Geiranger and the terrifying Trollstigen road.

After 3 nights in wonderful  Ålesund, and watching Norwegians celebrate their Constitution Day on 17th May, it was time to move on. Our next destination was Åndalsnes on Romsdals Fjord, followed by the famous Trollstigen road.

After driving through 3 long dark tunnels, including the 4.1 mile long Innfjord tunnel we found another fantastic free overnight parking area along the side of the fjord and with breathtaking views of the mountains. Coordinates N62°34’7″, E7°45’19”.

Free overnight parking near Andalsnes in Norway.

Åndalsnes, as well as having beautiful scenery, is the start of the famous Trollstigen mountain road. We are hoping to drive over the Trollstigen road tomorrow. The road is liable to being closed at any time due to bad weather and flooding from waterfalls.

The E63 is one of Norway’s best National Tourist Routes. It runs from Åndalsnes to Geiranger over the Trollstigen mountain road. The route includes 11 hairpin bends of Trollstigen, a tunnel through a mountain, a ferry across a fjord, and the perilous hairpin bends of the Eagle Road into Geiranger itself. This final stretch downhill gave me cause for concern with my brakes as I will tell you about later!

Trollstigen means Trolls Road. A stop at the visitor centre just at the start of the steep bit!

There is a visitor centre before Trollstigen itself starts so we stopped for a browse around the shop before plucking up the courage to drive to the top which is 700 metres up 11 hairpin bends. I wouldn’t normally flinch driving a car up a narrow mountain road but driving a big motorhome is a different beast and whilst it’s not my first mountain road in a motorhome this one looked like our biggest challenge yet. As it turned out the Trollstigen road was not as bad as I had imagined.

The road is spectacular. We passed huge waterfalls and crossed narrow bridges over deep ravines before reaching the visitor centre at the top. Negotiating 11 hairpin bends was not a problem apart from one incident when the car in front decided to stop without warning in the middle of the road to admire a waterfall on a very steep incline. After that there was a hot burning smell from hot brakes, which luckily subsided as we got going again.

The 11 hairpin bends of the Trollstigen Pass mountain road, viewed from the top.

The Trollstigen road reaches a height of 700 metres where there is a visitor centre, an impressive building with a cafe and a shop, but the best bit is the walkways and viewpoint that have been built that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, waterfall and valley below. It’s not the highest point we have been to but it is one of the most impressive.

Trollstigen bridge over a raging waterfall with a motorhome driving over it.

The E63 road continued for another 35km past snow drifts and incredible scenery. I would have loved to have been driving a Top Gear type car along these roads but I was driving a 3.5 tonne motorhome instead, which was still an exciting experience. The video below is dashcam footage of our journey up Trollstigen and set to music to block out the swearing!

Eventually, after several stops to admire the wonderful views, we arrived at the small ferry port at Valldalen and took the short ferry crossing to Eidsdal. (£25 for a 7 metre motorhome). Geiranger was our next destination a distance of 23km and little did I know that we were in for a very steep descent on what is called the Ornesvingen Eagle Road, and the very steep hairpin bends would put serious strain on our brakes!

From the top of the Eagle Road we could see a huge cruise ship in Geiranger Fjord and it was at that point I realised how steep this road was going to be. On the winding descent we met tour coaches and even a double decker bus. The road sign showed a 10% gradient so I engaged 2nd gear for most of the way yet I could still feel the heavy motorhome wanting to accelerate so I needed to use my brakes a lot, but it wasn’t until I reached the campsite in Geiranger itself that I could smell hot brakes. I parked up but didn’t apply the handbrake as I had read that applying the handbrake to hot brake discs can cause a problem. Eventually, the hot brakes smell disappeared but the experience has made me think twice about driving downhill on severe gradients.

A waterfront pitch on the campsite at Geiranger. A big cruise ships sails past.

It was a relief to park up on the campsite at Geiranger. We had a beautiful waterfront pitch and we later watched a cruise ship go past, looking so close that we felt like we could touch it. The depth of water in the Geiranger Fjord reaches depths of 260 metres and it’s 100 km to the open sea. Sheer rock reaches out from the water and it truly is an incredible sight, which is one of the reasons that Geiranger is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Geiranger is one of Norway’s most popular tourist destinations. The population of 200 people is swamped during the summer with an extra one million people, many of who arrive on one of the 180 or so cruise ships that arrive at Geiranger between May and October every year.

