Exploring the great cities of Norway, I found they were very similar to Denmark’s with bountiful green spaces and integrated nature. However in contrast, I immediately got the impression the nature here was on a much grander scale, as some of the smallest mountains easily dwarfed Denmark’s highest point of 178m.
This was soon confirmed on the world famous Oslo – Bergen train ride. Getting lucky with a randomly assigned window seat — it provided the perfect frame to an ever-changing piece of art. Firstly sweeping through lush green fields, the vista soon switched to electric blue lakes gleaming in the sun light. A few hours later we had climbed hundreds of meters and the scenery had transitioned to a much more rugged, alien landscape. Humongous boulders decorated the mountain slopes and the small trees resembled large weeds. Exiting one of the many tunnels, darkness reverted to light and as if by magic we had time traveled from summer to winter at the highest point of the journey. Snowy mountains, accompanied by melting glaciers, created waterfalls which crashed into icy lakes…
The raw diversity of nature in Norway was on full display, however despite the ever-changing scenery, there was one constant which dotted the landscape. These were the quaint wooden cabins, which according to the local sat next to me were typical Norwegian vacation homes. We conversed for hours and one of my biggest learnings was — Norwegians are a very proud and resilient people. Not only do they regularly vacation in their own country, but they do so at all times of the year!
This underlying notion of appreciating nature, became more apparent whilst exploring my destination of Bergen. Hugged tightly by mountains and in unison with the sea, I met several friendly locals here which embodied the charismatic nature of the city. Most memorable of which was a local named Anne, on the hike up Mount Fløyen.
Channeling my inner rebel, I left the marked tourist trail behind to forge my own path. Climbing higher and steeper, I stumbled upon a view to die for, however to my surprise I wasn’t alone in admiration. Anne had beat me to this spot — some 20 years ago, where she returns most Sunday’s to walk her wolf and eat lunch.
We spoke for 2 hours, discussing all things Norwegian, including the big questions around happiness and why she chooses to continually return. Interestingly, the answer to both questions was the same — “Friluftsliv”. Similar to, but not as catchy as Danish ‘Hygge’, Friluftsliv represents the inherent Norwegian connection with nature and as described by Anne — ‘is not about consuming the nature, but experiencing its infinite uses!’ Directly translating to ‘free air life’, I believe this philosophy is a core contributor to Norway’s happiness.
Walking away from that encounter inspired by Friluftsliv, I decided to ‘go all in’ by travelling to Odda and completing several challenging hikes. Most noticeably the ‘expert’ level, 12 hour Trolltunga hike, which saw me traverse through 14km of boggy marsh, jagged rocks, rapid streams and solid snow to successfully reach the 700m high jutting rock.
Throughout the journey, I experienced a few of the infinite uses Anne had proclaimed. My mind became clear and focused on the present. In both senses I gained new perspectives, and fully embraced the newfound feelings of freedom, confidence and health. I continually used the spectacular scenery for motivation and ultimately felt an overwhelming sense of happiness and achievement once I had reached the Trolls tongue!
Caption: For more sublime photographs of my hike to Trolltunga, follow me on Instagram @lesliealfonso
When reflecting on the few uses of nature I experienced, and considering the below:
- ubiquitous presence of awe-inspiring nature in Norway
- the official “Allemannsretten” law which gives everyone the right to experience this nature, even if it’s on privately owned land
- the Friluftsliv philosophy of consistently making time to appreciate and use the nature for personal wellbeing
It becomes a little clearer as to why the Norwegians are consistently some of the happiest people in the world…
Next up, is a trip to the remote Lofoten Islands, which is approximately north of the arctic circle. Here I’ll continue to dive into the local culture and compare and contrast my experiences of the Nordic countries so far…