Simple Truths - Norway
More than anywhere else, the ruggedly beautiful and unforgiving North speaks to me. Maybe it's my family heritage (almost entirely Northern European), maybe it's my fascination with Norse mythology, with Viking history and culture.
I think we've all experienced a feeling of "belonging" in a place. It's inexplicable but sometimes we feel homesick for a place we've never been. Norway is our second foray into the Scandinavian countries (the first being Iceland) and every time we go, we leave wanting more. The Norwegian people understand the value of solitude and reconnecting to nature and city dwellers frequently retreat in the winter to cabins in the wilderness called "hyttes". The cabins, while beautifully decorated and not at all primitive or sparse, are also intentionally remote, with no access to basic amenities, instead having to rely on the owners, typically nearby farmers, to bring in drinking water, firewood, and sometimes propane if they have gas stoves. It's a brilliant way to get away from it all, to spend a week or two in a silent snow covered forest, simplicity at its best.
When we told people we were going to spend a week in the Norwegian countryside, in a cabin in the woods with no electricity, or plumbing, or running water, we understandably got some raised eyebrows. I think when people, particularly Americans, travel, they have preconceived notions about how they're supposed to do it. You're supposed to stay in a hotel. You're supposed to eat in nice restaurants. You're supposed to while away your two weeks a year on a beach, margarita in hand, Jimmy Buffet playing in the background. But I would encourage you to go the other way when you can. Go up into the mountains. Go out into the woods. Cut the technology tether because it really can hold you back. And that was the goal of this trip for us. To disconnect from the chains of modern life, and escape to a winter wonderland, to rediscover the value of doing nothing.
We, as usual, made use of my flight benefits with Delta for this trip. However, since Delta doesn't fly direct to Oslo, we flew into Amsterdam instead and bought tickets for the next day to Oslo via KLM. It's been roughly a year since our last visit to the floating Dutch city, and it's still one of our favorite sprawls in the world. We spent the day wandering aimlessly down the Diagon Alley-esque streets, marveling at the dates on the buildings (some of which are from the 15th century, predating Columbus' voyage to the Americas), finding local pubs down quiet side streets and striking up conversation with a fantastic Irish couple on holiday, and of course, stuffing our faces with absurdly delicious FEBO. We also tried the infamous smoked herring and were surprisingly fond of it.
Up early the next morning, we took the quick flight about an hour and a half north to Oslo. We loaded our packs into the rental car, a tiny little jumpy Peugeot compact which we very maturely called the Poo-Go for the remainder of the trip, and lurched off onto the freeway for about an hour, bound for a small rural village called Eidsvoll. After navigating our way, mouths agape, through the incredible picture book countryside, we arrived at our host's home, a stoic white farm house with a red barn, each of which looking to be at least 100 years old, though both lovingly cared for. We had booked the cabin on Airbnb but our host was out of town, leaving us a note with her mother, a wonderfully animated woman who spoke ZERO English. She gave us several large jugs of water and with some vaguely pointed gestures as to which way to go, we set off for the cabin. We drove down a beautiful forest for a half mile or so, breaking through the trees into a small clearing on the edge of a yawning ravine. There, perched on the edge, was our home for the next week.
Our next few days were some of the most restorative, perfect days in recent memory. We filled the hours reading, hiking, sleeping, cooking over the fire, and completing myriad chores that go hand in hand with cabin life, our phones abandoned on the coffee table. My mornings were usually spent building the previous night's fire back up, then trudging across the wonderfully crunchy new snow (a sound that never fails to put a big childlike smile on my face) to the woodshed and chopping wood.
Tiffany would make breakfast and tidy up the small space and then the two of us would go down to the local grocery store and stock up on the day's food and the absurdly good selection of Norwegian sweets.
We discovered a network of hiking trails connected to the cabin, snaking through the surreal woodlands and connecting the various farmhouses in the area. On one such hike, we stumbled across a river, calmly cutting through the boreal countryside, flanked by frozen, snow covered banks, a train line running down one bank, with beautiful white geese sailing gently down the coast.
We made a couple of short trips to Oslo and one long day trip across the border into Sweden to Gothenburg. But for the most part, our goal of finding solitude and simplicity was a success.
I think we as a people have forgotten the value of doing nothing. We have wrongly correlated the act of doing nothing with boredom. To stop and pause is to die and I'm guilty of it too. We have all woven such a tight net of dependency on social media, and Netflix, and PlayStation to fill our spare time, that we've gotten addicted to it, like a digital heroin that we just can't shake, a steady drip feed of dopamine we're so hooked on that we can't even go the restroom without phone in hand. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting we all become Luddites and burn our mobile phones and laptops, just that we strike a better balance.
Technology has done wonderful things for us, but it has done so in the extreme. We can now connect more easily and more broadly to anyone in the world at any time, but have forgotten how to be alone. We have thousands upon thousands of different ways to entertain ourselves, but have forgotten how to stop and just "be." I encourage you, dear reader, to cut the umbilical and experience the world first hand. To go to a concert and leave your phone in the car, choosing instead to watch the band with your own eyes. To take a walk, or read a book, or talk to a stranger, and not to worry constantly about what's happening on Facebook or Instagram or even this blog. The world is a beautiful, captivating place full of beautiful, captivating people and if you want to cut the cord, you would be hard pressed to find a better place to do it than Norway.