Backpacking through Europe: Norway

Today is our last evening in Oslo, Norway. We arrived the afternoon of May 1 on a 6-hour train ride from Stockholm. We actually wound up sitting across from a very nice Swedish couple who we chatted with for most of the ride. Sadly, that was actually the first time anyone has talked to us on the train, but it was very enlightening. It's easy to imagine that living in Europe means benefitting from better education systems, healthcare and transportation systems than we have in Texas. It was really interesting to hear their perspectives on Swedish politics and the similarities of our country's struggles though. After we said our farewells, we took the Oslo subway to the east side of town and checked in at our AirBNB apartment for the last few days of this Europe trip. The kitchen is about the size of our last apartment, so it's a really comfortable set-up, but to be honest it is a little strange how different apartments are that we've stayed in on this trip. Some are clearly just rentals as extra income for the hosts, some are tidy guest apartments or seldom used vacation homes, and then there are the ones that are lived in and rented out when the hosts are gone. We've stayed in a few of those, which is fine but this one feels the most awkward, with her clean laundry hanging in the bathroom and clothes on open shelves in the lofted bedroom. I'll share more details and thoughts on our accommodations in a follow-up post. 

The first evening in Oslo, our host recommended dinner at a local pizzeria just up the street. They serve Norwegian-Tuscan style pizzas and our five-cheese (all local) pesto was delicious. We knew Scandinavia was going to be the most expensive portion of our trip, but Norway was by far the most costly so we only ate one meal out each day. The medium-sized pizza that we shared was $60. Eek! After dinner, we bought groceries for the next few days and then went back to our apartment to relax. We woke early the following morning and prepared for a full day of exploring Oslo. Keith and I had both read about various things to see, insured all were free, and decided to see how much walking we could get in on our second to last day. We spent the day exploring the Town Hall, the Aker Church (oldest building in town), had a picnic on the old fortress grounds, and watched a free student ballet performance in the Opera House. It's the only opera building that you can walk on the roof of, which we of course did before walking past the graffitied old town, and heading about five miles across town toward Vigeland Park. Keith had been reading "strange things in Oslo" on the train ride into town, and read about this sculpture park. It wasn't necessarily that strange, but with the largest collection of one sculptor's work in one area, it was certainly interesting. We napped in the grass for an hour and then Keith found a few dinner options back in the town square. We had walked fifteen miles at that points (not an exaggeration) and were feeling pretty exhausted, so we rode the subway downtown and opted for the first restaurant, Engebret Cafe. It's a traditional Norwegian restaurant, and the sign outside informed us it was the oldest restaurant in Oslo. The interior was lovely and the staff graciously offered us an English menu. Based on the prices, we shared a starter of local Norwegian specialties (cod, shrimp, whale, reindeer, etc.) and an entree of locally grown sautéed mushrooms, creamed potato, and a spinach-tomato salad. Keith tried a locally brewed beer with an unfortunate name, Aass, and I had a glass of their house red. It was our most expensive meal of the entire trip. 

This morning, Keith made us French toast and we both lost track of time, forgetting we were trying to catch an early train to Lillehammer, Norway. Lillehammer is a small-town, a two-hour train ride from Oslo, and famous as the 1994 Winter Olympic host. Though it required quite a bit of running, we managed to make it to the subway and main train station just a minute before our train ride. The downtown of Lillehammer looks like a typical ski village, with one long strand of restaurants, gift shops, and ski wear. There were only a few restaurants open, either because it was Sunday or because it's low tourist season. We skipped the shops and headed toward the Olympic Stadium. The building was also closed, but we took a few photos of their ski jump and then headed into the woods for a few hours of secluded, peaceful hiking. There were streams, waterfalls, a few spots of ice still on the ground, and thick green trees. Keith and I talked about the trip, our favorite meals and towns, all the places we want to go back, but mostly, all the new places we want to go in the future. This trip has really sparked something within us, a very strong desire to always travel, and we've already decided that within the next three years we will hike the Alps, rent a car and drive through France or Spain, visit the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, and we'll drink scotch in the Scottish Isles. And that's just by 2018! We don't know exactly when our next trip will be, but we're committed to continuing to save money for travel and wracking up all the travel rewards points we can to use toward future flights and rental cars. 

Tomorrow we fly back to the states, and though it's with a heavy heart, as it means a break from international traveling just for now, it's also with a deeper peace than either of us has ever experienced. We are of course starting to get a little nervous about selling and packing our house, moving to a new city and finding the perfect apartment, and making new friends. But, we just spent 40 days on the road, with everything we needed in backpacks strapped to our backs, staying in places we'd only seen in photos online, trying new foods, attempting to speak a few words of nine different languages (failing miserably at most) and learning about other cultures. We did yoga in Florence, celebrated mass in Munich, drank monastic beer in Prague and Andechs, ate goulash in Budapest, meditated in Sweden, hiked fifteen miles in Cinque Terre and Oslo, and the list goes on and on. This was absolutely the most amazing trip ever, and while we may never both be jobless for six weeks and able to take this long of a trip, this is not an once in a lifetime thing. If traveling is important to you, make it a priority. I've talked about this a little in one of my early posts about this trip, but I just keep thinking about all the people that make excuses to not travel. We have both had so many people express envy of us being able to do this, which just makes me really sad. Yes, I realize not many could take a six-week sabbatical but everyone should travel. If you don't like to fly, take a long road trip to mountains, the ocean, a coast, a national park, even just a new state you've never seen. If you don't have enough money, then start saving. Host a garage sale and get rid of some "things". Start tracking your daily expenses, and figure out if there are areas you can cut back - could you eat out less or buy fewer brand items? Find ways to set aside a little money every month. Maybe you can only travel every other year or every three years, but don't spend your entire life just in one place, seeing the same thing every day. Memories, especially if you keep a travel journal, last forever.

I truly hope that my documenting this experience has inspired at least one of you reading this to skip your Starbucks coffee runs or weekly manicures, and set aside that money for the trip you've been thinking about for years. If you want to hear more details about anywhere we went, want travel or budgeting tips, or just want to see more photos, please let me know. I can't wait to hear all about your travel adventures as well!