I’m not even close to having been everywhere on this planet, but already I feel confident claiming Norway as one of the most beautiful places on it. I was there for six days, but began planning a future four-month hiking and camping trip back on Day Two. Norway was the opposite of everything I disliked about Sweden: the landscape was varied and dynamic, the people were outgoingly kind, friendly, and exceedingly outdoorsy, and the trolls are to Norwegians as leprechauns are to the Irish (a sacred joke).
Inhabitants of Norway claim Oslo is its ugliest city. My first response was shock and indignance; I thought they were just being high-maintenance and unappreciative (I was mostly right). From when I first stepped off the super-stinky, extremely hot netbuss in Oslo, I knew there could be no cooler national capital. I walked past some extremely modern looking buildings on the way to the Old Town, where I was to meet my couchsurfing host. Lucky for me, both were insanely cool.
Zita, my couchsurfer, was the kindest, most exuberant, and generous hostess I have ever met. She works at a hotel on Karl Johan’s gate in the heart of the tourist area of Old Town and there could not be a better woman for the job. I soon came to understand why her guests and co-workers love her so much, as soon after meeting her all my exhaustion and pissiness about the bus evaporated and I became enthusiastic and ready to explore.
Over the next few days, Zita and I had some lovely adventures. My favorites were Chillout Travel, the Akerselva River, and a free thrift shop.
Chillout Travel is one of the coolest stores I have ever been to, as it perfectly combines my love for independent cafes, bookstores, and outdoor equipment stores. It was like REI and Barnes & Noble all rolled into one in a downtown, central location! It was very difficult not to blow my whole Norway budget in this one shop.
The Akerselva River was another type of attraction entirely. The river bisects Oslo and acts as a very important green lung for the city, helping to keep the air clean and the residents happy. The views were beautiful and a riverside walk illustrates Oslo’s history. There are so many old factory buildings that have now been converted into restaurants, shops, and schools.
But my favorite spot in Oslo that I have yet to experience elsewhere is their version of Goodwill, in which you don’t have to pay anything to shop there. You ready? Its name is Bentsehjørnet minigjenbruksstasjon and it is found at Bentsebrugata 11C in downtown Oslo. When you Google it, this establishment is classified under “waste management service,” but to any poor pennysavers in an extremely expensive country like Norway, it is a consumerist playground. It functions on a donation basis and it is a very simple process. When well-to-do Oslo-ans don’t want an item anymore, they bring it down to this “waste management facility” (it’s actually just a no-frills little shop) and deposit it there. When other people are looking for something new to own (in my case it was a book to occupy my bus rides), they go to this shop, spend as much time as they like looking, then they weigh the items they would like to adopt, write down the weight in a log, and they’re on their merry way. It was too easy and such a cool concept. Thanks to Zita for recommending such a place to me and for showing me her favorite parts of her lovely city. After having been to many other beautiful places in Norway, I now agree with the Oslo-haters. It doesn’t top the list for most beautiful places in the country, but it did give me supremely high standards for natural, integrated beauty and any future national capitals I might visit.
As far as hikes go, Preikestolen is not the most challenging, but its reward:effort ratio is pretty high. When people ask me how it was, I tell them the only thing I can say is that Preikestolen taught me how fucking cool fjords are. Other than that, there are no words. So I show them photos.
Also unreal. The place made me believe in Trolls. The hike was difficult, a total of 22km of steep elevations, slippery rocks, and often tricky conditions. This hike taught me to be prepared for anything, to travel light, and to always be on the lookout for the red T’s.
While the hike was much more difficult than Preikestolen (the ascent is 900m), the views were 3000% worth it. (If my shitty iPhone camera can make it look this good, imagine what it’s like actually being there.) The rush you will get from standing 700m above Lake Ringedalsvatnet in Skjeggedal is mindblowing. The sheer cliff at the summit is nuts, but there were so many other times during the hike where I found myself almost wandering off a cliff. The American in me chided them for not having railings everywhere or at least making me sign my life away before beginning the ascent, but then I remembered: universal healthcare duh.
*while you can’t see it very well in these photos, the mountain faces in Norway often look like exactly that: faces. I already began to notice this phenomenon before I realized that the Norwegians (used to) believe that these mountains consisted of giant troll populations. Thanks to the receptionist at the Trolltunga Hotel, I learned the story behind Trolltunga, or “troll’s tongue” in English. Apparently, trolls are very sensitive to sunlight and prone to be frozen if they ever encounter it. One day, an exceptionally curious troll wanted to test the myth for himself, so he waited for dawn and then stuck out his tongue. Surprise! He was frozen and now humans like to play and take selfies on his tongue.
Oh, Bergen. Bergen is an old viking stronghold and a very beautiful, natural city. I did Bergen a bit unconventionally. When some plans fell through and I found myself without lodging for a night, my solution was to walk an hour up Mt. Fløyen, string up my hammock, and attempt to sleep through the shivers. In one of the greatest coincidences I’ve ever experienced, I actually ran into two Greek guys I had encountered on Trolltunga and while waiting for a bus in Odda. They had chosen to hitchhike instead of paying for a bus and it worked out for them, as they got there way before I did, hiked up the same mountain I did, and chose the same camping spot I did. We immediately became buddies, shared our trail mix and salami, and settled down to sleep (they in the tent and me in my hammock). When it began to rain at 4am, I invited myself into their tent for some warmth and shelter (thank you Cleo and Nikos!). The whole next day was happily wasted, not exactly spent. We wandered aimlessly, took stupid selfies, and joked about America and its weird customs. In an unexpected but pleasant turn of events, I went from homeless for a night, to friendful for a day, and now I have a bunch of places and a few people to visit in Greece!
- Norway is extremely expensive, but worth every penny. It is also worth planning ahead in order to save money. I packed 30 lbs of trail mix and other portable hiking-esque foods in my pack before heading off to Norway and it paid off. My whole six days there, I only paid for one restaurant meal and a few farmer’s market goods.
- Public transportation in Norway can be quite difficult to navigate. I would recommend renting a car, especially if you have to be in specific places by specific times. I used buses and trains to get around, which was sometimes more expensive and more difficult, but also awesome because I didn’t have to worry about driving off the road while enjoying the views. Also the bus tickets often also include ferry tickets and I love ferries. If you plan to do Preikestolen and/or Trolltunga, I can highly recommend TideReiser.
- Lodging in the summer months often books quickly. I booked two weeks in advance, but I would
recommend more time as I was traveling alone and happy with a dorm bed. While booking lodging, keep in mind the distance to the trailhead and how you intend to get there. I loved The Trolltunga Hotel, but if I were to take the bus to the trailhead, I would have had to catch it at 7am. If you’re a sleep-in type person, definitely rent a car or consider camping closer to Skjeggedal.
- Bring warm clothing. I am from Michigan, so it comes second nature to me to always bring an “if-it-gets-cold” outfit, but I still found myself cold in Norway. The place is hella north. Remember the Norwegian motto: “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”
- Do not attempt the Trolltunga hike without excellent hiking boots (ankle support is imperative) and probably some trekking poles too. Bring water and food and a good camera.
- Ask questions. Norwegians (at least to me) were quite friendly. Several times when asking people for directions or recommendations for where to go, their response was “hop in, we’ll drive you there!”
- Make use of the tourist info stations! The one in downtown Odda saved me several times, as did the one in Oslo. They are there to help you and have everything from maps to stickers to mittens to laundry service.
- If you’re going and want some advice, don’t hesitate to ask me! I am definitely not an expert, but I loved it there and want to help you to as well. Shit, maybe I’ll even accompany you.