Oh hey guys! Welcome back to the party. I know we all stepped out for some fresh air, but now we’re back. Let’s take a seat on the couch and get caught up?
The last time we met was July 1st. Did you all have a good summer (or winter if you’re a southern hemisphere friend)? I know my Toronto friends have all halved in size due to the sheer amount of sweating. How did the rest of you fare?
A mere two months ago, those of us in Norway were like runners in the Rio Olympics 100m sprint – jumping up and down at the starting line, carefully setting our feet into the blocks, and waiting for the signal that the race (aka: summer) was about to begin. In a 12-month year, 2 months of summer does feel like a pretty quick sprint. Canada’s summer feels fast enough. But Norway’s is the Usain-Bolt-world-record of summer. It goes by in a flash.
Despite any actual solstice rules, summer in Norway began on July 1st and ended on August 22, when the kids went back to school. It’s pretty speedy, so you need to be quick off the start and you can’t look around until you’ve crossed the finish line. Then, panting and sweaty, you can look back and see how the race went.
Here are a few things I have learnt after my first full summer in Norway:
Despite contrary reports, Norway does indeed have warm, sunny, summer weather. It also has cold, rainy, windy, summer weather. Sometimes both occur in the same hour. If I hear the word “layering” one more time, I might get violent. But it’s actually true. The best way to handle Norwegian summer weather is to head out in your bikini but make sure you have a down jacket in your bag.
- Any day you can swim, swim.
- A perfect way to get to know Norway is having family visit and being required to know things about your new homeland.
- I was once a tour guide for a prestigious travel company. I prided myself on two things: eating more cheese than anyone, and making up facts about things I knew nothing about. Somehow, it didn’t feel right doing that to my family (the lying part. Not the cheese). So I actually read up on things and made sure I could at least tell them something about things were were seeing. And in turn, I learned a lot about this lovely land. Reading! Who knew!?
- I am allowed to criticise my new home country. But no one else can.
- Yes. Norway is now like a member of my family. I can diss them all I like. But you can’t. My sister-in-law had issues with Norwegian speed limits. Although I was probably in agreement with her, I defended it like it was my last dying promise.
- Pick berries. Or at least say you have. Ditto with mushrooms in late summer.
- Caravans are the worst.
- This is just a fact. I am sure if you are a retired German person, you couldn’t be happier behind the wheel of your lumbering road beast. But for the rest of us on the roads, they are like a really big pebble in your shoe on a 50km hike.
Driving in Norway is a slow business.
- See above point. Norway in the summer is packed with tourists. And apparently they are all driving somewhere. The main road from Oslo to the west coast (an extremely popular route) is mostly a 2-lane, 80km/hr highway that drops down to 50km/hr every time you go through a little town. And there are many. Would I like there to be a super-highway that carves through every mountain and allows us to get from coast to coast in 4 hours with top speeds of 160 km/hr? Absolutely Not. Will I still complain about driving in Norway even though I think slower is better? Yes. I am a hypocrite.
- Things will be closed in peak season.
- Norwegians are on summer holidays. This includes the owners of places that you would logically think might be open in the summer. Nope. Closed. Sorry. Come back later. Do I think it’s great that Norwegians care more about summer holidays than making money? Yes. Do I still want their businesses to be open for me? Yes. (Still a hypocrite.)
- There are lots of tourists here.
- I want all the tourists to leave. Except me and my friends and family. (See above points about hypocrisy.)
- Go hiking in the mountains. It’s something you do as a Norwegian. And why wouldn’t you with the beauty there is to be seen here? But come on guys, do it properly. Do it… The Norwegian Way.
Norwegians have a way of doing things. A very particular way. This is something I have spoken about before. Whether it’s cross-country skiing, Christmas, Easter, or Pub Quiz night, there is a pre-prescribed way of doing things in this land. The summer mountain trip is no exception. Every country has stereotypes. But in Norway they are (pretty much) all true. And this is not a criticism. Norwegians are proud of their deep-seated customs and traditions. Luckily for me, I like them too. However, that doesn’t preclude me from occasionally sitting back and marvelling at just how similarly things are done in this land.
My husband begins:
“So listen baby, when we go into the mountains, there are some things you have to keep in mind. There are some rules. The first rule of the mountains is…”
“Ooh! Ooh! I know!”, I put up my hand and wave it wildly. “The first rule of the mountains is.. Don’t talk about the mountains!”.
“You know… like the first rule of Fight Club…”
Nope. He’s not going to joke. NO JOKES ABOUT TRIPS TO THE MOUNTAIN. (I think that’s the first rule.)
“So. Like I was saying…,” he continues undeterred by my inability to refrain from making dumb jokes. (Because he’s so used to it.)
“There are some things you need to know about being in mountains…”
I heard something about layering and getting an early start and proper shoes. All important information I’m sure. But my brain kept straying to thoughts of how interesting this was. Here was my husband, the prototype of the “non-planner” so deep in plans and protocols that I was in shock. Who is this man with lists and instructions!?
And so it began. My first “real” Norwegian mountain experience. Sure, I’ve been to the mountains before. In fact, I have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro – the tallest peak in Africa. But this means nothing to the Norwegians. Their mountains are different. Better. Higher. Colder. Winterier. Summerier. Cooler. Warmer. Nicer. Mountainier. Norwegianier.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. But there is something funny that happens in this country when it comes to the great outdoors. The approach is serious. SO SERIOUS. It’s like everyone has read a text book that you never bought or even new existed.
