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Column: My week in Norway, Part I

I’m just back from a week in Norway, where My True Love and I stayed with her daughter, who is married to a Norwegian man.

Here’s what was fun and memorable about Norway.

It’s hilly, bordering on mountainous, and everywhere rocky and wooded. Straight roads almost do not exist. If one is straight, it’s probably a passenger rail line, and it has to be straight because those tear through the countryside at speeds in excess of 85 miles per hour.

I was told that the only straight automobile road in Norway was built in the ‘40s, when the German Nazis invaded. They blasted and dug and tunneled, and now that straight road is a continuous reminder that curvy is better. And more Norwegian.

Norway may not have vivid memories of Nazi occupation during World War II, but the murmured memory of it is everywhere, just beneath the surface. “A Nazi sympathizer lived there.” “That house over there was occupied by German officers.” “Quisling? You of course know of him.” (That name has become synonymous with “traitor,” as he was a Norwegian who sympathized with Germany and is now famous in a bad way in Norway.)

Also, I saw only one stop sign during our visit. Instead, they use “roundabouts.” These are circle drives into which everyone enters. Then, as you’re all speeding around this circle, you pick the road you want out on, which would be one of four, five, or more, depending upon which twisty-turny path you choose. It’s pretty neat and works way better than you would think. But it seemed at first like circular suicide by auto.

The rail system there in Norway, compared with the light rail we rode to the airport in the Twin Cities, is a study in contrasts. How? First, Norway’s system runs rigidly on time. Minneapolis’s light rail? Ummmm, well, it runs. How else? Riding the Norske (pronounced nor-ski to us, but norsh-ski to them) is smooth, smooth, smooth. Riding the light rail in the Twin Cities more closely resembles a start-and-stop hang-on carnival experience, complete with square wheels.

Next are the cars. There are no pickup trucks. Almost all of the passenger vehicles are hatchbacks, either small SUVs or station wagons. I was in heaven. I love station wagons. Volvos. Mercedes. Audis. Renaults. Even Ford sells a full-size wagon over there. Nearly all the manufacturers of the world sell models there that we cannot get here. I even saw a Toyota Corolla station wagon! Beautiful!

To add to my delight, the majority of those vehicles are diesel-powered, due to the government encouraging their use by tax breaks. Gasoline is expensive at 15 kroners ($2.50 U.S.) a liter, which isn’t far from a quart, which makes that about $10 per gallon.

Electric vehicles are everywhere; once again because there is just about no tax on them.

No article on Norway is complete without visiting taxes. Yes, they’re high. Prices? Yes, they’re high, too. But minimum wage over there is probably close to our $25 an hour. It’s all relative to them, just not to us when we arrive with dollars in our pockets.

One thing about Norway is not different: It seems that children from 8 to 30 are all bent over their phones, tapping, sweeping, scrutinizing. I wonder where we’re going with all that. Probably to a time when we have one implanted in our brain, which will also serve to motivate us to be more active, because not only will it communicate, it will shock us to get our butts off the couch.

Activity is not a problem over there; neither is obesity. They get their kids outside, weather be darned. And it shows.

More next time.