- Merrilee MacLean
Norway - It's More Than Just Fjords
Everyone knows the amazing beauty of Norway – the fjords, the mountains, the tall handsome people. But a visit to Norway will show you more, if you are willing to look.
The first thing a visitor will likely notice is how expensive everything is – meals in restaurants seem to be at least double what one pays in the rest of Europe. A cab ride or rental car will cost dearly (a ten minute taxi ride on the Lofoten Islands covering 12 kilometers cost me over $36). Even soft drinks in a grocery store cost $2.50 for a .5 liter bottle in grocery stores – twice the cost of other countries. So, it’s expensive to be a tourist. However, the Norwegians seem to have no problems with it. They appear prosperous, and like their Finnish neighbors, content. Indeed, for the last 15 years, the UN Human Development Report has ranked Norway as the best country in the world to live in. Longer life expectancy, clean air and water, a high cost of living balanced by higher incomes, higher taxes balanced by free health care and university education, extended family leave policies, high employment rates and low crime are all contributors. Indeed a recent report stated that 88% of Norwegian citizens say the felt safe walking alone at night – not surprising for a country with a homicide rate of only .5%. Norwegians are a hardy lot, and you see a lot of older Norwegians out hiking and biking and being generally active – not a lot of sitting in cafes watching the world go by. That said, they do fill the restaurants, drive very nice cars – we saw lots of Teslas – and seem to be enjoying their lives. With tourists they are generally polite, and often speak better English than we do, they don’t appear eager to interact – they prefer to converse among themselves in their native language. Who can blame them?
As good as the life is, apparently it is not as welcoming to people thinking of moving there. See article on downsides of living in Norway It seems the Norwegians are protective of Norwegians and their life style. The same writer noted that in Norway, the things you need are cheap and the things you want are expensive. That holds true. Public transport is actually pretty reasonable, and seniors are generally granted 50% discounts on buses and ferries. Although food prices are high, bargains can be had. We got a roast chicken at the grocery store for $4 – less than the same thing at Costco. So a budget traveler can eat in Norway if you avoid restaurants and go grocery shopping instead. Beware of candy, alcohol and tobacco, though, which are all heavily taxed, so grocery stores won’t help. That gets back to the need v. want dynamic.
If you choose to drive in Norway, be prepared to pay a lot for fuel, but drivers are polite, stop at crosswalks, and make way for oncoming traffic on the narrower roads. In rural areas, single lane roads are quite common, so keep an eye out for the turnouts marked with an “M” sign, where you (or the oncoming driver) can pull over. The highways outside Oslo worked as most European highways do, with drivers staying in the right lane except to pass. Roads are in good shape, especially considering the northern location and climate issues. The Norwegians seem to specialize in lots of tunnels and bridges – the tunnels are interesting since they aren’t simply flat, but go up and down and curve all over the place. Indeed, the train on the Dombas to Andalsnes route does an entire 180 degree turn inside the mountain – pretty impressive.
Better yet, take public transport, as most Norwegians seem to do. Public transport is modern and efficient. Buses run on time. They appear new and have all the creature comforts, including both power and USB outlets and even special seats built in for carrying infants. The trains, though not as comprehensive a system, are similarly modern, though the wi-fi can be a bit iffy. For train routes where connections are expected, they schedule the trains on the same platforms to ease the transition, and will hold one train if another train is running late. That’s all pretty standard, but Norwegian Rail really impressed me the day I was scheduled to leave Oslo. A storm the night before had knocked out a number of signal lights on the tracks going in and out of Oslo, and our train was listed as cancelled on the big board. Rather than forcing passengers to make alternative arrangements, Norwegian Rail had several uniformed people out in the hall available to answer questions. We were told to go to track 19, where a rail representative was handing out taxi vouchers for people to get where they needed to go. For those of us going to Gothenburg (280 kms), they arranged a taxi that could take us to a town about 40 kilometers away where we would be able to board the train and continue on to Gothenburg. It looked like 50-75 people received a similar taxi ride. We all got on the train and made our connections. Pretty impressive, all in all. According to a Norwegian friend Linda Melland Sivesind, this is just standard operating procedure. She then said the downside was that tax money went to subsidizing the service, “but that’s how social democracy works.”
For those planning a visit, the two largest cities are Oslo and Bergen, which are cleverly connected by a very scenic train ride. Oslo has a number of worthwhile tourist sights, including Frogner Park with the Vigeland statues, Akershus Fortress overlooking the Oslo Harbor with its Resistance Museum, the Kon Tiki and Viking Ships and the Edward Munch museum. Any trip to World Heritage City Bergen should include the harbor with its fish market, Bryggen, the old wharf and traditional wooden buildings (right out of a jigsaw puzzle), Floyen, with its hiking paths reached by a funicular and Troldhaugen, Edvard Grieg’s home.
But if you can, don’t limit your visit to those two cities. Visit the fjords in towns like Andalsnes, Alesund, and Geirangerfjord. Check out the coastal towns of Stavanger and Kristiansand. Go north and visit the Lofoten Islands (insert cite), Trondheim, Narvik, or even Tromso. A cruise up the coast will introduce you to amazing natural wonders, or better yet, join the Hurtigruten mailboats
all the way to Kirkenes to see the Northern Lights and polar wildlife.
Your visit to Norway will show you how people can live the good life, surrounded by stunning natural wonders.