Volvos and Vikings

Trip Start Jan 09, 2006
Trip End May 29, 2006

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Flag of Sweden  ,
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Our first visit to Scandinavia left us with many impressions:

Not quite the land of the midnight sun--but close! We were a few degrees shy (several hundred miles actually) of the Arctic Circle, but it was still a novel experience to see the neighboring apartment building in Stockholm so illuminated as if at 6:00am on a California summer morning--at 3:15 am in Stockholm! Or to surrender to sleep at 11PM in the Nordfjord area of Norway, thus losing a torturous struggle to see a darkened sky before going to bed. And to just think that we still had another 6 weeks to go to the summer solstice when the days would be longest.

Volvos rule in Sweden. Check out our pictures--most taxis are Volvos! The Volvo prices may not be all that less in Sweden compared to North America (especially after you factor in all the taxes), but the affordability of spare parts and the wide network for maintenance and repair makes them Sweden's favorite choice.

IKEA and H&M department stores also reign supreme. We, of course, visited them all to make sure that the Swedish image and design was being properly marketed overseas. We are pleased to report that there is little difference between your local IKEA and H&M and the "mother stores" other than price (see below) and size (the "mother stores" MUST be the largest of course). Also, your neighborhood IKEA Swedish meatballs are almost indistinguishable from the real deal.

Pricey, pricey. $10 (and up) for a sandwich, $20 for a burger meal, $4 for the CHEAPEST public bus ticket, $7 to $8 for a gallon of gas, $120 a day for an economy rental car in Norway, then $20 to $40 for a short, routine ferry crossing, and $100 a night for a double room, not in a hotel--but in a hostel! As the incentives to work hard diminish with heavier tax burdens (income taxes reaching in excess of 65%), one wonders if all the people you see not working but rather enjoying the first rays of spring will ever be compelled to support the rest. Nevertheless, staggering taxes and the incomprehensible prices that result do not seem to deter many local city dwellers from enjoying their daily routines, like meals and nights out in Stockholm and Oslo, especially since their lower net incomes are somewhat offset by free health care, free education (including college), and an array of other social services--none of which we saw as tourists. The very few panhandlers we saw received little sympathy from us in light of their state benefits.

Driving in Norway: You drive all day long and use only half a tank of gas. Reason: you can't get very far in a day on one-lane winding fjord roads that quickly lose dividing lines, traverse multiple ferry crossings, and hang off cliffs or traverse mountain passes guarded by 7 feet of snow in May--and you certainly can't drive fast. This is not a bad thing when gas costs over $8 a gallon! But it's quite demoralizing when the cruise ships beat you to one port of call after another.

The Vikings, we learned, never wore horned helmets, and were not the very violent people they're made out to be. What a simultaneous shock and disappointment!

Lots of laks (or lox, i.e. smoked salmon).

As with the rest of our journey, the shear enjoyability of any visit is proportional to your local insight and accommodation. We were fortunate to have our good friend Marcus host us in Stockholm for several nights, giving us a rare taste of life in Sweden's fast lane. Marcus' Porsche made us wonder why the heck we embarked on this 10-month insanity, and why we didn't just travel around the U.S. for a few weeks instead and spend our money on a Volvo and a Porsche! Anyways, "tack," Marcus, for being an understanding host, especially since we were under the weather.

We have now followed in the wakes of the western (i.e. Norwegian) Vikings to Ireland and Scotland, ironically, not to plunder, but to escape the plundering we felt in Scandinavia. What a unique social model and land of simple, innovative, and invigorating design, rugged awe-inspiring terrain, and pristine beauty. But what a challenging place for us to wind down and near the end of our journey with budget constraints, an ever-diminishing bank account, and a weak dollar. Scandinavia makes New Zealand look like a bargain, so be forewarned: you must have some good savings or prepare to declare political asylum if you go! We're glad we've had our opportunity, but we'll have to give Alaska a try next!
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