When my typically non-outdoorsy sister, Melanie, asked me to go to Norway in 2017, I thought “You’re asking me to go to hiking, biking and kayaking in Norway? No way!” And of course, I immediately said yes.
That was partly because the trip was scheduled in August so my thin-blooded self could handle the Nordic temperatures. It was “A Tale of Two Sisters” (as opposed to cities) in the “the season of light” as Charles Dickens would say. But unlike Paris or London, Norwegian cities are uncrowded, peaceful and gateways to natural wonders – perfect for rejuvenation.
Case in point, Norway has almost 1,200 fjords, accounting for one of the longest coastlines in the world exceeding that of the United States. It also has about 45,000 islands and 300+ waterfalls with many among the tallest in the world. With a population of only 5.3 million, Norwegians can actually purchase an island for less than a fortune. (Monks even once owed fjord islands near Oslo. They got a “Scandinavian exception” to not awaken with the sun and sleep upon sunset due to the country’s summer midnight sun and winter noon darkness.)
That said, Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world, with a small bottle of water costing $5 and a single bus ride $8! (We bought duty-free wine in the airport upon arrival to save money on drinks, investing in seafood instead.) Every time we saw a price tag, our faces turned into “The Scream” by Norwegian painter Edvard (whose works, by the way, are featured in Oslo’s KODE Art Museums.)
How do Norwegians afford their own country? In 1969, it discovered “liquid gold” (oil and gas) offshore worth about $1.4 trillion. Now little Norway is the fifth largest exporter of natural gas and 12th of oil in the world, accounting for 30 percent of its national budget. The government invests taxes from oil profits for its citizens, so each receives about million Norwegian crowns (about $177,000). And it well takes care of them otherwise. No wonder Norway is known as the “socialist paradise.”
It is also known for maritime business worth 10 percent of national wealth with a turnover of $45 billion. Norwegian ship owners control 7 percent of the global fleet. By the way, it’s best to travel around Norway by water whenever possible to get somewhere within hours instead of days. Look at the geography of this country!
Of course, Norway is rich in maritime culture as well. Oslo has some of the world’s best-preserved ships in its Fram Museum and Viking Ship Museum and offers nice day trips to Oslo Fjord and surrounding islands. (Other notable places are the Nobel Peace Center, Vigeland Sculpture Park, Royal Palace and gardens, and Stortinget/parliament.)
Finally, Norway is rich in pure air, with 80 percent of its electricity coming from clean hydropower. Norwegians take advantage of this, biking and hiking in all weather conditions, as did we … much to Mel’s chagrin in a few cases like kayaking in cold rain in Nærøyfjord.
“Did I really sign us up for this?” half laughed Mel as we kayaked five miles in wet wetsuits with blue fingers.
“Yep, for once, you roped us into something crazy instead of me,” I snickered. “You cannot blame me for this one!”
Most of our trips together end up with Mel threatening at some point to kill me for getting her to do something outside of her comfort zone. However, she almost always later recants and thanks me for a fantastic experience.
One exception may have been hiking to the top of Pulpit Rock off the “light fjord” of Lysefjord near the city of Stavanger. We declared victory at the summit only to be practically blown off the mountain by gale force winds.
“This is insane!” Mel declared behind me as we both clung to the mountain like Spiderman to minimize wind-lash. “I can barely walk!”
“I can’t move my head or my headband will blow off!” I replied. Plus, I was mesmerized by a truly insane couple who went on the edge of the precipice to take selfies. The fact that they were not blown off the rock meant that Mel and I would survive. A prayer was clearly said for all of us that day at Pulpit Rock, aptly named for its shape and “heavenly” ascent.
Stavanger, Norway’s fourth largest and arguably most charming city, is a gateway to fjords, waterfalls, hiking trails and mountains. (It’s also known for oil and gas with an offshore oil rig that lights up at night like a floating city and a fantastic Norwegian Petroleum Museum.) The cities of Flåm and Voss are other wilderness jumping off points. Flåm is the perfect place to go on a “fjord safari” by fast RIB boat. It connects to Norway’s longest fjord (Sognefjord) and one of its most narrow (Nærøyfjord) that’s UNESCO-recognized. The Flåm Railway connects to Myrdal, where we saw numerous waterfalls and a “huldra” woman dancing like a seductive forest spirit per Norwegian folklore. (Yes, Norwegians do have a creative side.) Voss features Vangsvatnet Lake that mirrors mountains and clouds. Bergen, Norway’s second largest city after Oslo, is known for hiking trails and city views on Mount Fløyen (accessed by the Fløibanen funicular), UNESCO World Heritage Center Bryggen Wharf filled with local artists, and street and fish markets.
No surprise that seafood reigns supreme in Norway, including locally caught cod, salmon, halibut, wolfish, monkfish, king crab and scallops. Liquorice is practically a national flavor and can be found sweet or salty everywhere, even in ice cream and chocolate. Arctic berries, such as bright orange cloudberries and red lingonberries, actually grow this far north. And aquavit (eau de vie) keeps people alive in the winter.
After a week in Norway, Mel and I returned refreshed from locking arms with Mother Nature. She reminded us of the raw beauty of our planet and “the best of times,” according to Dickens. Mel survived “A Tale of Two Sisters” … at least until the next time she threatens to kill me on an adventure.
A shorter variation of this story was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of ART + DESIGN magazine.