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Norway was part of a union with Sweden until 1905 when it was granted independence, now it is one of the few countries in western Europe that has not joined the EU. The standard of living is the highest anywhere in the world, and as a result everything is a lot more expensive for the humble tourist. Our first eye-wateringly expensive Norwegian meal was at a burger joint called Jafs! (Norwegian for "big mouthfuls"). The only thing that appeared cheaper in Norway than in Britain was petrol. Now that's saying something.

My first visit to Norway was with my flatmate in October 2003, hopping on a cheap Ryanair flight to Torp, which isn't really anywhere near Oslo. We stayed in the town of Asker, a suburb of the capital with our friend Al. Oslo was not as cold as I had thought it would be for the time of year, in fact somewhat disappointingly it was warmer than Glasgow. We also spent a night in a cabin up in the mountains, and had a very expensive night out at a nightclub in Oslo called "So What".

Karl Johans Gate

Karl Johans Gate is Oslo's main street, full of fancy shops and hotels. It is named for the former king of Norway and Sweden, who stuck around until 1844. In the distance is the Royal Palace, which wasn't finished quite in time for poor old Karl Johan. It was surprisingly quiet for a late Saturday afternoon before the shops had shut, none of the frenzied bustling of British shoppers.

King Haakon VII was the first king of Norway after the break-up of the union with Sweden. He was very tall and worryingly thin as can be seen in this anatomically accurate representation, but he lasted as king for fifty-two years.

King Haakon

Oslo Hall

The Oslo Hall is the city's municipal headquarters, a massive edifice in brick that I didn't particularly like at first, but has begun to grow on me. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held here annually, and Billy Joel sang about the building in "Scandinavian Skies", one of my favourites of his.

Norway is also particulary well known for its Viking past in tandem with Denmark, as celebrated in the Viking Ship Museum which is specially dedicated to three Viking longboats discovered in burial mounds around the country. The ships date back to around the year 800, and were discovered around the year 1900.

Viking longboat

Viking longboat carved bow

Detail of the Oseberg ship's bow. It is in remarkable condition for a wooden boat that had been buried for well over one thousand years.

Gol Stave Church is certainly one of the more forbidding-looking religious buildings I have encountered, it was built in the early 1200s and relocated to the Norwegian Folk Museum more than one hundred years ago. Scary.

Scary church in Norway

Old street at Norwegian Folk Museum

The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, as it is officially known, has exhibits of houses throughout the ages of Norway, including this Old Town quaint section. Quite amazingly, they are all real buildings, relocated here from around the country.

Norwegians like nothing better than to fling themselves off ramps at over one hundred miles per hour each weekend. Holmenkollen ski jump is the prime place to do just that, but as you can see during October the sport also requires a working knowledge of water-skiing. It is drained during winter and people leap for joy as they have done here for more than a century.

Holmenkollen ski jump, Oslo

Oslo suburbs

We climbed to the top of Holmenkollen ski jump to take in the view of the surrounding pretty Oslo suburbs. You can also climb the ski jump at Hakuba in Japan. One thing that struck me about Norway was the complete abundance of trees, even in an urban setting. I wasn't to see a place like this again until moving to Alaska more than ten years later.

Our pal Al hosted us at his house in Asker for two nights, which had a prime location on Oslofjorden, and views across the water of the cruise ships sailing up to the capital. There was a private pier with a sauna hut built on it so you could leap out of the steamy wooden room into the fjord for a refreshing dip.

Al's house in Asker

Typical Norwegian church

On our drive from Oslo deep into the Norwegian highlands, we came across this pretty wooden church in a town we passed through.

Traditional log cabins are highly sought after in Norway, these ones here are classic examples of the old architecture, complete with a lawn on the roof for insulation. Cutting the grass is a bit awkward though.

Grass-roofed cabins

Norwegian highlands

I reason that Norway must look much like Scotland did three hundred years ago, before all of Britain's ancient forests were chopped down for the industrial revolution. The scenery here at Haglebu, a tiny mountain village, is not as dramatic as the west coast and the fjords, but is nonetheless quite spectacular. These mountains reach to around four thousand feet, and there is already some snow up there.

Our night at the hutte was a great Norwegian experience, with Al, his family and friends. After collecting wood for the fire, we had a dinner of moose and potatoes, followed by the Norwegian liquor Akvavit. Akvavit is matured in a ship which sails over the equator to Australia and back, to mellow the drink on the slowly rocking seas. The wood fire kept the whole cabin very warm, and we sat up late into the night telling tales in a mixture of Norwegian and English.

Norwegian hutte

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