This article is written by WTW Contributor, Cris Alp.
You know that feeling… the realization that you might have just screwed up the travel plans in a really big way!
We had just arrived in Oslo and were enjoying a beer with our Aussie mate Billy and his beautiful Norwegian wife Hanne. Hanne was chatting to me about our forthcoming driving adventure through the Fijordlands. I explained that we would end up in Kristiansand and fly to Denmark from there. We were renting a car and I had my trusty portable hand controls with me. Pretty straight forward really. Hanne said “Oh, so you are heading to the South”. Being the proud map expert, I just had to correct her. "No, Kristiansand is in the north-west."
“Oh, you mean Kristiansund Chris”. Then it hit me. Could there be another place in Norway with the same 12-letter name but with one letter different. But 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) apart? I scrambled through the Dropbox files of our trip. Sure enough, I had entered the right name into Tripadvisor. However, Kristiansund (in the North) being such a small city, it assumed I meant Kristiansand (in the South). I had booked the wrong city for not just the rental car, but accommodations and outbound flights, too. I had already pre paid. I had seen the clues at the time but dismissed them, like you would if you saw Roma rather than Rome. You assume it’s the same.
What would we do?
There was no Europcar branch anywhere near where we planned to go at Kristiansund (in the North). According to my Sat Nav, Kristiansand (in the South) would be 12 hours’ drive from Kristiansund. To get there, we would have to double back and drive again through Oslo after already driving for 3 days. Flying from Kristiansund (in the North) to Denmark wasn't an option.
This was a dilemma with no simple solution. My wife and I discussed the matter after dinner. We decide to still do our trip as planned and drive the ‘Atlantic Highway’ Then, on the the last day we'd drive from a pleasant 180 kms (110 miles) to Kristiansund (in the North) into a bewildering 887 kms (550 miles) to Kristiansand (in the South). It would be like driving the entire Big Sur and back in one day.
This would be easy right? I couldn't figure out why the satellite navigation insisted it would take 12 hours. Elsewhere in Europe, this would take just 6 hours on the Autostradas. We decide to be conservative, got up early, and were on the road by 7:30; despite my wife losing and ultimately finding, her portable hard drive. We had a full tank of gas, half a pack of crisps. The arrival time showed 7.30 pm. We didn't think it couldn't possibly take 12 hours. I reasoned that I could trim a load of time off, even in a hybrid. We headed off full of energy.
It’s raining. Again. Only now it’s really heavy, and it’s really dark. The rain was so heavy that it was hard to see the roads and the hybrid car agreed. The guidance warning system completely shut down due to ‘poor visibility’ and continuously flashed a ridiculously bright amber symbol on the center of the dash to let me know that it can no longer tell me if I am crossing over the white lines on the road. It was so bright and annoying that I felt like I was likely to run off the road. We didn't want to arrive after midnight, so we covered the dash with black "race tape" and pressed on.
Norway is a very mountainous country. People live on the edge (only geographically speaking) and to drive anywhere involve twisty tight dual lane roads with double lines most of the time. Drivers are respectful and no one ever seems to pass a slow car. The speed limit varies from 50 to 80 km(that’s 35 to 50 mph) for the entire country. Norway also has dark and poorly lit tunnels everywhere. That’s because they are extraordinarily long. During our visit, we probably drove through 40 of them that were each 5 or 6 kilometers long. There was even one into Flam that was a whopping 25 kilometers long … actually quite claustrophobic. We drove that one twice. At least it wasn’t raining in the tunnels.
After about 5 hours nibbling the junk food that we brought with us, we finally pulled in for a pit stop and a coffee. We stopped 10 minutes max. Back on the road again and within 100 kms to Oslo, the road finally became two lanes each way, and then … freeway. And finally, 100 kph (60 mph). Then the traffic slowed and stopped completely. It took an hour to do 10 kilometers on the freeway through Oslo and I thought my home in Melbourne had bad traffic!
We finally pulled into our hotel in the huge, bland, substitute destination city of Kristiansand (in the South). Yep, it took 12 hours on the dot. Time for a quick dinner and then bed and an early start to the airport.
The final twist
Europcar shut their Kristiansand (in the South) office after we originally booked the car and didn’t to tell us. We could have returned the car to Oslo, saved the one-way fee, put that towards a hotel and changing flights. All for no additional cost.
Yet in Norway, we discovered some extraordinary waterways set inside steep mountain valleys with birch trees turning yellow and red, snow capped ridges on the high passes and spontaneous waterfalls cascading everywhere thanks to the drenching rain. A photographer’s paradise. My wife loved it.
She might have loved it a bit more if we could have driven a little slower on that last day. We did stop for a few photos though.
We even passed through the giant Olympic ski jump at Lillehammer. What an unexpected adventure!