Norway: Out on the farm

I’ve long been a fan of Navigon, a navigation app for iPhone and Android. The benefit to using Navigon over Google Maps is that all of the maps are preloaded on the phone. You don’t need cellular data for directions. In general, Navigon worked flawlessly once you get beyond it’s weird UI paradigms.

I also have to give out another shout to T-Mobile, as I think their cellular plans are truly awesome (coverage is so-so). All throughout my trip I never had to worry about data usage. It’s included in all of their Simple Choice plans. Thus, with Navigon and T-Mobile I never really worried about getting lost.

After navigating the tight spaces at the airport with my newly found stick shift automobile, driving felt very natural. Norwegians drive on the right side of the road making navigation for this American much easier. It was getting late in the day and jet lag was catching up with me. I didn’t want to have to travel very far that first day as I didn’t know what sort of condition I would be in.

I know I’m late to the Airbnb game, but wanted to give it a shot as I traveled across Norway. A number of my friends have had great experiences with Airbnb and it seemed to be a great way to get an inside look at the new culture ahead of me.

Using Airbnb, I wanted to find interesting locations to stay each night. I also didn’t really want to be inside of a large city. The Oslo airport is a fair distance from town and already in a very rural area. What urbanity existed around the airport quickly disappeared into the rural backdrop as I got closer to my destination.

I also didn’t want to do a lot of eating out during my trip. By staying in Airbnbs had access to a kitchen (if not dinner and breakfast) most nights. I wanted to explore grocery stores in Norway. I fondly recalled my first grocery store in Australia being somewhat disorienting. In Norway, it was even more disorienting. Not only was the language different, the currency was different too. The Norwegian Krone was trading about $0.12 against the dollar.

After getting what appeared to be basics like produce, cheese, and meat, I added a few boxed processed carbohydrates to my basked. I guess some things never change wherever you are in the world. We as humans love carbohydrates packaged in boxes. I didn’t really understand what I was buying, but it looked good on the box.

I also needed to stop by the Apotek, aka the pharmacy, to get some creme to ease the rash on my arm.  The pharmacist spoke broken English and I didn’t speak a lick of Norwegian so I pointed to the rash on my arm. He nodded and got me a tube of cream (all of which was in Norwegian).  I then signaled 1 or 2 with my fingers hoping I was getting across 1x or 2x a day.  A credit card swipe later, I was on the road.

My first night was in the town of Fenstad, about 30 km (18 miles) from the airport. When heading out to the farm, I was surprised Navigon worked flawlessly. Many years and QA have always taught me to doubt technology. However, I was wrong on this one. Navigon literally brought me right to the foot my host’s driveway.

Norway-40

Frank and Anne live on a working grain farm. It is one of the key things that attracted me to their listing on Airbnb. I figured it would be a neat experience to be up close to the farm.  The grain farm looked like something out of a story book. Frank and Anne live in a lovely farmhouse on a generously sized plot of land. One of the other notable buildings on the property was the grain dryer. As grain is harvested from the field with the combine, it is transferred into this building to be dried. Large, loud fans push hot, dry air all through the grain to remove moisture that would compromise the grain in storage. Once dried, the grain moves to long-term storage on the property.

Various other buildings dotted the property as well as tractors, trucks, and other attachments I had no idea what they did.  Rumor had it that Swedish carpenters lived in one of the buildings next door.  If only I spoke Swedish…

As it was October in Norway, the harvest was just about wrapping up. Gone were the long sweeping stalks of grain. Left were brown remnants from a rich harvest. Winter was clearly coming as a chill permeated throughout the air.

Norway-10I would put Frank and Anne in their mid-50s.  Frank runs the farm full time and Anne works as a travel guide all throughout the world. As I was strolling in she was prepping for two weeks down in South America showing Norwegian tourists all the jewels of that part of the world. Their college aged son, Oskar,  was in town for the weekend so I got a good sense of the family as a whole. Everyone was wonderfully welcoming which was deeply appreciated by this weary soul. Also on the property were two lovely animals. I became instant pals with the dog while the cat could care less that I was there. Feline cultural norms must be the same the world over. 🙂

Fortunately, dinner was a traditional Norwegian fare: fish casserole, potatoes, and carrots. Both Frank and Anne seem surprised I was excited about the menu as it was commonplace for them. For me, however, it was one of the reasons I wanted to stay in an Airbnb: to experience and follow the local culture. Dessert was a small sampling of Norwegian chocolates all of which were better than their American counterparts. Europeans consistently outperform Americans in the quality of their confections.

After dinner the four of us enjoyed a round of tea and conversation. There was lots of discourse around current Norwegian politics and history – particularly the refugee migration into Europe. Everyone had lots of questions about the upcoming American presidential election as well as my political leanings in the States. I also learned that at one point Norway was a very poor country. Once its immense natural resources began to be tapped riches quickly flowed into the country. Frank and Anne were convinced the government has made good decisions about the distribution of wealth to make everyone prosperous. In a lot of ways it felt very anti-American but I can’t deny their system appears to work. The more I travel, the more I learn things and realize that the way we do things at home is only one approach. It’s not always better just because we do it.

Norway-33I was staying in the older part of the farmhouse away from everyone else. While a bit more rustic, I didn’t hear anything in the room other than the drone of the grain dryer. Frank warned me that the fans were loud (and they were, even comparing to life back home in the city).  The room was markedly cooler than the rest of the house.  In other words, it was perfect sleeping conditions. Jet lag would take over in a few minutes and I would be out like a light.  Being out in the country meant night time was dark!

By the time I was awake Anne was well on her way to Peru. Frank was out and about on the farm and asked if I was ready for breakfast. I picked some apples from the trees on the farm while Frank made farm fresh eggs with cheese and bread. I was fascinated about the process of farming. We must’ve talked at least an hour about all aspects of the farm. At one point in the conversation he laughed and said, “poor farmers sell all their grain in September when prices are low. Rich farmers hold off until January when prices are high.” When Frank was growing up, food was relatively expensive. Most Norwegians at that point spent about 50% of their income on food. Today, that percentage has fallen to about 12%. He laughed and said he wasn’t sure where the rest of the money went.

At about 9 AM my next destination was calling. I was blessed to have stayed here and broadened my what I had learned. I thanked Frank and gave my best wishes to Anne and headed off to Sweden.

Route:

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