As the Norwegian Air Shuttle 737 dropped out of the clouds, a scant 100 meters above the ground, and bounced and rattled its way down to the runway, I got my first glimpse of Norway. Lead gray skies, wind whipped evergreen trees, and misty rain made for a foreboding landscape indeed. One in which it is not difficult to imagine the harsh Nordic gods like Thor and Odin doing battle with giants and trolls, and a far cry from the wine, women and song of the Greek gods such as Apollo.

One often forgets how far north Europe is in general: Naples, in southern Italy, is at the same latitude as New York. And Oslo is pretty far north even for Europe: if it were in Alaska, it would be somewhere between Juneau and Anchorage. And with high latitudes comes a sun that stays relatively close to the horizon, rather than arching high overhead as in more southerly climes. When it’s cloudy, that low angle means that there are that many more clouds to pierce, so between four and five in the afternoon, it was already getting dark, whereas it was still fairly light out at that time the following day, when the weather was nicer.

My stay in Norway was brief; way too short to really get much of an idea about the place at all, so I’ll limit myself to some notes.

  • It’s expensive. Luckily, my host was kind enough to cover most of my costs, but things aren’t cheap there.

  • English is very widely spoken, and most films and tv shows are shown in the original languages, with subtitles, which has to be helpful.

  • Norwegian has a fairly “neutral” sound to this English speaker – not as melodic as Italian or French, nor as guttural as German.

  • There are less than 5 million inhabitants, around the same number as the Veneto region in Italy.

  • Wood isn’t a very common building material elsewhere in Europe. Even here in Tirol, with all its forests, it’s used in combination with other materials. In Norway, many houses appeared to be constructed of wood, and when my host took me on a tour, we even went past an entire church built of wood. It reminded me of my home in Oregon to some degree.

  • People drive like Oregonians too: slowly and respectfully. Which is great, unless you’re in a taxi and hoping to catch a train! (I did, but for once I wished for a bit zippier drivers).

  • The hotel I stayed at was beautiful, with a view of the fjord that Oslo is on. It’s not a big, dramatic fjord enclosed by sheer cliffs, like those on the west coast of Norway, but was beautiful nonetheless.

  • As a resident of Austria, I suppose I should be offended for my host nation that Red Bull is apparently banned from Norway, for having too much caffeine. Seems silly to me – people know what they’re drinking.

  • Alcohol is tremendously expensive. I guess there is not a lot to do in the winter months, particularly if you don’t do outdoor sports like skiing (and even then, there isn’t a lot of daylight), so there is a temptation to imbibe to pass the time.

  • To me everything felt quite modern and efficient. Hard to say though, since I saw so little.

  • Between the wan northern light and the dark, cold woods, there is a sort of natural beauty that’s hard to describe without seeing it in person, and is different from anything else I’ve ever seen. Not that I really went anywhere out of the way, just in the hills around where my hotel was, to take a few pictures.

  • As cold and harsh as the climate is, it’s hard to believe people have been there so long. The first settlers must have been some very tough individuals.

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