My first encounter with the socio-economic supernova that is Scandinavia began as a naive eighteen year old kid from Waiuku who landed in Sweden, having randomly decided to see what life was like on the other side of the world. In the ensuing 12 months I picked up the language, some rudimentary – if still dangerously erratic – ice-skating skills, and many dear acquaintances. Det var jätte roligt.
My Scandinavian genes then lay relatively dormant for over a decade, until this year. Upon arriving in Amsterdam (which was the subject of an earlier post) my love for Scandinavian things was reignited, courtesy of Ikea and a girl from Norway called Line. While Line has many attractive attributes, I think she knows it was her Norwegian genes that sub-consciously sealed the deal from my end. As for what she sees in me, I’m not so sure. Maybe she’s humoured by my NZild-accent infused Swedish. Or maybe she just figured I was as close as she could get to dating Bret from Flight of the Conchords.
Irrespective of the rhyme or reason for the romantic season, Line was all the excuse I needed to hop over to Norway; and what a pleasant place it is too. The photo below gives you a taste of the place. Yes the scooter is parked in the bus bay; and yes moss and grass is growing on the log-cabin bus stop. It’s park-and-ride: Scandinavian style.
Norway is a wonderful country to see by train. My two biggest Norwegian rail trips were from Oslo-Bergen and Oslo-Trondheim, which are shown in black and green respectively in the map below. Norway’s rail network is operated by the state-owned NSB, which apparently returned a profit last year. I must say that my trips have been remarkably good value: The trip from Oslo-Trondheim took 10 hours and cost only 35 Euro, which is about 65 NZD. Even in second class you get a power point for the laptop and free onboard wireless internet (albeit intermittent and flakey).In my experience rail is the best way to experience Scandinavia no matter what the season. In winter the snow blanketed pine forests are exquisite, while in summer the small farms (with their distinctive red buildings) are a quaint backdrop – as shown below.As you head west and north from Oslo the scenery becomes more dramatic, as shown in the following photos. I came away from my trips feeling that travelling by train in Scandinavia is one of life’s little pleasures. (NB: Not all these photos are mine and I’ve unfortunately lost some the original sources, so if they are yours let me know and I’ll reference or, if necessary, remove them).
And now to finish on a somewhat sombre note.
My last trip to Norway occurred the week after the Utøya tragedy, in which 80 people lost their lives. While it was a shock to everyone (by way of contrast the per capita murder rate in New Zealand is 4 times higher than Norway) it was heartening to feel people’s shared sense of vulnerability and loss. The most visible reminder of this was the piles of roses that adorned the streets (NB: The red rose is the symbol of the Social Democratic Party, to which many of the young people who died were affiliated).
It seemed that, if anything, the tragedy has strengthened the progressive social values for which Norway is known. Another reason why Norway is the rose of Scandinavia, and another reason why you should go there.
This post is dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives in the Utøya tragedy.