Monday, July 6, 2009

Road Trip: Scandinavia by Volvo

”Why would you fly half way around the world to Europe, just to see Canada?” These were the words my girlfriend’s cousin asked while we were over-nighting at his house in Germany. Simple fact was I wanted to explore new countries, and the fact that Scandinavia has every geographical region of Canada squeezed into a smaller package did not matter. I wanted to discover what Scandinavia has to offer. And what better way to do that, than in a car that’s built there - a Volvo.


Having Swedish blood, Volvo’s are naturally quite common in my family. My mother was raised with Volvo 544’s, while I grew up with 240 and 740turbo’s. Over the last couple years, the introduction of a new generation of small Volvo’s like the C30, S40 and V50 have recaptured my passion for the Swedish brand. So, wanting to explore my ancestor’s homeland, a V50 would provide a great amount of versatility needed.



The Factory – Start line 0 km

After a long day in a bullet train and a ferry from Denmark, we arrived at Volvo’s Torslanda factory, situated just outside Göteborg, Sweden for a tour. The size of a small city, Torslanda plant gives birth to over 165,000 Volvo’s each year with an addition 181,000 coming out of the Ghent plant in Belgian. Once the tour was finished we could grab our V50. My car of choice would be the 2.0D. Funds were tight, and the V50 Diesel proved to be invaluable in circumnavigating Scandinavia. As a diesel, it provided excellent fuel efficiency, important since diesel was14 Kronor/Litre, or $2.20/Litre in Canadian dollars. It would also serve as shelter as we would sleep in the back if weather did not permit camping. Finally it would also serve as a secure place to leave or belongings when out and about.

With some time to spare before heading to Oslo, we decided to make the short trip south to the waterfront in Arendal. Here was the Volvo Museum displaying Volvo’s entire history. From the first car, to the latest technology in aerospace and championing racing cars, it’s all there. It’s a museum any car guy should visit, however we were beginning to get Volvo’d out and it was time to get out and explore Scandinavia.



No Oslo For You – 434km

As I worked my way towards the E6, a highway that leads past Oslo and on into the far north of Norway, Steph my navigator went about translating the Swedish navigation system. Hint, “Sproken” means speech, leading to languages. As my navigator fiddled, I rocketed the V50 away from Göteborg, hoping to make Oslo before nightfall. Nice thing about Sweden is that the highway speed limit is 120kph, although I noticed that despite the high speed limit, I was blowing by most vehicles. Something just didn’t feel right. Then the scary thought of speed camera’s entered my mind. Yes, Sweden and Norway employ speed cameras along their highway’s, however luckily enough, I had not passed one in my ignorance. From here on, I would be ever vigilant of the roadside pods that housed the camera’s. However, camera’s in both countries are well marked with signage.


As we shot north towards the Norwegian border, the landscape was that of fertile farm flats with rocky-forested hills, much like Ontario funny enough. Plotting along, we soon passed by a “Norge,” or Norway boarder sign. Used to trying to get past the American Gestapo at the US boarder, naturally we were in a state of shock blowing into Norway somewhere north of 120 kph. However, our progress would soon be delayed. It seems that the Norwegians highway system is not as straight cut as the Swede’s. Only meters after the boarder the six-lane freeway funneled into a two-lane road that wound its way north through the increasingly more rugged and rocky terrain. What’s worse, the speed limit plummeted to 80 kph.


It was about 8:30 when we began to reach the Oslo city limits, when our winding road finally became a four-lane highway again. There is a massive collection of underground highways and bypasses. The Scandinavians love to tunnel. After several kilometers underground we took a city center exit. Subterranean loneliness was replaced with a bustling metropolis, as Oslo prepared to enter its nightlife. The city felt remarkably similar to Vancouver funny enough, situated on the sea surrounded by tall mountains. Unfortunately, we were unaware the Oslo require prior reservations as there were no rooms to be had. Still in a driving mood, we jumped back on the E6 all the way to Hamar. A much smaller, easygoing city with ample accommodations.



Olympic Views – 604km

Back on the E6, we pushed on towards Lillehammer. Traveling along the lake, the sight of the 

 ski jumps carved into the mountains above the town were visible from twenty kilometers away. Crossing the bridge into the Lillehammer, we wound are way up through the town into the mountains above, enjoying the winding village on our way to the ski jumps. Hiking to the top of the jump towers offered a remarkable view of both the complex and the region. After spending a couple hours doing the tourist thing, it was time to jump back onto the road. We had the difficult decision whether to head west towards the sea, and Norway’s famous fjords, or do we push hard for the Arctic Circle. After much thought and discussion with locals, it was decided the coastal route to the Arctic Circle would kill two birds with one stone. We jumped back on the E6 and pushed north to Otta, where hwy 136 that would take us northwest and up the rugged coast.


