impressions of… OSLO and BERGEN  (NORWAY ) 


So much seems familiar. The landscape, conifers, traffic cones, even the weather could be Scotland. A population slightly under five million is almost parallel too. Yet the atmosphere is distinctively Scandinavian. Blonde replaces Ginger- but no jimmy caps. Trolls and Vikings take the place of kilted tat in gift shops, and a strong NOK- Norwegian kroner – means even a coffee is an expensive purchase.

Stav Kirk

A cynic would observe that July is a very Scottish month for Oslo to close all city railways. Yet major infra structure contractors only get a short work window in a Scandinavian climate. Summer is thus boom time for maintenance, tunnelling and construction. 

An impressive tunnel network takes heavy road and rail traffic through Oslo without obvious disruption. Tunnels too make it possible for the spectacular Bergen-Oslo rail-line to climb to 4000ft [1222m] where mountain tops and glaciers are easily accessible. There is no obvious guilt here. No fenced off compound restricting public access to precious high places - as at Cairngorm.

high altitude rail

Norwegians are positively encouraged to bike, hike, ski or simply take the mountain air.  In 1957 their government consolidated the right to roam over open land. The Friluftsliv movement [translated as “open air living”] further established outdoor recreation as part of the nation’s culture. This includes hyttes - holiday retreats which originally were very basic timber cabins but now typically offer many more comforts. Originally self built, families often own at least one hytte for weekends while good employers retain waterfront and mountain hyttes for staff recreation. Again there is no ‘holiday home’ guilt.

Oslo's vision for 2020 anticipates a population increase from 250,000 to 310,000. Stylish flats, retail and offices leading towards a dramatic new Art Centre by Renzo Piano are transforming redundant boat-yards at Aker Brygge. In fine weather this already offers a convincing Mediterranean waterfront. Even more audacious commercial development, ‘Barcode’, is now under construction behind Snohetta’s iconic Opera House. This promises an exciting cultural sector with dedicated Galleries for Munch, and a 21st century Public Library. 

New Oslo Opera House

Conspicuous prosperity is all around. Gender equality is high in workplaces. Large companies have now achieved 40% female participation on boards. Unemployment is low. Happiness and Personal Satisfaction are high, according to the Legatum Prosperity Index which placed Norway at the world. The New York Times attributed Norwegian financial success to “working women”. Apparently Norway combines the world's highest female employment rates with an impressively high birth rate and extensive maternity - and paternity - provision. A successful outcome for such a small country.  Especially for one that recently celebrated a whole century of independence from its larger, stronger, more powerful neighbour.

Norway’s independent government apparently does not seek re-election on promises of reducing taxation, but instead supports family initiatives and caps costs of child-care with subsidies. It also still finds funds [€500m] for a spectacular Opera House, art galleries, public libraries, hospitals, and impressive infrastructure and transport. Norway represents one of the world's last functioning welfare states, yet economic indicators remain positive. No need for austerity - or guilt - here.

The New York Times’ financial appraisal did however also mention that Norway has oil. Now just imagine what might be achieved here if only Scotland had oil?


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© stuart campbell 2017