An American's Impressions of Norway

Yay, a post that isn't a cookbook review! As much as I love reviewing cookbooks, that wasn't the primary intent of this blog. I've been meaning to write about my vacation to Norway last summer for 7 months now, but I got caught up in...stuff. Fourth year of med school is really busy, okay?

Last June, my fiance and I spent 10 days backpacking through western Norway. Why Norway? I saw a picture on my attending's desk of a beautiful fjord he visited, and I knew I had to be there. The other incentive was that flights to Norway are surprisingly cheap. We flew via British Airways for $400 round-trip at the beginning of peak season, and prices are even lower if you fly on a budget airline or during the off-season.

Oooohh ahhh so beautiful

Norway is a nature lover's paradise. Huge mountains, breathtaking fjords, and powerful waterfalls seem to be around every corner. Go further north and you get to see glaciers, tundra, and of course, the Northern Lights. Norwegians have a deep respect for their environment, and the country has a shared understanding that you should go out and appreciate the natural beauty of the land while leaving no trace behind.

We lived like hippies, and we liked it

During my time there, I couldn't help but notice the differences between Norway and the US. Rather than subject you to a detailed recap of my trip (in short: lots of blisters and peeing in the woods), I thought I'd break down the 10 biggest things I took away from Norway.

1) Everything is expensive in Norway...

Okay this was the hardest pill to swallow as a budget traveler. I knew Norway was going to be pricey, but once we got there and were confronted with the reality of having to shell out $$$ for food, gas, and lodging, our plans changed quick. Luckily the Norwegian krone was relatively weak while we were there, but we still ended up cooking a lot of our meals even when we were in the city and pitching our tent every chance we got. As I understand it, the cost of labor is high because Norway actually cares about paying everyone a living wage, but as a result, most commodities are priced accordingly. I've never been more excited to buy a $1 gas station hot dog when I got back, knowing that the same thing in Norway was $6. And yes, our first meal in Norway was a gas station hot dog because we didn't want to spend $40 on a cheap restaurant meal.

The gas station hot dog diet in action

2) ...except for water. 

I think I had the best water I've ever tasted on my first hike in Norway, and it was free. We stopped at a gurgling stream, filled up our water bottles, and drank as much ice-cold glacier water as we wanted.

But seriously, this water was cold af

This was the best part of hiking in Norway. We never had to worry about our next water source, since there was always a glacial stream or river within close proximity to the trail. You don't even have to filter your water, since it's so sparsely populated, and Giardia is not endemic to Norway. I mean, we did it anyway because there was no way we wanted to spend our week shitting our brains out in the wilderness.

Even in the city, water is apparently abundant and cheap. I met up with an American ex-pat living in Norway, and she said her Norwegian husband doesn't even bother turning the faucet off when he leaves the room. I guess when global warming is literally melting your country away, you can afford to take hour-long showers on the regular.

Taking a Norwegian shower

3) Norwegians are crazy fit....

At least the ones we met were. And their hiking trails reflected it. Admittedly, we were a little out of shape by the time our vacation rolled around (I blame my surgery rotation), but even if we had been marathon runners, the hikes we chose would have still kicked our asses.

For instance, one of the hikes we did, which was Kinsarvik to Stavali, was expected to take 6 hours according to the Norwegian guides we found online. The lady at the info desk warned us it was "quite steep", but "quite steep" didn't even begin to describe the hike, which took us 8.5 HOURS. Three of those hours were spent climbing the steepest rock face either of us had ever encountered, which seemed to go up and up and up forever.

"When can my legs stop moving?!?"

Later in the trip, we messaged our Airbnb host in the city to let her know we were arriving early. Her response: "I should be around that morning, but must leave by 1 to climb the mountain to my yoga class". Her yoga class ended up being 722 steps above the city center. This was a middle-aged lady, and yes, a complete badass.

4) ...despite their obsession with hot dogs. 

Seriously, hot dogs are everywhere. We saw them called a number of things, but the word "ostegrill" stuck with us, and they took up an inordinate amount of fridge space in every grocery store we went to. They were often sold alongside something called "hot dog condiment", which was an orange mayo-based sauce that presumably is meant to dress up your hot dogs. They didn't taste particularly different from hot dogs in the US, but they do pile them with such interesting toppings as beets, shrimp salad, potato salad, lingonberry sauce, and french-fried onions. We ended up eating a lot of them because they were usually the cheapest thing we could find in the stores.

Reindeer sausage with fried onions, garlic aioli, and curry sauce. Mmm....

5) Cheese is a big deal, and it comes in tubes. 

Norwegians really like their cheese, but it rarely looked like the cheese we were used to. It either came in a giant slab of brown, resembling a block of fudge, or it came in tubes, like a tube of toothpaste.

Is it caramel or is it cheese?

A lot has been written about Norwegian brown cheese. We got to try it when we stayed at a hostel in Voss. Andrew bravely put it on his toast and took a big bite. I took a much smaller one. It tasted like...sweet cheese? I wasn't sure if it was the appearance that was influencing my taste buds, but it tasted like caramel-flavored cheese. Andrew really enjoyed it, but one taste was enough for me.

Why have shrimp and cheese separately when you can squeeze them out of your tube at the same time?

More intriguing to me were the tubes of shrimp cheese and bacon cheese that we found in every grocery store. I regret not trying it now, but I also didn't want to spend $6 on something I might throw out after one taste. That happened when Andrew bought a loaf of rugbrod, which is a dark Norwegian rye bread. It tasted like a spicy shag rug.

6) Midnight Sun is a real thing, and it is awesome

Who doesn't want 24 hours of daylight? Our first night in, we were hiking at 2AM in broad daylight, something that was surreal and wonderful.

Guess who also likes to hike at 3AM? Mountain sheep!

Contrary to our expectations, it wasn't difficult to sleep at night, though it did mess with our ability to adapt to the time difference. The sun would go down, and it would be twilight for about an hour, then it was coming back up again. For a night owl like me, this is the ideal way to live.

7) Rotaries everywhere.

Okay, I know traffic rotaries (aka roundabouts, traffic circles, whatever you call them in your neck of the woods) exist in the US, but I've never seen them used as frequently and efficiently as in Norway. On certain roads, it seemed like every intersection was a rotary, and if you think about it, they make a lot of sense. I wondered why American roads don't have more rotaries, and then I drove through one in front of my med school and was reminded of why. No one knows how to drive in a circle here. Everything just goes to complete shit.

Seriously, what is so hard about this?

Do better, America.

8) Norwegians are generally more stoic, but that doesn't mean they're not nice.

I've heard it said by Europeans that Americans smile too much. As a very smiley American, I would argue that Europeans don't smile enough. Despite that, I found that a smile went a long way on previous trips to Italy and Greece. Not so in Norway, where people looked at me weirdly when I smiled at them. I found that Norwegians have a good poker face, but when you eventually strike up a conversation with them, they are very friendly people. The local bus drivers and info center workers were a godsend especially.

9) Norwegians will live anywhere.

We found houses in the most surprising places. Sitting on top of a mountain with no nearby roads or perched precariously on a rock in the middle of a fjord. Built into the mountain with a flock of friendly goats or sitting behind a waterfall. Since we've established that Norwegians are genetically mountain goats, they seem willing to live just about anywhere as well.

Spot the houses

10) Norway is a magical country.

I really can't emphasize enough how much we loved Norway. Every day, Andrew lamented the fact that we couldn't just move here. From the wild rugged terrain to the raw beauty of the fjords to the friendly, open-minded people, we loved it all and would go back in a heartbeat.

So long, and thanks for the memories, Norway!

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