Since the birth of the World Happiness Report in 2012, Norway has consistently been ranked in the top four happiest countries in the world. Perhaps it has something to do with their commitment to a healthy work-life balance, free access to childcare, eldercare, healthcare, and education at every level, or maybe it has to do with the generous maternity and paternity leave. All of this comes with a hefty tax rate of course, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Nordic region lately, and have found that most citizens don’t mind footing the bill because what they pay in taxes comes directly back to them and the betterment of society as an investment in their quality of life- individually and as a whole. The government essentially takes the stress out of living so that you can actually live. Many Americans have their qualms about this topic, and I recognize that no system is perfect, but I am going to recommend a good read that will answer every question you could possibly think of and then some, and get on to my Norwegian Adventure.
I could have brought some course reading with me for the journey, but in a quest for that healthy work-life balance, I left it all at home, picked up a pleasure reading book, and enjoyed the adventure.
The people of Norway were incredibly friendly and welcoming. The public transport in Oslo was certainly in no short supply and helped us get to various museums around town. We started at Holmenkollbakken, a ski jump that helped host the 1952 Winter Olympics as well as numerous other international skiing events through present day. It was foggy when we got there, but we headed into the museum and then up the elevator and above the clouds to what I’m sure is normally a stunning view of Oslo. The fog was nice too, though. Next was the Viking Ship Museum, which was a fascinating look into the lives of Vikings. The rest of the day was spent meandering through Oslo, admiring its interesting sculptures and strangely clean streets, until it was time to board the overnight train to Bergen.
Fresh off the train and a perfectly I-“slept”-on-a-train-last-night night’s sleep, Bergen gave a Scottish welcome- with fierce winds and rain, of course! But the clouds opened up to reveal the stunning beauty that is Bergen. Beautiful buildings, harbor, and hillside create a stunning backdrop for Norway’s second-largest city. My favorite thing in Bergen was hiking Stoltzekleiven. A hike made up mostly of stone steps, the trek was challenging, but the view at the top was worth it. Once at the top, there is a lake and several well-marked trails. We followed a trail that led to Fløyen, another popular viewpoint in Bergen and then followed the road back down into town. While we walked over to Fløyen from the top of Stoltzekleiven, it is also accessible along a road or via funicular if you prefer to earn your views that way instead. I don’t judge.
The next day we did a day trip that included a fjord tour and a ride along the famous Flåm Railway. Because it rained so heavily while we were there, we saw hundreds of waterfalls cascading down from the mountains, which made the soggy trip to Bergen a bit more lovely. I also learned my new favorite saying: “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” The journey along the Flåm Railway was stunning. The tracks traversed snow-capped mountains, passing isolated homes and jaw-dropping views along the way.
As our few days in Bergen came to an end, we flew up well into the Arctic Circle to Tromsø, otherwise known as the “Paris of the North”. I’m still not sure that I understand the slogan, but the Arctic college town offers incredible mountain views, XC skiing trails galore, and is home to the Northernmost Brewery in the World™! (It’s actually not the northernmost brewery in the world anymore, but they trademarked the title while a microbrewery was being built on the Arctic island of Svalbard a few years back.) We sadly did not see the Northern Lights, as the high season for viewing had just come to an end, but we saw a fair share of beautiful sunsets amongst the mountains, and that was pretty cool too. We also went XC skiing one day, which is one of my favorite winter activities. What I loved most about this experience is the culture and how much Norwegians love XC skiing. It seemed like everybody on the island was out for a spring ski, just as one would take a leisurely stroll through a park.
Favorite thing about Norway: Heated floors. Everywhere we stayed had heated bathroom floors and I did not realize how necessary this innovation is.
Least favorite thing about Norway: The prices. Everything in Norway, especially eating out, is very expensive. We traveling students couldn’t afjord (see what I did there?) it, so we cooked in for most meals. But when we did eat out, the food was fresh and fantastic. And cooking in gave us the opportunity to grocery shop in Norwegian, which is a fun game!