Thursday, July 19, 2012

Norway Review Pt 1

If I had to end my trip after Olden, it would have been just fine.  I was already contented.  It is hard to put into words how much I enjoyed Stavanger and Olden.  While they are completely different they represented all the good things I thought I would find in Norway.

Stavanger is known as the oil capital of Norway.  There is a lot of money there and the population is diverse.  I was told the highest concentration of Porsche owners live there and they had to pay double what we would pay in Canada for their vehicles (200K+) due to taxes and various environmental fees.  So basically you couldn't get away with being a "poser" there. 

The old part of Stavanger city is made up of small wooden houses with flowers everywhere.  The port is lined with restaurants and shops.  There wasn't a huge outdoor market on a weekday but I broke my first 100 NOK to buy a container of raspberries (45 NOK) to snack on while I wandered.  Their raspberries were huge but wasn't as sweet as I had hoped.  Still good though if you prefer more tartness! 

If you enjoy shopping you'll like the pedestrian area.  There are cafes galore to rest in and people watch, many with good menus.  Unique trendy shops will catch your eye if the distinct Scandinavian design doesn't first.  I had a great lunch by the port.  Serving sizes are large!  It cost 255 NOK (tip included) for my entree and a bottle of sparkling mineral water.

A highlight of my day there was my helicopter ride over the Lysefjord (called "light fjord" because of the colour of the granite) and Preikestolen (Pulpit rock), a well known Norwegian landmark.  When you see an advertisement for Norway, it is common to see a picture of it with a couple sitting there looking down upon the fjord.  In real life, it is much smaller than the impression given from a magazine advertisement.

Originally my plan was to hike up to Preikestolen until I found out it wasn't going to be the hike that make it impossible but getting there.  You need to take a ferry and a bus before the hike could get started.  The schedule was such I wouldn't make it back to the boat on time.  I've filed this away for when I return to Stavanger for a longer stay.

So I decided last minute to splurge on the helicopter tour.  As you saw on the receipt, it wasn't cheap for 30 min.  When the pilot found out I had taken an intro lesson before, he proceeded to continue to teach and allowed me to hold on to the controls and learn.  I really hoped I didn't offend him but I wasn't into the impromptu lesson as much as he was expecting (especially knowing how expensive lessons are in Norway)because I wanted to look out to take it all in and take some pictures too.  Thirty minutes goes by fast.

We had a longer chance to chat as he ended up driving me back into the city.  Norway isn't a cheap place to live.  Especially for young pilots hoping to get into the lucrative off shore oil field industry.  He had a totally different job in order to make ends meet and lived in the company barracks until he was able to move into his own apartment.  One interesting observation I made was that at no time did anyone assume I did not work. 

Olden (next day) was so picturesque I was barely able to eat my breakfast.  I just sat there gawking at what my eyes were taking in.  I wanted to splurge on another helicopter ride over a glacier but it turned out I was the only one on the ship (can you believe it?!) that day interested and they needed 3 people min to make it worth their while (jet helicopter vs Stavanger where they were happy to take just me in a R44).  During my 45 min wait, I got to talk to the pilot and the driver about life in rural Norway.

Jobs are more scarce outside of the major city centers and when you live in a very small village, you have to drive sometimes 100 km each way to work.  The highest paying jobs are in the oil and fishing industry.  Ask any Norwegian why alcohol is so expensive and you'll get a dissertation on their tax system.

Gasoline is sold in litres and is almost 3 times the cost of what we pay in Canada.  The average price in my area is $1.25 a litre.  They are pretty strict with speeders too.  The driver recently got charged over 1000 NOK for being 9 km/hr over!  I told him you can get away driving 120 - 125 km/hr in a 100 km/hr zone where I am.  They use studded tires in the winter.  Most homes have metal roofs and are built super solid.

Hydroelectric energy (harnessing all those waterfalls) powers 98% of Norway.  Income tax is pretty much the same as Canada (High!) and we share the same universal health care system.  Post secondary education is "free" if you can pass the required aptitude tests.  The guys felt very strongly against social programs for people who are "too lazy" to work and didn't like their tax dollars used that way.  They believed more and more people are taking advantage of the system. 

They also believe the price of real estate is squeezing many young people out of home ownership.  The pilots I met were in their early 20's.  You need to have 15% down before you can get a mortgage.  Mortgage rates are similar to what we get in Canada with the usual 25 yr amortization.

What I enjoyed most about the Norwegians was their no nonsense way of being.  They weren't in the habit of saying the default "great" when you asked them how they are doing.  You hear a lot of that in North America even when you know they are not doing "great".  They tell you how they are feeling and it is so refreshing (also why I love France so much)! 

Their English is way better than any of my other languages.   And if you are in the market, they are tall, fit, alluringly intense, hard working, good looking (the pilots I met looked like they ought to be in the Norwegian version of Top Gun) and have hand grips of steel.  I have pretty decent hand strength but theirs were surprisingly strong.  And as a woman I was treated like and expected to be their equal.  I felt stronger just hanging around them.

The guys razzed me pretty good because I didn't buy the "right" type of water while I was waiting.  The biggest employer in Olden is a bottled water company and they boast the best glacial water.  I told them I did not have any choice during my purchase (they didn't believe me) and they ought to take it up with the cafe because of course they ought to be selling the local water!  I manage to find myself some authentic Olden water later when I was in Bergen.  They were right.  It did taste good.


  1. Oh yes...the Norwegian men. One more reason to love Norway. :)

    Thanks for the review. My experience of Norway at the time was quite different, so that's why I want to go back sooner rather than later, so I can experience and appreciate things differently. It's on my list! I love your reviews and also the fact that you really do engage with the locals so well. I'm very shy (aloof?), so tend to have different interactions (not all so positive). It's something I really need to work on.

    Looking forward to Part 2!

  2. Thanks so much!

    If you are willing to share, I'd love to hear why your experience was quite different.

    I had a minor incident this time (can read about it in pt 4), nothing alarming but meeting people is a numbers game.

    I'm pretty much only good around small numbers of people or one on one. Large groups are a turn off for me because I find it difficult to get into meaningful discussions so I lose interest quickly.

  3. Hi MW,

    I'm happy to share! My trip to Norway was with a group (like Tracks, only a smaller company), so I was always with people and didn't have a reason or a need to interact with the locals. We got a general overview of the area or town we were visiting, and had planned excursions and visits, so it was a lot less independent and, I would say, interactive.

    The next time I travel it will be to appreciate such things as the food, the people, the culture, rather than just to say I've been there, done that (I was very young, what can I say?). It will be more along the lines of travel where you get to know more of the area, the people, the day to day activity, and just get more involved in the experience of where you are, etc. So you can feel you've learned something, done some interesting things, experienced some traditions and met the people.

    Appreciation of the differences is also a component of maturity. When I was younger, it was more about finding the similarities so I felt more comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, instead of embracing the differences and actually learning about them and myself.

  4. You phrased things so well--"...more about finding the similarities...". Isn't that the hallmark of being young, wanting to relate, fit in, be accepted while we are all trying to figure out our places in this world?

    I think if we had kids, we'd be dragging them (hopefully willingly) all over the place because it is important to me they see their world as much larger than their own school or neighbourhood. That's a good start. Hopefully too, to plant the bug for future exploration.

    Very cool you had such a great opportunity to see Amsterdam and Norway then. And the bug was planted! I'm so very excited for where your next travels take you.

    Thanks for sharing!