Thank you to my friend Candace for writing about her recent trip to Norway from London with her twin 3 year old girls, proving that sometimes the trips that seem least likely to be awesome end up being better than ever expected. And check out her recently published book, Prescription For Disaster: The Funny Side of Falling Apart, a hilariously raw memoir of living life with a sense of humor while fighting a disease.
In the average person’s top ten destinations to go with a couple of young kids Norway is surprisingly low on the list – despite it being where Anna and Elsa are from. Okay fine – and Olaf and Sven. However, my husband’s favorite hip hop group (don’t ask) was in Oslo so off we went on another family adventure – only backpacks allowed.
We booked our flights, the only hotel room left in the city (in a dodgy business park), a rental car and off we went to Norway, knowing nothing about the country other than it being the home of Frozen and host to a national love of sweaters. This seemed to be enough for our four day adventure – until I googled ‘things to do in Norway’ on my phone en route to the airport and realized that there was actually very little on that list that looked even remotely interesting.
I didn’t want to see an opera house. We don’t want to eat Sven. Churches are not our thing and maybe the Viking museum would be interesting (it wasn’t).
We arrived at the airport in Oslo, keen to embark on an adventure but to what we had yet to determine. The internet had, for the first time in our collective memory, failed us. I was left to do the unthinkable – we would have to talk to strangers. Use a map. An actual, fold-out map. Would the airport even sell those? The most Norwegian language skills we had involved waving ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ – hoping that would at least be the same. Maybe we would luck out and someone would speak Chinese.
As it turns out, the internet failing us in Norway was the best thing that could have happened to us.
It started with the car rental guy helping us to decipher the intricate logistics of Norwegian car-seats into a tiny Golf, who then gave us a bigger car. He seemed nice enough – probably not an axe murderer… so I gave my husband ‘the signal’ – I was going to talk to this guy. He looked back at me and shook his head, eyes wide. ‘Don’t do it’ he mouthed. ‘Too awkward’. Oh, I was going to do it. He had practically dared me to do it now. I stuck my head into the back of the car as my husband and I were both wrangling in car-seats from either side and whispered to him, our heads together in the back seat with the kids and our bums sticking out each door. ‘He seems local. Maybe he’ll have some suggestions on where to go!” He wasn’t sold on the idea. “He’s going to think we’re weird! We’ll just find a map or something!
“Where are we going to find a map? And the sat-nav is in French!”
“I don’t know, we’ll figure it out. Don’t ask this guy, that’s weird.”
“I think we should ask him.”
“Shhhhh! He’s coming!”
“I’m doing it!”
‘Fine’ he said. ‘But do it over there so he doesn’t think I’m weird too.’
So I rustled up the courage and spoke to this stranger. It turned out that he was local and he was nice and he was thrilled to give us some suggestions, even running back into his rental car hut to get a pen and paper to draw us a little map.
Well look at that.
He suggested Fredrickstad, which was actually quite beautiful, not touristy and close enough that we drove to Sweden so we could scratch that off our map at home. It was lovely!
And then came the kicker – Asgardstrand.
Wait, ASGARD is here? Like from Thor??? (for some reason this hadn’t occurred to us before, given that we are both comic book nerds this is somewhat embarrassing). “Paul! Start the car! We’re going to Asgard! ASGARD!! START THE CAAARRRR!!!!”
And that too, was awesome.
Our trip continued like this – when we stopped at another nearby town café and were again forced to communicate openly with strangers – the café owner turned out to be a Canadian woman (who knew?!) who walked us through the village telling us all about the history of each building –leading us to the home of Edward Munsch, artist of ‘The Scream’. She then led us over to the water and told us the story behind some of his most famous paintings as our children were delighted by the village cat that had followed them relentlessly along our route.
Back to the hotel later and, not wanting to spend $40 per entrée at the hotel restaurant I tried in vain to order a pizza yet alas, the internet had failed me again. Ever tried using Just Eat online in Norwegian? NOT EFFECTIVE! It got to the point that I called a pizza place trying to place an order. Our communication was strong enough to order a ‘big margarita pizza’ but continuously broke down once it got to my pronunciation of our hotel street address. One place was so fed up with my attempts that the guy interrupted me to say “Sorry. Driver no here today. Bye.” and then hung up. In tears (over pizza) I ventured down to the hotel reception and quietly begged the receptionist to order me a pizza, feeling ashamed and hopeless. A world traveler such as myself and I can’t even order a pizza.
She smiled and not only ordered us a pizza but recommended the best pizza in Oslo – and it was.
It was our last day in Norway and I was bound and determined to drive around finding the ‘perfect’ view of the city over the water. We drove around aimlessly and lost, the French sat-nav still useless and the internet still providing no answers. “Look! Paul! There’s an old guy over there in the bushes, maybe we should ask him for directions!” My husband was dubious about the strange Norwegian man in the bushes but conceded – our experience with strangers having been pretty good so far.
The man was, as was everyone else in Norway, delightful. And his English was better than mine. He not only gave us directions to the best view of Oslo but also pointed out that those cows we were just admiring were the ‘king’s cows’ as this was the ‘king’s farm’ and up there on the hill was actually the King’s summer house. He then told us the history of the area, suggested a couple of views and told us a story about the King himself – a neighbor of his.
Back in the car, having been sufficiently awed, I commented to my husband that “I don’t know if we’ve just been unbelievably lucky of if the people of Norway have a national agreement to screw with tourists and are making this stuff up – but I don’t care, this is incredible!”
Talking to strangers is awesome. Completely changed our trip.
We arrived at the London airport, exhausted from a great trip and more than ready to head home. But standing in the infinitely long customs line the girls were approached by a foreign student asking about their trip, to which I glared at them and admonished “What are you two doing? We don’t talk to strangers!”