Norway is a country of extremes - a modern urban capital with a breathtaking rural countryside, extreme darkness in the winter and a sun that never seems to dip below the horizon in the summer. This environment has created a culture of adaptation. This culture of adaptation extends not only to nature, but to culture, technology and the global society we now live in. We spent about one week in this beautiful country split between its capital city Oslo and the small country town Molde.
Norway's history is closely linked to Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia. While a smaller population of just over five million, it occupies a large geographical area relative to its size but remains sparsely populated due to its high northern latitudes. Its natural resources remain a large driver behind their economy and their economic system is very similar to that of Denmark.
Upon arriving in Oslo, I was immediately struck by its contrast to Copenhagen. The city is much more modern and while still possessing many older buildings, the immediate draw to the eyes is the modern architecture. Many of the skyscrapers stark against a gray sky even in the summer days, carry your thoughts to icy and barren winters.
We checked into our AirBnb for the next few days and it was stunning. Impeccably designed with white floors, furniture, linens, and cabinets, it was like walking into an art gallery. Given my propensity to spill food and drink by even looking at it from across the room, I needed to be on my best behavior to avoid catastrophe. Our apartment was ideally located in the center of town and our first morning we were a two-minute walk to an American style diner. I am a huge breakfast person and it had been some time since I had a proper American one. It was our lucky day and I inhaled over easy eggs, hash browns, bacon, and gluten free bread with butter and jam. I polished it off with a few glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice and about a whole pot of coffee. Scandinavia had plenty of gluten free options and I took full advantage of it – returning the next day to the same diner for a club sandwich, something I haven’t had in a long time.
We left the diner with the goal to walk off our big breakfast and thus planned about a ten-mile long trek throug the city taking in some of the attractions. We first walked to the Edvard Munch Museum but were disappointed to hear that his famous “Scream” was relocated this summer to the National Museum. We later made our way to the Opera house which sits perched in the harbor and downtown. It is truly an architectural marvel and I was again reminded of how the modern Norwegian architecture seemed to harken back to Oslo’s harsh and frosty winters. We walked around the city and explored some of its more posh and popular neighborhoods. Given how north we were, the sun didn’t set until late in the evening past 11pm, it felt like we were on stolen time and we used every second of daylight on that first day in Oslo.
During our city walk, it was made apparent to us that the city was in recent decades populated by large immigrant populations from the Middle East and Africa. We passed through an entire neighborhood almost completely inhabited by Middle Easterners. It was comforting to see evidence of how open and welcoming the Norwegian society was. Our second day in Oslo was spent inside. The city was pounded by rain and so we decided to stay in and enjoy the apartment as opposed to getting soaked in the cold.
We woke up early the next day and flew up to Molde, a small city on the west coast of Norway. We rented a car at the airport, had a nice dinner at the hotel and had difficulty sleeping as the sun refused to go down until at least 2 in the morning (we were even further north than Oslo). I woke up the next morning, had a great workout in the hotel gym, enjoyed breakfast and loaded up the car for our adventure that day. We were to trek across the “Atlantic Road” which was purported to be one of the most scenic two-hour drives in the world. It lived up to the hype. We started our drive winding through the green farms and forests of the area. Fields full of livestock, and panoramic views of the dramatic mountains and cold blue Atlantic ocean laid all around us. It was like driving through another world. I spent my time looking at the farmhouses trying to imagine what it would be like to live in this place, tucked away from the rest of the world with the beauty of my country all around me. We took the road over the water and after a quick study of the GPS, I realized that we were basically driving over the ocean and the rest of the trip we wouldn’t even be on land technically. We were defying the rules of nature, elevated above the sea, on a highway seeming to lead nowhere, the occasional island or jut of peninsula providing some psychological relief but to the left and to the right, ocean all around us. We came to the steepest and most hyperbolic bridge I have ever laid my eyes on. To counteract the high tides and bad weather, a large section of bridge led cars well up and over and around the water in a wide arc that I only thought I would see on a rollercoaster. We stopped to snap pictures of a section of road I knew I would never see an equal to again.
Further down the road we drove down into the Atlantic Tunnel. What I thought was tunneling us through a mountain or rough terrain was actually transporting us well underground and across the ocean. I knew something was amiss when I started feeling my ears pop with the definite change in altitude. I later learned we were deep underground and completely under the ocean. I was thankful that I learned this on the other side of the tunnel.
We stopped in a small fishing town for lunch and enjoyed looking across the marina and the ships of all sizes dropping off cargo and people in a never-ending stream of maritime activity. Norway is a country built on the water and even in modern times you can sense how large a role the ocean plays in the livelihood and identity of the people. We returned to Molde and visited the local museum famous for its exhibit on old Norwegian housing. A clearing in the woods past the modern reception building was home to a small community of homes that had its origins in pre-modern Norway. Old cottages that had passed the test of time and provided a clear window into what life used to be like. The roofs were caked with mud and grass and plants grew from the roofs in very real green patches of life. This method provided excellent insulation and kept its inhabitants cool in the summer and most importantly warm in the winter. It would take a truly resilient population to survive the winters there, let alone thrive. I could only imagine how tough the Vikings were and how covetously they looked at France and the British Isles. It is no wonder they struck fear into the hearts of their adversaries because only a people incredibly strong and resilient could survive and prosper in this environment. We ended our long day again in a struggle to sleep. It was difficult to adjust to the never ending days here – I never want to know the what a never ending night in winter would be like here.
I had long been fascinated by Norway, a large country with a storied history. I ended my week there with a new-found appreciation for its culture. I think that its societies ability to adapt as it has for millennia will serve very well for it in the future. // Jeff