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- Visiting Europe
Norway, the solitary land of ice and snow, Vikings and vast fjords, never-ending forests, and a strong but kind-hearted people - how could you not want to travel such a land? Well, in an age where people are mainly tourists rather than travellers, and prefer cities filled with yet more tourists than the local population, Norway isn't so much a big destination for the common people.
Who wants to travel down insanely long roads, devoid of people, while being flanked by massive mountains, while breathing in the fresh air from the mighty fjords, when you could sit back in an overrated pub with all the others on the mainland? It seems like few of us choose the former, especially when it comes to hitchhikers - but don't we prefer it this way?
I made the hitchhiking trek from the capital, Oslo, along most of the coastline, and up to Narvik, in the summer of 2010. Norway has proven to be my favourite hitchhiking location thus far in my travels.
Norway, from Oslo to the arctic circle
The world is full of vastly different people, and so the reasons for travelling to different areas of the world will obviously differ from person to person, so the following reasons are my personal view on why I chose to spend a few weeks of my summer there.
- Vikings. I absolutely love everything to do with the Vikings. Part of my family stems from the Scottish Gunn clan, which traces its roots back to the Vikings that used to conquer and raid the British Isles, way back when. I have always had a strong interest in my roots, and on my first trip to Europe, I just had to put my feet back on the soil that some of my ancient ancestors likely trod. For myself, that feeling was unbelievable.
Throughout Norway, there are countless Viking sites, from cairns to temples, with many being in close proximity to the main roads. From the Viking ship museum in Oslo, to the Lofotr Viking Museum on the Lofoten Islands, anyone planning a trip around visiting ancient sites such as these will have an easy itinerary.
- Mountains, fjords, and forests! I won't lie, I am a big fan of a lot of J.R.R. Tolkiens' work, and for all those who share my interest, you also know he took a large amount of his inspiration from North Western European, and Viking mythology and culture. This adds to the overall feeling of being just about anywhere in Norway. While those who take trains, buses, and planes rush by the landscapes of Norway, all you hitchhikers know that those long waits by the sides of the road make for some excellent experiences of just gazing at what's around you. I can't believe some of the beautiful scenery I saw, and mixing those sights with what you know of the history of the place you're in, can be a down right awesome feeling. You really need to have that mindset, to really appreciate what I mean, however. It's meditative (... Mind the midges, though. Horrible creatures).
- The people. While I was at first fairly intimidated by the strong, quiet nature of the Norwegians, I came to find them charming in their own way. The city dwellers are the same as in many locations - city life generally makes people a bit colder when it comes to opening up, i've found. The farther north I got, however, the more open and outwardly happier they became.
My favorite memory of Norway, was when I was South West of Harstad, up in the arctic circle. I had been standing by the side of the road for three or four hours (it can be slow the farther north you get, as well!), and a slick black car pulls over. It had to be the most expensive BMW I had ever seen. A formal/military looking man stepped out, and asked if I wanted a ride. At first I had thought he was a policeman, or maybe in the navy, but I didn't question it at the time, I was just excited I had gotten a ride!
So I got in, and off we went. I told him my hitchhiking story thus far, where i'm going, where i'll be staying, etc. Eventually, he looked at me and almost whispered that I could stay at his place, with his family. This is the first time anyone had offered me a place to stay, so at first I didn't know what to say. The couchsurfing host I had agreed to stay with in Narvik hadn't gotten back to me, so why not? He had to phone his wife first, and ask if it was ok, as it was her birthday. I couldn't help but smile my haggard face off.
We go to his home, a middle class place on a hill overlooking Harstad. We step inside, and Roger (the man who picked me up), tells me I can sleep in his sons room, since he's away for the weekend. I could use his shower, wash my clothes, and he even left me alone with his teenage son while he left to go shopping. Oh, and he went shopping, purely to buy food to feed me for the night. I was speechless.
So his wife returns home, and i'm invited to the dinner table. They even had a baby daughter, yet treated me without any suspicion whatsoever. There was literally beer lined up on the table, "for the Canadian soldier!" he said.
After dinner, and more conversation on my travels, I was taken to the local grocery store, where Roger bought me around $50 Canadian worth of food for my journey, followed by a tour of the town in what I found out was something like a $75,000 car, while being shown locations from the man's childhood, along with other local sights-to-see.
Previously in the day, Roger had told me he would drive me to Narvik to catch my train to Stockholm in the morning. He was called in to work, however (he pilots massive ocean-liners), and so his wife ended up driving me to the bus stop the next day, laden with wine, and a packed lunch.
It was almost a tearful goodbye, as even Rogers wife gave me a hug before I left. By far the nicest people I have met on my travels, and I won't soon forget them.
And the hitchhiking?
Norway, contrary to popular belief, is very easy for hitchhiking. I usually managed to get rides in under an hour (shortest wait was five minutes), and looking the way I do (I usually dress in military-style clothing), I had no problems at all. Of course, in a country of almost 5 million people, there aren't even that many cars on the roads to get rides with in the first place! Suffice to say, the farther north you go, the harder and harder it will be to get a lift.
The best thing about hitchhiking Norway, in regards to getting rides, is that in almost every place you're dropped off, there is a high chance of there being some spectacular scenery.
Norway travel and information
Norway is an ancient, and still very secluded land of vast wilderness, and breathtaking landscapes. While it's biggest attractions are largely outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, kayaking, and just about everything your active outdoorsman wants, for those of us that appreciate rich history and a deep connection to the past - you will not be disappointed.
My only gripe, is that of cost. It is insanely expensive to buy just about anything in Norway. I learned that cans of beans, and a loaf of bread, are the best and cheapest choices when travelling along the seemingly endless roads. Hitchhikers will always find a way to live on the cheap, after all.