For a long time, I’ve been dreaming about going to Scandinavia during the summer just to see what it’s like. I could never imagine what it’d be like to have so much light and so little darkness for a few months (and vice versa). This last weekend I finally made the trip to Scandinavia to experience it and to visit a few old friends.
The trip worked out perfectly. My Lithuanian friend (Rasa) who I met at Iowa 3 years ago just moved to Oslo, and my Swedish friend (Emma) that I met in Australia just moved to a city called Arvika, which is just a 3 hour train ride east of Oslo. I had a few days of holidays so I made a 4 day weekend out of it.
I flew to Oslo on Friday night and finally arrived in the city center around midnight. I stayed the night in Oslo but took the 7am train to Arvika in the morning. After dropping my stuff off and catching up with Emma, we explored the town. It was great to stay in a small city since most of my traveling is done in large cities. I believe the city is about 15,000, and it’s a beautiful little city located right by the lake. We went to the market and bought some typical cinnamon buns, which I became slightly addicted to in the 2 days I was there. Since the weather was so nice, we also got some ice cream. Apparantly the Swedes love their ice cream and show it with quantities. It’s common to get a waffle cone or cup and have 3 scoops of different ice creams and then also add some sprinkles or chocolate. The weather was so nice both days that we did the same thing on Sunday, except that time I got 3 scoops of the hard ice cream and then a serving of soft served ice cream on top of those 3 scoops, topped with chocolate and all in a waffle cone. I guess when the weather is warm in Sweden, you make sure to enjoy it!
One of Emma’s friend was getting his sailboat out for the first time of the year and he invited us along, so we went with. I’d never been sailing before but enjoyed seeing the process and helping out. We got out into the water and ready to sail, and there was hardly any wind at all. So rather than sailing, we ended up swimming and enjoying the water instead. What surprised me was the lack of people out on the water. On a warm day (probably 75 or 80 degrees), we probably only saw 10 boats out on the water in 2 hours. I guess the Swedish usually use their boats for transportation to the beach and back rather than boating around like we would usually do. Make me wonder if it’s because of the fuel consumption (the much higher price of fuel in Sweden and their environmental friendly attitudes). The lack of boats made for a nice relaxing afternoon.
That evening, Emma had a few friends over (1 Swede, 1 Argentine) and we made dinner, had a few drinks, and then went out to the one local club on the pier. Paying $20 to get in is tough, but something that’s necessary when visiting this expensive of a country. We had a good time and luckily didn’t feel to bad in the morning.
One funny thing to mention about Arvika. For some reason, classic cars in really in style for the young, cool locals. These guys (and sometimes girls) will drive around the town with extremely loud music (and I mean hear it from 5 blocks away loud) in their 1965 Chevy convertibles or other similar styles. In the evenings, you might see 15 different cars like this driving around town.
The Scandinavian tastes for candy is pretty strange. For some reason, Norwegians and Swedish like salty candy. For example, they have a licorice covered in salt. I’m not a picky person, but this was something that I wouldn’t like to try again. Luckily for those of you at home, you might have the chance!
On Sunday, we jumped in the car and drove around the region. Emma showed me Karlstadt, which is the bigger city in the region where she went to high school. Very nice little city with a river going through it. A big difference with cities and rivers in Sweden is that they keep their rivers clean and people actually want to swim in them. It seems in the US our rivers are so dirty in cities that no one would dare to swim in them.
On the way out of Karlstadt, we stopped so I could make my first ever visit to Ikea, which is a Swedish company. I’m pretty sure it was pretty much the same as other stores you’d find anywhere in the world, but I’m happy to say that my first visit was in the country of origin!
We then made our way to Emma’s parents house in Grumms, a town of 5,000 people. Going to the house of locals are always my favorite experiences. It’s interesting to see how they live, try some new foods, and everyone is always extremely nice. Emma’s parents were no different. They lived in a beautiful home right outside the town, and we had dinner in their sun porch. Her parents weren’t fluent in English, but they were extremely polite and really tried to say everything in English (including when they were talking to Emma). It takes a lot of courage to talk to in a different language when you know you’re making mistakes. They really seemed to enjoy it, and Emma even said it’s exciting for them to get to practice it. It’s something I definitely appreciated since I know it probably put them out of their comfort zone to try to speak English the whole time.
Emma then showed me around town. The main attraction is the ancient burial grounds from the early and late Iron Age (which is somewhere in between 1000 BC and 400 AD I believe). After this, we headed back to her place in Arvika and relaxed for the evening. Watching the sunset at 11:15 pm is a strange feeling, but was pretty cool. The white nights really played with my mind. When it’d be that late, I would feel tired but would have no desire to go to sleep since it looked like it was 8 pm. I guess that’s why they take so much vacation time in the summer!
On Monday morning, I took the train back to Oslo. Rasa and I then did some sightseeing. Oslo as a tourist city was actually very disappointing. Nothing too impressive with architecture since everything was pretty new. The parliament, city hall, and other sites were pretty ordinary. The opera was a cool modern building right on the water with nice views of the city, and the fortress was nice to see. I found that the best part of Oslo is the nature (even in the city). There are many parks and even small forests in some parts of the city. Oh yeah, and the Vigeland Park was interesting to see…which has a bridge with many statues of naked people doing all kind of things. Posing, fighting, hugging, everything. The most famous I believe is the statue of the naked screaming baby.
The best part of Oslo was the fjord. Oslo is located on the fjord, and there are several small islands accessible by public transportation boats. On Tuesday, we had some decent weather and took one out to a random island. We found a nice little rocky beach with very few people and had a nice afternoon. We did some swimming in the freezing water (which is expected since we were in Scandinavia), a little hiking on the island, and just enjoyed the weather.
Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world, even moreso than New York City I believe (or at least it seemed). Hardly anything would cost under $4. A local metro ticket…$4. A bottle of water from the supermarket…$4. A beer from a local bar…$11. A McDonalds combo meal…$15. I didn’t even check for a local restaurant…I was too scared to find what I might see.
Overall, it was a great trip to Scandinavia. I learned a lot about their cultures, got to see some old friends, and enjoyed the outdoors. Now on to Italy…