Over fall break from school, my girlfriend and I decided to travel to the land of fjords and Freia, otherwise known as the kingdom of Norway. Up until this point, my feet had never set foot anywhere in Europe or anywhere across the Atlantic ocean. In the months prior to our departure of our transoceanic voyage, we made basic preparations such as booking AirBnB’s, brainstorming rudimentary lists of places we wanted to visit based off of google searches as well as compiling a list of foods we wanted to try. Looking back on our trip, I had no idea just how unprepared I was. Filled with youthful ambition and an adventurous spirit, we embarked on our journey. If you don’t mind, I’d like to share some of the experiences and life lessons that I acquired from this journey.
We booked our flights through Norwegian Airlines, which is apparently known as the ‘Wal-Mart of the skies’, due to its emphasis on offering customers the cheapest possible flight as possible. The flight came with no amenities, which was evident when they sold small bottles of water for $3.50 USD. This wasn’t necessarily a problem for us, since we had planned in advance and brought snacks and filled our water bottles in the airport, but it could be irksome to someone who is less-prepared. The entertainment options were pretty bleak, as they would play partial sections of TV episodes on the screens (which were located on every three or so rows apart). I was enjoying watching a TV program where Idris Elba learns to become a rally driver (through the subtitles, because there were no headphone jacks to be found), and the plane decided that we had all seen enough of it, apparently. Norwegian apparently prides itself on having wi-fi on their planes, and neither of our transoceanic flights had wi-fi, but our two domestic flights (which lasted less than an hour) did. As someone who is 6’2”, the seats afforded me little leg room and made me feel trapped at times. The question which I kept asking myself over and over on this flight was “How much comfort am I willing to sacrifice in the name of saving money?” I kept rationalizing my leg cramps to myself by thinking that one of the few reasons we were able to go on our journey was due to the low cost of this flight. Needless to say, on the next long-haul flight I board, I’ll definitely consider upgrading to business class for leg room alone.
Seven and a half hours later, we finally landed in Bergen (a city on the western coast of Norway) with a hefty dose of jet lag and leg cramps. Using the directions of our AirBnB host, we took the bybanen (light rail) to the stop nearest to our destination. This, and every other form of public transportation which we took was extremely modern, clean, quiet and timely. This was a vast difference from my usual experience of travelling by rail, the good ol’ Boston T (which may or may not be older than the world as we know it). From there, she gave us walking directions to a local cafe, where she told us to wait for an hour until she could pick us up. I should inform you that this was supposed to be a 7 minute walk. 16 or so minutes into this walk, and far away from anything which resembled a cafe, we were lost. I had gotten us lost in under an hour of our flight landing. With no understanding of the language and no knowledge of the local geography, the only thing I could think of was retracing our steps. After that didn’t work, my next motive was to ask locals. The first person I asked didn’t understand a lick of English. I pointed to my phone and to the name of the cafe, but she just yelled something (assumingly in Norwegian), pointed in the wrong direction of the cafe, got on a bus and left. I want to note that this was the only person we encountered on our trip who didn’t speak English, as it’s a common secondary language in Norway). Five or so minutes later, a kind soul saw us, two very lost-looking American tourists and gave us proper directions to the cafe. As it would turn out, we had walked right past it.
In the cafe, I was able to hook up to the wi-fi, and create an itinerary on a Google doc. This started out very rudimentary, but became more developed as time went on. We wanted to maximize the time we had when the sun was up (as the sun rises late and sets early in Scandinavia in the fall & winter), so activities which involved being outdoors were prioritized for sunlight hours. As someone who doesn’t necessarily like the idea of ‘structured fun’, Itineraries seem like such a boring adult thing to do. I will, however, play my own devil’s advocate and say that because of the itinerary, we were able to do much more during our trip than if we hadn’t. You could also argue that an itinerary is more or less a list of suggestions and not necessarily something which has to be followed verbatim. You are, after all, dealing with limited time when you’re travelling and you should get as much out of your experience in a new place as you can.
