Do you enjoy travel, but fret about the environmental impact? In this age of cheap flights and airbnb, the temptation to grab that chance to explore and ignore the carbon issue is always the elephant in the room. Here’s an option to feel better about your journey.
This Spring, my normally eco-friendly lifestyle has suffered from a carbon footprint shadow hanging over it. Thanks to festive gifts being more experience-based than substance, I have been fortunate enough to have a succession of short haul flights to bucket list destinations. However, this has led to guilty feelings, despite my normally sustainable habits. That is until I reached Norway.
This journey began like many others, with a budget airline. However, Norwegian Air is no ordinary economy offer. This award-winning low-cost operator is one of the youngest and greenest. In 2015 Norwegian was named the most fuel-efficient airline on transatlantic routes by The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). Sitting comfortably aboard one of their planes, which are recognisable by their distinctive, patriotic tail graphics depicting national heroes, my guilt was eased somewhat by this knowledge.
Landing in Oslo airport was a world apart from the Gatwick experience in more ways than one. Environmental matters of all kinds are considered and managed for in and around this modern building. It aims for “passive” standards of energy efficiency and focuses on the use of public transport. First impressions were of freshness and green, living walls of plants within the terminal. Staff and cleaners move around efficiently on small scooters, powered by legwork, like those children might use. A futuristic train system whisked us through the snowy countryside, through which cross-country ski-tracks were more noticeable than roads.
As I walked from Oslo central station to my budget accommodation, the capital city appeared closed for lunch. I later discovered that many residents head for their family’s log cabin in the countryside at holiday weekends, so the city was quiet for Easter holidays. However, the locals we met were so relaxed and friendly that I couldn’t help but think this relatively small city enjoys a peaceful existence, even on a non-holiday period.
British travellers to Scandinavian countries almost always complain of the high cost of food, drink and travel on their visit. One noticeable upside of this is the remarkably low level of consumerism which exists. The shopping centre is not huge, the retailers are high quality and there are fewer eateries, but those available are very good. Less is more could be the mantra here. Those locals enjoying the Spring sunshine, outside the cafes, seemed to savour their tipple at a relaxed pace. There was a sensible approach to eating out, with less gluttony as proved by a trimmer and more active population.
Sightseeing need not be eye-wateringly costly either. An Oslo pass is recommended for any travel advice you read. This magic ticket gives you travel on any of the city’s public transport and free entry to many of the tourist attractions. My first port of call was the Norsk Folkemuseum – Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. This is an open-air collection of 160 vernacular buildings, rescued from around the country and restored on site. It gives a picturesque insight into the traditions and historic lifestyles of Norway’ s ancestors – for natives and visitors alike.
Awed by the beauty of many of these wonderful, mainly wooden, buildings I eventually moved on to an even more awe-inspiring sight. Right next door, the Viking Ship museum displays the remains of those mythical vessels. Anyone sharing my “Celtic” blood must surely feel the hairs on their neck stand up at the sight of these majestic ships. Their legends are well known, but to actually stand beside one, admiring the workmanship and carvings of their build, is spellbinding.
The bravery, even insanity, of those men who set sail across the globe all those years ago obviously lives on through the generations. This is obvious in the other maritime museums, of which there is a selection on the Bygdoy Peninsula. If you are not of a nautical persuasion, do not be put off. The human story within these establishments is timeless, incredible and fascinating.
The Fram Polar Ship museum houses Gjoa, the first ship to sail through the Northwest Passage Passage as well as Fram, the first built in Norway for polar research. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen used her for his SouthPole expedition of 1912 – 19 which saw him and his team place the Norwegian flag at the pole before Scott’s ill-fated expedition could reach it overland. The exhibition houses much of interest and I couldn’t help marvel, yet again, at the bravery, or foolhardiness, of these adventurous men.
Yet another such man is celebrated in a museum just across the road from the Fram. In complete contrast to the sturdy, ice-breaking vessel I’d just left, the Kon-tiki is a not-that-large raft made of large balsa wood logs. One of “history’s most famous explorers”, Thor Heyerdahl, crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1947 on this flimsy creation. He later completed similar madcap voyages on reed boats, one of which is also housed in this museum along with many archaeological objects, photographs and film footage.
One can’t help wonder was it the Viking blood or their wonderful Nordic names that helped these men in their career choices! Travelling back to Oslo centre on a small ferry (amusingly named the bat-service), gave me time to reflect on the exhibitions and the people. All the residents I had contact with during my short stay in Oslo seemed relaxed and friendly with a great sense of humour, not crazy enough to set off on such an adventure.
Perhaps it has something to do with their ancestry, living in a harsh environment and surviving long dark winters. Anyone living here, even in the city, can’t help but be aware of the dangers of the natural elements. Perhaps this awareness breeds a love of life and living it to the full. While I enjoyed the stunning scenery and admired the still snowy landscape, I left Norway reluctantly, wishing to stay longer and vowing to return to get to know the country, and its people, better.