Utopia. That is the first word that comes to mind when I think back to my time in Norway. In its capital, Oslo, rolling green parks, beautiful families strolling through the city eating pastel colored ice cream, trendy well designed store fronts, picturesque flower arrangements decorating historic buildings, music and art oozing out of every corner of the city, warm breezy weather and stylish people, the city just seemed to permeate with delight.
In rural parts of Norway, pristine clear blue bodies of water, fjords, mountains, trees, quaint little towns, colorful wooden cottages, churches, well cared for cemeteries and locally brewed beer-all lead to one conclusion: this is a place where the sum is greater than all the parts.
World’s Best Democracy
This Scandinavian country has earned the reputation of being the “World’s Best Democracy”. Over 78 percent of the population vote and people seem to feel a kinship with the law-makers. The city of Oslo deliberately does things to make its citizens feel ownership over their city. They built their parliament to have big large windows and open spaces to promote a sense of transparency and inclusiveness. The citizens get to vote and choose the playlist that goes off when the city hall clock hits the hour. The royal family lives right in the center of the city and doesn’t have security patrolling the perimeter. Seems trivial, but one would be amazed by the powerful impact these small details can have.
It is a progressive place where abortion and same sex marriage has been legal, where women’s rights were historically protected as sex workers, and where even in the height of political tumult, prisoners were actually treated with dignity and respect. Don’t get me wrong, nowhere is perfect, certainly not Norway. People still struggle with homelessness, drug use, and mental illness. Nonetheless, it seemed to be a community of people who are generally flourishing.
Top 4 highlights from the trip:
1. Roaming around Oslo
I’m not a huge fan of free city walking tours. I hate being rushed around with a big group of tourists sticking out like a sore thumb for all to see. But, we did the Oslo city tour anyway and it turned out to be really interesting and informative. We got to see a few gems; Parliament, the famous opera house, City Hall, Viegland Sculpture Park and the National Theater.
The Oslo Opera House blends into its aquatic surroundings as it is built to look like a glacier on the water.
If you are in Oslo, the Vigeland Museum is a must. Its history began in 1919, when sculptor Gustav Vigeland made an offer to Oslo Municipality to donate his creations to the city. There, in the middle of the park, the naked men, women and children stand in the most intimate and tender of ways.
2. Island hopping
We took a ferry ride to the smaller islands in the inner Oslo Fjord. They are bunches of mini islands where people go to picnic near the water, camp, or frolic with whimsical and awkwardly shaped trees like we did.
3. Road-tripping through rural Norway
This was my favorite part of the trip. We rented a car in Oslo and drove through the country side passing through Aurland, Flam, and Gopner. Each one a quiet village situated in between the fjord landscapes. The Stegastein viewpoint in Aurland provided the most vast and breath-taking views of the fjord. Looking at it, I felt like I was flying away into its majestic structures , untethered, looking down at all of life’s stress. Its carnage became ever so minuscule as I felt myself drifting further and further away. I took a deep breath to lock that feeling in.
Can’t emphasize it enough, when in Aurland, be sure to stop by Stegastein viewpoint to catch breathtaking views of the town and vast fjords. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
We passed by a few churches and cemeteries. I felt envious of the buried who had found their final resting place nestled in such serene surroundings.
When in Flam, take a fjord tour..we didn’t have time to do this, but just imagine getting on one of these vessels and venturing out to get up close and personal with the fjords.
Unbelievable views as we drove from town to town.
We drove through the rain to make it to Gaupne where our cabin awaited near Lustrafjorden. We got so lucky with the rain. There’s something about rain that makes me more profoundly aware of my emotions. It evokes nostalgia. I was reminded of old camping trips up to Sedona with my parents as a kid. We would drive through the rain in silence, almost solemn, as we took in the sights of nature being embraced by water. As we drove through the winding roads to Gaupne, I knew that this would be a moment of the trip that I would hold on to and look back with fondness.
The rain continued to patter down when we got to our charming little red cabin. It was only a few feet away from the fjord and we were delighted by the grey-ish atmospheric views as we slurped down our warm cup of noodles. It was perfect.
The next morning, my travel buddy and I set out to hike Molden. It is about a 4 mile hike up to the top of a mountain. On the way, more wooden houses, views of the fjords, sheep, and endless varieties of saplings and vegetation native to Gaupne.
We got to Bergen and settled into our little airbnb located about 20 minutes from the city center. Stylishly decorated with plants, postcard art, and tasteful furniture, we thoroughly enjoyed our airbnb experience in Bergen.
As someone who studied classical piano for many many years, we had to visit the home of Edvard Grieg. He is a famous classical composer who’s best known works include his piano Concerto in a minor and the Peer Gynt suite. It has since become a museum that many people visit from all over the world. Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we went, but when it is open it offers a tour of the inside of the home and of the outside mini cabin where most of his best works were created.
We still had our rental car and were able to drive into the center of the city. Beware, the parking is a little daunting. Parking in the designated parking garages will be the best bet even though they are a little bit pricier.
We took the Fløibanen, a funicular railway, all the way up to the center of Mount Fløyen to enjoy the mountain walks and incredible views of the city.
There’s plenty to see while wandering the streets of Bergen. Visit the fish market, selling all sorts of delicious food ranging from seafood sandwiches, jambalaya, to nice steamy bowls of clam chowder. It was so lovely to stroll around the neighborhoods. There was so much to admire.
If you are hungry, go to Litteraturhuset. It was my favorite place that we ate at during the entire trip. Light, simple, but extremely flavorful morsels of food! We loved it so much that we went there twice before we left Bergen.
I’ll end with this. Go and travel to Norway. Get a glimpse of a country where people really seem to value the quality of life above all else. You probably noticed from reading so far that Norway is a wealthier country with more resources than most places in this world. Yes, it is a privileged country, but it doesn’t hurt to go and enjoy some of that for yourself. Enjoy the beautiful fjords, tasteful interior and exterior designs, gorgeous parks and gardens, and amazing nature Norway has to offer. And then bring a little piece of that Utopia back home with you.