Når enden er god er allting godt

Or, all’s well that ends well. It’s hard to believe that my Fulbright is really over, and that it’s already been about a month since I’ve left Norway. Time really has flown by, and I’m very thankful that I was given the opportunity to spend the past year in Norway and to get to learn more about myself and others. I’ve been asked a few times whether or not I’ll continue to blog, and thus far my answer is still maybe. I don’t return to the States for about another month, and while I plan to continue updating my blog with my remaining European adventures, I have no guarantees as to what I’ll decide to do after that (to be honest the fact that I even made it to 150 posts defied most people’s expectations, especially my own). Regardless of what happens, I hope you’ve enjoy reading my thoughts on Norway and on a few other European countries.

Tips for Visitors to Norway

I’ve had several people come and visit Norway, and for those whom I wasn’t able to see, I came up with a general list of tips for visitors. Enjoy and go visit!

  1. Norway is expensive, so come in with that expectation. Don’t come in thinking that this will be a cheap holiday; HOWEVER, now is a great time to come since the dollar is strong.
  2. Norwegians generally speak superb English so I wouldn’t worry about language barriers.
  3. We use the Norwegian kroner. Yes, there are three types of kroner in Scandinavia (Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian). No, Finland is not a part of Scandinavia (they use the Euro).
  4. In the event that you don’t want to carry cash, never fear. Cards are accepted almost universally.
  5. Keep in mind what time of year you’re visiting Norway. In the summer you’ll experience very long days, while in winter your daylight will be minimal. If you’re visiting in winter you’re also going to want to invest in some sort of crampon type things for your shoes. I know a lot of people liked using Yaktrax.
  6. If you plan on drinking, buy all of your alcohol at duty free since booze is expensive (think $12 for a beer at a bar). If you’re flying in from abroad you’ll notice that:
    1. You will have to pass through duty free anyway in order to leave the airport.
    2. All of the Norwegians are also going there to stock up on booze.
  7. It’s pretty easy to get a SIM card if you want data. Go to a Netcom store (they are everywhere) and ask for a 14 day SIM card/starter pack. It’ll cost you 99 NOK (12.27 USD). More info here at this old blog post.
  8. It’s actually really easy to get around Norway. 
    • The train system can be found at nsb.no/en. Tickets are usually very affordable if booked in advance, the trains are clean, relatively new, AND they have wifi. 
    • For flights you qualify for youth tickets if you are under 26.
      1. Finding the youth tickets on SAS is a bit of a hassle, but it can be done and tickets apply for both domestic and international flights. 
      2. Norwegian Air also has youth prices, but only for flights within Norway (code UNDER26). They also have the newest planes and wifi on all of them. I love them. 
    • If you’re coming at the right time of year you can also snag some great ferry trips on the Hurtigruten ferry (combination of a postal ferry and cruise ship). 

Trondheim Wrap Up

Writing the wrap up for the city that has been my home for the past year has been bittersweet since it marks the end of my Fulbright, but here it is:

  1. Public transportation apps for the city are AtB Reise (maps and navigation for public transportation) and AtB Mobillett (to buy tickets). 
  2. Nidaros Cathedral – Is a must. I would highly recommend an English tour and a trip up to the top of the tower for some good views. Depending on what you are interested in, you can also check and see if the cathedral has any concerts going on when you’re there. You also have the option of buying a combined ticket and getting access to the Norwegian crown jewels and the archbishop’s palace. I think that the crown jewels are a nice, if small, exhibit, but personally would give a pass on the archbishop’s palace unless you’re interested in the church’s medieval history.
  3. The Resistance Museum – a free museum in the same complex as the crown jewels and the archbishop’s palace and worth paying a visit.
  4. Bakklandet – The old part of Trondheim is very adorable and nice to walk around. It also showcases the town’s old bridge, Lykken’s Portal or “The Portal of Happiness,” and the charming old aspects of the city.
  5. Fjord Tour – Depending on when you come you can take a small fjord tour (it’s seasonal). It’ll take you around the city as well as out to one of the nearby islands, Munkholmen.
  6. National Museum of Decorative Arts – Very nice, if small, museum, especially if you’re interested in design.
  7. Stiftsgården – A nice place to take a tour. It’s the royal family’s old residence in Trondheim and really gives you a good (if brief) history of Norway and reminds you of how poor the country used to be.
  8. Sverresborg Folk Museum – great museum that’s a little bit out of the way. Gives a good sense of the old city and provides nice views of the city.
  9. Hiking – If you want to hike you can hike to your heart’s content in Bymarka (which is easily accessible via tram) or take a walk along the fjord.
  10. Food & Drink
    • Ni Muset – great cafe/coffeehouse with some nice food and snacks.
    • Tyholt Tower – It’s the large radio tower in town and will give you good views of the city. The restaurant at the top is just okay.
    • Den Gode Nabo – You can go have drinks out on the river and the food is good.
    • Bakklandet Skydsstation – great for traditional Norwegian waffles or a light traditional Norwegian meal.
    • Antikvarietet – a good cafe/bar.
    • Mat fra Hagen – a trendy vegetarian restaurant in Bakklandet. Not even their bread is bread–it’s really mashed chickpeas.
    • Fairytale Cupcakes – this great little cafe looks as if you’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole into something inspired by Lewis Carroll. Excellent cupcakes, but be prepared for pink.
    • Kos – trendy Japanese restaurant with good sushi. I’d highly recommend splurging and having all you can eat sushi for 299 NOK.
  11. If you’re around for a more extended period, it’s definitely worthwhile to take a two hour train down to Røros for a day trip. It’s this adorable old mining town that’s an UNESCO site. If you happen to be around in February then definitely go to Rørosmartnan.

