Monday, July 4, 2011

June 21st: Skei (292.8 kms)

Feelings: Tired, Delighted.

I think the only thing that it could be was that we were too preoccupied with coffee. We made two mistakes this morning: firstly we didn’t try harder to find a way to pay for the toll from Sogndal to Hellas and so we have been toll-panicing for the last three days (I write this in the future), and, secondly, we drove onto the ferry, paid the ferryman (before he got us to the other side), and then realised that the other side was not the one we thought it would be. If you have a look at the plotted course on our map it has a big circle on it at this point in the game. We will be back in Sogndal at about four-thirty this afternoon. We could either wait and take the ferry back or change the plans. A roll of the dice put us onto the second option—augmented by the fact that this way we would be able to go through the world’s longest road tunnel (twenty four point five kilometres!)

I was decidedly cranky when the ferry took off and I realised what our haste had produced, but in the end it was a really exciting detour. To date, we have now gone through a total of a hundred point three kilometres of tunnel (as of 24th). Up ones, down ones, curly, straight, well lit, dark and ominous, dry or drippy, perfectly round and shiny, imitation rock sprayed on with concrete or the real hewn thing. I didn’t realise there was so much variation in a tunnel.

The detour also afforded the opportunity to visit Fläm which is the place where V—‘s ‘local’ beer, ordered at the Quality Hotel last night had come from—dark, stouty, apparently ‘smokily’ delicious and served in a bell shaped glass (if bells had long stems at one end). It was really more a case of Fläm for lunch. What is it about travelling this way that makes you make silly choices though? Tell me please because they keep happening and it’s is driving me mad. We saw the brewery, we did. But no! We walked through a huge food hall (Fläm is set up for the ships that come in along its fjord and the train through the mountains which does amazing climbing, tunnelling and passing of all things beautiful; all to reach Fläm and buy souvenir underpants and sausages in sweet buns with chips) and rejected it for a smaller establishment, deciding not to look into the brewery as we passed. We could have sat at organically carved furniture in a rustic room filled with stuffed animals (I find them morbidly fascinating), on reindeer skins and eaten whatever (don’t care) in a great atmosphere. Instead we acquired another story for V—‘s collection which he keeps for repeating in times of frustration that remind him of other times of frustration. The chosen venue did seem on the lines of okay with a yellow-food-free dagens ratt of meatballs, mashed potatoes and mushy peas (latter were yummy actually). Problem was, after forty-five minutes we still didn’t have our meals. They will argue that they came by three times calling out for us. They will argue it sarcastically. We will argue that even if they walked past bearing plates of what everyone was having, there was no ‘calling out’. We would even hesitatingly argue that we may have been ‘distracted’—me by writing up what my photos are of, he by looking at photos—but, essentially ‘but’, there was no calling (last four words separated by a second of quiet for emphasis).

All this time, and during all these moments of frustration, awkwardness, resentment, unhappiness etc, we are driving through the most magnificent scenery imaginable. It is simply too difficult to describe without sounding trite. Come and see for yourself—craggy mountains, snowy peaks, fjords, glacial streams/creeks/rivers from bubbling to torrential, pines that stripe up a whole mountain with their straight, horizontal branches, scrubby moors, black tarns, all traversed by hair-raisingly scary roads that fluctuate between newly paved two laners with the occasional passing lane and the even rarer top speed of ninety k’s per hours to dirt tracks. I don’t mean to harp on the negative and negate the beauty. The beauty is there regardless, and our silly, little, inconsequentially petty lives pass through it blustering with perceived dramas and then leave it behind unaffected by our silliness. Somewhere, though, stamped in our souls is an echo of the beauty that will last longer than the memory of the drama (damn, I’m immortalising it here, nothing ever gets off the internet again). To the chagrin of the accompanying travellers on this trip I have been contemplating, almost without my awareness, the reasons I travel. Why do we? There are the standard reasons, but they are like something we read in a book and don’t question—to see the world, to experience other places and people and culture, to ‘get away’. The latter is, I think, possibly the best reason—a get away from ourselves, and if seen like that, a good reason to leave as it is a way to remind us that the seemingly static, unchanging and unchangeable ‘you’ is actually as fluid as everything else changeable in the world. These are little windows that tell us we can change the life we are trying to get away from if we choose. I do two types of travel now that I am part of a ‘relationship’—the go somewhere and stay there type, and, the go somewhere and move around type. Possibly on my own instigation, the latter is as unplanned as possible because I like to have the illusion of freedom. But it is a freedom with a cost and maybe I can’t (or won’t, or don’t want to) pay double. I’m feeling very selfish. Maybe it’s impossible to get away when you take part of home with you. Maybe the stress of unplanned-ness is not only double, but exponentially increased when instead of you deciding where to go, what to do, eat, where to stay, you have what-where-when for yourself, for the other person, for what you think the other person wants and for what they think you do. I would go for a quadrupling of the decision-slash-stress making process actually. This is hard. I think, as the most feasible solution, governments should give couples twice as many holidays so that they can spend half of them in the way that works for the couple and half in the way that feeds the soul of the single. It would make for a better human race. But that’s just my long winded opinion.

Back to the tale. So, whizzing through the loveliness we pressed on to make sure that we at least got further than where we had started. There are green lines, as you are probably aware, that run along the roads on any given map to indicate that a road is particularly scenic. I pity the roads in Norway that don’t warrant the green line—in any other country they would be the green-lined road. It’s hard to be a road in a land of spectacular roads—over-achievers! Our roads weren’t green but they were beautiful. They also mysteriously dried up of camping grounds and so we were getting desperate by the time we got to Skei. It’s the old issue of either camping close to where there is food to be had, or having food so that camping close to food is not necessary, but to get to food you need to be where food is to be had. We found food, and then we found camping. The huts were cheap and we got what we paid for. Tiny—not enough room to swing a pack. The inside was primer-coat pink and had a strange smell. The outside was slowly deteriorating in the weather and the wind caused by the passing trucks. But it was a roof, it had a porch for sipping a beer or a rose-flavoured (?) cider and it had clean bathrooms nearby. Home and a meal were found for the night.

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