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A red house sits next to a lake surrounded by hills and cliffs

What’s In a Name: When Wheelchair Travel in Norway Doesn’t Go as Planned

Chris Alp is a traveler, athlete, and contributor to our blog. He has traveled with WTW to Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia, where he trekked the W circuit with his wife. He shares an entertaining story about a travel mishap while traveling in his wheelchair through Norway.


Woops!

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 1000 kilometers (600 miles) apart?

I scrambled through the Dropbox files of our trip. Sure enough, I had entered the right name into the travel site. However, Kristiansund (in the North) being such a small city, the travel site assumed I meant Kristiansand (in the South). I had booked the wrong city for not just the hire car, but all the accommodation and even the outbound flights as well. All 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. Especially hidden away in all those Scandy characters.

What to do?

There is no Europcar branch anywhere near where we plan to go at Kristiansund (in the North). According to my Sat Nav, Kristiansand (in the South) would be 12 hours’ drive from Kristiansund. And to get there, we would even have to double back and drive again through Oslo after our 3 days of driving. And flying from Kristiansund (in the North) to Denmark is convoluted and expensive, even if I could leave the car somewhere. 

This was a dilemma with no simple solution.

So, my wife and I discussed the matter after dinner. We decide to still do our trip as planned as far as the amazing ‘Atlantic Highway’ Then, the last day turns from a pleasant 180 kms (110 miles) to Kristiansund (in the North) into a bewildering 887 kms (550 miles) to Kristiansand (in the South).

That’s like driving the entire Big Sur … and back, in one day. Very similar roads.

The curve of a bridge over the ocean on a foggy day
Spectacular Atlantic Highway on a rough day … I forgot to close the window too
photo Aileen Alp©

Easy! 

I Just can’t figure out why the Sat Nav insists it will take 12 hours. Elsewhere in Europe, this would take me just 6 hours on the Autostradas.

So, we decide to be conservative and get up early and we are on the road by 7.30, in spite of my wife losing, and then ultimately finding, her portable hard drive.  We have a full tank of gas, half a pack of crisps, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses (like in Blues Brothers).  The arrival time shows 7.30 pm. It can’t possibly take 12 hours.

I reckon that even in a Hybrid, I can trim a load of time off that. We head off full of energy.

It’s raining. Again. Only now it’s really heavy. And it’s really dark. So heavy that it is hard to see the shiny roads in the poor light. The Hybrid car agrees. Its guidance warning systems completely shuts down due to ‘poor visibility’ and it continuously flashes 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. So bright and annoying that I am now likely to run off the road because of the stupid warning light. 

Can’t stop to fix it, too far to go and we don’t want to arrive after midnight. So, we simply cover the dash with my black ‘race tape’. It works well. We press 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. Get stuck behind a truck, a learner, a delivery van, a conservative local or ‘Barry the Brit’ in his motorhome and you are stuck for up to an hour. And there is a lot of traffic.

They are a respectful bunch, and no-one ever seems to pass a slow car. Speed limit varies from 50 to 80 kmh (that’s 35 to 50 mph) for the entire country. I was ‘a bit’ over the limit for a lot of the time. Probably saw 50 or so speed cameras. Most were picked up by TomTom … but definitely not all. Had they all been working, then I would have received some correspondence from the Viking police a few weeks later. 

Reflecting on the beauty of Norway
photo Aileen Alp©

Norway 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).

Until 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!

Filled the tank after 600 kms (poor range for a Hybrid … we got better economy from a diesel Golf in Ireland). Back on the road again and getting tired now. No matter how hard we try, just can’t move the arrival time down. Kept getting stuck behind trucks, jammed in traffic or stopped for roadworks. This country was never meant for long-hauls like we do in Australia, South America and the USA.

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? 

Turns out that Europcar shut their Kristiansand (in the South) office after we originally booked the car and didn’t bother 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 net cost.

But hey, that’s travelling. Can’t make an omelet without cracking an egg!

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.

Colorful row houses on a canal on a cloudy day
Alesund, the night before the big sprint
photo Aileen Alp©

Hey, we even passed through the giant Olympic ski jump at Lillehammer. 

What an unexpected adventure!

By Chris Alp


This story is part of a series of Travel Stories submitted by the Wheel the World community. Read more travel stories, like Geoff’s Grand Canyon Adventure here.

Wheel the World can help you plan your next accessible adventure! Check out destinations in Northern Europe, like Amsterdam, here

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