October is an interesting time for traveling in western Sweden and Norway. On the one hand, the high season is long over, and there is barely a hint of a shoulder season. Most of the accommodations we tried to book in the country were closed until May, particularly in Norway. But arriving just before the main onslaught of winter gave us what felt like having the country all to ourselves, and that was a perfect way to enjoy driving a new Volvo through the amazing mountains and coastline amid the fall colors. This tour summary covers much ground seen in prior threads, but with autumn considerations and, of course, MY20 vehicles.
Mon 9/30. Gothenberg Arrived in Gothenberg via overnight SAS flight from Newark via Copenhagen. Premium economy worked out well for the 7-hour flight, and I was able to catch a couple of hours sleep, though my wife stayed wide awake. After a quick exit from baggage, we were met by a friendly rep from PM Logistik, who whisked us via XC40 straight to the Clarion Post. Though we arrived around 10 am, we were immediately given a room, a godsend following our redeye plus associated jetlag. After getting settled, we spent the day walking the streets of Gothenberg, where the temperatures hovered in the high 40s. It's a very walkable city, and one day was great for covering most of the shops and old town, including a good amount of shopping.
The Clarion Post is a bit funky, but fine accommodations. The mirrored elevator harkens back to 70s chic, and room furnishings are reminiscent of boutique hotels from the early 2000s. Our arranged three-course Volvo dinner at Norda was excellent, a Swedish version of ceviche followed by broiled Hake and a deconstructed apple pie. It sounds a bit strange, but the combination worked, and we really enjoyed it.
Tue 10/1. OSD - Edshultshall. Following a well-stocked breakfast buffet at the Clarion, we were picked up at 8:40 a.m. by a stern but efficient PM driver in a black V90 wagon. It was a 15-20 minute ride to the FDC, where we were warmly greeted by reception, and we enjoyed cappuccinos while taking in the surroundings. After a few minutes waiting, we were met by our rep, Hans, who gave us the bad news our temporary license plates hadn't yet arrived, and as such we'd not be able to take our new XC60 T8 out and about beyond the factory property. This was a bit of a disappointment, but in retrospect a gift, as we were given a brand new XC60 B5 mild hybrid as a substitute, which ultimately saved us over 1500 miles of wear and tear on our car, and also accelerated its shipment back home.
Like contestants meeting each other for the first time on the old Dating Game show, we were whisked through the frosty glass doors to be introduced to our new XC60.
After taking a few test laps and a good set of photos of our own new Fusion Red R-Design, we returned to the FDC for lunch, which was surprisingly good (smoked salmon over mixed greens). We browsed a bit more around the FDC, then jumped in the B5 and headed over for a visit to the Volvo museum. As others have written, it's a rite of passage to get lost via Sensus on the short trek, but the museum is a treat, and not to be missed. There's much early history to take in, though we found the post 1950s vehicles most interesting, including more recent concept vehicles.
To end our day, we drove ~90 minutes to Edshultshall, where we stayed at Lådfabriken, a recommendation from the western Sweden guidebook we received in the OSD package. As a celebration for our new acquisition, we enjoyed a fabulous lobster dinner, as the season opens at the end of September. In spite of the season having opened, we found the crustacean difficult to locate and exceedingly expensive during the remainder of our trip. While Lådfabriken accommodations are somewhat eclectic, it was overall a great choice, sitting right beside the shoreline, inviting us to venture off wandering and exploring.
Wed 10/2 - Thu 10/3. Oslo. We took the scenic route north from Edshultshall, taking ferries and back roads across some of the small islands. Shortly before crossing the Norway border, we stopped in Tanum, Sweden, to view the ancient rock carvings, which were fascinating. The B5 was well-equipped, and though its sounds and smells hinted at a diesel vehicle, the behavior was very pleasant, with little to no indication this was also a hybrid powertrain. Over the course of our trip we averaged a respectable 35.5 mpg without giving a thought to utilizing 'Economy' mode.
Oslo was dark and gray for the majority of our visit, and we mostly took in sights accessible via walking around the city center. The Scandic Byporten was another recommendation from prior OSD posts, and it was a serviceable, if not terribly compelling place to bed down. There's no reason to drive while visiting Oslo, and the garage below the hotel was extremely convenient and not terribly expensive at 590 NOK for two days. An added benefit of having a vehicle provided by Volvo was all congestion and toll road fees were covered.
Fri 10/4 - Sun 10/6. North and west to the western fjords. We took a straight shot primarily on the E6 from Oslo northwest to Åndalsnes, enjoying the amazing fall colors along the way, and stopping for a night at the Hotel Aak near the base of the legendary Trollstigen. It's a lovely hotel, and would be a great base for further hiking and outdoor activities during high season. Following a good night's rest, we awoke to a chilly morning, and after an early breakfast got started on our way to conquer Trollstigen.
