Like any trip to a new country, it’s natural to make observations about the people, culture, food, activities and more. These observations are neither good nor bad, they are purely reflections on nuances that may differ from country to country.
Recently, I traveled to Norway for the first time and it was also my first time in any Scandinavian country. Although I’ve traveled to several European countries in the past, this was the furthest north in Europe that I’d ever been, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Like any experienced traveler, I did my research on Norway, studying the best cities to see and key sites or experiences not to miss in each. But what guidebooks and websites don’t always mention are the little things that make countries unique from their neighbors. These are the observations that can only come from seeing and experiencing the country first-hand.
5 Observations From My First Trip to Norway
1. What’s on the Menu – Every country has food that seems just a bit unusual to someone who is not from that country. The unusual quality could be attributed to the taste or type of food itself, how it’s prepared, or the time of day it is traditionally served. The U.S. has its peanut butter and jelly, biscuits and gravy and corn dogs; while the British have black pudding, mince pie and haggis. Norway also has its share of interesting menu items. For instance, I saw reindeer or whale dishes on almost every dinner menu – which probably makes sense given how far north the country sits. But still I could not bring myself to eat reindeer after just seeing the off-Broadway production Frozen – eek! Brown cheese was offered with many breakfast breads and surprisingly acted and tasted like cream cheese but with a slightly caramel-like flavor. In the U.S., berry-flavored items are usually made from typical berry flavors like strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. In Norway, the lingonberry is queen, and, tasting like a cross between a cranberry and raspberry, it’s used in everything from jams, to meat dishes, and toppings for waffles. Oh, and speaking of waffles – they are everywhere in Norway. While in the U.S., waffles are typically a breakfast food or occasionally seen in the dessert section, heart-shaped waffles are an integral part of Norwegian culture and can be seen as appropriate to include with any meal. For breakfast, they might be more sweet in nature, served with berry compote, while for lunch and dinner, waffles take on a more savory flavor by adding ham or creamy cheeses.
2. Summer of Never-ending Daylight – Traveling to Norway in the summer, you learn very quickly the importance of sleep masks and room darkening curtains. In the summer months, many Norwegian cities have up to 19 hours of daylight, and the further north you go in the country, the more daylight you have. While in Bergen in late June, I saw the sun set around 11pm, remain at twilight for another hour, and then saw the sun rise just a few hours later at 4am – giving us only a few hours of full darkness. Summer in Norway is truly an insomniac’s paradise.
3. Floating Sauna Culture – Although saunas are popular all over Scandinavia, Norwegian saunas have become increasingly common over the last several years, especially floating or seaside saunas. These saunas are set either on a stationary dock overlooking a body of water or they are placed on a floating dock, anchored underneath the water, often hundreds of yards from shore and only accessible by boat. The traditional saunas use wood burning heaters to heat the room to 140-175 degrees F, can be rented for varying timeframes at different price points, and often include a sauna attendant who helps maintain the temperature in your room. The saunas are offered in different shapes and sizes but most include at least 1 full wall of glass providing seaside, fjord or other nature views, as well as a ladder down to the water where you can take a cool, refreshing dip when the dry sauna heat becomes too much.
4. Vikings and Trolls Everywhere – Historians believe that Vikings originated in Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Norway has definitely capitalized on its historical roots creating museums, attractions, tours and many tourist shops dedicated to their Viking heritage. Likewise, trolls have a long-standing place in Norse mythology. According to the myth, trolls were mysterious and dangerous creatures who lived in caves, forests and mountains. They are said to have roamed freely during the night only, for any exposure to sunlight would turn them to stone. In modern times, trolls can still be found in forests and mountains, like Bergen’s Mt. Floyen, as well as in just about any gift shop.
5. Outdoor Gear Galore – In spite of the many months of winter darkness and cold weather, Norwegians embrace the idea of friluftsliv, which means open-air our outdoor living. This way of life is quite apparent as I observed an abundance of athletic apparel and sporting goods everywhere I went, from Norway’s capital of Oslo, to the coastal town of Bergen, to even small villages. Whether you need camping equipment, hiking gear, or ski boots and jackets, Norwegian brands like Helly Hansen, Fjallraven and Bergan’s of Norway have you covered and can be found in many department, specialty and even tourist stores around the country.
Happy Travels Everyone!