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). 

Oslo Wrap Up

I adore Oslo. It’s one of my favorite European cities and one that I’ve never gotten tired of.

  1. DO NOT TAKE A TAXI. Taxis in Oslo charge a minimum 200 NOK (24.80 USD) fare. You should absolutely take advantage of the public transportation system, especially since it works pretty well. The apps to use are RuterBillett (to buy tickets) and RuterReise/Google Maps (to plan out a trip and navigate the system). Note: you don’t actually have to validate your transportation tickets (and you can freely walk through the barriers in the subway system), but they do randomly check to make sure that you have tickets. The fines are very steep if you’re caught without a ticket (~150 USD) so just keep that in mind if you decide not to buy one.
  2. In order to get to the city from the airport you’ll either take the flytoget (airport train) or the flybussen (airport bus). The train is much faster, but depending on where you’re staying the bus might drop you off closer to your accommodations.
  3. The city’s main street is Karl Johans Gate and quite a few major sites are near it as is a ton of shopping.
  4. The Oslo Opera House is quite possibly my favorite site in Oslo. It’s a stunning piece of architecture and you’re free to walk in it, on it, and around it. The view from the roof also isn’t half bad. I would highly recommend either doing a tour of the opera house or going to see a performance there. The opera is required to sell 100 tickets at 100 NOK (~16 USD) for every performance so it’s pretty easy to get affordable tickets and good seats.
  5. Absolutely go to Vigeland Park (which is in Frogner Park). The park is a ways away from the city center so I would recommend taking the tram or subway, but the sculptures are great and it’s nice to just walk around.
  6. Definitely pay a stop to Bygdøy peninsula. Depending on the time of year, you can reach it by either bus or by ferry. If the ferry is running I would recommend taking it, even if it’s just to get a view of the city from the water. Here’s what you can see there:
    • Viking Ship Museum – It has three different viking ship relics + a few other Viking things. It’s kinda cool to go and see but there isn’t actually much to do at the museum
    • Folkemusem – Great if you want an overview of Norwegian history and culture. It also has 24 acres of land with 160 different kinds of historic buildings. If you’re dying to see a stave church and won’t make it out of the city then definitely stop by.
    • Fram Museum – Unfortunately I haven’t spent enough time here. What I did see what great, especially if you’re interested in Arctic exploration and/or ships (plus all of the other major ship museums are literally next door).
  7. The Nobel Peace Center – Does a pretty good job of talking about the Nobel Peace Prize and the latest winners. I would recommend going if you want to learn more about the prize.
  8. Nasjonalmuseet (The National Museum) – A pretty good museum and the location of Munch’s famous The Scream. It’s small though so it’s pretty manageable to do in about an hour or two.
  9. City Hall – If you can manage to go to the room where they give out the Nobel Peace Prize you should since it’s stunning. I’m pretty sure that they organize tours.
  10. Ekeberg Park – Go if you want a good view of the city (but if it’s a cloudy or foggy day maybe give it a pass). It’s an interesting place since it also has a ton of famous artwork scattered throughout the park (Rodin, Salvador Dali, etc.). Walking down from the park to the city will also give you the same backdrop that is painted in The Scream.
  11. Holmenkollen – Go if you want to see the famous ski jump, walk around the forest, and get a good view of the city. I’ve heard that the museum is also pretty good and has a ski jump simulator.
  12. Vigeland Museum/Mausoleum – There are actually two Vigeland sculptors, and this is a “museum” done by the less famous brother. It’s a bit outside of the city center, but if you have the time to check it out it’s pretty neat.
  13. If you want to see some nice graffiti/street art go check out the area around Mathallen (food hall).
  14. If you are there in winter, you absolutely have to check out Korktrekkeren, a large sledding area that will take you about 15 minutes to go down. It’s fantastic. For the best sledding go early on a weekday.

Ryfylke, Pulpit Rock, and More

Norway is a beautiful country. No matter where I go, I’m always amazed by the scenery. But, there are of course some things that are more beautiful than others. That is why the Norwegian government, in its infinite wisdom, created national tourist routes in Norway. Now you may remember me mentioning them when I was documenting my trip through the Lofoten Islands, but in case you forgot, they are supposed to be the most beautiful roads in Norway. They are also specially designed for tourists. They have many strategic turn outs to allow you to stop your car and take pictures, and many of the roads have notable landmarks and works of art scattered along the route. Now Stavanger happens to have two such roads, which is a large part of the reason why Abby and I decided to rent a car.

Today we decided to dedicate ourselves to driving Ryfylke, the more well known of the two roads. Now we weren’t able to find a good map of the road online, or at least not one that didn’t look vaguely like a cartoon, but after combing through the Internet and the Apple App Store, I was finally able to find a more useful app. So, if you happen to be driving Ryfylke and want to know where all of its landmarks are, I would recommend downloading Ryfylke MultiGuide.

