When we mentioned to our friends that we were headed to Norway, the consensus response was that it’s “really expensive over there.” One friend in particular advised us to “avoid the $8 Bud Light!” (multiple levels of wisdom contained therewithin).
So Expensive, but So What?
Apparently the First Rule of Expensive Norway is that one does not talk about Expensive Norway, definitely not with the locals. Admittedly one of our AirBnB hosts did tell us point blank to avoid Norwegian cuisine as “it’s awful.” However, as much of a cultural punchline lutefisk has become to the natives (from what I gather, the Uff-Dadaists in Minnesota have taken up the burden of tradition on that front, as the Scandinavians themselves have moved onto less gelatinous delights), the state of Norwegian economy and taxation isn’t something for outsiders to gripe about.
From the ‘Murican perspective, what one reads (probably from those sites that kill with fire anything that vaguely resembles Socialism) about the 46% Norwegian income tax would seem rather grievous, and the rumors one hears of the 25% sales tax from fellow tourists limping back like Napoleon’s Russian Expedition from a holiday in Oslo would give one pause. I think we’ve been conditioned that any form of taxation is an unwelcome hand on the piggy bank and that social services are for “you know, those other people” who aren’t working hard and so on.
Yes, on one hand, shopping and dining out are expensive. While I didn’t explore the veracity of the $8 light beer, I did hoist myself on my own petard with an $18 Burger King double bacon cheeseburger combo (medium drink, no refills). And a $42 meal for two at a train station Upper Crust did slap me a like a slab of dried fish (or more like a baguette truncheon).
With that said, Norway is an amazing nation of genuinely friendly people who seem content, healthy, and laid back. The cities are clean, the countryside is cleaner, houses and buildings are well maintained, and everything pretty much runs on time.
And as for the shopping and dining, we proceeded with gentle restraint. There are amazing restaurants (the above Burger King “experiment” should be disregarded) and shops, but instead of the typical tourist mode of rampant consumption, we’d treat ourselves as the occasion saw fit, and (here’s the key to success) made use of our AirBnB’s kitchens for as many meals as we could make. The sales tax on food (of the non-restaurant variety) is a lower 15%, and there are plenty of supermarkets and grocers from which to acquire ready-to-eat, nuke-and-eat, or prepare-and-eat meals.
And at the same time, we’re still on holiday, so a trip to a Juhls Silver Gallery is a special treat, and a stop at the Oslo Fjallraven to get a replacement day pack is as much a necessity as a visit to a cool shop. We did get a VAT refund on these items, so there.
As I’m not an economist (nor do I play one on TV), I won’t pretend that these observations are worth anything more than the pixels on your screen, but I reiterate that it looks like the Norwegians are doing something right.
One more aside: before heading to Norway, Nancy had spent about a month studying Norwegian with the DuoLingo app, and while she humbly professed little knowledge of the language, I sure as heck thought she’d learned quite a lot! Definitely enough for her to navigate us through the rare signage that wasn’t in English and to figure out the labels and directions on the food in the supermarkets. While it does seem that pretty much everyone in Norway speaks English (it’s my understanding that it is an early part of the curriculum to get students up to speed on what is the lingua franca for communicating with non-Norwegians), not everything is in English, and that bit of studying definitely came in handy!
[I was preparing to take the Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam at the time, so no DuoLingo for me. I did pass the CSAA exam, so there’s that.]
And now, back to the travelogue.
I’m Bergen, I’m Bergen, I’m Bergen for You
The day after our trip up the fjord and up/down the funicular, we set off to the Fantoft Stave Church. Originally built in the 12th century, this building may be most (in)famous for being torched by those meddling black metal kids in 1994. The whole church burning thing features large in the story of Norwegian black metal (along with a couple of cold blooded murders and a suicide that ended up as an album cover), and having osmosed some of that narrative through books (e.g., Lords of Chaos) and film (e.g., Until the Light Takes Us) we figured we should visit the site.
As an aside, there is such a thing as a “black metal tourist” in Norway – folks from abroad who hit the north to follow in the footsteps of their dark metal heroes… and inevitably come back disappointed after learning that Norway isn’t all corpse paint and nail-studded bats (of the winged or Louisville Slugger varieties). They’re called “blackpackers” [rimshot, canned laughter]. Norwegian humor. Right on.
We’re Going to the Chapel… erm, Stavkirke
It’s pretty easy to get to Fantoft Stavkirke: a bus or a tram will take you to one of two stops (Paradis or Fantoft) from which it’s a brief stroll to the church. We elected to take the Paradis path and hiked a bit up a hill.
In a Word: Whoa
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but it was a cloudy and drizzly day with bits of dramatic sun poking through. And it was a darned impressive meteorological backdrop for viewing Fantoft Stavkirke.
These are more “dramatized” shots of the building which conveys a bit of “oomph,” but totally obscures the workmanship, detail, and just the breathtaking majesty of this wooden building.
Since I’ve already soapboxed earlier, I’ll skip another rant about how the burning of this beautiful edifice is nothing more than a crappy act of puerile vandalism, metal horns and whatnot be damned. I’m just glad that (a) it was rebuilt and (b) we got to see it.
It turns out that the building itself is only open for a part of the year to visitors (basically spring and summer), and we missed that window by about a week. That didn’t stop a busload of tourists from mobbing the site, presumably from the Fantoft direction which I assume is an easier walk than the hilly climb from Paradis.
Left to My Own Devices
After backtracking from the Stavkirke, Nancy went exploring the art museums while I stress-tested my wallet and tummy with a combo meal at Burger King (never doing that again, but at least I get to say I did it – yay me). We later regrouped, and wandered a bit more around Bergen, on foot and on bus (since we sprang for the day pass to go to Fantoft, why not make the most of it?).
Then another trip to a grocery store and back to the AirBnB for supper and laundry. Seriously, never underestimate how having access to laundry facilities will lighten your suitcase, as you won’t need to take as much. Also take into account that European washing machines and dryers tend to take hours to do a single load, but them’s the shakes.