All in a Row
Good friends, we’ve lined up to see
14th August to 1st September, 2019

Visiting Norway felt strange, much like our time in Vancouver a few months ago. It wasn't like I was posting a travel blog. We lived in the small town of Melhus, near Trondheim, for two and a half years. When we drove back into town, the road unfolded before us not as something new, but as something very well-travelled.

We had good friends here and were integrated into the Norwegian system, with bank accounts, driver's licenses and the whole works. It's a common misconception that Norway's an expensive country to live in. It isn't. It's great to live in and very wealthy, too. It's just amazingly, blindingly expensive to visit!

If we'd chosen to, we could have spent our latter years enjoying one of the highest standards of living in the world, whilst cross-country skiing (badly) and eating brunost.

I should clarify (and to avoid upsetting our Norwegian friends) that I actually like brunost. Unfortunately, A thinks it's disgusting. I think an unwritten requirement for Norwegian citizenship is to a) never have more than two toppings on a slice of bread and b) that one of them must be brunost. If you're curious about what brunost is, it's a soft, sweet brown cheese with the consistency of firm butter and a calorific content through the roof.

Why didn't we stay? I suppose the simplest answer is that while it was an amazing place to live, it wasn't the whole world. We wanted to see and do other things. If you were curious for more details then I'd clarify with three things: climate, work opportunities and tax.

Back to the (not) travel blog. We'd already seen the inside of Trondheim's Nidaros Cathedral and knew some good local walks. Even simple jobs like finding a good breakfast muesli were sorted. Coming back to Norway was a chance to say hi to friends. We had no idea when we'd be back next, so it would also be time say goodbye, dammit.
Old Trondheim
We also wanted to have another few walks into the hills here. The area is very old, geologically. I don't know how old the rocks are, but they've been ground down by more than forty ice ages. The landscape is rounded-off as a result. Nothing is particularly high, but the weather turns and gets bleak and tough, very quickly. We learned a lot about staying comfortable here, but were beginners compared to the locals, who had this down to a fine art.

We'd left Trondheim at the end of last year. Our stuff got picked up, the truck edging nervously down our long drive that was solid with sheet ice. The fields were bleak, with a skiff of snow in the frozen furrows. Now, it was late summer and things were warm and green again. Our friends M & L met us at the airport. So nice to see them! The next few days were spent in Trondheim, seeing more friends, and engaging in that most Norwegian of pastimes, picking berries.
Norgies are passionate about it, and it's serious business. They all have a special picking spot, and there's a constant debate on whether to use a picking scoop or pick by hand. After sorting through all the extra rubbish a picking scoop drags along with it, I'm now in the Pick by Hand Brigade.
One evening we walked along the seafront through older neighbourhoods, then out to a new apartment complex, built on reclaimed land, with its own marina. We had forgotten about the wealth that exists here, and this was a sudden reminder of the standard of living possible in a country with enormous wealth and a small population. There would have been a couple of hundred new boats in the marina. One for every apartment, maybe?

Norway made a very smart move in the seventies when they found oil. Unlike pretty much every other nation on earth, they didn't sell the asset off for a quick win. They built up their own oil industry, and so invested directly back into the whole country. They put the money into their future, instead of into the pockets of a select few.

It was an amazing thing to do, but I think it's a double-edged sword. All the older generations remember Norway when it was poor. The younger generations might know intellectually that they are well-off but, like anyone anywhere, this is the norm for them. I wonder how long it will last, and if Norway will have a competitive edge in fifty years.
“... just to make sure we weren't getting too comfy, a hail storm blasted through one afternoon."

All Hail
Summer, in Trøndelag
Still, here we were being warmly welcomed and enjoying the company of good friends. Our next stop was to stay with our friends R & L, up the valley in Støren. It is a meeting place of two valleys, above a narrow gorge. I love the contrast from summer to winter here. When we left last year, ice was piled up several metres high and frozen waterfalls lined the road. Now, everything was green. Having said that, just to make sure we weren't getting too comfy, a hail storm blasted through one afternoon.

