunch, a sign for the Massnes Wildlife Museum presented itself on our right and we turned in. We were greeted by a man – passionate for nature, and art – talented in taxidermy, sketching, wood carving and speed skating. This museum, generalized under the name “Wildlife,” was actually a personal collection of the above listed passions and talents.
I digress. One of the many factors in my decision to be vegetarian was being uncomfortable with dead animals; namely an emotional breakdown I had as an eight-year-old while being stared down by elk heads mounted on the wall of a hunting lodge turned restaurant. My choice to remain vegetarian has since evolved and been influence by many other factors. It has been a long time since I felt like that uncomfortable eight-year-old…until I walked into that museum.
The long rectangular room of the museum that we entered was quite crowded with an impressive collection of wildlife in the form of taxidermy. I ignored my anxiety and did my best to appreciate the massive array of animals on display, asking the man about specific ones. We learned that all of the animals on display were found in Norway. He had prepared all of them and this display was his personal collection. His passion for nature was obvious.
He stopped at one particular bird and explained that he had a whole farm of them to help bring them out of the danger of extinction. He also told us that while the large game were hunted, a lot of the animals he had mounted in the museum were found dead, whether hit by a car, stuck on a power line, etc., and the local community has learned to bring the dead animals to him to be stuffed and preserved. I felt like I had learned quite a bit and I certainly saw many more animals there than I otherwise would have.
By the time I thought we were ready to leave, the man opened a door to another long rectangular room. This one though, was a kind of restaurant with a row of family style tables and a large fireplace. In this restaurant we found more of his personal collections – family pictures, woodwork and speed skating trophies. We sat down for a coffee with a Dutch couple that had come in earlier and we all chatted about our travel and life experiences.
We were ready to get many more kilometers out of the way on the bike now. We had a pleasant ride ahead of us as the Sognefjord offered more mountain and placid water views. We made our way through another tunnel. I’d gained much more confidence by now and the road opened up to multiple lanes on the other side.
Our home stretch was one last tunnel, this one with overhead lights. We were pleased to find a supermarket not long after the tunnel. I was addicted to some oatmeal chocolate cookies I found in Bergen and this was the perfect time to refill my stash. We opted for two chocolate ice cream bars as well – a brand that Darren had discovered a few weeks earlier. We took advantage of the picnic table just outside the supermarket and took in more water views.
Our hotel, the Brekkestranda, was easy to recognize because the tour paperwork mentioned that it was well known for its unique architectural design of no right angles and a grass roof.
A beautiful, blond, Lithuanian girl gave us our key at reception as a man seated off to the side introduced himself as the hotel manager. For a man that works in hospitality, we learned that his real specialty is hyperbole as we listened to him explain the details of the hotel and all that the area has to offer.
He told us that the hotel was originally the idea of a retired woman who hired an eccentric architect giving him specific orders that there wouldn’t be a single right angle in the hotel. Apparently even the windows, doors, and corners that appeared to have right angles are tilted by at least one degree.
The grass roof was cool and the wood walls were pretty but the number of widows is what really impressed me. All of the windows were different shapes and there were so many of them that natural light refreshingly took over each space. The hotel manager continued on, now explaining all the nature the area has to offer: the nest of a pair of mating eagles out front, deer that graze like nature’s lawnmowers, and whales that travel on the waters of the Sognefjord (that our windows overlooked) feeding on the millions of mackerel. He inquired about our vegetarianism, making sure to mention that their salmon is the best in the country before showing us a space for our bikes and welcoming us as if it were our home.
After a shower, I did enjoy the salmon they served me dinner; though the rosemary roasted baby potatoes were the real star of the show. We got excited about the extensive dessert menu and stayed for a long time in the dining room. The dining room had a real charm that I can’t quite put my finger on. It could have been the wood walls, the rod iron accents, the contrasting bright green and orange napkins, or the gentle melted candle flickering on each table.
I stayed up well past my bedtime that night searching for whales on the waters outside of our hotel room window, but alas, they never appeared.
