As a Canadian, I’ve always been curious to visit Scandinavian countries and see what kind of cultural similarities we share. Does the lack of sun and freezing cold temperatures of winter shape a population and promote certain characteristics. Less germs, shorter growing season and higher innovation might be just a few examples.
Canadians have a reputation for being really friendly, likely because we’ve learned that the only way to endure being stuck together, inside a cabin, all winter, is to be really pleasant and help each other out. On the other hand, Scandinavians, who also get recluse in the winters, have a reputation for being cold people. The opposite of the Canadian reputation. Is it true? Can’t wait to find out.
So, in a last minute maneuver, I decided to make Norway the third country on my European bike tour. Given the 90 day limitation of the Shengen Visa, I decided to take a bus to Norway from Denmark and save some time. I didn’t sleep at all during the bus ride because the sun never really went down and the sky was so brilliant and captivating. During the bus ride, I was contacted by an instagram follower to let me know they had a cottage I was welcome to use, deep in the Mountains, in the Province of Telemark. Not the cold welcome i was anticipating.
I’ll always remember arriving into Oslo that morning. The “rising sun” illuminating a downtown of Scandinavian architecture blew my mind and i couldn’t stop smiling. Simple bold and elegant structures with a timeless aesthetic the rest of the world can only copy. It was 6am and i’d have to wait until 9 to get a sim card, so, i sat back and watched the most expensive city in the world come to life. The early birds where the hikers, who flooded the train station with boots and bags to head off for some hiking at 6:30am on a Saturday. My kind of people and very friendly.
One girl i met the first day gave me her neighbours AirBnb for free because it wasn’t rented out. People where into all the same stuff as back home - listening to Tim Ferriss podcasts, doing ketosis, intermittent fasting, minimal etc. On top of it all, Norwegian english skills are better than many back in Montreal. Where are the cold vikings i’ve heard so much about? All i could find was educated, rational, wealthy and kind people. It turns out that Norway is always in the top 4 happiest countries in the world along with other Scandinavian coutries.
Oslo had recently become one the 20 most cycling friendly cities in the world so I was excited to see their cycling infrastructure and culture. The first morning was a little confusing, because i didn’t see any bike lanes or much cycling infrastructure at all in the downtown core. The side walks where terrible to roll on and the whole downtown was hilly and full of street car tracks. Although there was a bike share program ( with cell phone holders on the bikes ), I didn’t see many bikes locked up. Very confusing. I mentioned to the locals that their city was on the top 20 list and no one believed me. After a little investigation, I learned that bikes are locked up in the courtyards of the apartments and that’s why i could see them. Also, there are great paths leaving the city centre for those who live in the suburbs to get to work. All part of a master plan to turn Oslo’s downtown into a car-free zone by the year 2019. Good for them. That’s a very bold move and probably why they’re on the list - it certainly isn't because of their current infrastructure.
I’d always hear that Norwegians drink a lot, but that wasn’t my experience. Alcohol is sold by the government, similar to Canada, who taxes the crap out of the booze to keep people from drinking away the winter. I almost died laughing when i saw the name of their liquor stores - VinMonopolet. Which translates directly to Wine Monopoly. I didn’t see a fair amount of people drinking beer in the morning, but they told me it was only due to the fact it was summer..... sure. At 12$ a beer, I wasn’t having any morning beers. When people did drink, it was all about weekend binging. I witnesses huge men, living tables upside down, smashing car windows and pushing each other around. Viking bar fight! It appeared to me that they have a low alcohol tolerance because they don’t drink that much. Smart. The where doing their part though, staying up until the wee hours of the morning drinking as much as possible.
Similar to Canada, Norway has a lot of oil which accounts for 30% of their GDP. In Canada it’s less that 10% of GDP, but we do almost twice as many barrels per day as our viking cousins. In 1990, Norwegians decided to start saving the profits from their oil industry and invest them in a sovereign wealth fund. Currently owning 1.3% of global stocks, it is the largest wealth fund in the world. Current value is $1.3 Trillion US which is pretty great for a population of only 5.2 Million people. Another way to look at it is that the government has saved 200,000$ US per citizen. But what about dept? Norway’s dept/GDP ratio is 36% compared to Canada's 90% and 108% in USA. I’m not sure where all of our oil profits are going, but i wish we were been doing something like this. Both our countries are social, believing that a strong middle class is the goal. We appear to be achieving this by borrowing money where the vikings are achieving a similar thing by saving money. Good on ya.
Tanny Danny and i cycled into the mountains towards his cabin to for some hammocks and Sauna, ketosis, intermittent fasting and the Wim Hof breathing exercises. The ketosis and fasting has stayed with me ever since. Imagine waking up, cycling all day in the mountains, only consuming water and not being hungry until the middle of the afternoon. Plus, full of energy and not hungry. It’s powerful stuff. From there i cycled on towards the province of telemark and the town of Rjukan to find my “Instagram Cabin” which turned out to be a little viking paradise. Nestled half way up a small mountain about 15 km out of town, it overlooked the river, had a barbecue and was surrounded with raspberry bushes. A great place to hand out for a couple weeks and finally get a little work done. As you can see below, the view from the cabin was pretty great.
The road conditions in Norway where fantastic. It seemed like there was fresh pavement everywhere. Drivers were extremely patient, even when we rode side by side on major highways. Cars would wait their turn and then pass as far from us as possible. One extra benefit was that it never really got dark, so night riding was super safe. The one drawback was that they’re weren’t always bike paths so you’d be sharing the road with cars often. In some cases, i chose to take the bus because there where tunnels through the mountains with no cycling lanes.
It literally took about 10 minutes to make friends with the locals in Rjukan and i was immediately welcomed to join in on the barbecues, dinners parties, house parties etc. Same thing in Oslo. I don’t know if i just got lucky, but the people i met there where significantly more friendly than back in Montreal. If anything, i would describe them as shy, and let’s face it, Canada has really extraverted neighbours, so we get more practice and Norway surrounded by other Scandivians. All in all, the friendliness and openness of the Norwegians is definitely on par with Canadian pleasantness and we’re both ranked among the highest qualities of life in the world. Is it a coincidence that we both spend half of our year freezing in the dark? What do you think?
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