Friday 3 September 2021

Norway in 3 days

“Borders I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.”

These words uttered by Thor Heyerdahl, one of the fairly few famous Norwegians (Ibsen, Munch, Grieg, Quisling, Britt Ekland is Swedish) emblazon Oslo's Torp Sandefjord airport.

I had to queue an hour because of Covid but they would have irritated me even without Covid.

I was later congratulated by my friend in Oslo because at the main airport the queue took 3 hours.

I had stuck it out in the merciless heat of Bucharest for almost the whole summer, then finally flew north to escape the sun. 

I flew to Oslo, which has direct, supposedly budget flights from Bucharest that ferry Romanian workers to jobs in Norway. 

The flights were not budget, actually, because there are lot of Romanians working in well paid jobs in Norway. 

All jobs in Norway are well paid, because prices are astonishingly high.

And the flights are not to Oslo, but to Sandefjord, which is 100 minutes away by bus.

Oslo was a provincial town until Norway became an independent country, for the first time in half a millennium, in 1905, and it feels like one. Or perhaps it would were it not for the great amount of modern architecture built since the turn of the millennium with oil and fish money. 

Oslo feels small and that is good. It is not beautiful like Stockholm and Copenhagen, the capitals of Norway's former colonial rulers. 

The Parliament was across the pedestrianised street from my hotel. 

The Berlitz pocket guide said it was an impressive building. A less impressive building I find it hard to recall.

You feel the weight of being in a big country lift from your shoulders if you arrive from a big country and the weight of being in the EU if you arrive from the EU.

Norway is much richer than if she had joined the European Union, though she lavishes huge sums on aid, often via the EU.

The Folklore Museum has the sort of old village buildings you find in the Village Museum in Bucharest, though far fewer. Worth seeing if you only have half a day as I did. 

There I learnt that Norway does not have villages.

Cocktails called Norway Sours (tasty) on the roof of the Grand Hotel where I was staying, with my friend. His Norwegian girlfriend said that in 2005 Oslo was very provincial and dull, but now has life and some good restaurants. 

The Grand lost its grandeur a few years ago when it was renovated, its café where Ibsen and Munch drank their coffee each day has been exorcised of their ghosts, and so has the hotel. 

It is where the Nobel Peace Prizes are dished out.

In fact the Nobel Peace Prizes put me off Norway. Rod Liddle in the Spectator this week agrees that they are very annoying.

Norway in general is stiflingly progressive, right up to the elderly King, but less so than Sweden. 

The Royal Court has a website that states that the Royal Palace is owned by the state and put at the disposal of the head of state. This is monarchy but not as we know it in England.

In my teens I looked down on social democratic, egalitarian Scandinavia and its bicycling monarchs. 

In my 20s it seemed a place where welfare states worked well and I still believe this. 

The reason is cultural Lutheranism, which makes godless people work hard despite high taxes. 

Now I think Sweden is going to perdition, but Norway is lagging behind her. Both are materialistic, egalitarian, godless, comfortable, affluent, clean, tidy and highly efficient. 

Only Sweden will fall into the sea in the next thirty years.

Norway is going in the same direction, but so is all of Western Europe.

I intended to reread Peer Gynt in Norway but instead read a thriller called Headhunters by a Norwegian writer called Jo Nesbo. 

It is terribly good. It begins like a 'real' novel and then turns into a very modern Rogue Male.

My reason for coming to Norway was an innocent wish to take the railway journey from Oslo to Bergen. 

It is said to be the most beautiful in the world. It isn't, but it is beautiful. 

Get out at Myrdal. Take the famous Flam railway, which is also not the most beautiful railway in the world but enjoyable. 

Unlike the main line, it is for tourists and you get out to hear a young woman in read sing from a waterfall for ten minutes. This sounds dreadful but in fact is not. 

I might not recommend it except the real point of the journey is when you get out at Flåm and take a very wonderful boat trip through the Aurlandsfjord, silent and serene.

Then a bus journey through great scenery. We passed churches like Vinje Church. 

Places of worship convey the soul of any country.

Bergen after 13 hours. It has a beautiful old town built of wood and is well worth three or four hours. I spent two nights there and that was fine. 

I recommend the Grand Terminus Hotel, a grande dame of the sort I like and across the road from the station.

In the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Battle of Bergen took place in 1665 when a convoy of the Dutch East India Company's fleet, replete with ivory, diamonds and spices, took refuge in the neutral port of Bergen. We attacked without any legal right but no-one now cares all these years later. A cannonball from the sea battle is still wedged in the wall of Bergen Cathedral.


  1. For what it's worth, the Genoa's cathedral displays a shell that the Royal Navy contributed much more recently.

  2. According to the Norwegians I know (I only know a few) - the soul of Norway are the independent farmers. The homesteads that have existed since the Dark Ages - the people who did not go off a Viking.

    However, such folk are very solitary - no village life as such, indeed they seldom speak (I wonder how they find a wife?), although if they do speak - one had better listen, for they will have something important to say.

    1. They sound absolutely marvellous but probably not my type for inviting to a dinner party. But then I don't really ever give any any more.

  3. What's the most beautiful train ride in the world?

    1. Belgrade to Podgorica and Zagreb to Ljubljana are wonderful. The former goes through 160 tunnels. I love London Paddington to Penzance. Then take the ferry to the Islands of Scilly. Going to Penzance by night train is convenient but you miss wonderful scenery. London Euston to Fort William is great but do not mix wine and whisky in the dining car before bed. The journey from Yerevan to Tbilisi is amazing. I did it twice but by road. There was only a night train the first time I went and I think that is still the case.