Our first destination of the day was Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock. Pulpit Rock is probably Norway’s most famous natural landmark, and thus has a lot of facilities catering to the large number of tourists who go there. Because Preikestolen can get crowded, Abby and I decided to go early in the morning (it turns out teaching 8 am classes is useful in helping you get up early). Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really on our side for most of the drive over, BUT just as we were debating coming back later in the day, the skies slowly started to clear and we decided to go ahead and hike the trail.

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Now unlike the United States, where you can usually just park your car next to your chosen major landmark, Norway makes you work for your pictures. So after Abby and I parked the car, we loaded up our hiking backpacks and started out on the 3 km (1.8 mi) trail. The terrain was hilly, but overall it was very well marked (maybe even too well marked–just about every rock along the way had a red T painted on it) and very well maintained. Although we were slowed down by crowds and my constant picture taking, we eventually made it to Preikestolen without too much of a hassle. It was well worth the trip. It was also terrifying.

IMG_2632  IMG_2635  IMG_2640IMG_2673  IMG_2694  IMG_2676IMG_2707  IMG_2727  IMG_2749Now I happen to have a fear of heights. It’s not debilitating by any means, but I would say that my fear is greater than that of your average person. So while I was thrilled to finally make it to Preikestolen, I was also absolutely terrified of its sheer rock faces. If you fell off of Preikestolen, I have no doubt that you would die. But, I figured that this was also a great time to try and conquer my fear. Trial by fire. That didn’t really happen. I was definitely less scared of the edge by the end of our trip, but I think it’s safe to say that my fear isn’t going away any time soon. That being said, I still did venture to sit on the edge. I owe Abby a debt of gratitude for putting up with my nervousness and shouted expletives.

IMG_2733  IMG_2732  IMG_2751IMG_2753  IMG_2755  IMG_2759IMG_3809  IMG_3805  IMG_3810After a quick hike back down to the car, we hit the road again. Before too long we were in Solbakk and searching for our second landmark, a set of prehistoric carvings. Unfortunately they were a bit difficult to find. We also ran into trouble when we misread a parking sign, thinking that it was telling us that parking was straight ahead, as opposed to right underneath the sign. But we managed to figure things out eventually.

The carvings were found in 1923 and date back to around 500 B.C. The petroglyphs depict two different types of ships and sun figures–telling us that Bronze Age people had sailing technology and that they possibly worshipped a sun god. After stopping for a few quick pictures, Abby and I hopped back in the car and continued driving. Our next stop was Svandalsfossen waterfall, but because it was located towards the end of the road, we simply spent the next few hours chatting and admiring the passing scenery.

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But before we could get to Svandalsfossen, we actually stopped by another sight first. Intrigued by a large plastic salmon figure next to a road sign, we decided to aggravate our GPS system and change course. We ended up stopping by Sandsfossen and Høsebrua bridge. Sandsfossen is a waterfall along one of Norway’s most well known salmon rivers, Suldalslågen. There is a salmon studio at the falls, but unfortunately it wasn’t open yet for the season. Apparently the salmon are particularly large here and a 10 kg (22 lb) salmon is not unusual, with some fishermen catching some that weigh around 20 kg (44 lb). The local record is a 21.5 kg (47 lb) salmon.

After stopping to admire the waterfall, we stopped by Høsebrua bridge, a short bridge built in 2013 that spans the river.

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From there we kept driving until we entered the small town of Sand. One of my co-teachers later informed me that this town is near the mountain that she famously fell off of (the story does have a happy ending since she ended up marrying the medical intern who was looking after her). It was also here where we were utterly confused by the ferry. Because we didn’t see a clear way to board the ferry, we simply parked our car in front of the ferry barrier and waited for the ferry to arrive. After much failed hand waving on the part of the captain, we were finally told that we couldn’t park in front of the barrier since we were cutting the line. Only after the captain came down to talk to us, did we realize that about a block away the road divides into a separate ferry lane. So Abby and I, as well as another tourist car, backtracked and got in line behind about five other cars. Luckily, our other ferry goers seemed more bemused by our confusion than annoyed at our inadvertent attempt to cut the line.

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Once we crossed the fjord to Ropeid, we continued to our last stop, Svandalsfossen fall. Svandalsfossen has to be one of the biggest and most powerful waterfalls that I’ve ever seen. The waterfall is next to the road, and due to the heavy rains we’d been having, the spray was so strong that driving past it was similar to driving through a car wash–and we weren’t even passing the largest part of the waterfall! Luckily the surrounding area is designed for tourists, so it was easy to park the car, walk around, and climb up a series of stairs in order to explore the waterfall. The waterfall has a 180 meter (590 foot) fall, and the waterfall used to power a sawmill. Nowadays, the waterfall is unregulated, but it’s still quite a force of nature. The first few pictures of the waterfall were taken at shutter speeds of 1/8,000 and 1/5,000 of a second, yet you can still see that the water moves too quickly for the camera to fully stop the action.

