Day 6: Narvik – Russenes

Thursday, March 1st, 2018
Distance covered: 625 km
Driving: 10am – 8pm
Weather: Cloudy, later a lot of snow
Lowest temperature: -8C

We started the day with another early morning visit at the local Volkswagen dealer and again got great service. As the diff was still frequently making very unpleasant noises, we asked the mechanics to change the diff-oil again, which was done within 1.5 hours. After we learned that VW still found some of the wrong old oil in the diff, we were sure we had done the right thing and left Narvik around 10am, heading north, very north, direction Nordkapp.

The first hours went through the mountains. We drove next to large military training areas and saw quite some Norwegian and Dutch troops on the street, with interesting small tanks and Army snowmobiles. Later, we reached huge fjords, with majestic and steep rocks, covered with snow and ice.

As breath taking these Fjords are, as cumbersome they can be! It took us a full 40 kilometres to get some hundred meters more north. Furthermore, the street (E6) is the only street in the entire area. Good and bad: you never start to look for a diversion option in case the road is closed, e.g. by a construction site, as an alternative route would mean some hundred additional kilometres.

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In the early afternoon it started to snow and between two Fjords, we had to cross a small pass. Prior to it, the road was closed again for another half hour. A quick chat with Team 4×4 magazine helped to bridge time until we could drive in a convoy behind the snow plow across the open plateau pass. Not the actual light snowfall was the problem, but a heavy storm, that was blowing snow from the surrounding fields on the road. As unhappy as we were to wait for the plow, as much did we now like driving behind it.

Another surprise to me was, how densely north Norway is still populated. Already in the dark, we drove through the harbour city of Alta, with an unexpected 20.000 inhabitants and being just 2 hours away from the Nordkapp.

A speed limit bumper in Alta made our differential “sing” again, while we drove through heavy snowfall in the dark across wide white plains, happy for the red sticks indicating the road.

Around 8pm we finally reached our place for the night, a nice cabin directly above the Porsanger Fjord. As it was impossible to reach the place by car, the owner helped us to carry our suitcases and beer on a funny tracked little vehicle.

While I took care of the fire place and our first Krombacher Bier of the trip,

Arndt created a tasty tinned Gulasch soup for us.

All set for a romantic night up in the north. Unfortunately again too cloudy to see any Aurora Borealis.

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Day 5: Moskenes – Narvik

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018
Distance covered: 388km
Driving: 9am – 4pm
Weather: Grey day, some snow
Lowest temperature: -2C
Border crossing: none

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Our drive across the Lofoten offered amazing views of a “Game of Thrones” winter landscape. The small islands with massive and steep mountains are connected by bridges and tunnels and covered by small hamlets with red and yellow wooden houses.

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Fish, and especially massive fish heads, are hanging at long wooden sticks to dry outside and give a final touch of Viking-ness to the overall setting.

Unfortunately, we were to early for the famous Anita Fish Restaurant (opens at 11:00), but we got a great breakfast in Leknes at Huset Kaffeebar. Other teams had recommended it in the BSC-Winter-2018-WhatsApp-group, which was super helpful for the groups with updates on speed controls, whale sightings, blocked roads and calls for help by broken down or stuck cars.

After Croissants and Cappuccino, we were ready for our share of fame. Thanks to Baltic Sea Circle veteran Hinne Thies. We’ve met with the young journalist Vilde Aurora Drevland Klyve (wow, what a name) in the shopping Center of  Svolvaer, who wanted to feature us in next days Lofoten Post:

The next hours presented us with the typical Fjord scenery and some huge bridges and when getting closer to Narvik, several WW II memorials (Battle of Narvik).

Around 5pm we we reached Narvik and our nice hotel with a great view on the town, harbour and fjord.

The town itself is ugly, grey and felt very empty. The war museum was already closed and the best restaurant (from 19, based on trip advisor ratings) closes at 6pm, so we had to hurry up to finally get some fish at “Fiskehallen”. The food was ok, the service very friendly. You had to order at the bar and the cost for food and drinks were pretty high. But to be honest, the 10€ for a pint of beer was still less than what you pay in Dubai and even in many places in Paris.

After dinner the onnly option to have a beer, was the local sports bar, where we watched some live football games, chatted with the Kurdish owner (“I hate Besiktas, I love Galatasaray”) and, thanks to WhatsApp, met with Uwe & Uwe from team “Ambulanz akut”.

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Day 4: Vilhelmina – Bodo – Lofoten

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018
Distance: 527km
Driving: 9am – 3pm (+ 3.5h ferry)
Weather: Great sunny day
Lowest temperature: -12C
Border crossing: Sweden – Norway (no border control)

SAC offered 4 hours of driving and drifting on the frozen lake next to Vilhelmina in the morning. Because of our car issues and the schedule for the early ferry from Bodo to the Lofoten Island (leaving 4:30pm, while the next ship leaves only at 2:30am at night), we hit the road early, after taking some pictures of an impressive ice chapel during dawn in the city centre.

