15 Dec Norway – Europe’s Untouched Playground
On a damp and miserable afternoon in early November, I maxed out my credit card. Oops! I should have been angry at myself for being a business graduate who still couldn’t look after his own finances, but I didn’t care. I had bills to pay, but I didn’t care. There were starving children in third world countries I could have fed instead, but I didn’t care. Ok, ok – I did care. I donated some money to charity to balance things out.
I spent my last pennies on flights to Norway to celebrate the New Year with a couple of university friends. Why Norway? Well, I went last year for the exact same reason and fell in love with the place. I even applied for some grad jobs out there! The country’s natural landscapes (not to mention the ladies) are beautiful.
I’m going out there for a break from work and to celebrate my MSc results (woot!) with coursemates. I’ll be staying at my friend’s house in Stavanger (the oil capital of Norway) on the West coast. We’re spending the week going on a couple of hikes, carving up the slopes (skiing > boarding), and having a mega New Year’s Eve house party!
Not a lot of people know much about Norway other than Ole Gunnar SolskjÃ¦r (and if you don’t know about him, shame on you). So here’s a little crash course on what you need to know:
– Norway is the richest country in the world! (per capita – lots of money from oil and not a lot of people)
– Norway has topped the United Nations’ global list of the best country to live in for the eighth year running this year
– The coastline stretches over 16,000 miles and is broken by huge fjords and numerous islands caused by glaciers from the Ice Age
– They are not part of the European Union – they don’t need the financial support or red tape
– The paperclip (my favourite item of stationery) was invented in Norway
One thing to note about this beautiful country though is that it’s not cheap. The locals aren’t trying to con you or anything – it’s just an expensive place. Graduate salaries start at Â£40k (start!), but there are high taxes that allow for universal health-care and a comprehensive social security system. If possible, stay with friends, couch-surf, or stay in hostels. Hotels are a big no-no if you’re on a budget. Renting an apartment for a week or two is ideal.
It’s worth every penny though. The quality of food is exquisite. The fish is always fresh out of the North Sea. I couldn’t get enough of the salmon! *nom nom nom*
Activities are driven by the climate. Norway experiences four distinct seasons, rather than the single British season of misery (October through to October) with the odd two-day Summer. On the whole, the Winter is FREEZING! Well it’s not too bad if I’m being honest. There is hardly any wind-chill, so as long as you’ve got a good jacket and pair of gloves, it’s all gravy. Summer brings higher temperatures than expected considering its northern latitude. In certain parts of Norway that are north of the Arctic Circle, the sun never completely sets between May and July. You may have even heard Norway to be the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’.
Â· Skiing / snowboarding
Â· Ice-skating / Ice hockey
Â· Surfing (cold, but better waves during the winter)
Â· Windsurfing / wakeboarding / surfing
Â· Hiking & Camping
Â· White-water (river) rafting
You name it, Norway has it. I saw some kid wearing a hoody displaying the words “winter in the mountains, summer on the beach”. It couldn’t be more apt for this Scandinavian nation.
The hiking opportunities are the clincher for me. On my last visit, we hiked to Preikestolen (aka Pulpit Rock), a massive cliff an hour’s drive from Stavanger with a steep 2000 foot drop popular with BASE jumpers. We trekked for three hours through a wall of four foot snow and icy, rocky terrain with no safety equipment – with hindsight this was pretty stupid in Winter conditions, but it was worth it. I got to experience this, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The view down the 23 mile long fjord (Lysefjord) stretches far into the horizon and the cliff’s drop is slightly unnerving when you stick your head over the edge. There wasn’t another soul in sight. Just a deafening silence and a peaceful stillness that’s hard to explain. Weather permitting, I hope to go up there again this December.
I’m still in England, but I’m planning my next Norwegian adventure already – a road trip next year to see the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) …who wants to join me?
If you can’t get months off work to go to the other side of the world for a Gap Year and see some of the greatest natural landscape, it’s not a problem. Norway is only a two hour flight away.
So those are my plans for New Year’s. What are yours?
I wish you all a very Happy New Year.
Or as the Norwegians say, ‘takk for det gamla’ (thanks for the old).