Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Notes from Norway

I just spent five days in Norway at a board meeting and retreat.
We spent three days in Beitostolen, which is a 3.5 hour drive north of Oslo, about 50 miles west of Lillehammer, site of the 1994 Winter Olympics. Beitostolen has both alpine and nordic skiing, but the mountains are not as big as the mountains where the Olympics were held. The last two days of our trip were spent back in Oslo. I am flying home now and here are some of my observations.

• The snow is spectacular. In places it reaches the eves of houses.

• I now understand why Norwegians win so many Olympic medals in Nordic skiing events: the entire population cross-country skis. For practically the entire drive up to Beitostolen, I saw perfectly groomed trails along the side of the road with two perfect ski tracks in them. Occasionally, we’d see a skier making his way somewhere or other although he seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Other times, we’d see a lonely track split from the big trail and head across a wide frozen lake, only to end at a tiny house on a distant shore. When we got to Beitostolen, it became clear that skiing is a way of life. On the weekend, whole families were clothed in expensive gear, skiing around – carrying packages, pushing and pulling sleds with bundled up babies in them, only noses showing, back and forth to the market, lunch, shopping, or just in a big loop to get some exercise. Every car had three or four pairs of skis on top and people in restaurants were as likely to be wearing ski boots as regular boots.

• I’ve eaten nothing but Cod and Reindeer for five days.

• I’m not kidding about that five days of Cod and Reindeer.

• I only saw a bit of Oslo, but what I saw was pretty, if unspectacular. It has a beautiful waterfront which looks like it would be tremendous fun in the summertime, although it was dominated by the hulking, ugly City Hall, which looks like a parody of the headquarters of a socialist bureaucracy (which, in fact, it is).

• Here's from my hotel room - better.

• Norwegians drink. Hard. Until late at night. Sometimes they fall down. Then they go to sleep. Then they get up and ski.

• It’s cold.

• I’ve learned a bit about Norway, which is a very interesting country. Here is the very, very short version as told to me by a local. Norway is currently enjoying only its second period of prosperity in its long history. The first was during the heyday of the Vikings, and was driven largely by pillaging. The second began during the last half of the twentieth century and was driven by the discovery of a massive stash of oil just off the Norwegian coast. The Norwegian government has used the proceeds from the sale of this oil to provide for its citizens, and today the country’s sovereign wealth fund is worth about $500 billion, or something like $100,000 for each of its five million citizens. There are a lot of comfy cars like Land Rovers that people use to drive around in all that cold air and snow.

• It occurred to me that all that skiing is probably a cultural relic. Before the discovery of oil, Norwegians were very poor people. They didn’t have Land Rovers to get to the market. They probably had to ski there. This is also probably why they’re very good at bundling up.

• Regrettably, the women in Norway are not as attractive as the popular conception.

• Notwithstanding any of the above, I like Norway and Norwegians very much and look forward to my next visit.

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