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NORWAY NORWAY

 

A travel story from Norway

A travel story by Kristin Häsler

The land of fjords and vikings is what a great many people call Norway. Others associate the country with natural wonders such as the northern Lights and the midnight sun. Both descriptions fit perfectly, but Norway is much more!

When it comes to traveling and exploring the Scandinavian country, there are many options. If you are an active and sporty person, Norway is the place to be! There are endless hiking trails all over the country, ranging from easy and moderate hikes on flat terrain to extremely challenging hikes where you reach a mountain top at the end. My personal recommendation would be to hike at either side of the famous Geiranger Fjord in western Norway or the approximately 1300 meter high Lomseggen which is located in the middle of Norway. Hiking by the side of the Geiranger Fjord is fairly moderate since you do not have to hike all the way up, there are sufficient possibilities to park your car near the hiking trails. I went there in Fall and around this time it can be relatively slippery. Hikers do need to pay close attention to the trail since streams and waterfalls have to be crossed. When it comes to hiking up Mount Lomseggen the difficulty definitely increases. At least I found this hike to be quite demanding and difficult – both physically and mentally. For untrained hikers it will take longer and more breaks to reach the summit, though it is totally worth it at the end!

THE PEAK OF MOUNT LOMSEGGEN (1285m)

VIEW FROM THE TOP OF LOMSEGGEN TOWARDS JOTUNHEIMEN NATIONAL PARK

VIEW FROM SHORTLY ABOVE THE TREE LINE ON THE SIDE OF LOMSEGGEN TOWARDS SKJÅK

Wherever in Norway you might hike – there are good chances of either seeing some reindeers and eagles enjoying a summer breeze in the mountains or some Norwegians running up or down a mountain as a means of training – both can be interesting and surprising to visitors, I promise!

Before I get lost in sharing my experiences with hiking, let’s continue with the winter season which is another great possibility to be active – believe it or not!

Next to countless hiking trails, there are endless cross-country skiing trails in Norway. Norwegians often train for the skiing season all year round because it is such a popular sport and activity to do in your freetime. Opposed to alpine skiing, cross-country skiing really lets you explore your surroundings which is both important and calming to the soul at times. Due to the fact that there is so much snow in winter (we’re talking about one meter and more on good days), when it’s time to take a break during cross-country skiing or basically any other winter activity, you just dig a hole and a half-circle into the snow to sit in and make a cozy fire. 

A DRY-SAUNA NEAR LILLEHAMMER

For the animal lovers among us, there are also plenty of experiences in Norway. As mentioned before, one can spot eagles, reindeers but also mooses (even to be seen grazing in front yards within cities!). In northern Norway, dog sledding and reindeer sledding are especially popular both among locals and visitors during the winter season. What can also be observed in the northern part of the country are orcas! Whale safaris are offered on the Lofoten islands north of Bodø but also near the city of Tromsø.

DOG SLEDDING NEAR TROMSØ

If you have a few weeks off during the winter season, you might even consider volunteering with a dog sledding company as I did! This way you will have the possibility to go dog sledding nearly every day during your stay as well as getting to know the way that dog handlers work which is a very enriching experience. Next to that, volunteers will get to know people from all over the world as well as locals – both visitors and colleagues. 

An important question to add here is, whether dog sledding is responsible or not? It depends on how it is operated. On one hand, if a big group of cruise tourists with busloads full of people has booked a dog sledding experience it is – in my opinion – not very responsible. This is because the dog sleds being used are much bigger and there are 5 or even 6 people on the sled instead of 2 people which is the usual number. In addition there is much time pressure for dogs, dog handlers and mushers i.e. the people working on the dog yard and therefore the route being taken is quite short and boring for the dogs. This essentially means that the dogs are not mentally challenged. Those sort of operations in my experience cover whole days, i.e. a whole day of the week is reserved for cruise tourists. This adds up to the dogs running the same route several times a day even though the dogs are often exchanged in between therefore not having to run for a full 10 hours or even more.

On the other hand, during normal days of operation most dogs are being mentally challenged during different dog sledding trips on different routes ranging several kilometers and up to a few hours. Alaskan Huskies which are the most common breed used for dog sledding love to cuddle with visitors and they are in every aspect very social animals. This is why different visitors during the day are a welcome change for the dogs. Shining a light on the environmental aspect, dog sledding accounts for no CO2 emissions. Exceptions would be the guests reaching the dog yard by bus or car and maintenance work by snowmobile. Sometimes there might also be some damage to bushes and trees by the dogs or the sleds. However, this damage can also be accounted for by reindeers looking for food in winter which is absolutely normal.

