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Photo Report: Driving a Volvo V90 through the Norwegian fjords – Part 2: Stavanger and Bergen

Lars in Stord

This is Part 2 of our exploration of the Norwegian fjords in a Volvo V90 Cross Country. Check out Part 1: Stockholm to Preikestolen here. The breathtaking exploration of Preikestolen (aka Pulpit Rock) om Lysefjord has left an imprint on my retina and I’m constantly reliving the seconds where I walked towards the edge of the 600m-high cliff. This vision will stay with me for years and will most likely fuel a lot of dreams (nightmares?).

The itinerary for Part 2 of this trip takes us from Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) to Ulvik via Stavanger and Bergen.Lars on the Tau-Stavanger ferry

Rather than turn around and take the same route to reach Stavanger, which Lars’ GPS tells me is the fastest, I opt for the 40min Tau-Stavanger ferry and enjoy the sunset on deck.

Über charming Gamle (Old) Stavanger

I originally didn’t plan to stop in Stavanger, and only did so when I found out Preikestolen was nearby. The consensus was this is an oil town, ugly and industrial with no interest. Even the Lonely Planet Norway is borderline passive aggressive with the city: “it can’t compete with Bergen on looks but is far from unlovely”… Turns out this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although relatively big at 125,000 inhabitants, Stavanger gives the feeling of a welcoming, friendly small village and is covered with absolutely stunning whitewashed wooden houses, especially in the Old Town, Gamle Stavanger. I decide to stay two nights.

A selection of cars in Stavanger: BMW i3, Mitsubishi Outlander, Tesla Model S, Renault Zoe, Peugeot 3008, VW Caddy, Kia Soul, Nissan Leaf and VW e-Up.

The cars of Stavanger

Although I knew that Oslo would be littered with eco-friendly cars, I was yet to find out whether regional Norwegian towns had also succumbed to the frenzy. If anything, there are way more eco-friendly cars here as a percentage of the total car park than I saw in the capital Oslo. The BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf are clear favourites, with the Kia Soul EV and Renault Zoe also making a mark. Tesla is here in force with both the Model S and X.

Lars in Stord, between Stavanger and Bergen

There is a direct way from Stavanger to Bergen: the E39 which only has one ferry route within it. The itinerary is one of the most picturesque so far in the trip, especially around Stord where bright red or white boathouses embellish the shore, as pictured above and at the top of this article.

Awaiting the ferry to Bergen

There are no less than six lanes in the waiting bay for the ferry to Bergen, by far the largest in the trip so far. The E39 highway ferry is different from the ones I have taken before in the way that you must get out of your car during the ride. There are indeed two categories of ferry you get to take in this part of the world: the official, get-out-of-your-vehicle ones where there is most likely a pay station to go through before you can onboard, and the relaxed stay-in, drive-through ferries where staff comes to you to charge your credit card at the window. In the latter ones, it’s a little weird to step out of your vehicle as there are no passenger decks as such and you unmistakably draw confused looks from fellow drivers… A very entertaining experience in both cases.

Unesco World Heritage site Bryggen in Bergen

Reversely to Stavanger, I arrived in Bergen with high expectations. Described as an “utterly beguiling city” and the capital of Norway during the 12th and 13th centuries, this was supposed to be my trip’s culminating point in terms of city architecture. And like in Stavanger, my perception ended up being 100% the opposite of my expectations. I found Bergen oppressive, too modern and impersonal. The Bryggen area seemed to me very limited and Disnelyland-like. I had much preferred isolated bright red wooden houses in the countryside than this overrated harbour quay. Harsh? Perhaps. But I have never been a city person. What didn’t help was the fact that at the time I visited, Bergen was gearing up to the UCI Road World Championships of Cycling (16-24 September) with many streets blocked off rendering city centre driving virtually impossible. The Bergen car landscape is heavily skewed towards Light Commercial Vehicles with the VW Transporter and Caddy champions as per the national sales charts.

Lars in Steinstø, on the way from Bergen to Ulvik.

I had not planned to stay overnight in Bergen and had already reserved a room in a hotel in Ulvik, a good 200km east, so only a couple of hours after arriving in town, I was departing already. I did not regret it as the drive along the Hardanger fjord was spectacular, and getting more so as the sun was setting. But the real core of fjord country is yet to be displayed in front of my eyes, and this will be covered in Part 3 of this Photo Report. Stay tuned!

 

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