During the rest of our first day in Bergen, we settled into our AirBnB and immediately set out for a grocery store. Heeding the recommendations of travel bloggers such as Nomadic Matt, we (I) cooked breakfast and dinner and only frequented restaurants for lunch. While it would have been interesting to experience more traditional Norwegian cuisine, doing so would have costed us an arm and a leg. Personally, I thought that perusing the aisles of the grocery stores was a rewarding experience. You get to see what every day people eat and learn different names for foods in a different language. Our diet consisted largely of eggs, cheese, toast, rice, beans, and candy bars (we ate an obscene amount of candy bars). While it wasn’t necessarily glamorous, we got to experience Norwegian foods such as Brunost (Norwegian fudge cheese), Salted Licorice, and Julebrus (a traditional Christmas soda reminiscent of old-fashioned cream soda). Of these foods, Brunost held (and still holds, for that matter) a special place in my heart. It’s dense, creamy, buttery and sweet at the same time. What’s not to love?
Food aside, Bergen was a cute little city. during our time there, we strolled the streets of the city, seeing things such as the Bergenhus fortress, the KODE art museum, and also the Bryggen wharf (which is essentially what Bergen is known for). Bryggen was really unique and quaint, but part of me was slightly disappointed that most of the buildings of the wharf were tourist gift shops. I suppose that as a large tourist attraction, it would make sense for them to be gift shops, but it seemed a bit disingenuous to me. Something which was really cool was the Pepperkakebyen (gingerbread town), which is apparently one of the largest gingerbread towns in the world. It was really cute because most of the houses were made by local schoolchildren, and they made local landmarks such as the Bryggen wharf, Brann Stadion (the local soccer arena), their respective school buildings, or barnehages, as well as nondescript gingerbread houses for the sake of making gingerbread houses. It took up a whole gymnasium, and was put together really nicely.
Since Norway is known for its breathtaking Natural sights, we decided to go for a hike when we were in Bergen. Using the advice given to me by a kind man named Bjorn and his wife (I forget her name, sorry Bjorn’s wife), we planned on hiking the Vidden trail from mount Floyen to mount Ulriken, which is roughly 8 miles long. We were given partially incorrect directions to do this hike, and ended up stranded at a mall which was closed since it was Sunday. Thanks to the help of another kind stranger, we were able to salvage our day, and our nature experience, even though we were unable to hike the Vidden trail. Under the instruction of the kind stranger at the bus stop, we caught a bus back to the city center and hiked up mt. Floyen. This ended up being perfect since it had just snowed the day prior and the Vidden trail was steep and icy. What this meant was essentially trading our planned 8-hour hike for our abridged 3-hour hike. Since hindsight is 20/20, we would have been unable to hike the Vidden trail due to bad conditions, and were much better off hiking up mt. Floyen. Many locals run up and down the slopes of Floyen and the trails surrounding it. These trails are no strangers to tourists as well as there is a gift shop at the top. The view from the peak was beautiful and the hike itself was one of my personal favorite memories from my trip. I would definitely recommend anyone hike this area if they are considering going to Bergen.
After our weekend stint in Bergen, we took an hour-long flight to Oslo, the Norwegian capital. We were able to travel to Oslo because Norwegian Airlines was offering round-trip tickets from Bergen to Oslo for a little more than $100 USD. At the time which we purchased these tickets, it seemed like just another expense which was making the trip more expensive with every passing moment. In retrospect, I’m really glad that we decided to pull the trigger.
Upon landing, we hastily got through the Oslo Lufthavn (Airport), (which is brand new and beautiful by the way), purchased some groceries at the grocery store in the metro station and settled into our AirBnB. Early the next morning, we embarked for Sognsvann, a lake just north of Oslo. We spent a good chunk of our day there hiking around the trails which skirted the lake. It was bitterly cold, but we had a good time. It seemed like a bigger, nicer version of Silver lake in Athol (which, for those of you who are familiar with Silver lake, it is really not that great), and had sort of an understated beauty to it. Often times, walking or hiking in nature with others is not just about experiencing the tranquil beauty , but about the conversations which take place when you are on your little journey. In a context which is devoid of phones, conversation flourishes. Some of my favorite moments with Lisa (and others, for that matter) have been of having conversations while walking. I would highly recommend this simple activity to any two people who want to become closer to each other.
The following day in Oslo, we decided to explore the city itself, as the weather didn’t permit for hiking excursions. We decided to see the Norwegian royal palace, as well as the Oslo rådhus (city hall), which is where the Nobel peace prize is presented every December. Inside the rådhus, the floors were marble and the walls were all painted with intricate and beautiful murals. Sadly, we only got to spend 15 or so minutes there, as we got there at 4:15, and they closed at 4:30. It would have been nice to have spent some more time there, but alas, hindsight is 20/20. It is such a beautiful building and if you’re considering going to Oslo anytime soon, you should definitely check it out.
