We flew from Athens to Copenhagen and then to Bergen. The second largest Norwegian city is the hub to the fjord world, surrounded by great landscapes and dominated by the bold color palette of the city’s houses. When we arrived the sun was shining, the skies were blue, there was no wind and despite the fact that the temperature was a bit low for my taste, the conditions were near perfect for an afternoon walk around the port.
The buildings are painted in vivid blues, reds and yellows with a fair portion of whites that actually accentuate the color pandemonium. They are made of wood of course, usually two story high and well maintained. It takes less than thirty minutes to walk around the port, from Bryggen to the fish market, on the opposite side of the dock and then back again. Aesthetically, the port of Bergen is very beautiful and picturesque, but that’s about it.
Now Bryggen is a different story. A UNESCO world heritage site, Bryggen is essentially a collection of 17th century colorful buildings and narrow wooden alleys, the remainders of the Hanseatic league, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns, which was founded in 1267. A must see, although difficult to photograph because of the narrow streets and the difficult light.
Any tourist guidebook will tell you that the Bergen to Oslo train is one of the don’t-miss things in Norway. It takes about 6 hours and during March the landscape is dominated by the colors of ice and snow. It is indeed very beautiful, but I believe that it will be even more impressive during summertime, when colors take over from whites. The trains are fast, clean, precise and quiet, precisely as you expect trains to be in Norway. It sounds a bit boring and it actually is, so here is my first clue: Norway is beautiful, very beautiful. Norway is efficient. Yes, Norway is rich, but I strongly suspect that Norway is boring.
The capital of Norway, with about 1 million inhabitants is the archetype modern European city. It blends a well preserved historical and cultural heritage with the modern way of living. The streets are pedestrian and cyclist friendly, with extra care taken to make the life of the physically disabled easy.
We walked around the main train station and visited the new Opera, which is establishing itself as the city landmark. An interesting and super-modern building that blends nicely to the and old town and the harbor. When construction in the surrounding area will finish, it will certainly be a lot more appealing.
So why is Norway do rich? For starters, there is the Oil. In the 70s, Norway was already well off, with a per capita income around 70% Sweden’s. But after the discovery of the North Sea reserves, the technology advancements in exploring deep sea fields and two major oil crises, Norway surpassed the US in per capita income. But the society was based on egalitarian values and hard work, so instead of resorting to spending they opted for savings. With strong institutions in place, they were quick to found a sovereign wealth fund to save and invest for future generations. As of November 2016, it was the largest sovereign fund in the world with total assets of $870b $170’000 per citizen. per citizen. It takes a surplus of trust in a society to allow for this. Norwegians trust their politicians and fellow citizens that this wealth is going to be invested for their well being and their future generations and not spent against their interests. There are very few societies I can think of that would exhibit similar behavior.
Next: The Lofoten Islands