The day and drive was just gorgeous: a lot of sun, first frozen lakes and white mountains.

We drove by some Swedish ski resorts in beautiful scenery, but not very exciting slopes.

And just after entering Norway, we met our first elk, directly on the road, only few meters away.

Later on, we reached a wide and empty plateau, where we crossed the arctic circle heading north…

… until we finally drove through the majestic landscape of the Norwegian fjords.

Some other teams were already lined up at the ferry terminal of Bodo, which we reached at 3pm for the 4:30pm ship to Moskenes on the Lofoten Islands.

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Clear sky, great pastel colours of the northern dusk, steep snow-covered rock mountains all around us, the view was just breath taking. We stayed on the outside deck until it got dark.

3,5 hours later, the ferry got close to the Lofoten Islands.

Again outside, our eyes first caught the few city lights and after getting used to the dark, realised the steep white mountains raising immediately from the shore. So beautiful!

Our cabin for the night was just 15 minutes by car away from the ferry terminal, standing on wooden poles in the water in a small bay with fisher boats just in front of us. With warm temperatures of just below 0C, we had our champagne and beer outside on the dock.

Day 3: Gävle – Vilhelmina

Monday, February 26th, 2018
Distance covered: 515km
Driving: 12pm – 7pm
Weather: Cloudy morning, sunny afternoon
Lowest temperature: -14C
Border crossing: none

Got up early to be at the Volkswagen garage at 07:30am to have them check the “strange sound”. The flexibility of Volkswagen was great, and they took a look at our rallye vehicle right away. After a short test drive, they took the car on the hydraulic ramp and we saw a lot of Swedish mechanics with torches under the car, discussing and doing stuff over the next hours.

While waiting and waiting, we saw the other teams heading north … But coffee was good and after a while we got an update on the problem. They needed to change the oil in the differential. Another test drive was promising, and the last remaining thing to do, was swapping our high-end winter tires to spikes tires. Around 12:00 this was done and we even got the changing of the tires for free and finally headed north.

5 minutes later, on the way to the gas station, the sound was back. We were shocked. Silence. Frustration. Considering the expected 4.000€ for a new differential as well as the time it might take to get it done. But after leaving the gas station, the sound was gone, and still is, but …

… it was back after 205km and joined us all the way up to Vilhelmina. We left the coast in Sundsvall with its massive SCA factories and got into central Sweden. The weather was sunny, but it must have snowed a lot in the last days with more than a meter of it on the roofs and next to the streets.

It was a long ride up to Vilhelmina, through pretty empty regions. Endless forests, few other cars , icy roads and frightening trucks carrying timber.

After the last hours driving in the dark…

… we reached Vilhelmina at 7pm, just in time for the first BSC Winter party, with almost all teams in one hotel, a lot of small talk about cars, winter-camping, etc.. As most teams drove between 6 to 9 hours that day, many of us got to bed before midnight.

Day 2: Kristianstad – Gävle

Sunday, February 25th, 2018
Distance covered: 740km
Driving time: 9am – 7pm
Weather: Sunny, snow and later heavy snow in the afternoon
Lowest temperature: -10C
Border crossings: none

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The next morning, we realised we had BSC-company (Baltic Taxi / Team 68) and enjoyed  breakfast together, before driving on a scenic road along red Swedish houses and snow-covered lakes towards Ryd. As task of the day, we had to find an abandoned car junkyard in a wood next to the street and the wreck of ABBA’s tour bus. It was a morbid, but beautiful scenery and just few other BSC team around.

On our way north we entered a fully snow-covered landscape and finally, left dry concrete roads and started to gain some first experiences with ice-covered roads. As always, driving is easy, hitting the brakes the real problem and curves something to watch out for. the good thing was, that we were more or less alone on the streets and only met another car only every 30 minutes.

Around 2pm we reached “Astrid Lindgren Country”, drove through Marinnelund und finally arrived in Gillerby where we visited the Katthult farm, where the famous “Michel aus Lönnberga” series from our youth was filmed.

Everything still was like in the movie, not a cardboard set-up, but a real small farm house in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, with Alfred’s house, the lake, the “Trissebude” and the shed were Michel did his woodcarvings.

Next, we tried Swedish McDonalds in Linköping, the home of Saab (these days jets only) and drove further north towards our final destination Gävle.

While we originally had planned to spend the night in Stockholm, we decided to get further north as the car was still making bad sounds and we anticipated that visiting the garage will cost time on a day that should get us up to Vilhelmina, to the first BSC party, we for sure didn’t want to miss.

At 7:30pm we arrived in Gälve in the dark with light snowfall and it seemed to snow a lot during the day, at least 30cm.

The hotel was easy but good and we could park just in front of it, which made it easy to carry our stock of beer and champagne inside, as the outside temperature was close to -10. Dinner was again a disappointment, but we enjoyed some local IPA and had a great sleep.

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