Yah, We Know How to Run a Country, Yah!

Posted by on Jun 6, 2011 in General Travel, Norway | 6 Comments

It would be impossible to describe Norway without using words like “efficient”, “infrastructure”, “public transit”, or “common sense”. From the moment we landed at Oslo’s gleaming international airport, we were amazed by how well everything seemed to work in Norway. To take the train from the airport to Oslo S, the Oslo Sentrum train station, we assumed we’d have to stand in line and buy tickets from the little electronic kiosks and that those very same kiosks would require a European credit card with a little “chip” (which we don’t have). “No problem,” said the friendly attendant with the perfect English accent, “you just need to swipe your credit card at the gate.” At the gate??? Yes, the credit card reader is literally next to the turnstile and a quick swipe of the card charges you for a one-way train ticket and lets you in at the same time. Wow!

Wow, there are trains, trams, tiny ferry boats, large ferry boats, buses, and funiculars that take you everywhere in Norway! Wow, they’re all well-maintained, clean, on time, and GPS-enabled so that bus & tram stops tell you when the next vehicle is coming and where it’s going! Wow, inside buses and trams, the next stops are displayed on flat-screen monitors!

LED display in bus stops

LED displays in bus stops let passengers know which buses are coming and when. Super efficient!

In the bus on the way to the Munch Museum

In the bus on the way to the Munch Museum. Upcoming stops are displayed on monitors.

And, uh, wow, each ride costs about $5. That’s a bargain for Norway, because a 5 minute cab ride will set you back about $25. A beer will cost you at least $8 and nachos can cost around $30:

Food Prices are Scary!

Food prices are scary in Norway. That plate of nachos is $30, and the baby back ribs are $42.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…  Once we arrived at Oslo S, we met up with Eirik, a business school friend of mine who lives in the Torshov neighborhood of Oslo. He picked us up in his VW van, completely (permanently!) loaded up with competitive windsurfing gear, and drove us to his flat. It was our home for the next 3 nights, and we thank him very much for his hospitality and all that delicious salmon with sennepsaus!

The following day we took a city bus to the Edvard Munch Museum to see some pretty famous paintings. The man wasn’t exactly mirthful and much of his work is depressing, but the museum was beautiful and provided a great setting for these portraits (all these pics were taken with my new camera. I’m not violating any copyright laws). Once we bought tickets, we expected to have to hand them to a ticket taker at the entrance, but we just scanned them on a barcode machine next to the turnstile. Cool.

"Self Portrait in Hell"

"Self Portrait in Hell". Like I said, this guy wasn't too cheery.

"The Scream"

"The Scream", apparently based on emotions felt by Munch himself while out for a walk one evening.

"Jealousy II"

"Jealousy II"

We hit the Nobel Peace Prize Museum the following day, as well as the Viking Ship Museum along the western waterfront of Oslo. We had to take a boat to the Viking Ship Museum, but it ran every 20 minutes and allowed us to transfer to any other mode of public transport.

Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

Oslo's Viking Ship Museum contains 2 fully-restored ships that were recovered from Viking burial mounds. There's irrefutable evidence that Vikings established settlements in Newfoundland in roughly 1000 AD, but we still continue to say that Columbus "discovered" America. He didn't.

On Friday evening, Eirik celebrated his 38th birthday and invited a large group of friends to his flat. It was quite an interesting mix of Norwegians, Americans, Mexicans, Canadians, Brits, and Indians.

Norwegian Windsurfer

Eirik tells us that this guy is a famous Norwegian windsurfer. Unfortunately, we don't remember his name...

On our last day in Oslo, Eirik drove us to Holmenkollen, the site of a massive cantilevered ski jump overlooking the entire city. Not only is the ski jump’s structure totally jaw-dropping, but the steepness of the landing hill is downright freaky. It tops out at approximately 36°, which is about 8 times as steep as your typical hilly road. In keeping with Norwegian values, the structure is both architecturally impressive yet understated (read: not gaudy). It’s covered in cost-effective metal “fabric” that gives it a very solid look, but it’s probably super light and maintenance-free.

Holmenkollen ski jump in Oslo

Pierre & Robin at the top of the Holmenkollen ski jump in Oslo. The oval structure behind us is the spectator viewing area, several hundred feet below the top of the tower.

Eirik & Pierre on top of the ski jump

Eirik & Pierre on top of the ski jump.

Finally, we made a stop at the Oslo Sculpture Garden to see the crying baby statue, which is much, much smaller than what we expected. We saw pictures of it in a magazine, and it looked like is was about 20 ft tall. In real life, it’s noticeably smaller:

Angry Baby

Angry Baby statue in the Oslo Sculpture Garden.

We boarded a train to Bergen at 4:07 that afternoon and watched the suburbs of Oslo zoom by our window. The train was so quiet that we whispered to each other for the next 7 hours, careful not to disturb the other passengers in the railcar. Yah, they sure know how to build nice trains in Norway, and it made us wonder about our priorities back home. How can a vast country of only 4.5 million people build such amazing infrastructure, and how do they operate it so effectively? Why can’t we do this? Why do our trains suck so bad and why are our roads falling apart? Are they just much better at running a country and spending money on the right things? Yah, it sure looks like it.


  1. Sandy
    June 6, 2011

    Love it – especially the angry baby. Shows how real Norwegians are that they can actually do depictions of human babies as something other than angelic and sweet (they are that, too, but not always).

    You have to read Jo Nesbo’s book The Snowman for the answer to your question, Pierre. Besides being a great slice of Norwegian life, it is a gripping crime mystery. (Thanks to my sister, Jackie, for recommending this one.)

    I am glad to hear you are having a good time. I can’t wait for the next chapter.

    Albert says pwwwooot! (Not sure how you spell that.)


    • Robin
      June 7, 2011

      We found an English bookstore today and bought that book! Looking forward to checking it out.

      Pwwwoot or whatever to Albert too!

  2. Melissa
    June 7, 2011

    2 words: “oil, money.” And, yes, Scandinavians are quite sensible, it seems. Although, I’ve not found the bus system in Stockholm to be anywhere near so civilized.
    We will be in the neighborhood in 3 weeks- but you will be long gone, yeah?

    • Pierre
      June 11, 2011

      Hey Melissa! Yup, we’ll be long gone, unfortunately. We’ll probably be in Italy or Croatia.

      Re: the oil money, that’s too simple an explanation. The US has oil money, and so does Canada. The difference is that Norway is choosing to spend it on public works and infrastructure, while we piss it away on defense or something equally dumb. I’m sure Norwegian oil companies don’t have the same sweetheart deals that US companies get when they drill on public lands and pay minimal royalties. Same thing for the oil sands in Canada. The gov’t basically gives away the drilling rights — something that the public owns — and private companies make a killing.

  3. Ed
    June 19, 2011

    The priorities of the Scandinavian countries are so much different from the U.S.–you see it in everything. It may be over-simplified, but they aim at the public good while there are powerful forces in the U.S. that do everything to undermine it and channel it to the rich. It’s pervasive in every aspect of the respective societies. (But the exchange rate of the dollar to the krona…man! Presumably their salaries match up and it just means that they can travel cheaply while they will never really develop a tourist industry.)

  4. George
    June 28, 2011

    Hey guys! Great review of Oslo. I hope to do the same tour in a couple of years. Regarding high prices, that explains why Eirik goes on a shopping spree during all of our ski trips.

    I’m looking forward to catching up on the rest of your trip today.



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