Serendipity via Google Earth

I enjoy writing about local attractions, but the COVID pandemic has put attraction visits on hold while most of us hunker down to avoid contamination. Even though we’re beginning to open up, the virus is still virulent and caution is the by-word. ‘Opening up’ should be a slow, carefully planned action, which means it’s a bad idea to immediately plunge into a crowd at the local lake or aquarium or theater.

However, in a world now accessible through virtual means, even if you’re unable to physically visit sites of interest, if you have a computer, a tablet, or even a smart phone, there are numerous interesting places you can actually tour from the comfort and safety of home. The smells and sounds and tangible senses of the places you visit will be missing, but you can enjoy the visual reality of what Google’s traveling cameras capture.

Serendipity

OK…a few months back I was at home bored, but even before the pandemic, finances and age limited my options for going out for entertainment. So I turned to my connection to the world, my computer. I opened Google Earth and thought about places I would love to see, but know I’ll never have the money or opportunity to visit. I wasn’t looking for a tourist attraction as much as just a chance to see how people live in other places. Places totally different from where I live in Texas.

I ended up looking at Norway because of its fascinating geographical features. It’s a long, narrow country, bounded by water on all sides except its eastern border, which abuts Sweden. Just looking at that lengthy, mountainous land peaks my curiosity. It looks like a snake with a really large head on its southern end.

Constant erosion by the bordering seas has shaped the western edge of the country into a lovely mesh of deep glacial fjords and almost 50,000 islands. That’s about as different from Texas as a country can get!

I wondered if the Norwegians live on those sea-pounded islands, and how they move between the islands and fjords. I wanted to see how they do that, and to see, as well, the country, its houses and towns and landscape. Unless there’s a specific Google Earth tour available, you’re relegated to moving along the roads, and then only roads that have been photographed for placement on Google Earth. Still, it was fun to move my pointer down various roads to get a basic look at Norway and the infrastructure of its coastline.

I focused on a section where there are islands and peninsulas formed by fjords, where towns are separated by bodies of water.

The ferry landings I saw weren’t unexpected because I anticipated ferries are needed to carry vehicles across expansive areas of water.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is view-of-ferry-coming-in-aerial-view-1.png
Aerial view of a car ferry pulling into dock.

Google Earth even rode some ferries, although I was disappointed to not see any images while they were out on the water. The only images are when they come off a ferry.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is view-coming-off-the-ferry.png

What surprised me were how few bridges there were, and I supposed the ferries take up the slack in that department. However, at a certain viewing height there were travel lines showing up between land segments, even though there weren’t any bridges. Those are the lines the arrows are pointing to in the image below.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is norway-w-arrows-to-bridges.png

Turns out, those are underwater tunnels through which drivers move from island to island and between peninsulas. I know some countries have them, but the number and length of the underwater tunnels in Norway was a delightful revelation.  There are also numerous tunnels just running through the land. Below is Riksveg 47, and it runs underground just south of Havik on its west end, crosses underwater, and continues underground, under more water, and back underground until it comes out just west of FV774. The Norwegians have done a LOT of digging!

Google Earth actually goes down through some of the tunnels, but the image inside tunnels is poor because of lighting. I didn’t mind. I still enjoyed the discovery and the thought that I was seeing the same sight as some drivers see every day half a world away.  I’ve got to admit I’d be a tad apprehensive driving through a tunnel knowing I’m deep underwater! Hey–I’m used to Texas, where the land is generally flat to undulating.    

Talk about serendipity. While researching the tunnels, I discovered a “Cycletourer” website that shows where cyclists in Norway are able to utilize the tunnels. There’s a great map that indicates which tunnels are open to cyclists, which are open but come with warnings for potential cycling difficulties, and which are closed to cyclists. There’s also a tunnel database.

You can zoom in and out, with zoom in’s showing more detail until you’re actually seeing the tunnel. The red are closed to cyclists, the yellow are OK but with cautions, and the green locations are ready for cyclists to pedal through at their leisure.

For extra locations of interest, Tripadvisor offers a a page that shows you Norwegian bridges and other attractions. If you’re a serendipitous virtual traveler like me, you’ll want to find the names and locations of travel sites, plug them into Google Earth, and take yourself to those places. You’ll get hooked on the discoveries.

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