Fjord Fiesta: Touring Norway

Touring in the Land of Trolls, Tunnels, Ferries and $15 Beers

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Scott O'Dell

Base-camp for our adventure was the village of Alesund, pronounced like most Norwegian words by swallowing, then burping up the vowels until you get something sounding like uh-lay-zund. The city center is cut with narrow canals and channels, suggesting a herring-scented Venice. This is a Touring Center tour, which in Edelweiss-speak means you return to the same hotel each evening, so you don't have to constantly pack and unpack your gear. Accommodations are the Scandic-Alesund, a charming hotel that so typifies the Scandinavian design aesthetic that even the magnetic room keys are made from elegant, renewable balsa wood. The hotel is cantilevered over the Alesund harbor, an active shipping port that's home to one of Norway's busiest fishing fleets. A welcome dinner at the famous Sjobuya (fish house) restaurant, located in a converted seafood warehouse where the fish are off-loaded straight through a kitchen window, underscores Alesund's close connection to the sea.

Our first day's destination was Runde, a rocky outcrop south of town that's home to the Runde Environmental Center, the third-largest seabird rookery in the world. The island has a human population of just 90, but during summer it's home to more than a half-million puffins, terns and other subarctic sea birds. We ride for less than 30 minutes before encountering the first of many ferry docks. Ferries are an essential, inescapable part of life in Norway's Fjordland, and they run as dependably as a German railway. The other constant is bridges and the last one leading to Runde is especially impressive, stretching almost a kilometer.

The route is reminiscent of the Florida Keys, only with more turns, less traffic and less sun. The first riding day was also our introduction to another ever-present reality in Norway: regn. North Atlantic weather systems meeting steep coastal peaks means the weather is frequently changeable, and frequently wet. When every restaurant has an umbrella rack at the door and even the uber-trendy H&M outlet stocks rain suits, you know that precipitation is part of life. It rained probably half the time we were riding, though seldom harder than a steady drizzle. The perfectly maintained tarmac stayed grippy even when wet, however, and our supplied BMW R1200RT was equipped with heated handgrips and a big windscreen. Dressed like Norwegian fishermen, we managed to stay comfortable.

In an attempt to avoid moisture in the mountains, Hellrigl juggled our schedule and stuck to sea level on the second day, leading us on a fjast and fjurious blast up Norway's famous Atlantic Road. The harsh coastline resembled a rocky moonscape, interrupted only occasionally by small, scrubby brush. It's a stark, beautiful, altogether inhospitable-looking landscape that illuminates the Viking character-tough people bred in a tough land. We stopped for lunch at a harborside restaurant in Bud where whale was the special of the day, then explored the hilltop remains of a shuttered Nazi bunker. The German military occupied Norway during World War II and the hills surrounding the fishing village were a key part of Hitler's Festung Norwegen (Fortress Norway), hiding anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery intended to fend off an Allied invasion.

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