On our way to the rådhus, we stumbled upon the Jul Vinterland (Christmas Winter land), which was a string of Christmas shops, much like an outdoor strip mall, all selling festive foods and goods. Norwegians really love Christmas, or Jul as it’s called there. Scandinavia is where the festival (and concept for that matter) of Yule comes from. Although Yule has roots in paganism, it is now largely synonymous with Christmas. In fact, the way to say ‘merry Christmas’ in Norwegian is ‘god jul’. Although we didn’t get to experience a lot of the natural beauty that Norway has to offer, we got experience their love of Christmas.
The next day during our trip was also spent exploring the city and its numerous landmarks. The first stop of the day was the Oslo Operahuset (Opera house). For those of you who don’t know anything about the Oslo opera house (which I’m assuming is most of you), the building is designed as such that it is essentially a park on top of the opera house. During the summer months, many locals and tourists spend time during the eternal days of Scandinavian summer here. We, however, went when it was cold, slippery and extremely windy. After reaching the top, we snapped a few photos and promptly went back down. The inside of the building is really beautiful as well, well at least the lobby is. Sadly, they don’t let you go into the main opera hall to look at it, but it does look beautiful in pictures. Strangely enough, the thing which captivated me the most about this building was the urinals. These were the fanciest urinals I have ever used, and deemed them worthy of a video.
I need you to believe me that these were really cool urinals. I’m not crazy, I swear.
Later that day, we arrived at the Nasjonalmuseet (National Gallery), where we were able to see many Norwegian artists, such as Nikolai Astrup, J.C. Dahl, Theodor Kittelsen, and most importantly, Edvard Munch. You may or may not know Edvard Munch, but you almost certainly know his famous painting, The Scream. It is one of the most iconic and recognizable paintings in the world, and it was painted by a Norwegian.
On our last day in Norway, we woke up somewhat late and went to the Fram museum, which showcases Norwegian arctic explorers from the early 20th century, and two of the ships which facilitated their journeys. This museum turned out to be one of my favorite destinations in Norway. Surrounding the ships, they had many artifacts of the arctic voyages of Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. It’s hard to pin down what it was which made me enamored with these ships, but it was all so interesting. Everything was so old and interesting, and from a time where the world was much smaller and there was still so much to learn.
Soon after we got home from our time at the Fram museum, we set out to go enjoy our last night in Norway, by seeing a concert. We literally googled concerts in our area the night before, picked one of the artists after listening to one of his songs, and decided that we were going. We had to create a Norwegian ticketmaster account (because apparently the US one doesn’t work there) as well as navigate the website in Norwegian. Eventually we got to the Parkteatret Scene and saw our now-favorite Norwegian artist, Daniel Kvammen. The entire concert, from start to finish was in Norwegian. Not only were all of the lyrics to his songs in Norwegian, but he also spoke to the crowd in his native tongue. I had never been a non-native speaker among a group of native speakers before, so it was an interesting experience. After his songs were done, he would say ‘tussen tussen takk’, which roughly translated means ‘thank you, thank you very much’ (or literally translated it means ‘thousand, thousand thanks’. The venue was somewhat small, but packed wall-to-wall with blonde-headed Norwegians who came out to see Daniel perform.
Here’s a Daniel Kvammen song for your convenience.
On the day after the concert, we spent nearly the entire time in airports waiting for flights to come back home. I was selected for a random TSA check and thought I was going to be detained and never allowed to come back home. Eventually, against all the made up odds in my head, I made it back home.
I really enjoyed the time that I spent in Norway. I experienced a lot first-hand and learned how to better navigate places which were unfamiliar. When things went awry, I had to think quickly in order to remedy the situations. These are skills which you can only really sharpen when you try to get yourself out of less-than-savory conditions. Next time I travel, I know for certain that I will be more prepared. What I do know is that despite some of the small logistical hiccups that we had, our trip was very memorable and I will look back on it fondly for years to come. If I ever went back to Norway, it would be in the dead of winter, to northern Norway to see Aurora borealis, or during the summer to cruise the fjords and hike through the country side. This trip has only reiterated my notion that experiences are more valuable than objects, and I hope to go on many more adventures around the globe. If you’re on the fence about going to Norway (or really anywhere new for that matter), do it. Not only will you learn about (and experience) a different culture, but you will learn about yourself as well. What are you waiting for?
Those are my thoughts, What are yours?