First .. some brief notes about this blog. If you are reading this via email, and wish to send me a comment. Be careful when you hit “reply”. If you just hit reply and do not put my email address, your comment will be posted to the blog directly. I’ve had several of you do this and include your contact email and phone number (which I’ve edited out.) If your comment is meant for me privately, the best is to just email me at: email@example.com
We are not sitting still much on this trip, and I am struggling to send a daily blog entry. If you write me and I do not respond, my apologies. I am reading all comments, but only randomly responding. We have a lot happening, and only occasional connection to the internet. I am not much of a facebook user, but I do like their system for responding to comments. So .. if you are a Facebook-person, the best place to leave comments is at: www.facebook.com/kensblogdotcom
Also, for those who may have missed prior entries, I should say that this is a very unusual bit of blogging for me. Usually “Kensblog” is focused on Roberta’s and my various worldwide cruising in our Nordhavn trawler. However, we are doing a quick trip to (near) the North Pole to watch an Eclipse and I decided to report on our trip. The “normal” boating-centric blog will resume in June. If receiving these emails are annoying you, there is an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of this email. Just unsubscribe for now, and then register again as we get closer to June. My feelings will not be hurt.
And, with that said…
What happens when you mix four highly opinionated politically aware American world travelers with one highly opinionated politically aware Norwegian cab driver? Well, technically, nothing. But… no one listening in would have thought that.
Before I speak about our ride…
We are now in Oslo, Norway. Our final stop before heading north. For our departure from Iceland we woke at 4am to make a 7:30am flight. It was cold, and very windy, with the winds over 50 knots. Driving to the airport I thought our car would be blown off the road, and we were not surprised when all flights were delayed. We sat in the airport, watching as our flight time slid by 30 minutes, every 30 minutes, for nearly four hours.
The weather in Oslo is warm (around 45 degrees Fahrenheit) by comparison to Iceland. My only frustration is that I am typing this email wearing the same clothes (even underwear!) as I wore yesterday. We are living out of a suitcase which was constrained by weight to essentially hold nothing but our heavy boots, gloves and jackets. We haven’t sat still long enough to do any laundry and I am out of clothes. As soon as I finish this blog entry we’ll do a quick hike around Oslo, then scramble back to the airport for our flight into the frozen wilderness tomorrow morning.
On the plane from Iceland we were able to meet a couple of our other adventurers. I don’t have enough data points yet to say who they are, but … I suspect it will be a very interesting group. I am sure that I will be outside the norm on this expedition. I am not “un-excited” by the idea of seeing an eclipse, but were it not for Roberta’s encouragement, I am not someone who would automatically rush to the North Pole to get a front row seat. The people I met on the plane were thrilled to be here, and I could tell this is an important event to them. I have had a few readers of my blog comment that they have tried to get to Svalbard, and everything (flights and hotels) are booked. This is a very special, and important, expedition for many around me, and I shall henceforth type the word Eclipse using a capital letter.
We were tired when we arrived at the hotel yesterday, so there was no time to “see” Oslo. We taxi’d to a restaurant followed by a nice walk back to the hotel. Our first reaction to the city was very positive. It is modern, clean, well-organized, and appears prosperous. We had dinner on the waterfront in an Italian restaurant (Olivia) that we all loved, in a neighborhood (Tjuvholmen) that seemed identical to the “Lake Union” area at home in Seattle (by which I mean new condos loaded with young knowledge-workers, perched above an endless supply of restaurants.)
Now… back to the story of our arrival to Oslo.
I am an inquisitive person. I have no fear of asking questions, and often ask questions that I arguably shouldn’t. We had 45 minutes to kill, venturing from the airport to Oslo, so … I kicked off the discussion with my usual, “I write a blog. What can you tell me about Oslo that my readers might find interesting?” Usually, this doesn’t get me anything, as not all cab drivers are plugged into the local culture. However, once in a while I strike gold, and our driver was wonderful. He was intelligent, well-educated, politically savvy, and as I mentioned before, highly opinionated.
First he gave us the top level overview: (Note: I have fact-checked none of this, but am relaying what I was told)
- Five million people live in Norway
- Whereas the United States runs a huge deficit each year, and has a large national debt, Norway runs a surplus and has huge cash reserves
- Education in Norway is free
- Health care in Norway is free
- If you are ill, the government picks up your salary until you are well
- Private health care is available (if you want it), with the patient paying the incremental cost
- Wait-times to receive health care are not a problem
- Income taxes are relatively flat running from 30 to 40% of income
- There are large taxes on luxury items. Things like alcohol and cigarettes are heavily taxed. Cars are heavily taxed. For example, our driver asked what the Mercedes we were riding in would cost in the United States. One of our group knew the car and said, “$90,000 US dollars.” The driver said that the cost would be over $200,000 in Norway!
- Norway does have a military
- Norway is not a part of the EU, and this has been a controversial topic within Norway with EU membership almost passing a couple of times.
- The leading exports are: Oil, and fish.
The driver was understandably passionate about, and proud of, his country. He was also somewhat complimentary to the US, saying that Norway’s economy was linked to the United States in various ways.
Admittedly, there is much in what the driver said to admire. For example, he had my attention with his first bullet point about running an economic surplus. Where the conversation really took flight was when the driver decided to slip in a few digs at our country. After the ride we debated whether the driver was just “having fun” with the aggressive positions he took, and what he may have really thought. But, what ensued became a highly spirited debate as he alternately disparaged, and complimented, various US Presidents, and US policies.
This is a non-political boating blog, so I don’t want to bore (or, alienate) you, my dear readers, with too many details of where the debate took us. One thing we had in common with our driver is that each of us are proud of our countries. As we talked, the most discussed issues centered on immigration policies, access to health care and energy policy. I suspect that our driver, like us, was very sorry to see our ride end. Nothing we discussed couldn’t have been researched on the internet, but somehow, words on a screen do not have the same impact or learning value, as when they are debated with a cab driver many thousands of miles from home.
Welcome to Oslo!
Following are some pictures from our final day in Iceland. Some are just scenery from our tour and on others I have included my thoughts.
This hot dog stand had a long line the entire time we were in Reykjavik. Finally, Todd and I gave in and froze our way to the front of the line, expecting that the hot dogs were something incredible. The menu was rather limited. You had your choice of a “Hot Dog” or a “Hot Dog.” I ordered a hot dog, as did Todd. THe hot dog was not at all special. I can’t explain the line, other than that there was a picture of Bill Clinton standing in line to buy one. Perhaps that was why all the excitement?