There should be a way to discover the places that should’ve been on the top of your list of places to visit, but weren’t. Norway is now at the top of my retroactive “I should’ve known I have to go there someday” list.
Sure, I suspected it was cold there, and from my experience watching the Swedish chef on the Muppets, knew that the language would be easy to make fun of, but that was about it. I know, they don’t speak Swedish, but I can’t tell the difference. Anyway, I also knew that Norway has trolls, because Trollhunter was an awesome movie, and it was one of those “lost footage” pseudo-documentaries, so it must be true.
So what could Norway reveal to earn the top spot on the Greatest-places-you-didn’t-know-you-wanted-to-go list? Like any European city, it has beautiful old churches and a sense of history that’s hard to imagine in the US.
There is ample weird food. We ordered a hot dog and a hamburger for the kids, and got this:
Our kids were not impressed. They ate the fries.
Culinary wrong-turns aside, the train from Oslo to Bergen was vacation travel at its best. Unlimited pizza and hot chocolate for the kids (OK I had pizza and hot chocolate too), beautiful scenery, and no security shaming/screening like you endure at the airport.
In the middle of May, there are places in Norway still buried in snow. People were skiing on the glaciers! Of course, even Scandinavian public transportation has to submit to mother nature; a rock slide blocked the train tracks, and we were then re-routed via bus then ferry then train again. This involved 30 minutes of standing in the rain next to a stack of tires at a dubious looking dock.
Bergen was our final destination; this small sea-side city has loads of charm.
I caught the biggest fish ever!
We were fortunate enough to be in town during Norway’s Independence Day celebration. This seemed to consist of wearing traditional clothes, standing in the rain watching a parade, and drinking beer. Norway was starting to grow on me.
Evidently Bergen has burned down a few times over the past 500 years, which isn’t surprising when you look at this fire-marshal’s nightmare arrangement of wooden buildings:
It would probably burn down more frequently, but it does seem to rain every day. Combined with the melting glaciers, Norway must have the highest concentration of waterfalls anywhere.
The Norwegian culture seems to embrace the strange combination of their Viking heritage and quirky troll-loving liberal modern state. On a hike to Mt Floyen, we discovered a garden of tree stumps that had been carved by chainsaw into cute (and a little creepy) sculptures.
For a change, we didn’t stumble into this hidden glade because I was lost. My wife had been looking forward to this hike for weeks, and we had finally made it into the wild (you could almost not quite see our hotel). We were following the well-marked and thoroughly-mapped trails, when suddenly she leads us off onto a seldom-used path into the woods. Very Robert Frost. “And I, I took the one less Googled-by“.
For anyone who read JRR Tolkein before seeing the movies, you probably have a mental image of the Misty Mountains; I think Norway was the inspiration. Lonely, glacier-capped peaks shrouded in icy clouds:
Isolated fishing villages from another time:
Deep fjords whose depths harbor lost viking ships and cold runoff from glaciers that were old before humans set foot in Scandinavia:
One thing that is found in Europe but missing in the suburbs of the US is the way cemeteries are integrated into the church and community in general. As morbid as it might be, Heather says there is something powerful about being reminded of your own mortality when thinking about spiritual things. I think she’s right.
Anyone who fantasizes about living in an isolated cabin in the wilderness will be over-stimulated in Norway, especially if your fetish includes homesteads next to a waterfall, the ocean, or a mountain. You can have all 3 at once here!
My sophisticated european friends dismissed my trip to Norway- “it’s outrageously expensive” (soda is $5 a bottle, so they have a point), “there’s nothing to do there” (if a lifetime worth of hiking, skiing, fishing, and boating doesn’t appeal to you, you probably would be bored there), “it’s cold and rainy” (no argument there). I may never get to go back, but for next few months I’ll be annoying anyone who listens with stories about how amazing Norway is.