IMG_2987  IMG_2995  IMG_2997IMG_3009  IMG_3004  IMG_3030IMG_3040  IMG_3031  IMG_3060IMG_3053  IMG_3068  IMG_3066 Abby and I got as close as we dared, and while that wasn’t particularly close, we still ended our visit looking like we had just gone for a swim. Thankfully some genius invented both car heaters and heated seats, so we weren’t cold for too long. From there we took a longer route to head back to Sandnes via Stavanger. All in all we ended up driving in a loop, and although we were exhausted by the time we got back some time around midnight, it was definitely one of the best days that I’ve had here in Norway.

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Lofoten Islands Wrap Up

I’ve had a few friends tell me that they were planning on traveling to the Lofoten Islands so I figured I should wrap up and summarize the advice that I have for a trip:

  1. Depending on where you are coming from, you should budget for at least a day to get to the Islands and a day to get back.
  2. Your schedule will probably be dictated by ferry times (many of which you can look up here). The ferry runs fairly infrequently and is the quickest way to get to and from the Islands.
  3. Rent a car. Having a car makes it extremely easy to see the many beautiful sights that Lofoten has to offer. Many of the attractions on the Islands are also fairly spaced out, so it’s handy to have a car so that you can see everything on your bucket list. Alix and I did notice bus stops on our road trip, but I can’t testify as to how frequently the buses run.
  4. If you are planning on seeing some of the sights, double check their opening hours. Many places have limited hours in the off season or only open upon request.
  5. Rent a rorbu. Not only are rorbu fairly cheap and quaint, they also tend to offer you great views. Most of them come with kitchens so that’s one easy way for you to cut back on costs.
  6. This one is fairly obvious, but bring a camera. You’ll kick yourself if you aren’t able to document your trip.

From what I’ve heard and read, I would say that the best time to actually visit the Islands are during the on season (summertime) up through October. Many of the locals said that we had picked a great time to visit since we avoided other tourists, still had nice sunny weather, and were there for the beginning of the Northern Lights season. I would also say dress appropriately and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Alix and I apparently missed a spectacular display of the Northern Lights when we were traveling, so it’s worth keeping your eye on sights like Aurora Forecast and the Geophysical Institute. As for daylight weather, I’d recommend looking at yr.no.

That’s pretty much it for advice! Safe travels!

Lofoten Islands: Svolvær, Bodø

Thursday was essentially the last day of our trip. Alix and I had opted not to retrace our steps back to Moskenes and instead decided that we should drive overland back to Bodø. Little did we realize how long that would take. Eventually, with the help of our GPS system we decided that the best way to head back to Bodø was to drive to Lodingen, catch the ferry to Bognes, and drive the rest of the way to Bodø. In short, an eight hour journey.

Although we had a long drive planned for the day, we decided to spend part of the morning looking around Svolvær. Compared to many of the other towns we had stopped by, Svolvær was huge. Not only did it have a grocery store, it also had several well known companies established there. Because the weather was wet and dreary we only spent a small amount of time walking around, but we did enjoy stopping by the store of a local photographer and ended up leaving with our arms fuller and our wallets emptier.

IMG_1091  IMG_1095  IMG_1098Once we had safely bundled up our purchases we hit the road. While the drive itself was long it never failed to offer us some beautiful views. Alix and I were also incredibly lucky–we spotted a sea eagle! Lucky for us it flew right over the bridge we were crossing so we could hardly fail to miss it. We were much less successful in our attempts to spot a moose, but were pretty content with having seen the sea eagle.

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IMG_5627  IMG_5644  IMG_5673While our journey was long, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It did take eight hours, but one hour involved waiting for the ferry and the ferry ride itself was another hour. So, in total we had six hours of driving and two hours involving the ferry.

After we arrived in Bodø, Alix and I had dinner, returned the rental car, and admired some local graffiti before heading to the train station. We had decided to take a sleeper train back to Trondheim and were excited to see what it looked like. It was in fact cramped, neither of our standard airport carryons could fit underneath the bunk bed, but we managed to do just fine. I will also say that although I buckled in a harness around the top bunk, it wasn’t really necessary. NSB train rides aren’t always the smoothest (walking down the aisles while the train is in motion is usually similar to walking along any sort of path highly intoxicated) but the ride wasn’t so bumpy that I was actually in danger of falling out of the bed.

IMG_1114  IMG_1116  IMG_1118The train ride proved to be a fairly uneventful one, and we pulled into Trondheim’s central station at 7:47 am on Friday.

