Cruise 2022: Episode 2, Norway, June 24-25

Our flight landed almost a half hour early; but after retrieving our bags and working our way through customs, we stumbled into the waiting area exactly at the bewitching hour of 1:30 where the first person we saw was a guy holding up a Holland America sign. Victory!

A Holland America bus took us and about 50 others on the flight through quaint, historic downtown Copenhagen to the commercial pier, a ride of about 45 minutes. The vessel, The Nieuw   Statendam, is a clone of the two Holland America cruise ships we had traveled on before, except newer, a bit fancier and small by today’s cruise ship standards—”only” 1,600 passengers and 1,300 crew, 15 stories high and over two football fields long. The mega cruise ships like the ones used by Disney, Carnival or Celebrity accommodate well over 4,000 passengers.

We ghosted through the early morning mist to the Bergen harbor at around six in the morning, which normally would seem early except today sunrise was a tad after four in the morning if you could even call it a sunrise. When I poked my head out of on our balcony around midnight, it  still seemed like twilight.

Bergen, a coastal town of around 290,000 is Norway’s second largest city. Most towns of any size in Norway are coastal since the country is  mountainous, with many mountains over 7,000 feet, the tallest over 8,000 feet. The only places where there is enough flat land to construct buildings is at the base of the mountains. Though it is already summer, lots of snow remains on the taller peaks, and Norway—at least the part we experienced during our two days there—for me was a dreamland. The towering mountains with snowcapped peaks go straight up from the water’s edge. Spring wildflowers were abundant, and everything around you except for the small towns and tiny villages seemed green—the lower part of the mountains, the water, the trees and grass. The two days we were there the sky was mostly blue with white cloud puffs, and the high temperature was in mid  70s with low humidity, conditions which caused me to conclude that surely this extraordinary country had to be one of the most beautiful places on earth—and Embry and I have seen a lot of beautiful countries on  our many travels.   

Our excellent guide leading us on our day-long tourist bus drive that day put things in perspective when she commented on how fortunate we were since in Bergan it rains on average around 250 days a year or over 70% of the time , the reason why plants flourish and everything is so green.  Many tourists fail to get even a glimpse of the tall peaks since much of the time the coastal towns are enshrouded in a cloud bank. We lucked out.

There are several  things I learned about Norway. First, it is a relatively small country, sparsely populated. It is about the same size of New Mexico and has a population of only around 5.3 million, about a million fewer people than live in the Washington Metro Area of 6.4 million. There is only one real city, Oslo, with a population of 634,000, half the size of Charlotte, NC.

Second, mountains (over 300 above 6,500 feet), lakes (over 400,000), islands (over 240,000) and fjords (deep coastal estuaries, which number more than 1,700) make it  paradise for those who love the out of doors and explains why so many younger people looked to me to be healthy and athletic. There is really no other country quite like Norway on the planet Earth.

Third, the Norwegians put us Americans to shame in many  things that count. Looking out my window as our tour bus drove us gawking tourists through Bergan and then through green valleys with tiny villages alongside gurgling brooks, placid lakes, and bottomless fjords, I kept wondering where all the rundown houses were. Where was all the poverty? Well, they were nowhere to be seen. Family incomes in Norway average over $78,000 compared to $64,000 in the U.S. There is nowhere near the income disparity, an absence of anything resembling one of our over-the-top McMansions, and nothing resembling one of  our many low income neighborhoods, which we used to call slums. Health care is universal but private, and the country ranks ahead of us in most health care measures. Life expectancy in Norway for men is 82 compared to our 75, 85 for women compared to our 80. The number of doctors per capita is much higher. The list is long.

Norway is closer to the U.S. where almost a third of the population owns guns and gun ownership is  part of the Norwegian culture. They rank in  the top ten with 31 guns per 100 residents. Its gun laws, however, are among the strongest in the world, requiring licensing, and training, and the Norwegian gun death rate is one of the lowest in the world. Two people were murdered by guns in 2020.

One of the great values of traveling is that you get glimpses of the way other countries do things and how we compare. In the case of poverty, disparity, health care, and gun laws, it is hard not to let out a primal scream: “What is wrong with our country!”

Yes, I know, there are extenuating circumstances.  Norway is much smaller, very wealthy due to oil and gas revenues, and not very diverse—only around 5% minorities and immigrants. And its past is mixed. The Norwegian Vikings were not nice people.

But still.

We had two typical tourist bus tours while we were there. Besides the Bergan, full day tour which took us deep into the lush green valleys nestled below the peaks and then some 25 or 30 miles alongside of one of the longer Fjords in the area, we took a “town tour” the following day  of Molde, a charming port town of about twenty thousand, which afforded extraordinary views of the town, port, fjord, and snow covered peaks.

Great two days to begin the cruise!  Now en route to Iceland, cruising at 19 knots, in mist, fog, and  drizzle in six foot seas and swells. More on life aboard a cruise ship in the next blog post.

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Cruise 2022: Episode 2, Norway, June 24-25

  1. agree,agree re Norway.
    we spent some days in Bergen after I gave a talk in Oslo.
    highly recommend “Norway in a Nutshell” as a day-long overview tour of a beautiful place by train and boat and foot.

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