Dramatic viewpoint at the Trollstigen visitor centre in Norway.
The campsite at Geiranger, with our motorhome parked by the water.

Molde to Ålesund – And a Norwegian celebration.

After a washing and motorhome cleaning day we left the wonderful campsite at Molde, with bathrooms like hotel rooms. Our motorhome pitch had fantastic views of 220 peaks  across the fjord (so it says in the tourist information booklet) and the view is known as the Molde Panorama.

Norway celebrates the 17th May. Photo taken today 17 May 2018 in Ålesund.

I was feeling the effects of cleaning our motorhome though as I had a sore back with other aches and pains. It was hard work cleaning the outside with a waterless cleaner. I was recommended waterless washing by some motorhome touring friends, Jo and Richard, who we met at Almerimar in Spain and whilst it’s hard work it is very effective. We now have a gleaming motorhome ready for our next drive to Ålesund.

Five minutes after leaving Molde camping we were in the queue for the ferry to Vestnes. Ferries operate every 15 minutes and the electronic departure board was showing that the next ferry was leaving in 10 minutes. I had a rough idea how much the cost would be but the prices don’t seem to be advertised except online. Payment is made on the ferry once you drive on. Payment can be made by card or cash.

The Molde to Vestnes ferry took 40 minutes and cost us 420 NOK (£38.50). Our motorhome is 7 metres long. Motorhomes under 6 metres would have paid half the price.

The drive from Vestnes to Ålesund along the E39 is very pleasant and we stopped at the Norwegian supermarket chain Bunnpris to pick up a few things including a very nice box of strawberries.

Arriving in Ålesund we found a fantastic parking area right by the sea front and as I write this blog I am about 6 feet from the sea, I can hear the waves on the rocks and there is a wonderful sunset. I can also see a bank of dense fog rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a mesmorising sight. The coordinates for our motorhome parking in Ålesund are N62°28’33”,   E6°9’26”.

A foggy sunset in Ålesund, Norway.

The cost to park at Ålesund is 250 NOK per 24 hours which is about £22.80 and there are facilities including showers.

Ålesund is a town on the west coast of Norway and at the head of the famous Geiranger Fjord. The whole town of 850 wooden houses burnt down in 1904 and was rebuilt in an Art Nouveau style. It’s a popular cruise ship destination and the P&O cruise ship Britannia was in port whilst we were in Ålesund. Over 3,000 passengers were in the town and I asked one of them if they were enjoying the cruise and he said there were too many people for his liking. He said they also owned a motorhome and next time would use that to come to Norway!

View over the town of Ålesund, Norway.

One of the most popular tourist things to do in Ålesund is to walk up the 418 steps to the viewpoint overlooking the town so we did that and were rewarded with awesome views of Ålesund and the giant cruise ship Britannia at the cruise port.

Fish and chip shop in Ålesund, Norway. 130 NOK !

I’m itching to try fish and chips here in Norway to see how they compare with the Yorkshire version. I saw a fish and chip take away on the harbour at Ålesund that was advertising “Probably the world’s best fish and chips” but when I saw the price of £12 my Yorkshireman instinct kicked in and I had to say no!

The 17th of May is Norway’s Constitution Day and a public holiday. It’s a day of national celebration of the Norwegian history and culture and we were in Ålesund to see the colourful event, and what a privilege it was to be there. Everyone was either wearing traditional Norwegian costumes or smartly dressed and it seemed like the whole of Ålesund was there to take part. Norwegians are proud of their flag and nearly everyone was waving one. It made me want to be Norwegian because we don’t have as much patriotism on display in the UK as I think we should have. Marching bands, children singing, adults waving flags and a procession that took at least an hour to pass, with everyone smiling and looking happy. I can see now why Norwegians have a reputation for being happy. Maybe it’s also because the children eat ice cream on the 17th May!

