Looking down the ski jump at Holmenkollen, in Oslo, Norway
On my tour through Scandinavia we had a 1 day and night stop in Trondheim, the 3rd largest city in Norway, and a quaint one at that. The day was nice, but the night was quite interesting…
We arrived at a bar at 10pm and it was dead, people didn’t start showing up until 11:30 – 12:00. I’m used to bars starting late, but there was no one at this bar, except us until 11:30, that was the first sign that this was going to be an interesting evening. I had even considered leaving since it was so slow. There was a piano player who started around midnight and the locals danced, it was nice. But there was also 2 business men who were accompanied by a girl in pink who had to be a prostitute. She would dance with one guy, practically having sex on the dance floor. Then she would go to the other guy who was sitting at the bar and pretty much give him a lap dance, and he was enjoying it. This went on for a while, then she would leave for a few minutes with one guy and come back, then leave again. It provided us with a lot of entertainment. Once they left we concentrated on some other people in the crowd. Like the girl who flashed the piano player. Later on in the night some of the guys from the tour tried to meet some of the locals. 3 of the guys did get to know the locals a little better… Tom, an 18 year old, met an older woman. She said she was 30, he said he was 25 – she had to have been in her mid 30’s. But they had a good night and Tom didn’t get home until 6am. We sang Mrs. Robinson to him, but the humor was lost on him since he doesn’t know the movie The Graduate.
It was an interesting night, and I can’t help but wonder if we happened to have picked the right bar, or if this is part of the affect of having the sun up all the time. The vibe was more of a casual local bar, not the type where you brought a prostitute and flashed people. I can’t imagine in the dead of winter when there is no sun out that the locals are just starting to hit the town at midnight, and really hitting the town. The sun really does disorient you as to what time of day it is, and makes you want to stay up a little later and live a little more.
One great piece of advice I’ve always heard is to shop where the locals do. It’s something kind of subtle, but can tell you about how others live and how it’s different from how you live.
When I was in Scandinavia we went to a lot of grocery stores. Many were pretty typical – food, fruits, veggies, drinks, snacks. Then every now and then we would end up in a massive grocery store ya know the ones with lumber departments, clothing and all sorts of non-grocery stuff for sale. Wow, lumber, that was pretty impressive. It was so bizarre, if we had more time I probably could have done a lot of damage there, not on the lumber but on the myriad of other offerings. It threw me off a bit too, I would have expected Scandinavia to be more of a local store kinda place, not the type of place with big giant huge super stores.
Here in the US the closest thing to that would be a Wal-Mart – but groceries are just a section, it’s not a grocery stores. Long Island and NYC don’t have great Wal-Mart stores though. I hear in the mid-west they are HUGE and have pretty much anything you could ever need in them. I’m going to have to see one of these places one of these days.
Russia was totally different though. We didn’t stop at many grocery stores, and I’m not totally sure if the grocery type places were typical grocery stores or just strange left overs from Communism. Everything in the store is behind a glass case and one of the workers gets each item that you need. The selection in the stores was poor, and the girl who I saw doing her nails behind the counter made me wonder about the sanitary issues. I opted to just get candy at that store. I guess when your country has communism and you need to create jobs for everyone, a labor intensive grocery store makes sense.
Belarus was a little different. The grocery store where I went reminded me of what a grocery store in the 70’s or 80’s in the US would have been like. It just didn’t seem as sophisticated as grocery stores are today. The produce was weighed by a person in the produce section, then she would put a little sticker with the price on it on the produce. At the check out the person entered the prices for each item manually. I had exchanged 5 euro, but the prices were so cheap that I couldn’t spend that much even when trying to spend the money. I probably spent about 2 euro worth on food and had a large bill, probably the equivalent of 3.50 euro. The girl could barely give me change, and I screwed up her drawer so much that she couldn’t give change to my friend behind me. I was with 2 other girls and we played shuffle the money around so that we could each get our change for the groceries.
Shopping can be a great way to see how people really live, and it can help you eat on the cheap too. Next time you’re away from home do some shopping with the locals, you might be surprised at what you find.
My third trip to Europe was to Scandinavia and Russia – two very different places and I took something different from each place. I’m not sure I opened up that much to new things on this trip, but I think the whole experience opened me to the possibility of being more open.
Scandinavia isn’t one of the most happening places. The cities are nice and there is stuff to do there, but after seeing Paris, Rome, London the cities here didn’t jump out at me. What did though was the extreme beauty. I’m not a nature girl, bugs are gross, I’m afraid of animals, hiking is work, and camping is beyond me. But after I spent a couple days in nature – mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls – I was able to really appreciate the beauty and the peacefulness of it. I’m still not into camping, but i can certainly stop to enjoy the beauty and the calm of nature. It was even worth freezing my butt off through Scandinavia.
Russia was my true introduction to Culture. This was the first place that I went that I really had a different culture in my face. It was also the first country that I spent more then 4 days in. There was definitely a difference in the people and the vibe and the whole country. The younger people spoke some English and were generally a little friendlier. But those little old Russian woman, wouldn’t want to mess with them! The food was a little different – borst, salads without lettuce (still haven’t gotten over that), dill, and high levels of grease – I wasn’t a fan of the food. My local guide in Moscow (and the guide in St. Petersburg to a smaller extent) did a really good job of helping us understand the Russian people. Her story about the first McDonalds I think really shows how different of a culture the Russians were in under Communism. Here is a synopsis of the story: You would wait on line for about 2 hours, typical for Russia. When you walked in, the floor was clean, that was the first sign that something wasn’t right. When you got to the counter they had a smile in their face and asked what you would like. This was Russia at a time when you hoped they had something at the end of a line, let alone what you actually wanted. You ask for a Big Mac. Then to add to the confusion – they asked how many you wanted? Not only did they have food, you could get as much as you wanted. This caused so much stress and confusion (people thought it might be a trick and the government was listening) that they had to put up a sign limiting the number of Big Mac’s to 15, people literally didn’t know how to handle a lack of limits and choice. This was Russia where you went to a store and took what they had, they didn’t have selection but they did have limits, there was a 2+ hour line behind you after all. In the bathroom they had… toilet paper, and if you took the toilet paper they put a new role on. When I think of this story I think of how hard an adjustment it must have been to change to Capitalism, and to learn to be friendly to people. In one place you would find someone friendly and willing to try and help you, in another they were totally unwilling to help. It was a taste of old and new. And the Communist relics – the idea of how to deal with that as a country. As an American the closest thing we’ve had to this is the issue of the Confederate Battle Flag when it was still flying in South Carolina.
While I didn’t necessarily embrace all these things I started to see them as a positive part of travel. Stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing something new and accepting it even if you don’t like/agree with it. I learned to stop and smell the roses and just be where I was and soak it all in.