Spring Break in Norway (or Covid 2: Contagious Boogaloo)

Months ago, we rescheduled 2020’s spring break trip to Germany for April 2022, until we saw that such was unlikely to be feasible without lots of quarantining and doing nothing, so we pivoted to what appeared to be the least restrictive country we could visit in the waning Age of Covid: Norway. A month before we left, we put together a flight into Oslo, another up to Tromsø, another down to Bergen, and a flight home from there after our week of exploring 3 cities, but the last place turned into an extra week, thanks to Covid (just like Spring Break 2021!) Here’s my synopsis of what we saw and did in Norway, divided into tiers:

Norway: the great

We took the children to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Oslo, and I think it was our family’s best dining experience ever (upstaging starred places visited in France, Japan, Italy, and the U.S.)–it was called Statholdergaarden. Every course was awesome; the service was impeccable; the wine pairings were of a quantity that enhanced each course without being so heavily poured that the last few courses were forgotten, AND they chose juice pairings for the children! It was > 4 hours of culinary hospitality greatness surrounded by an opulence constructed in 1640.

On a Sunday night in Bergen, we went to a dive bar called Skipperstuen and heard a local musician from the front table, and he started playing covers in English like “Country Road” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” and of course, I knew all the words and sang along, and since I was wearing a sweater I’d bought a few days prior, he started talking to me in Norwegian at one point, and I was all, “I’m sorry- I’m American…I don’t know what you’re saying” and he was all, “You look very Norwegian!” and I felt complimented. He basically wanted my help with the high parts of a 4 Non Blondes song he was about to do, and I cheerfully obliged. The whole experience was delightful.

I loved Tromsø. We learned about the Sámi, ate reindeer, rode in sleds pulled by reindeer, rode in sleds pulled by Alaskan Huskies, and played with Husky puppies there. We hoped to see the Northern Lights but missed them due to cloud cover, but this was my favorite area/city we saw. I loved the bars we visited at night, including the oldest above the Artic Circle–Ølhallen–where the bartender was from Chicago, and a tiki bar called Misfit. We also loved the 4-hour, multiple course meal we had at Emma’s Dream Kitchen with excellent service, beautiful views, and wonderful food.

Norway: the good

Oslo is not unlike a lot of bigger cities we’ve visited around Europe or the U.K., but with more plentiful fish. One of our first activities after locating our AirBnb was to have fish while overlooking the Oslo fjord at Festningen Restaurant.

It also has a king, and this king lives in a royal palace, and if you try and walk into said palace past the armed guards, the guards will let you know you aren’t allowed in. Otherwise, it was cool to visit a palace.

There’s a resistance museum that honors those in Norway who attempted to fight off the Nazis’ invasion in 1940. It’s small, but we all loved the information and artifacts offered.

After the children went to bed, the adults had cocktails at Himkok, one of the world’s top 50 bars (though not all of it was open just yet)!

The Munch museum in Oslo was really interesting and fun to visit, though too hot, and we didn’t allow as much time for it as I would have liked. So, check your jacket and allow a few hours!

Bergen was adorable, and is Europe’s rainiest city, but we only had 1 day of rain in the 10+ days we were trapped there! We loved hiking some of its 7 mountain peaks and enjoying the waterfront views each day.

The “Norway in a Nutshell” tour was great! We took a picturesque train ride from Myrdal to Voss and then rode a speedboat through the fjords past Undredal (on which Arendelle from “Frozen” is based) before a ferry took us to a Viking Village in Gudvangen where we spent the night, and it was a highlight of the trip.

Once we realized we’d be trapped in Bergen, we looked for a memorable way to celebrate Easter, and attending services at Saint Mary’s church (opened in 1180) with English and Norwegian sermon translations, accompanied by refugees from Ukraine in attendance, was a pleasant silver lining in an unpleasant circumstance I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Norway: the bad

Prices are pretty high. In fact, if you need to get an official Covid test at the airport, it’s about $100. When I asked the testing official if we could maybe get a break since we were the only people there, and $500 to go home for what we were sure would just be a formality seemed unreasonable, her robotic response was “Welcome to Norway.” Not cool, Airport Covid Testing Lady.

Norway: the ugly

The dudes in Norway have no boundaries.

The second time we went to Skipperstuen was after we realized we’d be trapped in Bergen. We walked from the Moxy hotel. It was not Sunday with the local musician, but it was karaoke night, which excited me, because I signed up to sing Kenny Rogers, but every time I went up to get a beer, some older dude would try and sit by my bride. She sort of chuckled about it the first few times and told them the seat was taken, so that by the time I’d get back, it was just a story I heard about, but then a younger dude came and sat by her while I was seated there.

We tried to be cordial, but he had sort of a “spaced out” look in his eyes that led me to think he was
a.) on the spectrum and lacked interpersonal skills which I otherwise take for granted,
b.) on heroin, or
c.) an asshole.
I wondered about the likelihood of the second option, because we’d been told the blue lights inside the public bathrooms were so heroin addicts would be unable to find a vein inside said public bathrooms and would not camp out there. For like 30 minutes, I waited to see if my name would be called to go on stage and sing, whether this dude would realize our silence after exchanged pleasantries meant it was his time to go, whether I should do what I wanted to do and confront him with a “what do you want?” or “why are you sitting so close to us?” or “hey, can we have some time to ourselves now?” but every scenario I played in my head lead to the possibility of ending up the way the last time I said something to some dude in a bar who was making someone I knew uncomfortable in a foreign country went, and I did not want to face police questioning or ride in an ambulance again. I didn’t know whom he knew there, what his capability for rational reaction or interaction was, or anything else about him other than that he really wanted to hang out with my wife.

After about 30 minutes of role playing various scenarios in my head that never led anywhere I wanted to go, I suddenly stood up and declared, “We’re leaving. Bye.” He asked my wife if she would stay; she turned him down. We gathered our coats and walked out the door, into the town, and back to the safe confines of the Moxy.

A night or two later, it happened again when we revisited a bar/ record store where we’d enjoyed a great evening before the kids’ positive Covid tests– Apollon. I was checking out some vinyl; my jacket was draped over the chair next to my sweet bride, and some dude moved my jacket to sit down and start talking to her. I came over; he asked me (after he’d asked her) if I’m her boyfriend.

“Not since we got married 16 years ago?”

He didn’t stay in my seat, but he didn’t leave. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and turned the conversation to ’80s and ’90s music, given we were surrounded by records, but half an hour later, he’d moved the conversation to how great Socialism is (despite his”barely” paying any taxes–how convenient!) and how much better the poor in China are than the are the poor in the U.S., and within seconds, a bartender or bouncer was by me asking what the issue was and why I was yelling and standing. I left; my bewildered wife followed, as our new acquaintance protested her leaving with me and not staying there with him.

Norway: the conclusion

Norway is beautiful. If you have adequate savings and/or Marriott points, and you don’t mind having your wife pursued like Miss USA on a combat USO tour, it’s is a wonderful place to visit–full of healthy and delicious meals, and we absolutely loved the cold weather adventures with dogs and reindeer.

I’d love to go back, but we’ll stay above the Arctic Circle–away from the crazed dudes of Bergen and enjoy the benevolent deer and the dogs.

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