Day 4: Haugland – Eivindvik, Norway
Our fourth day of the Fjord Cycling Route Bike Tour started with an incredible selection of foods at the Brekkestranda’s breakfast buffet. This was our first breakfast with fresh pastries. I dove headfirst into a donut holes before Darren even entered the room.
Toward the end of breakfast, the hotel manager came into the room and stood framed by one of the many windows. We sat and looked toward him like eager pupils. He got started talking about some of the reasons that he – born and raised in South Africa – decided to settle down in Norway. We talked about the safety provided by this country and its low crime rates. We talked about Norway’s free health care, work days that end at 3:30 pm and free access to university education. He told us that the country has one of the highest productivity rates. In just my few days as a tourist, I had already noticed kind people, eager English speakers, prompt scheduling and a safe environment. All of those things encouraged this man to come raise his children in Norway, but those are the same things that made my experience as a bicycle tourist here so enjoyable.
Our conversation progressed to the route we had ahead of us. He told us how the roads in the area are fairly new and that the original form of transportation for most parts of the country was by ferry. That meant that some parts of the country used to be quite isolated, resulting in the many different Norwegian dialects that can still be heard today.
Today felt like our shortest day on the bike – a 46 km ride along the Sognefjord that eventually turned south into the small town of Eivindvik. Not long after getting on the bike, we passed a Swiss couple who had rented some bikes and were camping along the way of their own tour. I was overjoyed that the bikes we had been given for our bike tour were far superior to the ones this young could was riding. Plus, I felt so luxurious knowing a hot shower was ahead of me in a hotel room and that I wouldn’t have to sleep in my tent in a campground or the forest.
About half way through the day we saw a downhill ahead of us with groups of sheep and farming areas on either side. To my delight, the downhill was long – almost never ending. I snugged down on the bike, hugged each turn, stayed vigilant for cars, absorbed the surrounding scenery and drunk up the adrenaline rush. The end of the downhill blasted me with fresh, saltwater air. The road flattened out and continued straight along the fjord – the closest we had cycled by water thus far. We stopped for a picture. I wondered why I felt on the verge of tears and I realized that actually, that was one of the coolest, most amazing things I’ve experienced in my life.
As for the rest of the ride, I spent most of this day practicing cadence. Cadence, Darren taught me, is the number of peddle revolutions per minute and since we were carrying weight, my goal should be at least 90 rpms. For the first time in about a week, Rachel Platten’s Fight Song stopped repeating in my head and I focused instead on peddle stroke. I’m sure Michael Buble crept into my head at some point later, but I put him on a back burner to take in the lovely small town of Eivindvik and find our hotel there.
At the Eivindvik Fjord Hotel, we met Laila who was working as the receptionist, chef, and waitress since the other staff were on vacation this week. Darren went up to the room while I drank up a few cups of Laila’s fresh brewed coffee.
Today was the warmest day of the tour so I was able to wear the dress I had packed down to dinner. Laila brought us two identical rectangular plates, arranged with salad, rice and sautéed vegetables. All of this was accompanied by a ceramic dish of au gratin potatoes to share with some crusty bread. Laila was nervous about catering to two vegetarians, so she was pleasantly surprised to find that we’d all but licked our plates clean at the end of the meal.
There was plenty of daylight left after dinner to go explore the town of Eivindvik, population 500. Laila eagerly briefed us on the town-the most historic in Norway. We walked down to the church, built in 1854 by a priest heavily involved in all matters of the town and Darren skipped up a small hill beyond the churchyard to find a 1,000 year old stone cross.
Day 5: Eivindvik, Norway – Froyseth, Norway
This was our earliest morning of the tour as we needed to take a ferry to the next leg of the trip. At Laila’s suggestion, we took the longer ferry (just more than an hour) to see more of the small islands that make up this part of Norway. On our ferry ride, we saw the most western point of the country and we pondered the route the Vikings would have taken from this part of Norway into the United Kingdom.
