ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View

The Light at the Center of the Tunnel

The Light at the Center of the Tunnel
by Doug Lansky

Real Audio Listen with RealAudio          help Need audio help?


The Light at the Center of the Tunnel

As you know, I've been living over here in Norway at the bottom of a fjord for the past few months. Very little, short of a three-eyed-salmon photo in the National Inquirer, makes the news from this part of the world. Until last week. Two fjords over from me, the Norwegians opened the world's longest driving tunnel - 15 miles straight through a mountain.

There are a few immediate questions that come to mind: Why build it? What's it connecting? What did it cost? These are all good questions, and I'm not just saying that because I wrote them myself. But before I get to those, I want to tell you what's inside this tunnel that distinguishes it from most other holes in the ground.

Normally, you have the light at the end of the tunnel. But here, they stuck light right in the middle. Actually, 4 lights - that is, 4 spots in the tunnel that are 10 yards wider and 5 yards higher with bright blue lights projected onto the ceiling to simulate the sky, and yellow lights around parameter to simulate sunrise. Every 4 miles, it looks like you're approaching the end of the tunnel, only you're just entering one of these blue rooms. It's like what mountaineers call a false peak, only this one is inside the mountain. Of course, at this time of the year, the fake blue sky is significantly brighter than it is outside. When you do reach the actual end of the tunnel, it's disappointingly gray.

The Light at the Center of the Tunnel

The idea is that these rooms are supposed to help relieve claustrophobes and provide a brief respite for drivers' tunnel vision. And I suppose it does work. But the greater effect on me was the temptation to pull over and have a look around. You're not actually supposed to do this. Once out of the car, the cavernous room feels slightly creepy with the constant sound of approaching and departing traffic bouncing off the widened walls. Even with the Blue Rooms, the tunnel feels like it stretches forever, as if you're trapped in a Jules Verne novel. After the 25-minute-underground drive, you almost expect to arrive at the Earth's core with some tourist cafeteria that looks out over gurgling lava.

Now to the questions you've been wondering about. They built this 123-million-dollar tunnel, located in the mountains a couple hours northwest of Oslo, to speed up the overland journey from Oslo to Bergen, Norway's two largest cities. Before this tunnel, it took 12 hours and involved putting your car on a ferry to circumnavigate this mountain by fjord. Now it's a 7-hour-drive.

The Light at the Center of the Tunnel

Rudy, I want to add one more thing: To get to the Laerdal tunnel from my place, I had to drive through 5 long tunnels and put my car on a ferry for 10 minutes to cross a fjord. The ferry was slow, but quaint, and the views were fantastic. While on the ferry, it occurred to me that millions of travelers from around the world come here every year to do just this: view the spectacular mountains by boat. And yet the locals would clearly prefer to drive though the mountains and save the time. In fact, the only thing Norwegians seem to like more than their mountains is blasting holes through them. With fewer ferries shuttling around, I guess that makes a bit more room for the cruise ships.

Talk to you later,



American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy