…let me blast my dancehall music as loud and obnoxious as possible so that everyone can join in on the fun!
I keep meaning to write about my time in Norway, which was spectacular, but I haven’t really found the time. Now that I’m at home fighting against a bug, I had some time to collect my thoughts. So this won’t be a long post, but a quick recap of the most prominent take-aways. (Disclaimer; the experiences down below are based on my experience in the area around Ålesund.)
The first and most important thing that I took away from Norway is the profound sense of awe at how beautiful the countryside is. Previously, the number one spot for the most amazing country in the world in terms of beauty was Switzerland. The reason why Norway overtook Switzerland was the coastline. One of the things which I may have mentioned on here before is that the idea of living in a land-locked country is disconcerting to me. Sure, there are rivers and lakes aplenty in Switzerland, but it just doesn’t beat a coastline, especially a coastline like that found in Norway. The stillness of the deep fjords is just not something that can be explained in words, or captured in a photograph.
A close second was the absolutely phenomenal infrastructure. From the road network, to the system of ferries, to the nearly ambiguous 4G mobile connection, even in the most remote places! It turns out that when Norway discovered oil off their coast in the mid-20th century, they used a lot of the revenue to upgrade their country’s infrastructure. The country being so large, and thinly populated, it allowed people to live in comfort and luxury in pretty remote places.
Another thing that struck me was that a lot of restaurants closed their kitchens at 19:00 and closed their doors around 20:00. Some restaurants in Ålesund were more accustomed to tourists, but certainly outside of Ålesund it was considered really normal. This meant that we had to eat shitty pizza take away one evening!
That reminds me that everyone always talks about how expensive Norway is to visit, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Don’t get me wrong, it was, but it wasn’t as crazy as I was warned about. Food was probably the thing which was most expensive, comparatively. Inflated by 20% or so, I would say. I’ve been told that prices are a lot higher around bigger cities like Oslo and Bergen.
Lastly, we went to visit the Briksdalsbreen glacier. There is a 45 minute hike through a beautiful valley which leads up to it, and they have sprinkled a lot of different signs with information about geology, meteorology and climate disruption. One of the most impactful thing that they showed was how far into the valley the glacier reached every decade since 1860, when they started measuring. The closer you got to the glacier, the longer it took for another decade marker, showing just how incredibly fast the rate of global warming is increasing.
Here’s a few photos I made which completely don’t do the country any justice whatsoever:
Edit: Luckily, Joasia and I went to Norway just before the tourist season started. There were some benefits (fewer tourists) and drawbacks (stark weather). Regardless, there were some early bird tourists, like us, and a lot of them arrive by cruise ships, which generally are the worst type of tourist. The stereotypes of the nationalities of tourist tends to be different depending on the place you visit.
In Norway, the stereotypes seemed to be as follows: Chinese tourists yell at one another, no matter how close they are to each other. Indian tourists FaceTime their family members whenever they come across something beautiful. (Ambiguous high speed mobile service, remember?) American tourists fall into one of two categories; either you came in on a cruise, and you’re just there for the gift shops, or you’re a twenty-something and you’ve decided to travel the country by bicycle.
On the fourth of May we remember the victims and casualties of war in the Netherlands. We do that by obeying two minutes of silence at 20:00. I’ve always kept to the tradition, but over time the tradition has faded a little bit. Fortunately, it has seen somewhat of a resurgence of late. Last night, right before the Bill Burr standup performance in a large concert hall in Amsterdam, I saw several thousand people hold two minutes of silence. Everyone just stopped finding their seats, buying drinks and snacks, etc. You could hear a pin drop in that place.
(It seems I last wrote about it in 2011.)
The other day I had dinner with Joasia together with a couple that she knows. We went to Van Kerkwijk, a lovely little restaurant in the centre of the city. Food was good, company was good and the evening was almost perfect. The only thing that was the fly in the ointment was the fact that there was an important football match going on, which was being projected on one of the walls of the restaurant. It was an unusual choice for the restaurant, since that’s totally not their vibe. I got the feeling that it was more for the benefit of the staff than the clientele.
When the evening wrapped up, we said our goodbyes and Joasia and I went to cycle back home. Halfway into our trip, we were crossing a busy street and saw that three young lads were walking on the bicycle path. They were walking three abreast and it seemed quite deliberate. Joasia circled on the left while I passed in between them, one on my left and two on my right. In doing so I passed by the one on my right quite closely and my steering wheel briefly touched a plastic bag he was carrying. His response was to reflexively push me away with the hand that carried the bag. The bag got tangled up in my steering wheel and ripped, spilling cans of beer all over the cycle path. Joasia and I kept cycling while the guys jeered at us and started tossing beer cans at us in anger. Later I found out that one of them had hit Joasia on the arm.
We came to a red light and stopped for it to turn green and I heard footsteps running up. I turned to see that one of the guys had came sprinted after us. He got right up in my grill and I told him to back off, shoving him back. He tried to kick me, but he was very drunk. I was wearing a bike lock around my torso and I was afraid he would grab it and use it to jank at me, so I took it off and held it in my right hand while using my left hand to keep him at bay. I think it startled him because he immediately accused me of wanting to attack him with the bike lock. I wasn’t going to, the lock is heavy and it’s easy to cave someone’s skull in, but I didn’t mind that he felt like I might.
The other two guys then came up, and I was worried I was going to have to fight all three of them. Luckily they didn’t seem in the mood to fight. One of them was trying to diffuse the situation, while the other was actually kind of angry, though not threatening. The two of them seemed less intoxicated. I was worried about the one who looked angry, since he was close to Joasia, who was calling the police as I was fending off the aggressive drunk guy. I kept angling away from him telling him to keep his distance, while simultaneously trying to stay close to Joasia, just in case one of them decided to make her the target.
In the meantime lots of bystanders were trying to prevent the aggressive guy from reaching me, which I appreciated. An elderly lady on a bicycle, a Spanish tourist and a security guard stand out, but there were more of them. The aggressive guy kept pushing himself past them and I kept feinting and eluding.
Eventually it seemed like the aggressive guy realised that it might not be worth it to fight me and he got convinced by his friends to stop. However, he then decided that we should shake hands. I told him I didn’t want to shake his hand because he was drunk and aggressive. After that didn’t work, he wanted me to give him a fist bump. He assured his friends that if I would just give him a fist bump he’d let it go. I didn’t change my mind.
At that point he was being pulled away by his angry friend. He then pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket telling me that he’d give me 200 euro if I would shake his hand (!?). I have seen people get attacked when lured into shaking someone’s hand after a fight died down, and I wasn’t going to be that person, not for any amount of money he would pull out of his pocket. Finally his friend managed to drag him away.
All in all this took a couple of minutes. Some of the bystanders gave us some encouragement and started to wander off. The security guard told me that I could use him as a witness if I wanted to press charges. Joasia and I decided to wait for the police who supposedly had been dispatched, but it took a long while for them to get there, probably due to the crazy football hooligans in the city. We decided to leave and cycle home.
What an end to the evening.
Today, as I was heading home, after a rough day at work, I saw a woman in the bus that struck me. She was probably around fifty, with a grey, pixie haircut and a very pleasant face. The first thing I noticed about her, is that she was wearing the same rain coat that Mounir has been wearing the last couple of months. Later, I noticed her basking in the early evening sun with her eyes closed, with a pleasant smile on her face. From then on, I kept noticing how she had a beautiful, permanent smile and looked “calm as a Hindu cow” all throughout the bus ride.
I don’t know if she is a happy and content person, but she certainly seemed like one. And the idea of her being a generally happy person without a care in the world filled me with happiness, too. And so I learned that happiness is contagious. Unhappiness, unfortunately, might be, too.
Thank you, smiling lady, you made my evening a slightly better with your contagious happiness.