Pass The Trolls – 1025km

It didn’t take long before 136 would wind into a spectacular glacial valley with massive shear rock faces starring down from both sides. The road was now becoming quite spirited. It had narrowed down to just one and a half lanes and was winding its way through the thin valley. The whole scene was remarkable similar to passing through the Rockies funny enough.


From the valley we came out into the famous fjords of Norway. The waters were glass smooth and the highway wound us out towards the ocean. Out of rocky cliffs and vista’s we arrived at the first ferry of the trip, a small trip across the fjord. After a fifteen-minute ride across the fjord we were tearing up the coast when I figured we are doing too much driving and not enough seeing. “Steph? Take a look in the tourist book and see if there is something around here we should look out for?”

Steph put down her map and opened up the book to our general area. I noticed that she was keeping fairly silent, and had a perplexed look on her face. What’s up, find anything. She paused, then, “I don’t know if I should tell you or not.” “What!” “I think you should pull over.” What she had read was a special paragraph on the Trollestigen or The Trolls Ladder. This was an extremely tall valley that featured a 180-meter tall waterfall and a spaghetti string road that zigzagged its way down from the summit, passing over the waterfall in three different places. My dream road and her dream waterfall. The decision whether to double back 50 km and a ferry proved a difficult one. After 15 minutes of debate, three pullovers and unclear minds we would push on for the circle. It was a decision that weighted heavily on my mind the following days.


Midnight Sun – 1686 km

A beautiful sunny day greeted us the next morning, as we set off north. We were now entering the northern territory, and the land was beginning to become quite rugged. Curling around one of many fjords, we jumped back onto the coastal highway. And what a treat as every mountain range and fjord became more spectacular. We both were taking in the great views, however it was the road that would keep my adrenaline pumping all day. An increasingly narrowing highway 17 picked its way north through the challenging terrain, and my familiarization of the Volvo’s dimensions would becom

e extremely important. Carving the V50 through the never ending twists and crests, hanging a tire off the tarmac became a second by second occurrence as I maneuvered to keep the car safe from 160 kph closing rates with locals. At a rest stop, the passengers side mirror was green with the residue of bush leaves and bark.

The farther north we drove, the night sky became brighter. We were now so far north that we could see the light emitting from the opposite side of the planet. We arrived at the pullout for the Arctic Circle, two minutes before midnight. Exhausted from another long day of travel we set up camp in the back of the V50, for some much earned sleep. The next morning we woke to sun and a magnificent mountain vista. The arctic tundra reminded me of the Yukon funny enough. After some photo’s and a hike into the mountains, we pushed north and crossed back into Sweden, crossing over the circle in another country only an hour later. We wound our way through yet another magnificent mountain pass that looked as though it belonged in the Alps. It was a great start to a long journey south towards Stockholm.

Getaway from Stockholm– 2770 km

Many know these popular video’s of skilled Stockholmians toying with police cars in the streets of Scandinavia’s largest city. So this was a city I was looking forward to. Unfortunately we arrived right at the height of rush hour, and needed to cross the entire city to a much-needed hotel. This would be an experience I will never forget. With the nav pointing the way through endless round-a-bouts and tunnels, my concentration on the road and other cars had me sweating. Meanwhile my navigator Stephanie was barking pace notes like a rally co-driver, as my concentration did not allow me to glance away. For well over an hour we fought our way through the quagmire of traffic filled streets, with several detours requiring recalculations. We finally arrived at our destination, completely exhausted despite having the shortest day of travel. For the first time, I did not want to drive anymore. Walking was now my transportation of choice.

Fighter Jets and Supercars – Finish line 3540 km

From Stockholm we pushed towards the southern most point of Sweden. The land was very flat, full of agriculture, much like the prairies funny enough. This proved to be the most boring of all the driving I would do, but we were heading towards a destination that would prove just the opposite. It was the Air Force base in Angelholm we were headed for. The large hangar with the Koenigsegg family crest painted on it to be more specific.


Housed in the old hangar of 1 Squadron are the manufacturing facilities of the supercar maker Koenigsegg. The hangar was home to the top secret squadron who tested experimental fighter aircraft. Their operations would only take place under the cover of darkness, so the emblem of a ghost adorned both the fighters and the hangar. An emblem that now adorns the back window of all CCX’s that leave the factory. Witnessing one of the worlds fastest, most prestigious cars get pieced together proved an incredible experience. However, time was of the essence, and our trusty steed needed to be back home in Göteborg by nightfall.


Reluctantly handing over the keys, this trip proved to be a fantastic experience. Our Volvo V50 proved to be an invaluable resource to explore a great expanse of land by pointing a blind finger to the map, and “lets see what’s there.” 

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