Norway: Introduction

  • © Katha2512, marcopolo.de

    © Katha2512, marcopolo.de

DISCOVER NORWAY!

Midsummer night somewhere on the coast far north of the Arctic Circle: white sand, blue sea, rocks washed clean by the water and the sun sinking slowly towards the surface of the water on the horizon only to rise again a few minutes later – this would be the perfect picture of the natural phenomenon if it weren’t for the clouds or mist which sometimes force their way into the picture.

 

The people who live in the houses near the beach also know another side to their wild country, too. They use iron chains to anchor their roof trusses to the ground because they know you can’t fool around with nature and its fickle moods. After a mild midsummer night, the wind can get up, and suddenly fog can chase boats back to port. The sun actually disappears for a couple of hours in summer in Sørlandet, Norway’s strip of coast on the Skagerrak, but holiday-makers there still sit together after they have finished their barbeques until dawn breaks, making the most of every moment. 

The fjords – An expression of nature’s power

Norway has a great variety of landscapes full of surprises. Gigantic forests conceal lakes and rivers full of fish, the ice of the glaciers towers above the plateaus and the mountains are bisected by enormous deep valleys. Thousands of islands are dotted along the coast which is continuously interrupted by the absolutely unique fjords. They are expressions of the power of nature just as the midnight sun and northern lights are. In Norway, new vistas open up around every corner and, if you allow all your senses to be taken over by this country, you will experience something very special: harmony.

Wealth off Norway’s coast: oil and gas

It appears that they do things differently in Norway. It may have something to do with the location and specific topography of the country, and certainly with the Norwegians’ national pride. They decided twice against joining the European Union, and even signing an agreement on a more open marketing policy met with great resistance from the population. The reason could be the wealth that can be found lying beneath the sea on the continental shelf off the coast of Norway.

 

Every year, Norway sells 52 billion pounds (80 billion US$) worth of oil and gas – something like 20 percent of the gross national product. The country’s savings account – here it is called The Government Pension Fund – Global – is padded with 328 billion pounds (500 billion US$) and is hardly ever touched. The Norwegians are well aware of their good fortune, and know that the ‘black gold’ guarantees their wages and puts money into the state’s coffers. They are really proud of what their country between the Skagerrak and North Cape has to offer.

In the middle of the 19th century, the poet and linguistic researcher Ivar Aasen wrote The Norwegian. It is taught in schools and sung on the National Holiday on 17 May: “Between hills and rocks, out by the sea. The Norwegian has found his homeland where he has cultivated his own property and built his house with his own hands.” Having braved the harsh climate and made the hostile land fertile fills Norwegians with pride. They have the greatest respect for nature. One of the many events of 17 May is the open-air church service on Hardangerjøkulen – as many as 2000 people hike on their skis to the glacier at an altitude of 1800 m (5900 ft) to take part. In this way, nature becomes a temple.

The beauty of Norway’s landscape reveals itself as soon as one gets out of the sprawl of the cities on the southern coast of the country. Nine of the ten largest cities in Norway are located in the area up to Trondheim. The Oslo metropolitan area is home to a good million of Norway’s total population of 5 million, while only around 10 percent live in the three northern administrative districts (fylker). The Kingdom of Norway consists of 19 fylker and 435 communities. The smallest is the island of Utsir, to the north-west of Stavanger, with only 218 inhabitants living in an area of 1500 acres. In Kautokeino in Finnmark, 3000 residents are scattered over 9707 km² (3748 mi²)– more than six times the area of London. Without the arctic island groups of Svalbard and Jan Mayen, Norway covers an area of 323,364 km² (124.851 mi²), with a population density of 36 people per square mile.

Two thirds of the country is covered with mountains and high plateaus  – and 37 percent is forested. As only around three percent of the surface is arable, a lot of room is left for leisure activities. On Sundays, the Norwegians go på tur, through the woods or up the next mountain, fishing, berry-picking or collecting mushrooms. Races are held throughout the country – in summer, in running shoes and on skis in winter. Soon after they start school, Norwegian children are taught how to survive in the great outdoors, how to make a place to sleep without a tent, how to fish, carve and behave responsibly on the water. And in no other country in Europe are there more hunting weapons in comparison to the population than in Norway. From the end of August to late in October, the huntsmen and women hardly have time for anything at the weekends other than stalking reindeer, elk and other animals.

According to the United Nations Develop ment Programme (UNDP), Norway has, for many years, been the country offering the highest quality of life in the world. Factors such as life expectancy, average income and education show that the land of the midnight sun is not a bad place to live in. In spite of all this, many Norwegians want to make more use of the national savings account to reduce the price of food, petrol and alcohol, and increase wages and pensions. Another challenge to be solved in the 21st century is the relationship between living in cities and the countryside. Four out of five Norwegians live in towns or large municipalities.

The cities are becoming more attractive because they provide better opportunities for work, leisure and culture. The massive tax reliefs provided have not been able to stop the population of the smaller villages in North Norway and on the islands diminishing; jobs and possibilities for work are disappearing. The only hope remaining lies in the Norwegians’ deep-rooted love of their country and its traditions. The people do not want to give up what  nature has given them or they have created with their own hands. This is a good thing because it would be impossible to get to know this country without its people. They take their time – time to experience and enjoy. Hustle and bustle is only found in cities – and the Norwegians say that there is really only one of those in the entire country.

The Norwegians take time to enjoy themselves

In coastal villages, the old people get together to have a chat on the quay – this is almost a ritual for many of them, especially in the morning when the fishing boats come back with their catch. Further inland, it is normally the hikers who strike up a conversation about the weather, surroundings and route. Many holiday-makers have been surprised at how helpful the Norwegians, who are generally considered to be rather reserved, can be.

It seems that their restraint only comes from their wish not to annoy other people. The Norwegians from the south are though to be more aloof than those from the north but none of them are impolite. Don’t be surprised if, on a lovely summer day, somebody invites you to have a cup of coffee on their veranda or to go for a short boat trip. Let yourself be infected with the feeling that there is always enough time for a relaxed chat that can easily overcome any language barriers. 

But, above all, Norway is a paradise for nature lovers and most of the tourists don’t come here to go shopping. They are looking for unspoilt nature rather than urban life and have no trouble accepting that there are very few good restaurants and only a limited offer of food outside conurbations. They want tranquillity and torrential rivers, views and adventure. And the first shock at the high prices soon gives way to the astonishment that the Norwegians have managed to make every corner of their country accessible by road and supplied with electricity. Nowhere will you have to do without your creature comforts. But, if you want to, go ahead – there’s more than enough room!


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