Extra text: Fjord Fever

In the text below, an American travel writer writes about his experiences on the 'Norway in a Nutshell' train trip to Flåm and aboard 'Hurtigruta'.

Here are a few words you should look up before reading the text. Use the dictionary linked at the bottom of the page:

spectacular, scenery, bargain, blast, vivid, brace yourself, outrageously, priced, cuisine, sedated, urge, dating, to blend in, stunning

Copyright: Getty Images
“Norway in a nutshell” is a full-day train-boat-bus-train tour that whisks tourists through some spectacular scenery between Oslo and the town of Bergen on the southwest coast. At $100 a head, it’s no bargain, but you’d be hard pressed to get a cheaper “fjord experience” from Oslo.
Sitting just behind me at 9 a.m. on the first leg of the journey was an enormous, sleeping 60-year-old woman who entertained the entire train car with her loud snoring. Each blast set off a series of snickers from surrounding passengers, none of whom had the courage to wake her. Eventually, the conductor nudged her awake to ask for her ticket. The pair exchanged a few loud words and we could all tell she was American.
My other vivid memory from this part of the journey is the skiers. It was nearly summer and there was no snow in sight, but the train was carrying about 75 cross-country-ski enthusiasts. Perhaps there was a parade further down the line, I thought. Then the train started making its way up a mountain pass, and when I next looked out the window at Finse, we were in a snow-covered valley. The skiers got off, pulled on their skis at the station, and promptly made their way down the trail.
Soon after, in the snowless town of Flåm, our band of 100 “Norway in a Nutshell” passengers transferred to a smaller train that carried us down the side of a fjord behind a waterfall, past several “oooh” and “aaah” vistas and through a couple of tunnels until we emerged at sea level, where there was – brace yourself -- a big tourist restaurant and gift shop!
As it turns out, fjord food is even more outrageously priced than most of Norway’s outrageously priced cuisine. Norwegians know this, so they almost always carry their own food, usually in the form of a sandwich, which they keep in their pockets. I’m not kidding. If you spend some time in Norway, you’ll notice that Norwegians are always pulling sandwiches out of their pockets.
We then boarded a boat for the scenic tour of an inland fraction of the Sognefjord. The cliffs were preposterously high, the water unbelievably deep (or so we were told in English, Norwegian, French and Japanese), but after an hour of fjord observation, I turned my attention to chatting with some Spanish embassy workers I met on the train and watching a Russian kid chase a Japanese kid around the boat. 
In a nutshell, the trip was touristy but nice; about what I expected.
I joined an old high school friend Jeff, and his wife, Jill, in Bergen, where we were supposed to catch a ride north on the coastal steamer, Hurtigruten (quite possibly the most fun word to say out loud since “tapioca”). This journey was described as “The world’s most beautiful voyage.” It just may be, although the only place I saw this quote was on the Hurtigruten brochure. The Hurtigruten Line has been navigating the coast since the 1890s, carrying passengers in both directions. The ship is basically a passenger vessel that pretends to be a cargo ship to justify the fact that sailing conditions aren’t up to traditional cruise-ship standards.
The welcome-aboard information meeting, hosted by Captain Sigleif Pedersen, had a bingo-parlor atmosphere. And it seemed like everybody was old and half-asleep. Jeff, Jill and I were the youngest people aboard by roughly half a century. I asked a crew member if this was typical, and he said passengers “generally range in age between 70 and death.”
Copyright: Getty Images
We spent most of our time reading and playing cards on the top-floor, all-window viewing deck. It felt like an economy-class airport lounge with better scenery and more greenhouse effect. The rugged coastline stretches forever (1,500 miles, anyway) and looks like it has yet to see a single cigarette butt. Little red-and-white fishing villages down by the water were so cute they might have been constructed solely for postcards. It was all so beautiful I felt guilty that I had no urge to live in these places. I’m just not fond of the idea of swimming in ice water or a dating scene where first cousins might be considered fair game.
We stopped briefly in the painfully picturesque towns of Ålesund, Kristiansund and Molde. Mostly we walked around these towns and tried not to look like Hurtigruten passengers, which was surprisingly easy. Perhaps the only advantage of youth on this boat was the ability to blend in ashore.
My second night on the ship, I walked into the “dance club/bar” at 11:30 p.m. It was May 16, the eve of Norway’s national day, and supposedly one of the biggest party nights of the year. There was no music playing. In fact, there was negative noise, like you might experience walking into an empty reading room at the library. The 50-year-old female bartender sat in the corner having a cigarette.
A 70-year-old couple were staring at each other or at the wall just past each other. Two middle-agish guys were drinking beer. I sat down next to them and said, ”This must be the raging party.”
“Yes, it is,” they assured me good-naturedly.
Peter, the guy in charge of the passengers, was pretty cool. He didn’t make too many corny jokes, spoke around five languages fluently and put up with questions like: “What time is the midnight sun?” and “Do you have to go ashore to see the midnight sun?”
As far as the midnight sun was concerned, I always pictured people sleeping outside with SPF 30 sun block on. In a nutshell, though, the midnight sun looks more like the midnight sunset: more stunning, less tanning.
 (by Doug Lansky)


1 Understanding the text
a) What is the writer's overall impression of Norway? Make a list of both positive and negative aspects of his trips.
b) In pairs, give an account of Lansky’s experiences in Norway. One student will talk about the positive aspects, the other about the negative. Use your lists as manuscripts.
2 Talking
Discuss in groups or in class and give reasons for your opinions:
a) Lansky is obviously trying to be humorous by “poking fun” not only at Norwegians but at his own countrymen as well. Is he justified in making fun of Norwegians and Americans in the examples he gives, or do you think he is being unfair?
b) What in the text might give readers the impression that Norway’s magnificent nature is sacrificed to commercial interests (the making of money)? Do you agree?
c) In your opinion, is Lansky favorably or unfavorably impressed by his Norwegian experiences? Would you be tempted to travel to Norway after listening to his account?

3 Writing
Choose one topic:
a) Travel logs of journeys to distant places are among the oldest types of recorded writings to be found. And what is more common than traveling among today’s youth? Write a travel log from one of the trips that you remember best, either in Norway or abroad. Concentrate on the events of one day only and try to make your account as personal, yet fair, as possible. See if you can introduce elements of humor in your writing, as well.

b) A friend of yours is going to open a Norwegian restaurant in New York. He needs some help planning how to decorate, what to serve, and how to advertise for his place. Write a description of the restaurant as you picture it. You should also come up with a catchy name and an appealing slogan.

If you want to, you could design an ad for the restaurant, and everyone in your class could put up their ads in the classroom.

Web resource

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary