When you are married to Andy Smith, your life is full of surprises. For example, this year for Thanksgiving we are traveling to Copenhagen. Yes, that Copenhagen. The one in Denmark. From there we will make a brief stop in Sweden, and then we will continue on to Norway and spend some time in Oslo and Bergen.
Why Scandinavia, you ask? Well, Norwegian Air has some outrageously good deals* (the cost of our flight to Europe is only slightly more than our flight to Minnesota for Christmas). And Andy thought it would be wonderful to do a semi-spontaneous trip to Europe before we have kids. I say semi-spontaneous, because it isn't at all spontaneous for him because we talked about it for a few months, but it's completely spontaneous for me, because I would have been far more comfortable talking about it for several years.
So between the two of us it is semi-spontaneous. And between the two of us, neither of us knows a lot about Scandinavia. I do have a little background knowledge, in that literally I have some Swedish heritage, so I was familiar with cardamom coffee cake (delicious!), dala horses, and Christmas smorgasbords. Also IKEA, meatballs, and ABBA.
Growing up I read the Kirsten books, so I knew about Santa Lucia.
I also read a great book called Snow Treasure, about Norwegian children who help to hide their country's gold from the Nazis. It's a great story (highly recommended!) But unfortunately there is no proof that it's a true story.
By posting the previous picture I just learned that Number the Stars takes place in Denmark (I didn't remember that) and Hamlet also takes place in Denmark. So going into this I knew mostly about Sweden, with a little bit of false Norwegian historical fiction and Danish stories that I did not realize were Danish. I also vaguely knew about Vikings, socialism, danishes, Lutheranism, the Nobel prizes, and reindeer. Clearly off to a great start.
To learn more we went to our local library, because learning about Scandinavia isn't hard when you've got a library card. I continued my education by reading a book called How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark. From this book I learned that Denmark is often rated as the happiest place on earth (outside of Disneyland, naturally) by those who measure such things. Contributing to this happiness is an immense welfare state, lots of biking, great crime television shows, avant-garde restaurants, and a small and close-knit society.
This small and close-knit society is expressed in the idea of "hygge" (pronounced hooga, more or less). It's a difficult-to-translate idea of coziness, or "good things in life with good people." For more you should watch this very helpful video. Because of this video, Andy and I are going to open a laundromat/cafe, because it's super hygge and also genius. I love the idea of hygge and have made it my new life philosophy. I'm excited we're going to Denmark during the Christmas season because that is supposed to be peak hygge time. I cannot even wait.
I also learned the tragic news that danishes are not Danish. They were imports from Austria, and in Denmark they are actually known as weinerbrod, or Vienna-bread. I will still be eating Danishes, in spite of the fact that they are not truly local and in spite of the fact that I normally eat gluten free. My dietary restrictions go out the window when it comes to international travel.
So, good news, bad news. Overall this book was informative, but it was kind of dry. I didn't feel like I entered the cultural heart of Denmark. It was more like looking at an anatomy chart.
I later read another book by a British man about Scandinavia, titled, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of Scandinavian Utopia. Obviously he's a little cynical. He even attacks the idea of hygge, claiming that it quickly can become insularity and exclusivity. I suppose so, but I don't want to hear it. After recovering from that heresy, I learned some interesting things that will be useful for my trip. Scandinavians are rule-followers (MY PEOPLE!). They will make verbal sounds of displeasure at you if you cross the street against the light. But, in an odd twist, in Sweden they will not wait for people to get off the train before they get on. I don't get how those things go together.
I also learned that the Norwegians are very rich (OIL WEALTH FTW!) and like to be outside a lot, and also have a national fondness for dressing in native costume.
Around about this time, I met someone who had recently been to Norway. He had a wonderful time, but he informed me that Norway was prohibitively expensive. I knew it was pricey, but he shocked me with the following facts:
1. Going out for pizza for two people will cost around $60. There is no cheap food anywhere. Street food will be around $15.
2. He wanted to buy a Norwegian sweater as a souvenir. They cost $1000.
I immediately started freaking out because I am the CHEAPEST PERSON ALIVE. I knew Scandinavia was supposed to be expensive, but I was thinking England-expensive, not the court-of-Louis XIV-expensive. I immediately started doing research to figure out how broke we were going to be by the end of this trip.
This article was informative but not encouraging, because it turns out that Sweden is the Costco of Scandinavia, and we're spending the least amount of time there. I immediately e-mailed Andy the following: " WHY ARE WE NOT GOING TO THE COSTCO OF SCANDINAVIA???!!" Once I got that out of my system, I started to make helpful plans. I looked up less expensive places to eat (think of some less gaudy French monarch). We're getting an Oslo pass that lets you do a bunch of museums and public transit for free. I'm packing primarily snacks. At some point I might be wearing beef jerky. But I think we will be able to avoid debtor's prison, so I'm feeling better. Also, even more encouraging, is that the dollar has been getting stronger against the Norwegian krone, so we're actually in better shape than we would have been a couple of years ago.
Once my heart rate returned to normal I was able to continue my research. I read a book titled A Family of Kings: The Descendants of Christian IX of Denmark.
Christian IX was not even supposed to be the king of Denmark, but that happened, and then his children or children-in-law went to become the Kings of Denmark, Greece, England, and the Tsar of Russia. Those were some crazy family reunions! They actually did get together a lot, and everyone else in Europe thought they were plotting, but they weren't actually very political. It's a great story. All three Scandinavian countries still have a monarchy.
Finally, I decided that I had to read Hans Christian Andersen, who was born in Denmark. I was not in love with the version I got from the library in terms of translation or illustrations, but they did have helpful introductions to the story. I learned that allegedly Andersen was the first writer to make an inanimate object the hero of the story, like in The Tin Soldier. If true, that is very revolutionary. Without Andersen, there is no Toy Story. So there's that. I think my favorite story in the collection was the Princess and the Pea. I've always liked that one; I'm not sure why.
And that was most of my background reading on Scandinavia! We also of course researched places to go and things to see. We're still putting the final touches on our exhaustively thorough schedule (it gives me such a thrill) but we're hoping to see/do the following: Tivoli Park, the oldest amusement park in the world; the flagship Lego store; Malmo, Sweden; the Little Mermaid Statue; a canal tour of Copenhagen;the night ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo; the Oslo Opera House; the Norway Resistance Museum; the Viking Ship Museum; the Norway Folk Museum; the Ski Museum; a giant ski jump; the train from Oslo to Bergen; maybe a fjord tour?; the funicular up Floyen mountain; a hike around a lake; the Northern lights, and possibly the Leprosy Museum. For real. We'll see how much we can pack in!
We'll let you know how to goes, and whether we go broke, and especially if I wind up wearing beef jerky. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
*These outrageously good deals do not include meals ($42 a person), a seat assignment ($42 a person) or carry-on luggage heavier than 22 lbs. ($42 a bag). We are bringing our own snacks that weigh less than 22 lbs. and we might not be sitting next to each other on our eleven hour flight. But the DEALS ARE AMAZING.