Norwegians celebrate the 17th May.
Alesund on 17th May.
Our motorhome in Alesund, Norway.
Kayakers in Alesund, Norway.
Alesund, Norway
A walk out in the evening sunshine at Alesund, Norway.
P&O Britannia at Alesund. The ship can take 3647 passengers.

Seville 1 – Motorhome 0

A few days ago we were defeated! Our attempt to navigate to an overnight motorhome parking area in the centre of the glorious city of Seville had to be abandoned after our sat nav took us to a narrow cobbled street with a  few shops that looked nothing like a car park. I had carefully put the coordinates of the car park into our sat nav, but probably should have checked the address before confirming. I didn’t!

Now, when faced with such a situation in the past I would pull over to consult maps and books etc and find an alternative route. Seville, however is one of the busiest cities I have ever driven into. Add in hundreds of bad drivers, no parking or pulling in places to consult a map and it becomes almost impossible to get to where you want to be. After driving around the almost gridlocked city centre for an hour we eventually found ourselves on the main road out of Seville and decided that our Seville visit would have to wait for another time.

So, with some disappointment, we headed west along the A49 motorway towards Portugal. With a stop for groceries at Lidl we found ourselves at Isla Cristina, a coastal  town on the Spanish/Portuguese border. By this time the weather had changed and after 3 months of virtually no rain the heaven’s had opened. The first campsite we pulled into was partly underwater so we gave that one a miss and eventually ended up spending 3 nights at Camping Giraldi and endured more torrential rain and thunderstorms. It’s very relaxing in a motorhome when you can hear rain on the roof but when the large hailstones started I was convinced one of our motorhome skylights was going to shatter. The thunder and sheet lightning was amazing to watch although I did wonder what would happen if our motorhome got struck by lightning. Would I end up with a perm (unlikely) or would a lightning strike kill our motorhome electrics? I hoped I wouldn’t find out!

After 3 nights at Isla Cristina and being confined to our motorhome due to the terrible weather caused by Storm Emma we decided we should move on to a drier campsite, as this one had turned into a mud bath. I suggested we move to Camping Tourismo in Lagos, Portugal so we left the muddy campsite at Isla Cristina behind and set off on the next stage of our European motorhome adventure.

Welcome to The Algarve sign.

The main motorway that runs from the Spanish border along the Algarve coast is the A22 toll motorway. I had been online to read about motorway tolls in Portugal and it’s very confusing, mainly because there are several types of toll road, several ways to pay and rules that apply to foreign drivers. I like to do as much online as possible so I opted to buy a tollcard from the tollcard website. You can buy tollcards for various amounts but I decided to test the system first by only buying a €10 tollcard. I had calculated, from the website, that it would cost about €9 to drive from the Spanish border to Lagos on the motorway toll road but failed to realise that our motorhome would be a class 2 vehicle rather than a class 1 because of its size. To buy a tollcard for Portugal I had to create an online account with our registration number and I also clicked the button for class 1 rather than class 2. I couldn’t find a way to change it so I decided to see what happens! As you drive along toll roads in Portugal most use number plate technology from overhead cameras. Just before a camera there is a big sign that tells you how much you will be charged. I had a big smile on my face when I noticed that a class 2 vehicle was about 50% more than class 1. I just hope that the cameras don’t measure the size of vehicles!

The Portugal tolls website said that the toll card needed to be activated but I could not work out how to do that. Eventually I called the Portugal tollcard helpline and spoke to someone who told me, in very good English, that toll cards bought online are activated automatically. Why didn’t the website say that! 48 hours after using the Portugal motorway tolls they still haven’t appeared on my account so I don’t know what’s happened!

Camping Tourismo, Lagos is a very good campsite. It’s got the best shower block I have seen, a huge swimming pool, supermarket, bar/restaurant and a spa. I had to complain though because we didn’t like the pitch they gave us but the reception changed it without a problem.

The shower facilities at Camping Tourismo Lagos.

We are staying near to Praia de Luz and walked into the town today. There is a small beach and a few shops and restaurants but it was not looking at its best because it was grey with gale force winds. It was warm enough for shorts though and there were a few people braving the rough sea and paddling!

Praia de Luz church
Very quiet motorway in Portugal
The motorway bridge into Portugal.