It’s not just about the hiking itself. It is also everything that goes with it – the road trip to get there, the gear you take, the clothing, the food. Everything is done in a very precise manner. I wouldn’t say that my husband is very “typically Norwegian” in many ways, but when it comes to a mountain/hyttetur (cabin trip), something emerges that can only be described as a deep-seated and powerful instinct of Norwegian-ness. It’s like I am talking to a Kwik Lunsj bar wrapped in Merino wool flying the Norwegian flag.
You need to leave at an appropriately early time of day. Don’t be lazy. It’s just not Norwegian. The car is packed. And if you have too much cool gear to fit in the trunk of your SUV, you shove the rest in your Thule roof carrier. (Ours isn’t Thule but we’re learning to cope. Don’t worry, guys). Then you race north-west on the E6 out of Oslo towards the mountains. You stop at Lillehammer and buy last minute groceries and eat McDonald’s – not that any Norwegian would ever dream of eating unhealthy fast food . (Yes, they do.)
My husband planned our entire mountain trip as a surprise birthday present. I was only told that we were going to a cabin and I was sent a packing list by email. (Who is this man?!) As part of the planning, he also did the grocery shopping for the trip.
When we got to the grocery store to pick up a few final items, I put some avocados in the cart.
“Baby. We’re going to the mountains. We don’t need avocados.”
He loves avocados. We eat them all the time. But this was that traditionally steadfast inner Norwegian-ism coming out. There is something about being abstemious that seems to go hand in hand with the mountain experience. Apparently, there must be a degree of suffering. I understand if you are camping and carrying all your gear, then you have to be very careful with your purchases. But we were driving to a cabin. We could literally park 2 feet from the front door.
(Baby was gonna get her avocados.)
I could feel the inner struggle my husband was experiencing:
“Yes, I love avocados too. They’re so creamy and delicious”, said one part of this brain.
“NO! This is a mountain trip! You are Norwegian! Avocados are silly and frivolous. We as a people are not! THOU SHALT BE ABSTEMIOUS” shouted the other side of his brain.
(And some other part of his Norwegian brain quietly whispered… “Don’t forget the beers and box of wine…”)
The struggle is real.
When I describe this as my first “real” mountain/cabin experience, you might wonder what all my other cabin/hytte experiences were. Good question. The “real” Norwegian cabin is as rustic as it comes. And the one my husband had booked was the definition of this. It was over 200 years old with no running water and no electricity. The only “un-real” part was us being able to drive to the door. It would have been “real-er” if we’d had to hike in for at least a few kms. There are many cabins in this country like that. And of course nowadays there are also many cabins with water and electricity and all the modern conveniences. But your rating on the “How Norwegian Are You” scale, is definitely going to be a point of two higher if you are willing to rough it a bit. And extra points if you tell everyone about it.
Now before I make the wrong impression, let me be clear. I love this type of rustic cabin. I have no problem roughing it. In fact, I love it. I am so happy to light a million candles and cozy up by the roaring fire under sheep skins. I also find an inordinate amount of pleasure in peeing under a seemingly endless blanket of stars.
What I am commenting on here, is the prescribed way of doing things – almost like there is an inherent obligation as a citizen of this land. It so happens that for the most part, I like this prescribed way. I like that there is some sense of order and expectation and structure. I love tradition and custom. And I love that the Norwegians feel so strongly about it all. It might sound terrible to some, but I find a sort of comfort in knowing how things work, even if I do have to let out the occasional eye-roll.
Once you have settled into your cabin and unpacked your essentials. You begin to prepare for the next days hike. There are maps. There is gear. There are sandwiches to be made. Don’t even think about bringing that damn avocado. There will be cheese on bread. A Kwik Lunsj bar. And water.
the Norwegian army the Norwegian mountains.
And once you get on your hike you come across the “The Summer Norwegians”. They are impossibly fit and rosy-cheeked. They have all the “right” gear and all the best looking clothing. You cannot compete. They are HIKING IN THE MOUNTAINS. And you better not get in their way. If you go to a National Park in Canada, you will see all types: those with crappy old tents, and jeans… and those with the latest high tech gear and slick outerwear. Not in Norway. I can’t even imagine what people spend on outdoor equipment and clothing in this country. The Norwegians all look like they have just stepped out of the latest Norønna catalogue. If I sound jealous, it’s because I might be just a little bit. (My parents-in-law actually gave me a very generous gift certificate to Norønna for my birthday. I told them how envious I was of my husband’s cool mountain pants. I have no shame.)
And so our summer ended with this beautiful weekend in the Rondane mountains. My pants were ill-fitting (after too many summer BBQs and cocktails) and out of fashion (they were bought prior to my walk across France and Spain in 2006). My shoes were wrong – they got completely soaked on our first day’s hike and resulted in me having a bizarre meltdown of epic proportions (sorry honey). My “headband” was old and dorky. My backpack was made for biking, not hiking. And I don’t have prescription sunglasses so I had to just squint. Like an idiot. Norwegians don’t squint. (Joking. I’m sure they do, but you can’t tell behind their supercool and expensive mountain eyewear.)
But of course, none of this mattered.
Being out in the rugged beauty of Norway, you are quickly reminded why you love this land. As as a newcomer, you are reminded why you want to stay. I wouldn’t change anything. I’ll even happily do it the Norwegian way.
Now it’s time to stock up on candles and chop some wood. Winter is coming. And I’m gonna be ready for ski-season, Norwegians. I’ll see you on the tracks.