Last Walks Around Town

Unfortunately I’ve left Norway behind, but I thought I’d do a few last posts to finish up my musings on Norway. Before I left Trondheim, I was lucky enough to have a few sunny days to wander around the city and get a few good pictures. I’ve really loved living in Trondheim and think that it offers a great mix of traditional Norwegian architecture and a bit of modern design. Although it’s definitely a small place, it’s certainly never dull. Here are some of my favorite spots:

Bakklandet & Lykkens Portal

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Solsiden

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Nidaros Cathedral

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Trondheim Harbor

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Sverresborg Folk Museum

I discovered the Trondheim Folk Museum pretty late in my Fulbright year, but have become somewhat enamored with it since then. Like most folk museums in Scandinavia, the one in Trondheim consists of a museum as well as grounds. Unfortunately the museum is a bit haphazardly done, or at least it felt that way because everything was in Norwegian, but it was still fun to quickly walk around. I enjoyed looking over a few of the historical displays, particularly the ones featuring Elvis and what appeared to be old punk rock clothing.

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While the museum wasn’t the best, the grounds were pretty great to walk around. There wasn’t an abundance of information for each of the ground’s buildings, but there was the odd sign post and the occasional human to answer questions. Thanks to them, I now have answers to two questions that have been bugging me since I arrived in Norway. The first involved wanting to know the reasoning behind Norwegian building’s grassy roofs. I was told that the benefit of the roofs were that they were cheap, long lasting (they last around 30 years or more), and they provide good insulation. The other question I had was why most of the buildings were red.* Turns out that one of the byproducts of iron is a red pigment. Because iron mines were in Norway and Sweden, getting the pigment was cheap, it was a byproduct which no one wanted, which made it cheaper, and it was also long lasting. The mystery of the red houses was officially solved.

The museum also has a few more well known places in the grounds. One of the most well known is the remains of King Sverre’s castle. The castle is in ruins now, but it was originally constructed in the winter of 1183-84. It was the first stone castle in Norway, although it was torn down and rebuilt twice. After the civil-war years, the castle didn’t serve a purpose and was abandoned and left to deteriorate. It was later reclaimed by the Germans during World War II due to its strategic significance, which I’m assuming was namely that it has a sweeping view of the city.

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Other highlights of the grounds included seeing an old catapult in action and following a few rogue lambs around the property. As for the buildings themselves, several of them were quite stunning, particularly one farmhouse that was redone and repainted.

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Nicole and I also had a lot of fun at a farmhouse where we were able to interact with a few Norwegians who decided to show us around in character. The farmhouse they gave us a tour of was from 1906, so we had a bit of fun playing along and saying that we had arrived in Norway by boat after many weeks at sea, and that while America’s streets were not paved in gold, they were paved in silver. They in turn had fun showing us around. I would say that the two biggest things that we learned were that most homes had a Sunday room, or a very special room only used on Sundays or for guests, and we also learned the proper way to sleep. Apparently it’s incorrect to sleep horizontally because angels flying overhead might mistake you as dead and come and take your soul. The proper way to sleep is to sleep upright, as if sleeping in a chair.

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We also paid a visit to the old town. The old town consists of buildings that used to be located in downtown Trondheim. There they have several exhibits featuring a dentist office, apothecary, and even a telephone operating room.