The ferry dropped us off in Mjømna from where we would cycle through multiple small islands, connected by bridges, before heading southeast back to the mainland of Norway.
Like the other days of the tour, we were still cycling on smooth, paved roads. The scenery changed today, though, to a rockier landscape blanketed with dark purple and the occasional yellow wildflowers. We crossed a couple of bridges that connected the islands and cycled by the world’s second largest oil refinery.
Our shortest ride of the tour (32 km) delivered us to the homemade signs indicating the way to our farmhouse hotel, the Frøyset Gardsmat, where we stayed for our final night of the tour.
We found an old woman sitting outside and she showed us our way in. Moments later her son, the owner, found us to show us around. He pointed to a hill behind the house and recommended we climbed it. Darren cannot say no to these things, so an hour later we were on top of said hill, taking in the views of the area.
After our hike, we still had a recommended bike ride into the nearby Meisdalen Valley. We regrouped once again and set out. I pretended like I was a Bicycle Touring Pro and bared down on my sore bottom with a kind of grit and determination that I haven’t used in a long time. Darren, the real pro, happily and effortlessly bounced along the gravel road like a happy little boy. He was totally in his element.
The promise of a hot shower and vegetarian lasagna is the only thing that got me through the short ride back to the farmhouse hotel.
The owner’s mother usually does the cooking, but his wife, Tone, wanted to take on our vegetarian challenge that evening. She made a perfect vegetarian lasagna and added thoughtful touches to the meal, like beans in our salad.
Tone joined us as we were finishing up our dinner and told us more about the farmhouse and her family. She is a full time nurse, mother of five and runs this hotel while also fostering a sixth child. I was fascinated by her and could have listened to her for much longer, but she excused herself and we dove into the dessert she left us – vanilla ice cream and an array of wild berries freshly picked from the area. Ice cream, by the way, is Darren’s favorite food.
After dinner we managed to find enough energy for a short walk to feel like we’d gotten the full experience of our time there. If I could change one thing about this tour, it would be to add at least another night onto our stay at the Frøyset Gardsmat. I was so enamored with this place; I already want to go back.
Day 6: Froyseth, Norway – Matre, Norway
We left the Frøyset Gardsmat reluctantly between rain showers and got on our way for the last day of our tour. Just 42 kilometers made up the last part of our loop back to Matre.
My mindset shifted today and I could feel myself focusing only on the destination. Considering my fatigued legs from our jam-packed day before, I wasn’t quite mentally or physically ready. It seemed like one false flat after the other and I’m not sure I got higher than second gear. Darren knows all too well that some days of bike touring are more difficult than others, but this was my first real taste of the struggle.
We made our ride longer than necessary because our directions were unclear and we nearly ended up on a road that prohibited cyclists. Luckily, when we turned around to backtrack, we were on a steady downhill for quite some time; which managed to renew my energy and mindset. A seven kilometer climb greeted us after that bit of downhill. Knowing that it was our last day and not wanting to miss our bus back to Bergen, I pushed through it. After the seven kilometers, we found a bumpy downhill finale that delivered us back to the Bjorn West Museum where it all started six days before.
I have nothing but good things to say about my time in Norway. I knew I would enjoy the trip, but I didn’t know that World War II history would be right at my fingertips; that I’d sail on the same waters as Vikings. I didn’t know that the country would be so welcoming, friendly and accommodating. I knew it would be beautiful; but I didn’t know that I would be completely surrounded and immersed in breathtaking nature and scenery. As a bicycle tourist, I didn’t just see nature, I felt it too – crisp air, warm sunshine, cooling breezes and the occasional rain. I also loved arriving at the end of each day feeling accomplished and being greeted by warm hospitality, great food and lovely hotel rooms. In the days after leaving Norway, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reliving the trip through writing, visiting with family and friends and looking at Darren’s beautiful photography. I’ll always look back on this trip with a big smile – six days summed up as one of the most wonderful experiences of my life thus far.