The Land of the Midnight Sun

Sunset in Florø, Norway. Copyright Hasse Teigen 2004

Norway consists of the north-western part of the Scandinavian peninsula, plus the artic island Jan Mayen and the archipelago Svalbard. Norway share borders with Russia, Finland and Sweden, and is surrounded by the Barents Sea in the north, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the North Sea in the south-west.

Norwegian territory (Jan Mayen and Svalbard included), covers approximately 386,000 km2. The long and narrow mainland stretches over 1750 kms and has more than 25,000 km of coastline.

Norway has space. The country’s rugged landscape that was shaped by several ice ages, shows forest hills and valleys, mountains, waterfalls, and a long coastline with fjords, islands, and mountains growing directly up from the sea. In this country, roughly the same size as Great Britain or Germany, only 4.5 million people live. Thus, for each inhabitant there is 70,000 square meters of land, but the vast majority of this land is a rocky wilderness which is completely unusable for any agricultural purposes. As a result, Norway has a large number of completely unpopulated areas, many of which have been converted to national parks. But even outside the national parks, much of the land is unspoiled nature which Norwegians strive to keep unspoiled.

Norway is a great country for hiking. In all of Norway you have the right to walk across uncultivated lands. That means you can walk if there aren’t any farmlands or you’re not crossing people’s gardens. If there are fences, you should look for gates and follow paths, also if there is no apparent farmland (there might be animals, such as sheep or cattle in the area, so always close any gates you open, even if they were open when you passed them). Also, if there are newly planted trees in an area, you can’t walk through. Other than that, you can pretty much go wherever you like.
As for camping, you can stay for up to two nights in one spot, as long as you are far away from any houses and farmlands. ‘Far away’ usually means 150 meters. However, it also means out of the way, that is, you’re not inconveniencing anyone and particularly not those in the nearest house. If ‘out of the way’ sounds harsh, it really isn’t. There is a lot of free space in Norway… Pretty much the same rules apply to picknicking. Please note that it’s forbidden to make camp fires between 15 April and 15 October. Between these two dates, you will have to use a gas stove or simular apparatus for cooking.

When hiking in the magnificent nature:
Always make sure to bring a map and a compass.
Always make sure someone knows where you’re going, and when you will return. While a GPS unit may offer some help and convenience, do not rely on it exclusively. While a map is failsafe, a GPS is not.
Make sure you bring enough food and plenty of warm clothing for the trip. Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather! It is possible to freeze to death, even in the summer, if the weather conditions turn bad.

International drivers licenses are accepted as well as many national licenses. Cars drive on the right hand side of the road and all speed limits are in kilometres. When driving in Norway it is vital to obey the speed limit. Speeding offenses are rigorously enforced and speed checks are very common. Speed limits in residential areas are only 30 kmh, but speeding in these areas incur the highest penalties. The maximum speed limit on the motorway is 90 kph (56 mph).
Norway has some of the strictest drink-driving laws in the world, 0.2 milligrams of alcohol per litre of blood. As a general rule of thumb it is best to drink nothing at all before driving.
Winter tyres are not legally necessary for foreign drivers, but driving without them can be risky especially if you are headed for the hills.
Dipped headlights are mandatory at all times of the day.

Norway has a low crime rate. Crime is mostly limited to theft and vandalism. Single women should have no problems, although ordinary street sense is advised after dark, especially in Oslo. There are some areas that you should stay away from in Oslo, these are easily noticeable by the graffiti and vandalism which barely exists outside them.

Norwegians tend not to put up warning signs if there is no real reason; you will find few “watch your step” signs. Where there are warnings, pay attention. Every year, quite a few tourists get hurt, even killed, in the mountains or on the seas, usually after given unheeded warnings. For example, do not approach a glacier front unless you know what you’re doing.

Norway is an expensive country. While it is possible to travel in Norway with a limited expense account, some care must be taken to do so. Because labour is costly here, anything that can be seen as a “service” will in general be more expensive than you expect. Transport costs can also be a killer, because the country is large and distances long, so a rail or air pass can save you a lot of money. As rules of thumb, subsisting on under 500 kr/day will be difficult even if you stay in hostels and self-cater, with 1000 kr/day allowing a more comfortable mid-range lifestyle and over 2000 kr/day needed for good hotels and good restaurants. Take care when buying alcohol and tobacco, it will most certainly be more expensive than you expect. In Norway you will have problem to buy alcohol with a credit card, especially from the state owned liquor stores (Vinmonopol).

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