Saturday, June 19, 2004

Scandinavia Month Part 2

Two weeks after visiting Denmark and Sweden I completed the Scandinavian trifecta by flying to Norway for a four-day weekend. I often tell people
that my homeland New Zealand is the most beautiful country in the world.
After visiting Norway I’m not so sure. It’s the fjords. I know that
sounds clich├ęd but they were simply stunning, almost indescribably so.

The highlight of my Norway trip was the day-long “Norway in a Nutshell”
tour. With one ticket I got to:
• take a train ride past lakes and into the mountains, with a
photographic-opportunity-stop next to a glacier.
• take another train down a step incline past nymph-infested
waterfalls. (The nymph part is true, something they do for the tourists).
• take a boat ride through the peaceful fjords, which are long,
narrow inlets carved out of the mountains by glaciers in times past and
now surrounded by cliffs that descend from 500 metres above sea level
straight down to 1000 metres below sea level.
• take a bus ride from a village at the end of a fjord up to the
mountains, the ride offering ever more scenic views back to the village
as the road ascends.
• pay exorbitant prices. To complete the experience of “Norway in a
Nutshell”, the ticket is expensive, like everything is Norway, so I
could only afford to eat dodgy falafel sandwiches during my trip.

Norway was a poor country until the 1970’s and was reliant on American
aid to maintain what living standards they had. The things that make the
country beautiful - mountains, glaciers, and fjords – don’t provide for
good farm land. However in the 1970’s enormous oil reserves were found
in Norway’s waters and as a result Norway is the 2nd richest country in
the world (per person), and therefore one of the most expensive
countries for tourists. I don’t think I will visit Norway again until a
long lost uncle dies and leaves me his fortune.

Oslo is the capital of Norway but Bergen, the second biggest city, was
much nicer. It was 20 degrees in the city centre near the sea yet
mountains partly surrounding Bergen still had snow. From near the centre
of Bergen I took a 10 minute “funicular” train ride up the mountain to a
forest and spent the afternoon hiking. With the long Nordic summer days,
it was still light at 11pm and the sky was already brightening again at
1:30am.

I took a night train from Bergen back to Oslo, intending to sleep
through the journey. However I got seduced by the Norwegian scenery
again. The train passed through the snowy mountains and the full moon
hung low over the mountain tops giving everything an eerie glow. I spent
a good part of the trip staring, staring, staring out the window, even
though I was tired enough to fall sleep the moment I laid down.

Naturally Denmark and Norway play the Viking card a bit. Both countries
claim to be THE home of the Vikings. Both countries have 1000 year old
Viking longships in museums. Both countries sell tacky tourist hats with
Viking horns. After meeting the friendly people in Scandinavia I find it
hard to believe that their Viking ancestors raped and plundered all over
Europe for 300 years.

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