This is indeed a land of paradox on many fronts
Let’s talk size….
UK has a population of around 60 million but Norway which is almost twice as large in area has less than 5 million and most of those are concentrated in the Country’s largest cities, Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavinger. That’s a lot of unoccupied land
they have one of the highest living standards in the western world AND the highest cost of living
They have a healthy social infrastructure that includes free schooling; excellent child care and medical services yet most of the commercial retailer close at 5pm throughout the week, close for lunch and don’t open on Sundays!!
It’s like going back 40 years to the innocent hazy lazy days without internet and a million TV channels.
The quality living of the 70’s with all the benefits of the 21st century!
They have high earnings yet alcohol is so expensive that many Norwegians nurse one or two drinks only during a night out.
A Starbucks Americano will cost you approximately Can$12
A mediocre bottle of wine $70
A local brew $15
A small non descript beer will cost you around $12
But hey you’re not expected to tip
Hotels on the other hand can be excellent value as – for instance – somewhere like The Clarion Collection Hotel chain includes breakfast, afternoon snacks, coffee and a buffet supper included inthe price thud saving an unsuspecting traveller the need to re mortgage their house back home to “eat out”
It’s the land of the midnight sun and 3am picnics and long dark polar nights that go on as long as 3 months above latitude 70
They speak English like native Brits – quite often with a British regional accent yet their transport system ticket machines, map and signage is virtually unfathomable unless you have a helpful Norwegian to hand.
For instance – the trains are beautiful, well maintained, smooth and efficient, you could eat your lunch off the floor they are that clean!
BUT there are no maps on the platforms so if you did manage to purchase a ticket good luck with working out which platform you need. Worse is when you find that you could’ve gotten away without paying that $30 ticket to travel 2 stops. There are no ticket collection barriers or machines and often the conductor who collects and issues tickets on the train doesn’t make an appearance!
Home to some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet Norway is the motherland of cross country skiing. We saw hordes of perfect Norwegian specimens riding several hours on the train only to alight at stations where whiteout situations prevailed.; where essentially there was NOTHING TO SEE. Where the weather was so bad you couldn’t even see the station signage. Yet heavily togged up skiers with tents and huge backpacks de-trained and trudged off, disappearing into the cloying and inhospitable whiteness.
It has the largest most northernmost city in the world (Tromso) which should – by dint of it’s geographical position so near (relatively) to the North Pole – be unthinkingly uninhabitable, but the scores of ports and hamlets beading the fjorded coastline of Norway’s shores are lapped by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream ensuring ice free passage for fishing, ferries and trawlers. So Tromso – the Arctic Capital – has a thriving and robust healthcare industry, a massive university offering arctic studies (duh) and medical disciplines, fishing / oh and still no commercial ventures open on a Sunday!!
If you want a direct answer, ask a direct question; we found that whilst the Norwegians are welcoming and friendly they need to be asked a well thought out direct question and then the floodgates will open in terms if the information you get back.
WHEN: The appearance of the Northern lights wanes around the end of March and puffins abound during May/June so if you come in the shoulder season of April expect off season rates, smaller tours and fabulous scenery whatever the weather. Oh and less turbulent seas when for instance you cross large “bodies of water” to teach the Lofoten Islands. You can expect rain – hugging the Atlantic and despite the presence of the Gilf stream Norway has a maritime climate.
HOW: Take the HURTIGRUTEN Ferry; billed as the most beautiful journey in the world (I tend to agree), many Norwegians consider it a “right of passage” to “ride” the “Hurtigruten” up to the northern most Russian border town of Kirkenes. (Pronounced Chirkenes) and back again, taking 7 days to go north and 6 days to go back south. It stops at around 72 ports (on the round trip) and passengers have the opportunity to take tours and trips at about 12 of these stops. We travelled/cruised northbound only (wishing we’d also returned with the ship) on the beautiful Trollesfjord – one of the newer offerings of the fleet. beautifully decorated in a jaunty nautical style and (of course) spotlessly clean) with neat cabins (underfloor heating in the cabin washroom – yay). Posh suites were available but we intended to spend virtually no time in our cabin so figured what was the point.
There is No traditional. “Cruise” entertainment on board although I never got to open a single page of the 3 books I’d brought with me!
Between spending too much time hanging over the sides at tiny ports watching the people and items going on and off the ship; eating ( the food is divine), fizzing in the on- deck hot-tub watching the ever changing scenery; going to info sessions, talks, documentaries and demonstrations; ; going to the gym and sauna (both with floor to ceiling view of coastline) and going excursions I had no time whatsoever for reading. I literally didn’t want to miss a moment of this glorious trip.
Anybody travelling to Norway to take the Hurtigruten ferry I would recommend several days in Oslo first to take in the amazing world-class museums including the Vikkng Ship Museum; The Kontiki Museum; The Fram, The Edvard Munch Museum, the Resistance Museum ; the Norwegian Folk Museum ; the Nobel Peace Prize Building; Radhuset ( the Art Deco City hall monolith that dominates the waterfront) and the Akerhaus Fort.
You can then take a “Norway in a Nutshell ” train tour over the the mountains to Bergen where the ferries embark. You can book this online at the NSB site.
To be honest, whilst Bergen is a stunningly beautiful city rich in history – it’s famous photogenic Hanseatic buildings line the wharf – you don’t really need more than a night and a whole day to visit – go up the funicular for stupendous views of the several simultaneous weather systems sweeping the sprawling metropolis – so much bigger than the small heritage core would suggest!. Visit the Rosenkrans tower (check limited opening times for entrance); and explore the medieval lane ways between the old Hanseatic community buildings – leaving a few hours to visit the Hanseatic Museum.
Over and Out