Leaving NorwayPosted: July 21, 2011
Our final days in Norway are upon us. Its interesting to reflect on what we have learned here, having dug beneath the surface more than we usually do.
For a short history of Norway you have to go back a very long way; Ice Age, Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. All have rendered a place influencing the current day to day lives of Norwegians. Add to this the colorful characters drawn as Vikings, Sami natives. Fisherman farmers that created the spine of the lifestyle of the modern Norwegian. Toughing it out to eek a living, farming what they could in summer when the snow had melted and the days were long, fishing what they could, through the cold dark winters.
We visit rock art said to be 9000 years old and pass ruins of buildings built in the Iron Age. We learn Vikings were not just the pillagers and plunderers they are often depicted as, but also had a sensitive side as craftsmen , ship builders and merchants. We are drawn into the stories and simple cultural life of the indigenous Sami peoples, a culture originally, as with the Aboriginals in Australia, not respected and virtually outlawed until in 1987. An apology and an act of parliament, the Sami act, provided new entitlements, a legal place in Norwegian society and land rights.
There is now another “Age” that must be added to the short history of Norway. Surely history books of the future will refer to it as “The Oil Age.” In 1966 oil exploration began in the Norwegian territory of the North Sea. On the final day of drilling and on the last bore, Phillips petroleum company struck one of the 10 largest oil reserves in the world. This changed the fortune, and therefore, the character of Norway. Today it’s citizens have one of the highest standards of living and government support of anywhere in the world …………. mind you, this standard of living comes at a cost! Even though millions of liters of oil is mined here every year, we have never paid so much for petrol at 2.50 a liter. A bad coffee, filtered only and black will cost $4. Anything resembling a cappuccino, (very hard to find) $6. A dinner of beef or reindeer steak, up to $75 per plate.
Regardless of the high cost of living here, for locals and tourists alike, locals we have quizzed “are not complaining!!” about their political situation. Wikipedia describes Norway as a “prosperous capitalist welfare state!” Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but according to Wikipedia the government supports over 65% of the working population. 30% are employed in government departments and agencies, another 35% are on some kind of government welfare. With only a 3.1% unemployment rate, that welfare is not unemployment benefits. Whether it includes pensions and the generous financial support given to university students, Wikipedia does not clarify…….. it leads us to think the Government supported residents of Norway could exceed 65%. Thanks to the “Oil”, I hear it said, over and over.
Due to the costs, the most popular form of travel in Norway is in your own vehicle. A British travel journalist writes about the ferries arriving from the UK where the motor driving, disembarking passengers can not only stock up on regular duty free alcohol and perfume, but also large freezer filling cuts of chicken and joints of ham. Even the Poms with pounds in their pockets, complain of the prices in Norway!! Add to this their chagrin when they have to acknowledge the sea borders between the UK and Norway, clips the area where oil has been found. It could have been all theirs but for an arbitrary pen delineating an underwater border.
Norwegians are very patriotic. Many residential homes fly the Norwegian flag. 99.9% of the homes are of traditional design and color, always timber and painted from a palette of about 8 colors only. It’s certainly pretty on the eye and lines Norway up for most scenic country with Switzerland. Switzerland is picture perfect most of the time, manicured within inches of it’s life, the supporting infrastructure to it’s beauty, roads, sophisticated towns and villages, bicycle paths etc, is brilliant. It is a country of money and you can tell. Norway is also a country of money, and picture perfect most of the time, but in a simpler, less manicured, wilder kind of way.
Intellectuals and authors are revered here. Tromso museum displays the life of Cora Sandel whose international recognition resulted from a novel “Alberta and Jacob”. A bleak and painful account of the life of an excruciatingly shy girl who lived a small town life. It does not have a happy ending.
They are also “nutty” about Knut Hamsun. Writing around 40 novels he received a Nobel Prize at the age of 61 for his novel “The Growth of the Soil.” A modern architecturally designed tower museum has been built in his honor even though he created a moral dilemma for the Norwegians at the end of WW2 when he was seen to support the Nazis and was tried for treason. He writes beautifully about the early life and nature of Norway and describes the body of water we were camped beside at Hamaroy, as a “broad, boulder strewn stretch of sea, that sings, day and night, day and night.”
As a parting token tourist gesture to Norway we visited the Viking ship museum in Oslo. Viking Ships built in the year 900 and used as burial chambers for some seriously rich Vikings, (they included farm implements, food, animals, sometimes servants and often horses, slain, to help the deceased adjust to the next life!) were unearthed in the late 1800’s and remarkably preserved, buried for up to 1000 years in a blue clay type soil. Austere and pragmatic to the extreme the inner shell holds nothing that’s superfluous. The oarsmen even had to bring their own sea chest to sit on! But the design is efficient and quite beautiful. Slender long oak planks, clinkered together form sweeping, sensuous curves moving upwards towards the “Leunigesk – Mr Curly” elegant front and back. A wide flat base meant large quantities of goods and animals could be carried and the design ensured it was very difficult to have a Viking ship fall over. The broad, flat base also proved an asset in their plundering goals and could stealthily enter shallow rivers and attack river bank ports. The trademark square sails of the viking ship sending fear through the settlers.
It has been lovely to be extended tourists here and learn more about Noahs home country. Our time with him was invaluable and loved. The Norwegian environment is stunning and dramatic and there is still much for us to explore. Life above the Arctic Circle in 24 hr daylight is stimulating and odd. The weather, throughout, extremely changeable.
We continue our Scandinavian adventure in Sweden and Denmark, which will finish another chunk of our holiday, before crossing the sea and heading to the UK. To Norway, we will certainly return.