After settling in properly, we spent the next few days seeing some more friends and our old landlords too. It seems that they've become our friends as well, which suits us fine. The apartment we had was a real haven. It was on the second floor of an old farmhouse, and was amazingly comfortable. The summer sunsets over the fjords were without parallel and, in winter, the northern lights made their emerald dance across the horizon. Coming back was great, and a little sad. It reminded me that we've met some really good folk here. Not being able to just pop over and see them whenever we feel like it, will take getting used to.
After a few days, we headed further up the valley with R & L, to stay at their hytte near Oppdal. A hytte is a Norwegian cabin and this one is, without any exaggeration, one of my most favourite places in the world. Peace and quietude flows through it. We've been privileged to stay a number of times, and being there never grows dull. There are plenty of walks to do, but it's just as fine to light some candles, put your feet up on the couch, and read a book.

The only missing part in the picture was their lovely dog, Rico. He had passed on a few months before and it didn't seem right without him curled up on his bed by the fire, or trotting ahead of us on a path into the valleys.

They still had a pooch in residence. They were dog-sitting for someone and we all went for a walk in the hills the next day. Despite being about fifteen years our senior, R & L still left us for dead. A couple of Norwegian commandos, I tell you. The day after, we took the chance to contribute by helping cut and split a sizeable pile of firewood for the family.

Then they were looking after their third, world's-best grandson, so A and I climbed a hill behind the hytte. Just as we were congratulating ourselves on being awesomely fit, some old guy ran up behind us leaping from stone to stone like a springer spaniel. He wasn't even breathing hard. Bloody Norwegian commandos, they're everywhere.

The forecast that day had called for mostly clear skies. Because we'd lived there and knew the weather, we had our rain coats ready for the inevitable cold squall that closed around us on the summit. True to form, the sun was shining by the time we'd got back to the hytte.

There was time on the last day for one final walk along the river, before heading back to Støren for another couple of says

I visited my old job at Helsport to say hi, and it felt a little strange being back. Things always move on after leaving a job. Having met a lot of new colleagues when we lived there, and put time and effort into the different projects, I felt wistfulness that things were moving on. I was also reminded how lucky I was to be involved designing outdoor gear, considering our lifestyle. One of the best things about this industry, is the people. They're really good value, and it was good to see them all.
Our last leg was a quick train trip down to Skjåk to visit some friends, on their farm. It was only an overnight stay, but the next morning they took us on a short drive up the valley to Reinheimen. The scenery here was nuts. We'd been through in 2017 on a road trip, but hadn't been able to stop and explore.

It was classic Norway, with glacier-capped mountains and roaring rivers. We followed one such torrent upwards. The last blueberries were ready for picking, deliciously sweet and bursting with indigo juice. One of us got quite distracted and ended up with a very purple tongue.

We only had time for a short walk, so crossed to go back at a narrow ravine, over a huge boulder, jammed in the cleft. Below us, the river roared and smoked. Further downstream, we crossed a timber bridge made from stacked and cantilevered logs, which had been built in the 1700's. Each layer was buried with rocks and the whole thing capped off with a planked deck.

Cross here
If that amount of history wasn't enough to spin your wheels, there was the stave church at Lom, too. We didn't stop this time, but I'd walked around it before and it remains one of the most incredible buildings I've ever seen. It was built around 1158, then extended in the seventeenth century to its current form. The dragon's-head carvings on the gables still endure. I’m amazed, every time I see it. It's only made of tarred wood, but has endured eight hundred and sixty-one winters.
Our train north took us back through Støren and on to Trondheim. I half-imagined we'd see R & L waiting on the Støren platform as they have many times, but it slid past us, empty in the dusk. We had another couple of happy evenings with our friends in Trondheim. The Norwegians have a good word for it: koselig. It means cosy, nice, pleasant and friendly. Yep.

I have a theory that Norwegians are like their houses. They appear very sensible and practical on the outside. No-nonsense, you might say. It's also very difficult to tell what's going on inside. But when you get through the door they are warm, friendly and welcoming.
To finish off, here are a few photos from when we lived in Norway.
We've no idea when we'll be back. Two years, five years, or maybe next year? We have to keep 'em guessing. Hopefully it won't be too long, because I really miss that licorice-flavoured icecream!

Right, time to see how Slovenia has changed in the twenty-two years since I was last there.
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