NORWAY WITH THE NATIVES

The guide stands with an axe in his hands. He takes a swing at a log on the chopping block. Only it's not a log.
It's dried fish, the basis of Norway's food chain. Yeah, the stuff is hard as wood. "A good assault weapon," one local quips. Slivers are handed around. Fish jerky. Not bad. It's not the first surprise for me here.



Hurtigruten's cruise on the Millennium Class MS Trollfjord up Norway's coast is not so much a boat trip as it is a chance to see another culture ... to travel with the locals, to meet the people of the land. And, oh yes, to nibble their food.



It doesn't hurt that you are in the same "hotel" for seven days, spared the hassle of incessant packing and unpacking while the world passes by your nose.



We started in Bergen, with its rich history of the Hanseatic League (a Middle Ages German trade guild that controlled everything), its wonderful museums, its narrow alleys with centuries-old wood buildings, its even more wonderful fish market full of smoked salmon and cod but better yet, of cheap caviar. And we ended far north of the Arctic Circle, having sailed through fjords so narrow, you could touch the rock walls from our not exactly small cruise ship, having met the native Samis, having visited incredible churches of sculpted stone and soaring stained glass windows, and having bounced in a tiny rubber boat on the edge of the "bottomless" whirlpool described in Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth."



You get the idea I really love Norway. And yes, it's tempting to consider moving there. The way they do things just makes sense. And wow, are they all TALL. Even the women are over 6 feet. You should see what a jet full of locals look like on SAS.

Meanwhile.....

HERE ARE A FEW THINGS WE BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT NORWAY

1. Norway's strawberries and carrots, grown on postage stamp lots in the fjords are famous throughout Europe for being super sweet. It is a combination of cold to shock the plants into producing extra sugar and lots of sunlight in summer. Do NOT miss fresh Norwegian fruit.

2. Winter is a great time to visit. The weather is actually drier then, the skies are clear, the northern lights are fantastic and along the coast, the temperatures are mild. Even at its darkest, there is light ... a dreamy blue that is starlight and moonlight reflected off the snow.

3. Norwegians eat more pizza per capita than any other people on Earth, which you'll soon discover when you sniff your way through the city centers of Bergen and Oslo. Meanwhile, The tiny arctic town of Stordal, population 1,000, makes and exports frozen pizza and as a result, the unemployment rate is zero.

4. Virtually all Norwegians speak English. They study it from Grade 4 on.

5. The Sami people are not Norwegians. They are related to Finns, Hungarians ... and Koreans ... with round faces, high cheekbones, dark hair and slightly slanted eyes. They have their own non-Viking history going back thousands of years and today also have their own parliament. Okay, and their tents are like teepees, which makes you wonder about a connection with American natives.



6. Vikings never wore hats with horns. Credit this myth to Wagner's Valkyrie opera. Nor did they "bury" their dead by sending burning ships to sea. We've got a Kirk Douglas movie to thank for that.

7. The Polar Circle marker is actually either 300 yards or 1.2 miles south of the real circle (depending on who you read) but it remains where it is because this spot is more photogenic. The North Cape, at 71.10.21 North (a mere 1,255 miles from the North Pole, by the way), isn't Europe's northernmost point. The real north point is around another cove and can only be reached by a LOT of hiking. But, hey, the North Cape has Europe's northernmost gift shop, post office ... and flush toilet.



8. We're not normally a fan of cruise ships but honestly, the best way to see the most stuff in Norway (and without going broke too fast) is by cruise ship. Hurtigruten has been ferrying the locals and their cargo up and down the coast since 1893 and it's closer in spirit to the Alaskan Marine Ferry than NCL.


USEFUL LINKS

For everything Norway: www.visitnorway.com/us
For Hurtigruten Cruises:
www.hurtigruten.us
For Oslo: www.visitoslo.com



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