Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It Pays to be Norwegian

June 27th - July 4th. We learned why Norwegians were such friendly, relaxed, happy people. In a country where working is almost a "lifestyle" choice,  everything they could worry about is taken care of.  The average citizen enjoys free health care, childcare and education. Women recieve forty-six weeks of paid maternity leave, and even being old has its benefits. All this is covered by Norway's benevolent government and funded by taxes of course, but mostly from oil revenue. So really, the hardest decision a Norwegian might make is how to spend their six weeks of paid vacation. 

Here is a excerpt from a recent Rueters article - the source is Norges Bank:

The country started a "wealth fund" in 1990 from the proceeds of their oil royalties. The fund now owns 1% of all the stocks, bonds and real estate around the globe. If you take the total value of the fund in 2014, which is 5.11 trillion Krone and divide it by the 5 million citizens of Norway, then every man, woman and child is a theoretical millionaire.

Norwegians on the way to the bank.
Oslo could be one of our favorite cities of the trip. It was clean, it was beautiful, it was prosperous. It was expensive! We had read that prices in Oslo would be higher than Paris or even London and it was true. Especially the cost of food and drink - the two things we purchase most. It didn't help that the Norwegian Krone is one of those currencies with lots of zeros so there were large price tags that we needed to convert into 'dollar-think' so when I spent an eye-popping 200 kr for a few groceries - it was really only about $33. Still not cheap for coffee, milk, cereal, OJ and two bananas.

They make it difficult to buy alcohol here so that saves a bit of money. When you do buy it you just have to close your eyes and not think about paying $20. for a $6. bottle of wine or 5 bucks for a can of beer. The rules are: No sales on Sunday, no wine in grocery stores - you need a special store for that and hard liquor. Not many of those to be found and they close at 5:00 on weekdays and 3:00 on Saturday. Beer can be purchased at the grocery store between 10:00 and 8:00 on weekdays, and until 6:00 on Saturday. The moral here: drink in moderation and plan ahead!

A typical Nomad dinner with a dash of NBC Nighly news.
Our apartment was small but comfortable and the deck was welcome since it was warm for Oslo. The best part was the location - very close to the city center, but in a quiet complex of mixed income housing. There were several parks and fountains and two grocery stores with the confines of the complex. And the center of the city was just a fifteen minute walk away.

Here's the link:

We were prudent and found several inexpensive concerts and of course took the free walking tour. Our favorite find was an afternoon concert series at the stunning opera house - so good we went twice. Not only is the building stunning - the music was really great. Opera arias on one day and a very entertaining male A Cappella quartet the next day who had some some with Barbershop.

The stunning Opera House dips into the North Sea.
Taking advantage of the short Scandinavian Summer
We also spent a day at Vigelandsparken. This 112 acre park was designed by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland and contains 225 of his unbelievable statues throughout the grounds. The work covers a span from 1919 to 1944. The pictures won't do these incredible figures credit. The multiple bronze figures were outstanding, but the massive granite people were so expressive and emotive of moments in real life that it was easy to imagine them slowly waking up after midnight, having a good stretch and then lumbering around chatting with each other until it was time to take up their positions again at dawn.
A busy Norwegian Stay at Home Dad
Honestly, we didn't do it!
123 figures are striving for the top in this centerpeice.
"I just realize I am naked. Wait - all the statues are naked!"
Only Vigeland could capture what it's really like to be a mother.
As I said, the city was pristine. The streets were spotless, no scribbled graffiti tags (more on that later), and not a homeless person in sight. Every thing was so well groomed it felt like the city had a good nights sleep and a daily mani-pedi. The public spaces were well thought out, with human comfort always top of mind. There were parks of all sizes filled with flower beds, shade trees, benches, public art and imaginative play areas with climbing toys and splash ponds for kids. The trams and underground trains were on-time, and spotless. The crime rate is very low here and we didn't see a single homeless person. Even the few gypsies we saw seemed content.

If you do want to earn money in Oslo - you have options.
On day two of our week in Oslo we joined in celebrating the culmination of EuroPride Week by watching the grand parade! We found a great vantage point and enjoyed watching thousands of happy, colorful, flag-waving, people dance and prance along the parade route ending at a  large outdoor festival on the waterfront.

A glimpse  at the merry marchers in the EuroPride Parade.
Happiness, rainbows, butterflies and glitter. Lots of glitter.
Our walking tour turned out to have a street art focus so it was less about the history and highlights of the city and more about the many murals and smaller portraits and icons found mostly in the hip (and hippie) Grunerlokka district. While the art is technically illegal, the city turns a blind eye to most of it, and if fact has sponsored some of the larger murals. The tour ended near a market hall filled with a dozen restaurants and food vendors where we had a great (expensive) lunch. Fish and chips, Mussels and Frites, and two glasses of wine - $50.

Several styles of street art on one corner.
Me surrounded by cats, of course!
Street art naturally makes you hungry for street food!
During the tour we did pass Youngstorget Square where in 2011 Anders Breivik set off a bomb in front of a government building as a distraction while he was an hour away shooting down young people attending a political party summer camp on the island of Utoya. 77 people died that day. It's difficult to imagine such a tragedy taking place in what otherwise feels like utopia.

Another piece of public art we found fascinating was layed out in front of the City Planning building. The piece is called Grass Roots Square and was created by Korean artist Do Ho Suh. At first glance it looked like the paving stones were interspersed with squares of grass, but on closer look, the "grass" was actually made up of hundreds of tiny bronze figures. There are 500 different types of people created in different sizes for a total of 40,000 figures.

Grass Roots Square. At first we thought this was grass.
With a closer look we could see the squares were filled with people!
I could have looked at this all day. Absolutely amazing in it's scope.
Contemporary architecture mixed with old-world grandeur gave the city a vibrant skyline, while lush forests and the brisk North Sea hugged the edges. We hopped on a tram line that took us straight up into the hills behind the city to the Holmenkollen ski-jump site where we could look down on the city. The ski-jump was massive, and a little eerie looking without snow. This beautiful, half hour journey is a hoh-hum daily commute for many residents who live along the way - we should all be so fortunate. The lodge-like Holmenkollen hotel and the views from its grounds made for a great (affordable) day out.

These buildings are fondly referred to as The Barcodes.
The Ski jump from a safe distance.
The grand Holmenkollen Hotel.
The view from the top of the hill towards the fjord and the city center.
We watched the USA v Belgium match at the Boheman Sports Pub late that night. The match started at 11:00 pm here and it was still light out when we walked to the pub. We were sorry to see the USA go home - but what an interesting match to watch, if only for Tim Howard's superhuman efforts at goal.

This shot was taken shortly before Midnight!
We attended church in the Lutheran cathedral. It was elegant yet austere - kind of like Lutherans. Very Nordic and the priest was a young women who wore black skinny jeans and Tom's under her robes. Loved it. Norway's Prime Minister is a woman, as well. Good job Norway.

The Cathedral ceiling.
Michael took some time to tour the Parliament building
Our take-away was having the stork drop you down a Norwegian chimney would be a very, very good piece of luck. But remember, this is a city where you need "Summer Down", and that chilled our enthusiasm a bit. Plus very long, dark winter days could be depressing. Here's a fun blog I found about the pros and cons of moving to Norway:

A hint about the weather here.

Happy Fourth of July America! We love you, too.

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads

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