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Five things I discovered about Norway:
- Virtually every Norwegian speaks fluent English
- It has a reputation for being notoriously expensive (more so than continental Europe) but it doesn’t have to annihilate your bank account. Shop at discount stores such as REMA 1000 or Coop Extra. It’s the service (thanks to high labour costs) that ‘kills’ you! That being said, Norwegians love cross-border shopping, where alcohol, tobacco and groceries are relatively cheaper in Sweden.
- It’s small in population but Norway is a deceivingly big country that borders Sweden to the east and south and Finland and Russia in the northeast.
- Spend a day or two in Oslo then venture out of the capital. Go to Bergen or head up north to Tromso or North Cape to experience a breathtakingly beautiful country.
- Learn from the Norwegian mindset on what it means to be happy – develop a sense of gratitude, embrace nature with reverence and of course it helps that it is an energy-rich country with one of the largest sovereign oil funds in the world!
On a crisp autumn day in Oct 2017, Justin and I flew with SAS Airlines into Oslo and what a great experience it was. Excellent customer service and what’s more impressive was the in-flight meal, which came in sleek packaging synonymous with Scandinavian reputation for simplicity, utility and beauty. But more than that, we can’t wait to discover the ‘happiest’ country in the world (though Finland has overtaken Norway in 2018 as the happiest country in the world).
Discover Jessheim – the nearest town to Oslo Gardaemon Airport
We landed a pet and house sitting gig in Jessheim, a town in the Ullensaker municipality in Akershus, about 45 km from Oslo, Norway. The population of Jessheim has swelled in recent years, attributed to its proximity to Oslo Gardaemon, the main international airport serving Oslo, the capital of Norway. The influx of residents working at the nearby airport and its supporting services has resulted in tremendous development (both corporate and residential) in Jessheim.
Upon landing in Oslo Gardaemon and thinking how obscenely expensive Norway is, Justin and I took a chance and jumped into a Uber ride. Believe it or not, this was our first time trying out a ride sharing service and it turned out to be a relatively hassle-free and certainly more cost effective way of getting around one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, when we left Norway on an early Sunday morning (we weren’t sure if we could get a Uber ride at 5 am outside Oslo) we had no choice but to book a regular taxi, which ran us up USD 60 for a 10 minute ride to the airport!
We spent our first day (which turned out to be our regular spot for the next two weeks) at Lake Nordbytjernet, a beautiful lake close to Oslo Gardaemon Airport. If you have between 3-5 hours of layover, I would recommend a quick stop to see what nature has in store for you, weather permitting of course. The lake is home to ducks, swans and seagulls and it is a popular destination during summer. Go for a walk, run, read a book or simply relax while soaking in the Scandinavian way of life (and gorgeous sun). The best thing about travelling at our pace (as opposed to adhering to a strict travel itinerary) is that we got to experience life as locals – we explored every trail, spent time outdoors and engaged with locals, in an effort to embrace the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv (more on this later).
If retail therapy tickles your fancy, head over to Jessheim Storsenter, one of Norway’s largest shopping centres with nearly 150 boutiques and restaurants. This is our regular stop for groceries and toiletries, lunch/coffee or simply people watching. It is also conveniently located close to Jessheim train and bus station so accessibility isn’t a problem. If you’re planning to make this your base, you may be curious to find out how to live affordably and lucky you, we discovered Keiser supermarket (Storgata 20, 2050 Jessheim) located across the Jessheim bus and train station, from where we shopped for affordably priced perishables and food. Eating out is costly and be prepared to spend NOK 800/USD 100 (for two persons) for a decent meal in a mid-range restaurant. A McDonalds combo meal will set you back NOK 112/USD 14.
Soak in trendy Oslo in a day
Of course no trip to Norway is complete without a visit to the capital Oslo. There is a direct train from where we were based in Jessheim to Oslo city centre, which cost about NOK 200/USD 25 one way for an hour-long journey. Make sure to get your ticket prior to departure because an additional NOK 40/USD 4 (as of 2018) applies per traveller if the ticket is purchased onboard. Having a conductor on the payroll doesn’t come cheap in wealthy Norway so do yourself a favour and save the money for a cup of cappuccino. There is also a mobile app from where you can purchase train ticket. Click HERE to plan your journey. If you are on a layover, there are several modes of transportation from Oslo Gardaemon Airport to the city centre – either by bus, train, taxi or car.
The Vigeland Park – It is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist named Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). One of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions, it boasts over 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and cast iron stretching from the entrance to the park’s centerpiece, The Monolith. The park is free to enter at all times, all year round.
Holmenkollen – Located in the upmarket and picturesque residential area Vestre Aker, a borough of Oslo, Holmenkollen is known for its famous ski jumping hill, the Holmenkollbakken, which has been hosting competitions since 1892. For adrenaline junkies, try out the world famous zip line on the Holmenkollen Ski Tower – 361 metres of pure adrenaline with an elevation drop of 107.5 metres! Entrance is free for visitors with Oslo Pass otherwise the entrance ticket costs NOK 140/USD 18 for adults or NOK 70/USD 9 for children between the ages of 6-18 years.
Aker Brygge – Waterfront lined with restaurants, cafes, shopping arcades, offices and apartments, it boasts great views of the marina and Oslo fjord. With optimum luxury amidst stunning surroundings, I shudder to imagine how much it would cost to own an apartment here. Known for its pier, this place is often teeming with people – both locals and tourists alike particularly on a sunny day. Best place in the city to enjoy a stroll while taking in the spectacular scenery amidst a mix of modern and rustic charm. For history buffs, the Akershus Fortress is an important Norwegian landmark with beautiful green surroundings located opposite Aker Brygge (about 1.2 km/0.75 miles). It is a medieval castle once used as a royal residential palace and a prison. If museum is your thing, get to know about the Nobel Peace Price at the Nobel Peace Centre situated in an old train station between Oslo City Hall and Aker Brygge.
Unlike most of Europe, Norway is in a league of its own. Wealthy, egalitarian, free, peaceful and safe are synonymous with this oil-producing nation and it has been No. 1 on the Legatum Prosperity Index for years and depending on your perspective, Norway by most comparative measures is a Viking paradise on Earth.
Commercials in Norway gravitate towards the country’s love for outdoors and nature, which is cited as a contributing factor to Norway being consistently ranked as one of the happiest places in the world. Friluftsliv, which literally means “free air life” is a word coined by Norwegian poet Henrik Ibsen used to capture Norwegian’s way of life – a deep love, respect and connection with nature that is inherent to most Norwegians.