Hei, jeg er i Norge! (Hello, I’m in Norway!)

Back in 2017, I passed through Oslo for three days and was wowed by the city, the culture and its people. For a country that’s as cool — literally and figuratively — as Norway, three days are not enough to say I’ve really been to this country. So, I came back. It also happens that nowadays the cheapest direct flights from the US to Europe are from JFK to Oslo. So, for $285, here I am.

I started this adventure in Oslo. What a delightful city! Lots of handsome buildings, great museums and convenient public transit. Everyone speaks English here, too.

The Parliament building, flanked by the Grand Hotel and some very upscale shops

Tourism is alive and well in Oslo. Getting around town is easy. Although I walked and took buses and subways, there were other more colorful options.

In the summer, Oslo’s weather is quite comfortable. While the rest of Europe is experiencing a sweltering heat wave, I’ve been enjoying cool days and nights, perfect for dining al fresco at the many sidewalk cafes.

Rafting on the Akerselva

To the Norwegians, anything above 20° C (68° F) is hot. This is when the locals inflate their rafts, grab a few bottles of Pilsner, and float through the middle of town on the Akerselva River.

The old port of Bergen

From Oslo, a short flight took me over the mountains to Bergen, Norway’s second biggest city, its oldest port, and the ancient capital of Norway … 750 years ago. This town is a living museum packed with stone and wooden structures some of which date back to the XIII century.

Bergen is a city of of kings, Vikings and legends. It all started about 1250 when King Håkon Håkonsson built himself a royal residence and banquet hall here. As I toured this medieval site, I imagined crowds of warriors dressed in leather and chain mail, gnawing on legs of lamb and boasting of battles as they tossed back flagons of ale. This magnificent building is still used today to host government functions and royal weddings. Yes, Norway has a monarchy. It’s headed by King Harald V, a second cousin of Queen Elizabeth.

Bergen and its funicular

Bergen is a spectacular sea port located in the heart of Norway’s fjords, surrounded by seven mountains whose highest peak rises to 643 meters. The funicular Fløibanen takes you halfway up the nearest mountain. From there, well-marked trails lead to the surrounding peaks. On a rainy afternoon, there were lots of people hiking these trails with me. I was impressed by how fit and healthy the average Norwegian seems to be. Maybe it’s all the fish they eat? I was also impressed by how the natural environments of Norway are respected and preserved. There was no litter. The forests are healthy and not ruined by over-logging. With its plans to be CO2 neutral by 2030, Norway earns its motto “Powered by Nature.”

The view from the top of Blåmanen (elev 551m)
My Hurtigruten ferry

From Bergen, I’d planned to fly to the Faroe Islands, 660 kms to the west. After that, I had a plane ticket to Svalbard, in the far north. Unfortunately, all my planes were grounded, first by the SAS pilot strike and then by fog and high winds. This was a reminder never to make too many plans in advance. At least Norway’s ships were still sailing! So, I boarded a Hurtigruten ferry and spent three days cruising the coast of Norway.

I boarded my ferry in the town of Bodø, about 110 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. As the ship came into port at 2:30am, I took the photo above. As you can see, it was not dark at that hour, even with heavy clouds. This is the land of the Midnight Sun.

Hurtigruten ferries transport people, cars, mail and merchandise up and down Norway’s convoluted coast, stopping at 36 ports and villages between Bergen in the south and the Russian border at the far north. A cruise on this ferry is an efficient way to see a lot of Norway. I splurged for a cabin, two meals a day and internet. So, this was also a very comfortable way for me to see a lot of Norway. At each port, the ship docks for about 30 minutes which is enough time to disembark and take a stroll around town. Most of the ferry stops are within fjords or between islands. Very scenic!

Kristiansund, one of many Hurtigruten ferry stops

Sailing into Ornes early in the morning

I disembarked at almost every port to walk around and see the sites. At Trondheim, I found the statue of Leif Erikson who crossed the Atlantic about 500 years before Columbus. I’ve often thought it odd that America celebrates Columbus Day, even though Columbus never set foot on what later became American soil. Yet, Mr. Erikson came ashore in Labrador, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and maybe Maine. Some Canadians celebrate Leif Erikson Day on October 9. Shouldn’t we? Anyway, here he is standing next to a bus stop in Trondheim.

An interesting peculiarity about Norway is that almost no one uses cash here. Everything is done by credit card. Even the chap who sells ice cream from his truck and the Eritrean who hawks fruit on the sidewalk accept payments using hand-held credit card machines . I suspect this is in response to Covid as a way to avoid handling cash.

Watching all these credit card transactions made me think about money and what’s going on in the global economy today. For those of you who haven’t left the United States in a while, you may not have noticed that the dollar has become a very strong currency all over the world. For the first time in 20 years, the U.S. dollar is equivalent to the Euro.

A strong dollar hurts U.S. exports and therefore U.S. production and employment. A strong dollar also makes the United States a less affordable travel destination for foreign visitors. But at the same time, a strong dollar makes overseas travel less expensive for Americans. Do rising costs and inflation worry you? If so, this is a good time to take an overseas holiday!

So, where are the best deals? Europe is good now, especially Scandinavia and Britain. Japan, Argentina and Turkey are also discounted thanks to their falling currencies. (Click on any of these graphs to zoom in for more detail.)

As the Norwegian krone continues to drop, I’ve noticed that a beer costs less today than it did last week. In fact, Norway is 15% cheaper for an American now than it was in April. My advice: Go Now!

Next stop Denmark … my 164th country!