Norway expert, Gabriella Brundu, explores a country through the limits of its environment.
At 25 I decided to apply for a year abroad—a short break in scenery and culture I assumed—from my life in Sardinia, Italy. The mandate for me was simple: to find a place that was entirely different from my own, in weather, landscape and food.
That summer I put my feet down in Norway, one of the most northerly countries in Europe. The goal was immediately realized—everything felt like the opposite, and for a somewhat novice traveller eager to interact with the world in fresh, new ways, it was entirely revelatory. My intent had been to manage a year of communications study abroad, but the enchantment of the Nordic culture and pristine wilderness were so strong that I bunkered down for my masters as well, and then some.
Norway, as desired, offered a very specific and strong experience that countered my own.
The most dramatic difference is the relationship to the outdoors. As a country that must live in darkness for a significant chunk of the year, outdoor activity is regarded piously: everything revolves around enjoying the surrounding environment, no matter the conditions.
The entire society and the infrastructure reflect a desire to optimize outdoor time. Cities, countryside—all are set up for the promotion of the outdoors, bright or dark. Oslo’s luminous network of overhead lights follow careening paths toward the lake and you’ll find many people winding along riverside paths as they finish up their work days and filter outdoors.
Kindergarten classes spend most, if not all, of the day outside. Saturday and Sunday the subway system bloats with families as they head to the mountains, where ski hills and hiking trails are all geared for this part of life—the ongoing appreciation and exploration of the outdoor arena.
Embracing the outdoors is built right into the culture (and the psyche of its inhabitants), especially because of the limited sunshine for part of the year. Despite the fact it may be cold and dark—you must go out! It helps you survive a potentially difficult time of year.
The other side of the coin, however, is that eventually the country finds itself in the midnight sun with extravagant amounts of sunlight—everybody out all the time, at all hours—dining on patios until 3 AM, where you’d be forgiven for ‘losing’ track of time. (This is the time of year I usually recommend for first-time travel to Norway.)