WORKING AT A DOG YARD AND EXPERIENCING A REINDEER-CROSSING NEAR THE FINNISH BORDER

Especially in Finnmark, which is the northernmost district in Norway, you can observe the culture of the indigenous Sámi people. The Sámi call Lapland (the northern parts of Scandinavia and even Russia) their home. Most people are familiar with Lapland, which is basically the Sámi territory of Scandinavia. It is good to know that Lapland is not a country. Lapland is an area that extends over 4 countries, namely Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It is a very large area and covers a large part of Norway, the entire north of Sweden and a small part of Finland.

Many places in Norway offer a stay or a short visit and meal time in the typical Lavvo tents of the Sámi people. Visit Natives is offering homestays with a Sámi family during winter. This is especially interesting for those of you who would like to experience Sámi culture to the fullest (reindeer herding, snow mobile rides and more) while having no internet at the same time in order to be really off thegrid. Sámi culture however includes much more than nature and reindeers. Sámi are also craftsmen, singers, painters, cooks, composers and more! Each year in July, the Riddu Riđđu Festivàlatakes place in the Troms district of northern Norway. Not only can you experience Sámi culture and traditions there but also international indigenous culture and traditions. For a mix of Sámi culture and a city visit, you should go to Tromsø in February. There, The Sámi Week takes place annually. Visitors can even witness a fun and exciting reindeer race through the main road in the city center of Tromsø! If you want to know more about the Sámi check out our article from the Tribal Tourism Series.

THE VIEWPOINT TUNGENESET ON THE ISLAND OF SENJA IN NORTHERN NORWAY

A marvelous way to go from one place to another is a road trip. In Norway, you can expect road trips to be astonishing and beautiful – wherever you are in the country. Here are three routes, I would personally recommend:

1. Oslo-Lillehammer-Lom-Geiranger-Ålesund

On this route, you will drive from the capital of Norway to Lillehammer which hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1994 and is an eldorado for winter sports with several alpine ski areas and numerous cross-country skiing tracks. However, Lillehammer is also nice during any other season of the year with several cultural aspects to explore. Visitors can take a walk in the outdoor museum Maihaugen which has several historic buildings and a stave church. You can even find the childhood house of the Queen of Norway here. In December, Lillehammer hosts a cozy christmas market with people who sell traditional handcrafted items. From Lillehammer the route continues to Lom with the earlier mentioned mountain Lomseggen. This village is also home to a bakery (Bakeriet i Lom) which offers delicious baked goods – especially fresh bread and typical cinnamon buns.

The next stop would be Geiranger with the world famous Geiranger Fjord where you can go hiking or explore the fjord in a kayak. Ålesund is the final destination of this road trip by the west coast of Norway. The third of three well-known Norwegian cities to explore on this route besides Oslo and Lillehammer.

STAVECHURCH IN LOM AND VIEW FROM BALBERGKAMPEN OVER LILLEHAMMER AND LAKE MJØSA

2. Lillehammer-Ringebu or Dombås-Folldal-Røros (optional: Oppdal and Trondheim)

This route will take you through the inland of Norway with either a drive-through or drive-by of four national parks! On this route you will definitely see the more rural side of Norway. This can be especially explored in the town of Røros which has a history of being a mining town. If taking the route via Dombås, you have the possibility to rent mountain bikes, e-bikes and electric hand bikes at Dovrefjell Adventures. This way you can explore the area in a sustainable way. Here you might spot mooses and musk oxen. Guided tours and safaris can also be booked here. On the way to Røros, there are several viewpoints where you can stop on the side of the road and have an incredible view of the Rondane and Dovre national parks. 

MUSK OXEN AT DOVREFJELL NATIONAL PARK

THE MINING TOWN OF RØROS

HIKING AT RONDANE NATIONAL PARK (PICTURE-OWNERSHIP BY Visit Norway)

3. Tromsø-Senja-Hinnøya-Lofoten

Quite a lot of people that visit Norway wish to see the Lofoten islands as well as the city of Tromsø. Fortunately you can either do a road trip to connect those two destinations as well as visiting beautiful and interesting destinations between the two. Alternatively, one could also take the bus to and from the destinations. A fun and interesting fact in between is, that the most northern destination trains in Norway operate to is Bodø. This city is however located south of the Lofoten islands, which means that most of northern Norway can only be reached by car, bus, boat or plane. The only exception is the train from Sweden which ends in Narvik. The issue of trains operating in northern Norway has been a discussion among locals and politicians for a long time with plans of a development already existing as well. Without going too deep into this topic, Norwegian politics is quite split when it comes to developing a train-infrastructure in northern Norway, both cargo and passenger trains. There is no doubt that trains operating in the northernmost part of the country would be a benefit in many ways. Roads would be emptier because of fewer trucks. Passengers would use the train instead of the plane to travel from A to B. Travelling on land could use less time because compared to busses, trains would not stop in every little settlement. To sum this up, northern Norway would be better connected to other parts of the country and also Europe.

