Norway features highly on the World Happiness Report. Naturally, the cynical part of me was sceptical about visiting. That said, I was very much looking forward to meeting the odd Viking wandering around a Fjord or spear-fishing. And I do love salmon.
The people were pretty, polite, spoke perfect English, went running all the time and made sure they met their omega 3 targets at breakfast, by serving copious amounts of fish. Fish in mustard, fish in ketchup, fish in fish brine, fish with aubergine and fish in coleslaw. So much protein, no wonder the Vikings had the strength to take over Europe.
Norway is the world’s “safest country”. I loathe myself for complaining about a respected, civilised, environmentally aware democratic country; yet there is something slightly exhilarating about travelling to places that entertain real risk at unexpected turns. Like nearly getting your hand chopped off when accused of stealing from a Moroccan gang banger just because you didn’t fancy buying an overpriced scarf. Or accidentally finding yourself in a brothel being massaged by a transgender Vietnamese man when all you wanted was a pedicure. I found myself looking for trouble in Norway because I didn’t know what to do with myself.
It makes perfect sense that the Nobel peace prize ceremony is held in Norway. Norwegians are all so calm and sensible. It’s hardly their fault though: when you’re paying £12 for a beer, you’re forced to be rational. That said, the price of beer did heighten the flavour of tap water immensely.
I visited the Vigeland Sculpture Park. It was, unsurprisingly, a park with a few statues scattered about. Mostly figures of naked men. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a nude sculpture as much as the next person, but the Norwegians brought an unwelcome touch of realism to the whole display, exhibiting statues with Dad bods. Just statues of ordinary people going about their daily chores in a naturalist state. Not even slightly sexy.
I found the city’s perfection almost clinical. I hired a bike for 24 hours, but they apparently knew I wasn’t to be trusted because I was required to return the bike to a checkpoint every 45 minutes. Surprisingly, I managed to operate within this time frame for the first 3 trips and then I got a little complacent. After delivering the bike 1 minute late, I got an angry automated text warning me to return the next bike I hired on time. I didn’t like being reprimanded by a quick iPhone app. It made me a little recalcitrant. Stupid Norway with all its reasonable people that can keep their cycling within the designated 45 minute time frame. Screw them. My account was suspended because I returned my second bike 3 minutes late. I was secretly hoping the app would make an exception for me, given that I’m geographically impaired. But no, Oslo’s city bike program was not interested in bending the rules to accommodate special privileges for a select few: they could learn a thing or two from the English.
Norway is one of the few European countries that haven’t slaughtered their royal family. It must be all the fish and organic tap water; it keeps them level-headed. I would highly recommend Norway if you’re thinking ahead to when the world falls into an apocalyptic nightmare. Start saving now for a breezy retirement of peace, soberness and budget pot noodles. You can walk amongst the unremarkable statues and make intelligent conversation with all 4 of Norway’s homeless people (who all spoke better English than I did and were very pleasant). Just remember to return your bike on time. If you do end up disrupting Norway’s simple principles of social order and find you’ve been blocked from the bike hire app, you can run away. Flights start at £9.
For me, I prefer a train that can’t arrive as scheduled, a sun that doesn’t work properly and the threat of getting mugged while waiting at a bus stop. That’s a better harmony than the chaos of cleanliness and sensibility in Scandinavia’s Norway.
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