Chasing The Midnight Sun From Hungary to Norway In An Opel Kadett
Photography by Máté Boér
The arrival of cold winter days finally made me sit down and summarize all the memories of the greatest road-trip I’ve done so far with my 1979 Opel Kadett C. I wrote about the plans and preparations briefly before leaving, but have not shared the full story and pictures until now.
As I look back on the whole trip, I can profess two major statements: the first is that I was very, very optimistic regarding the schedule of trip relative to the Kadett’s and our capabilities, and second is that luck certainly accompanied us along the way.
According to the “Big Plan,” we would start out at the beginning of August with my childhood friend, with whom I share my classic car infection. Right away the Kadett was challenged with a 1,000 kilometer ride from Budapest up to Gdańsk through Slovakia (plus a short section in the Czech Republic) and Poland.
We shouted “Victory or death!” before hitting the road as the evening fell. The glorious moments of leaving home and the well-known streets behind us didn’t last too long, for a few minutes later the flashing lights of a police car appeared behind us. Well, not the best way to begin, but Norway and the Lofoten Islands awaited us. Both of us had the feeling that if we were to succeed on the first leg without any serious failures, then the Kadett would be fine for the rest of it all.
It was a very special night drive; I grasped the wheel and fully believed that we would arrive in Norway as planned. Maybe it’s kitschy, but this was the first time I could rely on my classic car. Before the trip, we spent many hours in the garage and in different workshops (lots of things had been refreshed and repaired) because we couldn’t leave anything unknown to worry about “tomorrow.” You don’t start a long drive like this with things still on the to-do list. So before we set off I was standing with a fully checked-off list in my hand, and next to me stood a two-door Kadett C looking and behaving better than ever before in my ownership.
The first night was spent devouring kilometers in heavy rain through the Carpathian Mountains (sometimes in first gear going uphill) and we luckily had only one emergency stop when I “bullseye-d” a huge pothole with one of the front tires. After a 22-hour-long drive, we finally arrived in Gdańsk the next evening, and the first text message went to my friend, “Carburetor” Feri- nicknamed by my girlfriend after hearing my consistent praise of how well he set up the Kadett’s Solex carburetor.
I’d read many nice things about the historical city on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, so we planned to stay two days there before the ferry left for Nynäshamn, Sweden. It didn’t take too long to put Gdańsk on our favorites list with its ambiance, good food, and, of course, great beers. We’ll definitely be back!
One of the determining factors of the trip was said ferry schedule; you have to book your ticket on time to have space for the car, especially in the busy summer season. We were a bit late, and there weren’t any cabins left for us, but we thought it would be no problem to sleep somewhere aboard. However life proved us very wrong, very soon. Due to the stormy wind on the Baltic Sea it became one of the worst nights of my life. On top of that, the frequent ferry travelers took all the good spots in the corridors and we ended up ‘sleeping’ under the bar counter…
Luckily Sweden greeted us with sunshine, perfect roads, and beautiful scenery with shades of green numbering in the hundreds. After we spent an evening and the following morning discovering Stockholm’s historic city center (also worth a longer visit in the future) we hit the road heading north along the Bothnian Bay: driving these perfect roads sans traffic through forests is a wonder for any road-trip enthusiast. We continued up through Sundsvall and then along a small river on road 311, and as we were enjoying the Swedish countryside the Kadett nearly ran out of gas when the pale lights of a Gulf station appeared before us.
What seemed to be a normal little gas station between two fields was actually a very realistic time capsule looking like it was right out of the United States’ 1950s. This station full of nostalgia, called “Mat & Nostalgi i Viksjö,” is lead by the very friendly Stefan Hagman, who joyously greeted us and showed us around the building and its assorted collectibles and cars. Thanks to him we got an explanation for the countless burnout marks we’d been seeing on the Swedish roads: “It’s simple, burnouts keep you young!” This love of ’50s American cars and lifestyle, called “raggare” in Sweden and Norway, emerged from a post-war youth subculture and we were lucky to get a taste of it on our trip. Our verdict: completely insane, and very cool to see happening so far from the inspiration’s source.
The Kadett finally entered Norway on the 11th of August: there was only a green sign, “Norge,” but for us it meant more than words could describe.
Although it’s not period-correct, our smartphones helped immensely along the way for navigation, room reservations, and without this gadget we’d have never known about the track-day on the Arctic Circle Raceway (ACR) on the same day we crawled out of the tent we’d set up in a valley only five kilometers from the track’s entrance. The ACR lies just 15 kilometers south of the polar circle—it is the northernmost asphalt circuit in the world, and the only one where you can drive all 24 hours of the day without turning on the headlights, at least during the summer. The track-day allowed us to get an insight into the opposite of raggare culture: the Northern-European drifting scene. This is like a fusion kitchen, taking the philosophy from Japan and mixing it with turbocharged Volvos. Instant love!
We then headed out for our final target, the village named simply, “Å,” on the southern end of the Lofoten archipelago. Lofoten is known for its scenery, but no one mentions the road as a worthwhile attraction on its own. Trust me, it’s worth a drive along the archipelago; the traffic was moderate even in high season, and the only challenge is to decide between driving and taking photos. These villages were used by fishermen until the 1990s, and now tourism is the main economic activity. Fortunately though, the feeling of being on another world hasn’t been diminished by the shops or people.
The most charming accommodations on Lofoten are the “rorbus,” traditional fisherman’s houses that start on land and jut out over the water with support columns extending from the other edge down into the sea. Though we missed a true midnight sun, it was still a surreal experience to take a climb after dinner to enjoy the orange shades of sunset deep into the night.
The way back from Å led us through Sweden to Finland, and on this return voyage we stopped outside the town of Rovaniemi to see what is arguably Europe’s most famous Santa Claus (“Joulupukki” in the native Finnish). What we didn’t realize right away was that the whole setup was a big photo studio in a big souvenir shop, and they don’t really let you leave until you buy some photos! It was good fun though, a touristic must-have, and who would say no to a picture with a childhood hero? Sadly the weather then turned rainy and grey and more or less stayed this way until the end of our journey.
The invulnerable Kadett left Finland behind by way of a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia, and we continued on the Via Baltica highway across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. I have to mention here that the Baltic cuisine was a true delight after Scandinavia!
Thanks to a last-minute decision we also spent some time at the Automuuseum in Halinga, Estonia. I’m very skeptical when it comes to the quality of car museums, but this piqued our interest; according to the owner it is the second biggest collection of Soviet cars in the world, and is really worth a visit if you are ever in the neighborhood.
After visiting all the Baltic capitals and Krakow during the last days of the journey, we drove back to Budapest with huge smiles on our faces and the feeling of total satisfaction. The Kadett drove flawlessly through all 6,397 kilometers, always starting up each morning and only stopping when we wanted it to. It laughed in the face of the 21st century, especially when my camera and one of our smartphones died! Sadly I don’t remember to the exact moment of lunacy when I decided to drive my Kadett up to Norway, but I’ll always remember the trip that led from it. Now it is a very hard wait for the spring and the start of another driving season.