My wife's acrophobia is surpassed only by her generosity, and she graciously consented to distract herself while we scaled the 11 hair-raising narrow switchbacks. It's actually quite a straightforward drive, though at times insanely narrow, and I couldn't imagine meeting another car going the opposite direction, much less one of the tour buses that travel the route during high season. The early start and time of year made it thankfully a largely empty road, and the B5 gave barely a hint we were scaling what looked like a sheer wall of granite.
In addition to Trollstigen, we also took a few of the other amazing drives as recommended on the 18 drives of Norway site, navigating mountain passes and whiling a few minutes away here and there on the occasional ferry. While the time of year limited access, we were able to enjoy the Geiranger - Trollstigen, Sognefjellet and Hardangervidda roads, though sadly Gamle Strynefjellsvegen and Aurlandsfjellet were both closed. Nights in Hjelle and Laerdal were both fine places to stop after a day of 5-6 hours driving, though none had any operating restaurants, forcing us to improvise. Laerdal, in particular, was a bit gloomy, as it had reached the time of year where the sun no longer shone on the town at all during the day, and on a late Sunday afternoon felt all but abandoned. In spite of sunny weather throughout this part of the journey, temperatures rarely rose above 40-degrees, and there was evidence of a recent dusting of snow all around.
Mon 10/7. Bergen. With the Aurlandfjellet road closed, we headed directly for Bergen via Flam, navigating the world's longest tunnel along the way. While Norway's tunnels are an engineering marvel, the 15.23-mile Laerdal bore is more to be endured than enjoyed, in spite of three festively-lit caverns along the way that are designed to keep drivers attentive, if not delighted. We stopped in Flam for the obligatory ride on the Flam Railway, which was decidedly underwhelming (and expensive), particularly since the much-touted Kjosfossen waterfall was barely running at a drip. Having just spent days navigating the spectacular roads and scenery to the north all to ourselves, Flam in October was a low point of our trip.
For those considering Bergen, one night is simply not enough, particularly when bracketed between long drives coming and going. We arrived late in the afternoon, in time for a short walk around town and taking in the waterfront. It's a lovely city, and certainly worth taking at least a full day to enjoy. Our hotel, the Park Bergen, was charming and well-appointed, and dinner at the nearby Marg & Bein was one of the best meals of our trip. And after several days of icy weather, it was nice to stroll the streets in relatively balmy 48-degrees.
Tue 10/8 - Thu 10/10. Return to Gothenberg. On the advice of many on this forum, we broke our return trip from Bergen to Gothenberg into two days. Since we were well into our journey, it was time to test out all the remaining options we'd neglected thus far on our B5, notably the massaging seats (unavailable on R-Design models in the US), which were much more exciting than the power-assisted trailer hitch, which we also tested.
As we'd already been to Oslo, we opted for a night in Rjukan, largely because it had one of the few lodges that was still open (Rjukan Hytteby), as well not being too great a distance from the Hardangervidda road, which was gorgeous. Rjukan was also where we caught our first significant snowfall, and upon awakening to several inches already on the ground, we quickly packed and headed out for Smogen, taking the fast and comfortable ferry along the way from Horten to Moss.
Smogen was another tip from past forum posters, and turned out to be a great way station for the night before returning to Gothenberg. With only one operating inn (Smogens Havsbad), and two restaurants (the inn's dining room and the delightful and highly-recommended Gostas), we still had a great time wandering the quaint streets and rocky shoals surrounding the town.
In the morning we took a 90-minute drive down the E6 and dropped the B5 back at the FDC, where we confirmed with Hans our own vehicle was about to be shipped (with red plates stowed in the car for future requisite waves to other OSD veterans we may spot around town). We were whisked back to Central Station via XC90, and deposited for our train ride to Stockholm and home.
High-speed rail to Stockholm is a relaxing way to get across the country, avoiding the hassles of airport security for not much longer than a flight. We had a relaxing and uneventful 3-hour journey, catching up on news and comparing notes on our trip.
Fri 10/11 - Sat 10/12. Stockholm. We tucked in at the Miss Clara hotel for the final leg of our trip. A full day and two nights in Stockholm was an excellent way to wind-down and get ready for the long trip home. The hotel is a 12-minute walk from the train station, and a great hub for exploring the museums, shops, cafes, etc. that make Stockholm so charming. The Vasa museum was a highlight for us, followed by enjoying fika with Sweden's signature princess cake & coffee. On our final night we dined at Sekt, a new German restaurant in Östermalm that was over-the-top wonderful.
Hard to find any real fault in our trip, and we enjoyed just about every moment immensely. Volvo now has two new brand ambassadors singing the praises of its cars and, in particular, the Overseas Delivery Program. As we pack for our return trip tomorrow morning, reflecting on a wonderful and unforgettable experience.
And now the long wait begins...