While getting to and from the Lofotens was a bit of a trek, I will say that it was definitely a worthwhile trip and one that I would highly recommend.

 

Lofoten Islands: Bodø, Moskenes, Nusfjord

If there is one place that I felt I absolutely had to visit while in Norway, it was the Lofoten Islands. The Islands are located in the Arctic Circle towards the top of Norway and are supposed to offer some of the most beautiful sights in the country. About a month ago, Alix and I decided that we should plan a trip there, and we have finally begun our journey.

Getting there has taken some planning, and on our first day we traveled by train, ferry, and car. The first leg of our journey involved taking one of the national trains (NSB) up to Bodø. The train ride itself was quite a haul and took ten hours. Originally we debated whether or not we should just take a sleeper train, but in the end we decided that it’d be nice to go during the day and see the scenery. So, having woken up at 6 am on Monday morning, I bundled up my things and headed down to Trondheim’s central station to catch our 7:38 am train.

While the train ride was really long, I would say that it was definitely worth doing. The landscape was incredible and constantly changing; I never really got bored of looking out the window. The train ride also helped me realize how desolate and sparsely populated the country can be. In fact, at one point the train had to stop to let reindeer cross the tracks. NSB trains also tend to be quite comfortable and even provide slow wifi. So, in between napping and looking out the window, Alix and I were able to keep entertained during our journey.

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Yes, Norway is stunning. The funny thing is that this isn’t even a train route well known for its beauty.

After we arrived in Bodø, Alix and I managed to snag some dinner before picking up our rental car at 7. After that, we had about five hours left to kill since our ferry didn’t leave for the Islands until 12:15 am. We ended up walking a few laps around town before settling down at a cozy café called Paviljong.

At around 11:00 pm we moseyed our way down to the ferry terminal. I had bought our tickets over the phone and was a bit anxious since we lacked both the physical tickets and any email confirmation from the ticket company. Surprisingly enough, the ferry operators essentially waved us aboard, and as far as I can tell they never bothered to double check our story.

The ferry itself was quite nice. Everything was neat, clean and cosy. In fact, the most disappointing thing involved a sign with the words “Pet Store.” My sleep deprived brain assumed that we could go to an actual pet store onboard the ferry and play with puppies for sale, but Alix pointed out that it was more likely a holding area for animals (I have since confirmed with Norwegian speakers that “Pet Storage” would have been a more accurate translation). Having been disappointed by this, I resigned myself to a puppy-less night and followed Alix up to one of the passenger decks before falling asleep almost immediately in one of the chairs.

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But our journey did not end there. At the ungodly hour of 3:30 am, Alix and I peeled ourselves off of our ferry seats and returned to the car. We finally arrived at the Lofoten Islands in the town of Moskenes. Unfortunately, Moskenes was not our final destination. So with the help of Google Maps and a few sugary snacks we prepared to drive for an hour to our final destination, Nusfjord. We finally made it to our rental cottage at around 4:30 am, and thanks to our very gracious hosts were able to go to our cottage and fall asleep in our well heated rooms. In short, not a bad adventure for Columbus Day.

Hurtigruten

The Hurtigruten ferry line is the odd combination of ferry, cruise, and mail delivery boat. Because Hurtigruten was started as a mail delivery service it stops by both big cities and remote coastal towns. Depending on the kind of experience you are looking for, you can take longer trips that stop by more towns or take shorter ones. I have always loved boats and was really excited to take the ferry up to Trondheim. I got a lovely cabin all to myself and spent the rest of our 3ish day trip admiring the view. The only real downer to this leg of the trip was the mist and fog. Unfortunately it was tough luck catching a clear day, but I’ve included some of the better pictures that I managed to take. All in all our boat, Finnmarken, took us from Bergen to Florø, Måløy, Torvik, Ålesund, Gerianger, Molde, Kirstiansund, and finally Trondheim.

The one other hitch I encountered during this time was an email from the Fulbright Office. Quick aside: the Norwegian Fulbright office is generally amazing. They are always well organized and incredibly responsive with email. For instance they let me know that I moved to the second round of the Fulbright application before the US government did. Anyways, I received an email from them today telling me that the upper secondary school that I’m working at might be affected by a teacher’s strike. While the school itself was still open, the central administrative office in Trondheim was on strike. The email included one of the few English articles available that explained the situation. I must admit that when I first opened the article, I was expecting to see the strike touch upon some of the education issues that frequently appear in the US (testing, curriculum, etc.) but it was actually on how teacher’s should organize their work schedules. Many teachers have a flexible schedule that allows them to do part of their work at home, whereas the government wants to restrict this and mandate a number of hours that teachers must work on campus. For now, it’s just a waiting game to see if things are resolved before the school year starts.

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