Mike and I have left Norway and are now in Sweden. I thought this would be a good time to just talk a little about Norway overall and not any specific area. Executive Summary: Loved the scenery, loved the people, costs of everything very high, wish it hadn’t been Scandinavia’s coldest, wettest summer in memory, hated the width of the roads.
In round numbers Norway has a total population of only 5 million. Denmark and Finland are both around 5 ½ million and Sweden is about 10 million. Thanks to oil, Norway’s GDP per capita is almost 50% higher than the other Nordic countries. It is the oil that allows a country of only 5 million people to have the tunnels and physical infrastructure as well as the social infrastructure that you find here. Everyone starts work with a minimum of 25 days’ vacation plus an additional 10-12 public holidays. After a child is born mother’s and father’s get paid to stay at home for an extended period with their children. University is free and the students are given an allowance from the government. I have read that the wage gap between an average employee’s salary and a CEO salary is much smaller than we are used to. Norway and Denmark are both at the top of the happiest countries in the world. Norway’s roads are in great shape with no potholes. They nearly all look like they were repaved just this year. If they can spend this type of money on their roads you would think that they could make them wider!
The fjords and the mountains in western Norway are particularly gorgeous. It was disappointing how frequently we were looking at them through a damp mist or haze. The weather wasn’t so bad that it stopped us from being outside, it was just overcast and threatening often. We continued to get our walks in and drove through the mountains and fjords. It was still lovely.
Mike can’t get over the number of tunnels especially in western Norway. There are also a lot of ferries still in use even on the main highways although many are being replaced by tunnels and bridges. These ferries are super efficient and cause very little delay while traveling. Given how many people pay for tour boats, for visitors these ferries are almost a bonus although they certainly aren’t free. Mike and I are still waiting to figure out what we have paid in terms of ferries and tolls for tunnels and bridges. We paid a lot of money into a ferry discount card. The money on account decreases with each ferry ride. Our minimum mandatory deposit was extremely high due to the size of our vehicle. Now that we have left Norway we are trying to figure out how to get the rest of our money back. They say that we can do this but they don’t make it easy.
Almost 100% of Norwegians appear to speak some level of English and most speak it quite well enough to talk with us. The Norwegian language looks like it can be pronounced phonetically quite easily once one learns the rules. I don’t think that their pronunciation often breaks the rules like English does. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you would understand what you were reading, just that you might be able to pronounce it.
One very pleasant surprise has been the lack of insects, specifically mosquitoes and black flies. Since we weren’t expecting to be in Canada for a few summers I packed all our insect repellent from two houses and one boat into the RV. We haven’t used any of it and given how damp it has been that is really surprising.
Norway has a much lower alcohol limit when driving than we do in Canada. Theirs is .02 compared to our .08 in Ontario. .02 is not even one beer and these limits may be going lower in the near future. I believe that the penalties are quite strict and everyone that we have met that is driving has refrained from having any alcohol at all. Someone did tell us they you could buy a “driver’s beer” which is a really small one but we have never actually seen this.
For the boaters reading this, be careful when coming into harbour. It appears that our “red, right, return” rule is completely opposite of the way they do things in Scandinavia.
Many of you may know that I love statues. All across Scandinavia there are large bronze statues everywhere. It is lovely to see. They aren’t just statues from many years ago, new ones are being built and erected all over. They also aren’t built just to honour famous people. Many are of “regular” folks just representing the population like fisherman, factory workers, families. Mike and I saw one the other day called “sister and brother”. I wish we had more of them in North America. These countries seem to have a fascination with water and fountains and rivers in the middle of town. Just this morning Mike and I walked 2 km around a small lake in the centre of a small town. One of our really pleasant surprises was being in Risor during their Wooden Boats festival.
For the shoppers in my audience here are a few things that we noticed. Every town has stores that just sell olives and olive oil. They also have a huge number of eye glass stores and expensive hair salons. The most common chains that we would recognize are H&M (Swedish so no surprise), Body Shop, and Subway. Many towns have one McDonalds and one or two Burger Kings. Of course, all big towns have IKEA and there are no Walmart’s anywhere. I don’t think that there are any Walmart stores anywhere in Europe although Walmart does own an existing chain in the UK. It is interesting to look in a book store window and see books by Wilbur Smith, Jeffrey Deaver, David Baldacci, Clive Cussler…. It looks like my library at home except the books are in Norwegian!
Outside of the cities quite a few homes have grass roofs, not thatched but actual growing grass. It is quite surprising to see. We were taken to visit a small lodge/conference centre where its grass roof was designed to help it blend in to the environment. We talked to one of the owner’s whose son cut the grass on the roof using an edge trimmer. These roofs are quite steep. We asked him whether or not his son used a rope to hang on to. Apparently security consisted of a father telling his son to be careful. 🙂
Housing is quite expensive in the cities and often requires two incomes. We were told by one person that when they built their house in a rural area many years ago that was considered unusual. Today they said that you can see quite a few new homes with more young people moving back. That is nice to see.
As we leave Norway we have been traveling for 140 days and driven the RV about 5,000 kilometres since landing in Belgium. As it turns out we have toured around in the car the same distance for another 5,000 km.
Somehow when I think of Denmark I think of people being friendlier when you first meet them although Norway is where we have met the most people that we are likely to keep in touch with for a very long time. We visited the homes of multiple Norwegians including Ørjan and Mona near Bergen and Anne and Oddvar who got us out to the island of Hareidlandet. It is possible that we might see Ørjan and Mona again next summer. We spent six days at a marina with a couple of families whose kids made our RV their second home. There is no way that I could write any summary about Norway that didn’t specifically mention Helge and Elin and their lovely family Martin, Helene and Trina plus cat. They all welcomed us into their home (and their families homes), took us on various tours, came and visited us in Bergen and just missed us in Trondheim. We are trying to arrange to cross paths with them as they travel south early in the summer of 2018 while we are heading north at the same time. They have also promised to bring their family and visit Canada once we leave Europe and are back home again. Learning about different countries and their people and making new friends is really what traveling is all about.