Norway is all about nature and the outdoors. Year round, even in the frigid Arctic winters, Norwegians spend time outdoors – hiking, skiing, climbing, boating, fishing… They are passionate about their forests, mountains, lakes and the sea.
During our cruise of the Norwegian fjords (see previous post, “Ship Ahoy Norway”) I talked to Norwegians and tourists, as well as those who have moved to Norway. I wanted to know more about life in this country where hours of daylight in winter are few, yet summer days are wonderfully long, where winter temperatures can drop to well below zero, and summer temperatures in most of the country rarely reach above 20 degrees C (68 F).
“I moved here for the nature,”said a bus driver originally from Karlsruhe, Germany, who drives a dog sled in winter. He also worked and lived in Iceland, “but this is better.”
Two hikers, also from Germany and on their fifth visit to Norway, told me they come for nature and the landscapes. “People here have a good rapport with nature.”
Victoria, a tour guide from Munich, came to Norway seven years ago to work as a biologist. She never left. “I am absolutely happy here.”
“I love nature,” said Haakon Hansen, a Norwegian lecturer on the ship. He skis, dives, hikes, fishes, snowboards. “You can do it all here.”
During one of his lectures, Hansen told us about Freiluftsliv,a concept coined by Henrik Ibsen, remowned Norwegian playwright, in 1859 literally meaning “free air life,” or an outdoors lifestyle. “It’s a concept that permeates every aspect of life in Norway,” noted an article in Forbes.
It is the guiding principle in Norway and said to be the key to happiness in the country. And, according to the happiness index, Norwegians, after Finns, are the world’s happiest people.
We also learned that in Norway every man has the right to roam, to enjoy and use
nature. You can pick berries and gather mushrooms wherever you like. You can camp everywhere, even on private property as long as you are 150 meters from a house.
To none are nature and the outdoors more important than to the Sami, an indigenous, nomadic people who live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. “Our religion is nature. Nature is our culture,” said Ailu Utsi. During one of our cruise excursions, we visited Ailu and his wife Ellinor in their Sami tent.
Historically the Sami, renowned for herding reindeer, were known as Lapps and their homeland, Lapland. But, “this is not Lapland,” Ellinor Utsi adamantly proclaimed. The couple talked about the prejudice and persecution the Sami suffered in Norway until 1970. Their language was outlawed. Children had to go to boarding schools and could not speak Sami. Many of their traditions were suppressed. That began to change in 1970 and today Sami are represented in the Norwegian parliament. Sami is the second language in the country. The language, related to Finnish, Hungarian and Russian, is rich in words to describe nature. “We have 300 words to describe snow.”
The Sami follow their reindeer herds. In summer some 5,000 Sami families and 8,000
reindeer live on the Nordkyn peninsula where we visited them. In the winter they move near the Finnish border. During our visit we tasted reindeer broth. Good, but it was the reindeer we had one evening on the ship that was the ultra mouth-watering treat – much better than the best beef tenderloin, in my opinion. At the market in Bergen, Bob and I had grilled reindeer sausage, also delicious. I bought several reindeer sausages to bring home.
During another cruise excursion we tasted yet another Norwegian special: King Crab. We were suited up in extreme cold weather suits for a ride on a RIB (Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat) to a place where these giant crustaceans were pulled from cages 30 meters deep in the Barents Sea. Several crabs (only males) were sacrificed for our repast.
“We only take males. The females lay millions of eggs every year, but not many survive,” said our boat captain and crab chef, Diemietri from Bulgaria. The crabs can weigh up to 20 kilos, but those we consumed were about 2 to 2 ½ kilos. The crabs live in the icy waters of the Barents Sea as well as the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, and the Gulf of Alaska. In the US, they are known as Alaskan crab.
Diemietri, 58, has been in Norway for five years. He left his own business in Bulgaria where “there was too much corruption…they destroyed my business.” He says life in Norway is quiet, but he is happy. “I have a job. My pension is very good. The social system is very good here.”
Norway is a welfare state with a government pension for everyone. The average salary is about $58,000 per year. The cost of living is high, as is income tax, between 30% and 35 %, but the benefits are generous. University tuition, for example, is just $65 per semester.
Hansen raved about other Norway pluses. “We have a transparent society,’’ he told us. “The government publishes a tax list. You can see how much everyone makes and how much tax they pay. Norway is a safe country. People don’t touch other people’s stuff.”
As friend and fellow traveler Karen remarked, “Norway has its act together.”
Norway is also spectacularly beautiful. I was enchanted with the ever changing scenery from the ship: fascinating clouds, dramatic silhouettes of mountains, magnificent fjords, pristine villages.
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