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My favorite spot was however the ski museum. I had never really thought too much about Norway’s favorite sport, so it was nice to gain some insight into it.

Skiing only started to take off in Norway in 1850. There were several factors that led to this, but they can be summarized by saying that an increase in wealth gave people the time and money to take up the sport. While more and more people were able to take up skiing, skiing only started to be closely linked to Norwegian identity after Fridtjof Nansen, a national hero and polar explorer, popularized his arctic explorations. This caused people to associate this hero, and Norwegians, with skiing.

Skiing was originally advertised as a masculine sport, and one that solely in the domain of men. The first organized ski trips in Norway used to be organized by groups of men, and they often ended in drinking. Women were allowed to go skiing for recreation, and it was common for small groups of men and women to go skiing together. Although women were encouraged to ski for leisure or for practical purposes, during this time they were largely kept away from competitive skiing, such as ski-jumping and cross-country ski racing. Women were only able to truly gain acceptance in competitive skiing in the 1970’s.

The Norwegian tradition of Sunday skiing started to gain popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but these days skiing has become less and less popular. Only about half of Norwegian children own skis, and an even smaller percentage actually use them. Some Norwegians worry that this downturn in skiing will cause it to fade out, eventually stopping the phrase “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.”**

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the Folk Museum and would definitely recommend paying it a visit, especially on a nice sunny day.

*Generally speaking the houses in Norway are one of seven colors: red, green, blue, brown, yellow, black, or white.

**Alix can testify that she’s happy that this saying is inaccurate.

The Welfare State

Recently a few friends of mine were asking me a bit about the welfare state, so I thought I’d put down some of my thoughts here. As with most things, Norway’s comprehensive social welfare system comes with its pros and cons. Here are the ones that struck me the most.

Pros

People worry a lot less. Norwegians live in a society where they really don’t have to worry too much since the welfare system is there to help those who are struggling. No one in Norway really worries over things like current or future medical bills because if the unimaginable were to happen, it would either be taken care of or it would be affordable.

There aren’t very many visible signs of poverty in Norway. While there are beggars, they aren’t many of them (granted living up in Trondheim means that few beggars stick around for the 7 months or so of winter).* In the entire time that I’ve lived in Norway, I have rarely seen places that look run down, and, if I have, in Norway a run down house is one that hasn’t been given a new coat of paint in the last year (a ridiculously high standard). In other words, people are generally taken care of and there is a substantial middle class in Norway.

The possibility of earning a living wage combined with the welfare system contributes to Norwegians having a good work-life balance. Because people don’t need to worry about working three jobs just to survive, they can take time to relax and go on nice Sunday hikes. This system also means that people are able to do what they are genuinely passionate about. Talking to students in Norway has been fascinating since none of them worry about their future or their jobs. They know that regardless of what job they end up in, they’ll be fine. To quote one of my students, “It doesn’t matter if I end up being a garbage collector. If that’s what I really love to do, then it’ll be fine. My parents don’t really care where I end up in so long as I’m really passionate about it.” The freedom to do whatever it is you’re most passionate about is a luxury few people can afford, and it’s incredible to see how common it is in Norway.

Cons

The social welfare system is going to cost you. Having such great peace of mind does come with a price, and it’s a bit sobering to look at how it affects your paycheck.

People don’t appear to be quite as driven as we are in the States. In the US we talk about how the welfare system can stifle innovation, and I would say that it’s true up to a point. People feel comfortable with things in Norway, so they don’t necessarily feel the need to hustle like we do in the States, but a more relaxed environment doesn’t mean that great things don’t come out of Norway. Case in point, this year’s Nobel Prize winners in medicine were a Norwegian couple.

Overall, I think Norway does a great job with social welfare and has a model that really works well for its society. It’s a nation with a small population, great resources, and has a strong belief in equality. I think that whether or not you think the welfare system is good ultimately drives at a different question: who do you cater your society towards? Do you cater towards those who are less well off, those who are average, or those who are star individuals? And once you decide that, how do you try to balance that with the sacrifices each group has to make. In Norway, the answer is clear: you try to make things equal for everyone. While that may affect your star individuals the most, at the end of the day it seems as though Norwegians think it’s worth the cost.

*Interesting side note about beggars. If you ask most Norwegians about the welfare system they will say that everyone is taken care of. If you then ask them about beggars, many of whom are Gypsies, their response tends to be “Oh, well they aren’t taken care of because they aren’t Norwegian.” An interesting response, and one that is actually false. Gypsies technically have the right to Norwegian citizenship and are considered a special minority group.