Living in northern Norway is an exercise in planning, because it takes over 30 minutes to get to the nearest store of any kind, and an hour to get to a place with even a very modest shopping area. There are two principal grocery chains, REMA 1000, and Co-op. Their offerings are similar. Most stores take credit cards with a chip, though at some gas stations you need to pay inside unless you have both a chip AND a pin (we have chip/signature cards).
- Typically people purchase frozen meat. Don’t count on fresh meat being available.
- In our area, most fish in the store was dried or frozen. If you want fresh fish, you need to go fishing. That’s a great idea, but then you have to fish until you get what you want.
- Ocean fishing is permitted anywhere in Norway if you plan to eat your catch. A fishing permit is required for lake and river fishing.
- The coast is open to all. You can walk along the shore anywhere except posted military installations.
- Speed traps on the highway. Just as mean-spirited as any you’ve been caught in at home. They are aimed at those unfamiliar with the area and tourists.
- The self-serve economy. There are many things that you have to do for yourself even it you’d rather not, because there just isn’t anyone to do them or to hire to do them. At the airport, for example, there is no staff at check in. You check yourself in, weigh your own bag, put on your own tags, and heave it onto the conveyor belt. (There was also no security check.) Our host said there was not anyone available to do weekly cleaning at our rental, or to mow the lawn. If you think about it in the context of paying everyone a living wage for their work, perhaps that’s the explanation. After Jonathan sprained his ankle, however, we really wished there were alternatives.
No surprise, but true:
- Everything is expensive. If you look at the prices, you won’t eat. We had delicious blueberries, some memorable strawberries, and a pineapple. I noticed that our excellent red Thompson Seedless grapes came from Egypt.
- Gyetost (whey cheese) is strange (brown, a bit sweet) but delicious, especially on hot toast. If you don’t think you’ll like it, try White Gyetost, which has a milder flavor.
- Alcoholic beverages are startlingly, shockingly, expensive. Inexpensive beer is $25 per six pack. Approximately three quarters of the price is the tax.
There is no tolerance for drinking and driving. Everyone pulled over gets brethalyzed, no matter what hour of the day or night. The legal limit is .02, so designated drivers are a must. This has been true since my first trip to Scandinavia in the 1970s.
- I got caught in a speed trap, going 80 kmph (50 mph) in a 60 kmph (37 mph) zone. The fact that the radar was set up in a short zone of 60 at the end of a long downhill posted 80…. Well, never mind. The bad news is that tickets are costly, and the only good news the policeman had for me was how lucky I was not to be going 1 kmph faster because THEN my fine would have been 50% higher. Lucky me.
- Roads can be narrow, some stretches are 1 ½ lanes shared by two way traffic, with pullouts for one vehicle to pull aside for the other. No one drives very fast (see above). Plus there are speed cameras, though those are posted in advance.
- July and August may the best months to visit. There is more sun. We heard that this June was unusually rainy, but I’m not sure I believe it. A typical week included 2 sunny days, 3 cloudy days possibly with damp mist, and 2 rainy days. On the other hand, we only used bug spray twice, and I suspect it is a daily necessity in July and August.
- The weather can change rapidly, for better and worse. One day the sun came out and the temperature rose more than 5º C in 12 hours. We were delighted because it had been cold. Conversely, our first two days were sunny and warm, followed by 3 weeks of cool, often windy weather with temperatures as low as 9º C. I gratefully wore my new fur hat from the resale store, and all my layers of clothing.
Cell phone service
You may be happiest if you can use your US cell phone as you travel. It is expensive but usually works. We change SIM cards in each country, with fair results. Norway was the exception. Jonathan’s phone didn’t always work (though the coverage was fine, he got an error message when he dialed), and mine never worked. The lesson is a basic one that all websites tell you. 1) Don’t be in a hurry when you purchase phone service. 2) DO NOT leave the place where you purchase your SIM card until you have made a call on it, and tested that the data portion works. 3) If you don’t, remember that I told you so.
We made an impulse buy of phone service in the Evenes airport from a young man who didn’t mention that he was going to leave us in order not to miss his train home. So he left, encouraging us to call the help number. I suppose I could have tried that, but when I stopped in a phone store I got no help, and I was told that my phone wasn’t fully unlocked (not true).
- People are as varied here as anywhere else. We had delightful conversations with people we met at the Sunday café (noon-3 pm one day per week in the summer), where we ate waffles, drank coffee and enjoyed the fact that all Norwegians under the age of 70 speak excellent English, even when they say their English is not so good.
- Many people will smile and nod without engaging in conversation. Norway is very much a mind-your-own-business society, and many people will answer questions if asked, but may not be chatty. We waved at passing drivers and they waved back.