Our trip to Norway was eventful and full of delicious surprises. This was my first ever venture to a Scandinavian country and I must say has been an enlivening and truly different European experience. Scandinavia has a flair that rivals the traditions and feelings evoked by mainland Europe.
My husband is a trip planner from heaven. He has cultivated a unique skill-set for finding out-of-the-ordinary excursions and manages to fill every moment of the day with wine festivals, art museum visits, chamber music concerts, jaunts to historic districts, hiking expeditions or a trip to the local aquarium. Thanks to his extensive knowledge of art, history, culture and tradition, he can always think of several meaningful sites to include on any vacation we go on. He outlined a glorious vacation for us during our week-long honeymoon in Norway.
Our first 2 ½ days we stayed in the city of Bergen—the 2nd most populous city in Norway. Bergen lies in the southwestern part of Norway and sits right on the North Sea. With high wooded hills that surround the city and an inner harbor that abuts the central district, Bergen is an unusually picturesque city. Large, brightly colored houses dapple the surrounding hills and city. Along the waterfront are bustling fish markets and also a covered area with many kiosks offering freshly grilled seafood platters to tourists or locals who wander the grounds. Everything is expensive in Norway. Seafood is plentiful here but it isn’t cheap. A plate of grilled shrimp will cost you around $35. Without much consolation, a Big Mac at the local McDonald’s will cost you $17.
Bergen Norway, the famous “Bryggen District” near the Hanseatic Museum we also went to.
On our first day in Bergen we went to a nearby art museum which included a free guided tour featuring notable Norwegian artists. A sizable collection of Edvard Munch’s paintings were present. Our museum tour guide was superb. Not only did the paintings seem to grip her emotionally but she had a knack for uncovering many of Munch’s hidden devices used in his paintings. Many of Munch’s paintings were entrenched with elements of symbolism. Anxiety, depression and also an obsession with the FEMME FATALE seemed to be themes in his own life that were interwoven into the brush strokes of his paintings. Unfortunately, “The Scream” is not located in Bergen but in Oslo. 😦
We did get to see one of my favorites though, “Evening of Karl Johann Street”.
The first evening in Bergen we attended a chamber concert in an old, stately Lutheran church. The musicians raptured the audience with the sounds of Camille Saint Saens and Edvard Grieg. The cellist—a rotund, flamboyant German—seemed to emote and throb in synchrony as he played his musical piece to perfection. I highly recommend ending a vacation day in Norway with a classical music concert like this; it is a feast to the ears!
Our hotel in Bergen was lovely. It was probably the most affordable hotel and conveniently located in the heart of the city. My favorite part was the free Norwegian buffet breakfast that lasted until noon. The breakfast buffet showcased a variety of hearty, freshly baked breads, yogurt, cold cuts, cheeses and smoked salmon. Large plates of sliced bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers seemed to be a Norwegian breakfast staple. I always loved getting the crepes and smothering them with homemade strawberry preserves (grown fresh from the agricultural village of Valdal) and butter.
Our 2nd day in Bergen was full of new and exciting treats including a visit to the Edvard Grieg museum. We also attended a piano music recital here. The young pianist played the music of Grieg. We learned that some of Grieg’s compositions were inspired by baroque music. Indeed, some of his work seemed to have a baroque style to it.
Our 3rd day we were ready for the Hurtigruten cruise. Our cruise came packed with added adventure options. We chose two excursions on our four night cruise. Our first excursion was a bus trip that took us up the zigzaged treacherous Trollstigen road all the way to the top of the mountain where we had spectacular views of the most famous fjord—the Geiranger. This area of Norway was also famous for its troll sightings. To my dismay, I learned that only children are able to see trolls (or act like them).
Our bus tour drove us all over the mountains and the countryside that the surrounded the Geiranger Fjord. The landscape was some of the most dramatic I have ever seen. Tall, 1,500 meter mountains jutted out of rocky outcroppings and formed craggy, rugged mountain tops. Pastures of the brightest green sprinkled the land to the ecstasy of grass munching sheep, cows and goats. Rivers from melting glaciers weaved their way through the enigmatic terrain. Every once in a while a stone bridge made of neatly placed cobbles could be seen arching over a river or stream. I thought of these as little troll bridges. Other interesting sightings included many houses with grassy roof tops. There were also classic red barns in the sparse countryside. (I learned that only 3% of Norway’s land is available for agricultural use).
Geirangerfjord, along the Trollstigen road. Norway 🙂
Several of the planned stops along our bus trip were at restaurants and gift shops. This seemed almost clandestine—as if to urge us tourists to spend our money there. At one stop, we entered a lodge-style restaurant nestled in the core of the mountains. It was cold and wet outside and the Norwegian afternoon snack of warm baked waffles with cream and local strawberry preserves hit the spot! I must say I grew quite fond of the Norwegian snack of waffles and strawberries during our trip.
