We've been in living in Norway now for about 6 days now and thought I'd share our initial observations on this beautiful northern country. For those catching up, we're here until July 16th or so on a housesitting assignment. It's an arrangement where we stay for free in someone's home while they're on holiday and take care of the house and pets. We're caring for 2 cats, Rimi and Poesje (pronounced pozya), and Bryan, a german sheep/terrier mix. Sweet animals! It's working out pretty well so far! Scenery
I don't know about you, but when I think of Norway, I think of incredible natural landscape, like fjords. Well, to be honest, we haven't seen that side of Norway...yet. We did see a little fjord flying in; but the south end of the country isn't where the spectacular-post-card-worthy views are. Our housesit is basically smack dab in the center of the country in a river valley 25km north of Lillehammer. It's beautifully green, foresty and lush. Honestly, my first impression of Norway was, "it looks like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan." Rocky inlets, super green land, lakes dotting the landscape - just like Michigan.
We'd like to take a little road trip at the end of our stay with a nice gentleman with whom we couchsurfed our first night here that would take us to the west coast, past some of the famous and outstanding fjords and mountains. Cross your fingers for that. In the meantime, we've been enjoying living in a quaint rural home with spectacular views of the valley below. The 6 hectares (or about 14 acres) of land on which our homeowners live is both field and forest and completely isolated. There is literally not another home within direct view of our house. It's a new feeling to not have to close shades and worry about privacy. The driveway gate is a good 1/2 - 3/4 miles from the house. I like it.
I have no knowledge whatsoever of Norwegian. None. Ok, well now I know how to say thank you (Takk!) but other than that, it's completely foreign. This makes reading signs and trying to pronounce things really fun. Like this word: Havrekli oppskrifter. Say that. It meas "oatbran recipe". Or the word: hovmeister. It means, "butler." One phrase we do really enjoy is something along the line of: Vash de go, which means, "here you go" as in, here, eat this, bon appetit. There are a lot of similar sounding words which does make it easier. It's very fun though.
Money & Economics
It's no secret that Norway is expensive. Having been in Mali, Senegal and Morocco I'm used to experiencing what an underdeveloped country is like. In the UK we got used to being somewhere that had a stronger currency and was therefore more expensive. However, I have never been in what I would consider an overdeveloped country. Everything is at least 30% more expensive here than on the mainland of Europe. For every US dollar we spend, we go through 6 NOK (Norwegian Kroner). To give you an idea, the 1.5L bottle of Coca-Cola we bought today to go with our duty free rum was 29 NOK, just under $5. Petrol, or regular gas for the car, was 15.3 NOK per litre, that would be 56.61 NOK per gallon (roughly) or $9.4/gallon! I will never again complain about things being expensive in the US!
But why is it like this? My question was, if prices keep rising, and everyone complains about the cost of living, why are costs rising? Can't it be controlled? I still don't have an answer, but did read this interesting Reuters Article on Norway that gave a good overview of the situation. There's also this one, which explains that Norway is the second largest producer of oil in the world after Saudia Arabia (didn't know that!!). In short, this is a super rich country. High taxes equal strong social services, but also a high cost of living. Everything is pristine and efficient. Ironic that the power in the entire valley went out our first day here; and since there's no natural gas lines in the country, everything is run on electricity. Everything.
Groceries & Living
Expensive living to us means lots of homey time doing homey things. Baking, cooking, walking the dog, etc. And since we have nothing but time and the sun never goes down our extra long days make for a perfect lifestyle of productivity, relaxation, nature-loving hikes and eating. No wonder the quality of life here is so good! We're making all our bread, cooking tons and we even bought a whole salmon which Jon impressively gutted, fileted and cut up - without the benefit of having a filet knife! Tomorrow = bread baking plus the great salmon cook-off as we prepare our 9-10 portions of beautiful salmon.
The grocery store was a fun experience, despite everything being 3-4 times more expensive than in the states. That salmon was by far the best deal of all - 117 NOK for 3 kilos! That's $20 for a whole 26" salmon! However, if you want to buy 250g of ground beef (about 8oz) you'll pay $6. Iceberg lettuce (isbergsalat) was $2.25 while a 1/2 gallon of milk (lett), and not fancy organic special milk, was $4. We were price hunting too and finding the cheapest products that also looked good.
We did treat ourselves though, because why travel if you're not going to branch out and try new things?? So our splurges included local sweet cheese (geitost ekte) and reindeer sausage (spekepolse reinsdy). Mmm I'm looking forward to it!
It seems like the good deals at the grocery stores include yarn (there's a very large yarn section), hot dogs (called grillposer- don't know why, but they're a good deal), and frozen fish (salmon is orret rund).
Anyway I know I've talked about the cost of things here, but that's the way it is. And it's not just us, everyone we've met is focused on money and the cost of living - and also of course living a good life. Makes me really appreciate our daily sauna time. Yay.
Don't forget you can see all our pics on our Seeking Fireflies Flickr page!