I love Norway. Of all the Scandinavian countries, Norway is by far and large my favourite.
As a history junkie and as a lover of underdogs, I simply adored how it was the Norse who came down from the fjords, raising hell on Britain and Normandie and Paris and down south to Italy, even, just for, well, the sake of it. And I loved how it was a Norwegian who reached the South Pole first, even without making a fuss about it (as the story goes, once Amundsen came back from the Pole and got back on his support boat, he had a good chat with the captain before the captain remember to asked whether the polar party had reached the Pole).
As a nature lover, I simply adore Norway. I was born in the Alps, and Norway’s like the Alps plus the sea minus all the little-minded, conservative, racist hillbillies who inhabit the Alps (I know them, I-fuckin’-am from there).
And, as far as languages go, Norway is right there, on the podium of my favourite European languages. Norwegian is musical, hard and soft at the same time, and utterly fascinating.
Yet, despite all this, I’ve been to Norway only twice. And both times to Oslo. Yes, I’ve sailed through the Oslofjord, and my dad and I drove to Sweden – collecting some serious speeding fines, we had a reputation to defend – but, at the end of the day, I had seen only a teeny tiny bit of the place. But this was about to change, one small step at the time.
My first step for the conquer of Norway started from Bergen. Bergen is the kind of place that sets its record straight just by listing its notable citizens. Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe from Kings of Convenience. Peter Sunde of Pirate Bay fame. Cecilia Brækhus, badass boxer. With the exclusion of an arsonist turned singer, it seems that only nice people originate from here, and it’s actually true. I used to consider Scandinavians as slightly odd, ineffably polite but also irremediably icy folks, the kind of people who’d make sure to stand at least one meter away from you at a bus stop to avoid the tantalizing danger of being involved in small talk. This is not true for Bergenites, provided that this is a word. People smiled and waved at me. I was invited along to listen to a string concert rehearsal that I unwittingly gatecrashed. Complete strangers went out of their way to help me out, like the bus driver who hijacked a behemoth Volvo coach to drive me to the bus station, having turned up at a stop moments after the proper bus had left. Grannies approached me to practice their English and gave me tips on where to find the best salted licorice.
The streets of Bergen are delightfully windy, curving up along steep ridges. A city made of cobblestone passages, steep staircases, sudden belvederes and, more importantly, a city that shows pride in looking after itself. Not every corner is squeaky clean, as not every window is properly framed and not every single fence is painted. But at every turn, on every street, on every doorstep, the Norwegians show they actually care about the place they live in. Homes aren’t only investments from which to extract every possible penny, like in London. And they aren’t as well places to stuff with wares bought on the cheap at Argos. They are places were to live, to be embellished and to be made as homy as possible. Walking past their houses, looking at their windows, I had to suppress the urge to knock at someone’s door and ask if they wouldn’t mind me settling on their sofa for a little while, cuddling the cat and looking at the fjord.