The following day the cruise ship plowed its way through the Arctic Ocean and upwards, through the Arctic Circle. Large, granite rock cliffs jumped out of the land and formed much of Norway’s mountainous coastline. Small patches of farmland with green pastures and even some yellow grain fields could be seen scattered among the low-lying areas of coastline.
Some light reading and reflecting while on the ship.
When the light hit the ocean water a nearly translucent cerulean blue emanated forth. Even from our seat on the cruise ship, we could observe waves crashing against the rocky cliffs that formed Norway’s coastline.
Breakfast on the cruise ship was a chance to indulge in some of life’s most glorious fare. Not only was the variety of food overwhelming, the setting was unmatched. During breakfast you could look out the window and witness the changing scenery of the Arctic and Norway’s radical coastline while sipping coffee or plunging your teeth into toast coated with Nutella. If that wasn’t enough, you could serve yourself heapings of fruit, vegetables, fish, crepes with strawberries and all the other typical breakfast food imaginable. The only problem with a cruise ship breakfast is that you are allowed to keep going back and serve yourself infinite amounts of food.
I had never been inside the Arctic Circle before, or even a cruise ship, but I felt this adventure yielded the intensity and surprise that could not be achieved in other locations.
Visiting the Lofoten Islands in the Arctic Circle was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. While on this island we went to an ancient Viking longhouse where we partook in a traditional Viking feast with Vikings, dressed in typical Viking garb. This made the event very fun and seemingly realistic.
The Viking feast was rustic but very tasty. We were given plates of savory herbed lamb meat paired with a cloudberry preserve. Chalices full of Mead were offered, one after the other! Root vegetables and something that appeared to be barley-style gruel were added as tempting side dishes. After the filling meal there was group dancing, singing, laughter and happiness.
In front of the Viking LongHouse. A typical Viking stands in the background.
MEAD with a Viking feast 🙂 SKAL!!!!
Lofoten Islands countryside
When our Viking field trip was over, we headed back to our bus. We were given an extra tour of the Lofoten Islands. We even got to see a wild moose chomping on arctic tundra. By 10pm we were back at the cruise ship which was anchored at the Island’s harbor in the city of Svolvaer.
At 11:30pm that night our ship brought us into the famous Troll Fjord. It was cold outside, not crisp, it was cold. The Troll Fjord was unduly narrow with high walls of rock that appeared to dive straight into the frigid Arctic Ocean. At this point the Captain of the ship advised everyone to purchase a “Troll Toddy”. This is a hot tea spiked with Rum—a concoction that trolls apparently drink. Since we were headed through the Troll Fjord, “It might be nice to have a troll toddy to go along with the ride” he gushed. Like tourists being suckered, we succumbed to the suggestion and bought troll toddies to drink while going through the Fjord.
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I always enjoyed dining on the cruise ship. While I was entertained by the changing arctic scenery I found it most pleasurable to sit by a loquacious geriatric couple from Canada and another couple from Australia. Dining with well-traveled tourists and exchanging discussion while one-upping each other on countries visited is always a mature way to handle any civilized discourse over brunch.
We spent our final night in Tromso, gateway to the North Pole. We were finished with our cruise and would spend a day and night here. Tromso is one of Norway’s northern-most cities and resides at 70 degrees latitude. This city features the famous “Arctic Cathedral”, the northern-most brewery in the world and also Polaria, the northern-most aquarium.
Polaria was awesome. We got to see bearded seals being trained and all sorts of starfish. We also learned a lot about the Svalbard archipelago. The brewery turned out to be very fun. The bartender was a Tromso native—born and raised—and was quite amiable. He pulled up a chair and told us all about city of Tromso and about the famous Tromso polar bear hunter from the 1930’s who killed more than 700 polar bears and would frequent this very bar. He told us all about Norway and was excited that we chose Tromso as one of our honeymoon destinations. We asked him how much bartenders make in Norway. He told us that if he was to covert the amount he made in NOK to dollars per hour, it would be about $30 an hour (tips are not expected in Europe as they are in the states, so this is without tips).
Fun Facts I learned about Norway:
- Norway is NOT part of the European Union.
- Norway is part of NATO
- After the discovery of petroleum in 1969 Norway has become one of the richest countries in the world.
- Before 1969, Norway was a very poor country with over 42% unemployment. It was during that time that many Norwegians moved to the US.
- Norway is a leading producer of oil.
- Just 3% of Norway’s land is used for agriculture
- Prices in Norway are high—McDonald’s Big Mac is about $17 a small container of yogurt at the convenience store is $6.
- One of Norway’s exports is Frozen Pizza.
- The AVERAGE SALARY per month in Norway is $5000 EURO. (when NOK is converted to Euro)