HIKING ON THE ISLAND OF HINNØYA NEAR THE TWON OF HARSTAD WITH A VIEW TO GRYTØYA ISLAND (KEIPEN)

This northern Norwegian route takes you along scenic views with mountain ranges along the coast that look like shark teeth ascending from the ocean. On the Lofoten islands, some common activities to do are horseback riding on the beaches (which look like carribean beaches at times) as well as surfing, hiking, camping and even randonee skiing. Randonee skiing, i.e. ski touring is when you hike up a mountain or a peak and go down the mountain on skis. North of Lofoten lies the island of Hinnøya, which is the second biggest island of Norway right after Svalbard.

On Hinnøya you can visit the town of Harstad which is the location to some historical attractions. If you are into Viking history, you might visit the Trondenes Historic Centre. In addition, every year in June the Arctic Arts Festival takes place in Harstad. This cultural festival hosts different artists from all over Scandinavia, some of whom are deeply connected to the area and therefore can tell enriching stories through their art.

Between Hinnøya and Tromsø, one can do a stop-over or even longer stay on the island of Senja. This island, as so many other places in Norway, is a hiker’s paradise. Along the coast of the island there are several viewpoints such as Tungeneset at the western coast of the island. Driving there is a real adventure with narrow tunnels that can be icy even in May!

Last stop and destination on this road trip is the city of Tromsø. There, you can do a variety of activities – both natural and cultural. You would never have to go far to reach nature, the mountains and the ocean. I recommend visiting Mount Storsteinen, which is located at the mainland of the city area. You can either take the sherpa stairs up on the side of the mountain – or- for those who are a little lazier, you can take the cable car. Up there but also pretty much anywhere in the city or in all of Northern Norway, you can observe the midnight sun during the summer months as well as the northern Lights during winter. Both of them will make you speechless!

NORTHERN LIGHTS AND MIDNIGHT SUN IN NORTHERN NORWAY

Traveling a country and observing nature and landscapes is one thing. What makes exploring and experiencing a country truly meaningful and insightful are the people!

Whether you are in southern or in northern Norway. Locals are at most times extremely nice even though they might seem to be “cold” and shy at first. A lot of them are very much into nature and being outdoors which may make you start to get interested in that aspect. On the other hand, especially the Sámi people in northern Norway can teach you a lot about their culture when visiting. Once I went to Kautokeino which is one of the towns that the Sámi people call home. There, in the evening, when the Northern Lights were the only source of light outside you could hear some of the people doing the Joik which is a traditional singing practice. It is in some ways similar to yodeling to give a little more context. When I listened to Joik for the first time I listened very closely. In fact, I could not see the person singing so I imagined someone from the Sámi community, traditionally dressed and most importantly, standing outside being proud of themselves and their culture.

Another insightful aspect to consider as a visitor is the 17th of May. This is Norway’s Constitution Day and on this day you can really see how proud Norwegians are of their country and culture. There are parades even in the smallest villages and most people wear the traditional Bunad which is the typical Norwegian costume for birthdays, confirmations, weddings or most commonly the National Day, i.e. Constitution Day. On the 17th of May, the people will celebrate, dance and eat (an interesting mixture of a fancy dinner, hot dogs, cake and ice cream all day long).

Before I conclude this story I would shortly like to mention fjord cruises in Norway. Although nowadays, cruises in general are not yet fully sustainable the Norwegian company Hurtigruten does some things to be more sustainable. A few years ago for instance they removed single-use plastic, for example straws and cutlery from all of their ships and hotels. They are also building the first ever hybrid-electric powered expedition cruise ships and heavily focus on the UN Development Goals. Nevertheless, especially the Geiranger Fjord is a good example of too many cruise ships being in one place at the same time. In summer, this is a highly popular destination for cruise tourists and therefore several cruise ships must manage to go into that fjord and out of it simultaneously. Recently, a maximum number of cruise ships in the fjord has been introduced to tackle this issue not only for the captains operating the ships but also for nature and people living in the village of Geiranger.

As a conclusion to this travel story about Norway, I would like to give you one last weird fact about the many dialects in the country:

There is a saying, that the Norwegian language has as many dialects as the country has valleys and fjords!

This is why sometimes, a person from Western Norway might have to communicate in English with a person from Northern Norway or from the capital of Oslo even though they do in fact speak the same language. The dialects are sometimes just so dissimilar that there is no other choice than to switch to English.

 

 

 

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