The Rest of Scandinavia (Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen, Stockholm)

September 7, 2015 |
By Sadiq Samani

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After my piece about Iceland, I figured I would write a separate article about each Scandinavian city I visited. However, I realized that all these cities are very similar to each other in terms of culture and point of view (though they probably wouldn’t agree with me) so I figured I would just write one article and try to encapsulate the unique aspects of each city.

I visited Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen, and Stockholm (click on the links to go directly to the part of the article regarding the specific city) to conclude my Scandinavian trip. These Nordic cities, and their respective countries, all share similar values. They all believe in equality for all. As long as you are happy with the choices you’re making, without it affecting others, you should be allowed to live within society without harm. They don’t like individualism in society. It’s all about WE. No one person is better than another nor better than society itself. It’s a way of thinking called the Law of Jante.

Being from an American background, in which I think I am the best in the world, at everything, I got a little irritated by their way of life. All I wanted was attention, and I didn’t get any while visiting Scandinavia. Didn’t they realize that they were in the presence of awesomeness. Those socialist bastards! (Note that when I say “socialism” I mean Democratic Socialism where there is some social ownership and some private ownership, creating a balance that benefits people and not corporations or capitalists. You’ll have to read more about it on your own homie.)

I still loved Scandinavia. Their mentality, after you let it seep in a little, can be very freeing. Sure, I like being an individual (and you can still be one to some extent), but I also like the belief that the better society runs together, the better you are as an individual, which is something that is lacking in America. The standard view us Americans have, that capitalism is everything, is outright ignorant and stupid. We need a little socialism to offset the drawbacks of capitalism, similar to the policies in Scandinavia.

I want to be able to take risks, but know that if I fail I’ll still be able to seek medical attention without worrying about going bankrupt. That I’ll still be able to live without ending up in poverty.

Is Copenhagen/Denmark Really the Happiest Place on Earth?

The first sign I saw when arriving at Copenhagen airport read, “Welcome to the Happiest Place on Earth”. Yet many Danes that I spoke to in Copenhagen weren’t sure how to answer when I asked them if that statement was true. Unlike Disneyland, which claims that it’s the happiest place on earth, Denmark usually tops UN’s World Happiness Report every year.

After taking a bike tour, in one of the most bike friendly cities in the world, I understood a little better about why Danes are happy. Our guide, Bike Mike, went off about how Danes don’t have to worry about healthcare, education, or social services, because it’s all provided to the people as a basic human right. To top it off Danes only work 37 hours a week and get five weeks of vacation. Sure, just like any society, they have issues, but Bike Mike felt they were much more civilized as a nation and that the government worked for the people.

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Copenhagen, Denmark - Nyhavn area

By the end of the tour all the Americans in the group joked that we were ready to move to Denmark, but Bike Mike quickly interjected, “you may move to Denmark, but you’ll never feel at home in Denmark”. That’s true, I wouldn’t want to leave the states, but how great would it be to have some of the values that Denmark, or other western/Scandinavian nations, offered as a right for its citizens.

Copenhagen was a happening city. It reminded me somewhat of Amsterdam, but much more lively (minus the ganja shops ????). Besides Stockholm, Copenhagen seemed to be the most westernized/American out of the Scandinavian cities. It was also a very safe place. So much so that parents sitting at a restaurant or cafe actually leave their babies in their stroller out on the sidewalk while they enjoy their coffee or meal. As if their child is a dog that can’t be brought inside due to restrictions by the Department of Health. Even in the grungy (but cool as fuck) neighborhood of Vesterbro, where I stayed, which was covered in graffiti and had crackheads roaming the streets, people left their babies outside as if they were in an affluent city like Beverly Hills. Now if we can only figure out how to put babies in the cargo of an airplane during flight I can applaud societies’ progress.

Places & Things

  • Bike Mike Bike Tours – Way better than trying to take a bus tour. You’ll really get to see the city as it’s meant to be seen: on a bicycle. Plus, Bike Mike is a pretty cool tour guide.
  • Hallernes Smørrebrød – Open faced sandwiches, inside a big market. Eat a sandwich, then walk around and check out the other shops.
  • Kaffe – Coffee. Cool decor. Hip neighborhood of Vesterbro.
  • Andersen Bakery – Best hot dog EVER! And I’m from Chicago.

Norwegian Socialists in Oslo

The first thing I told my girlfriend about Norway was that, if she ever broke up with me, my next girlfriend would be Norwegian, because they are beautiful, smart, independent, and beautiful. Yes, I said beautiful twice. Wawaweewa! The second thing I told her was, damn, Norway is so pretty and clean. The third thing I told her was, shit, it’s expensive. Like $20 for a value meal at Burger King expensive. Which meant I didn’t really eat out as much.

If there was such a thing as an award for a country with the most “equality” I would say Norway would have a chance to win it. Everyone is equal. Everyone should be treated humanely. That’s it. These stringent views, however, can sometimes be a bit problematic. Not every person in every situation can be treated in an equal and humane manner. Sure, I understand where they are coming from, and I applaud them for wanting to end poverty, income disparity, and racial tensions, but sometimes that can backfire as well. Norway has a very open immigration policy, however people are migrating to Norway, using their social services without giving anything back and failing to assimilate and live within their open culture. Even with these issues, you’ll hear Norwegians say they need more social services, they want to help everyone in the world, but they won’t actually address the problem. Their viewpoint is commendable, but I’m not sure if I would handle the situation in the same way or if their approach will work. Regardless, their culture makes me want to work harder for a more humane and equal society.

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Places & Things

  • Istanbul – The shawarma/gyros and sauce is the bomb! Plus, it’s one of the most inexpensive meals you can get. For more inexpensive eats visit the Grønland area which is filled with minorities and good, but cheap, restaurants.
  • Tim Wendelboe – Some of the best coffee you’ll have in the world, from presentation to taste. The only caveat is that they don’t have any dairy alternatives because they feel soy/almond milk ruins the taste and since I am lactose intolerant I had to have the coffee black. The barista recommended a coffee blend that had citrus notes and it was definitely good, though I probably won’t do it again because I don’t like my coffee black. I still recommend checking it out, plus the shop is in the hip Grünerløkka neighborhood where you can stroll around and check out all the shops.

Oslo to Bergen, Norway - Train ride passing mountains with snow

Rain Rain Go Away, Let Me Enjoy Bergen For One Damn Day

The only reason I went to Bergen was because I read online that the train ride from Oslo was one of the most scenic rides in the world. All the reviewers on TripAdvisor were totally right, the views throughout our journey were spectacular. My favorite moment was when we went through a mountainous area that was covered entirely in snow. Everything you saw out of the window was so white and bright that it felt like staring directly into the sun. Even after I put some sunglasses on I was tearing up every time I looked outside, and not because I was being sentimental.

I only had a day in Bergen, and in hindsight I should’ve stayed there longer, because it was such a beautiful place and I didn’t have enough time to explore. The entire day I was there it was raining intermittently. There was a point in the day where the rain stopped for a long period and the sun was out. A tourist told his wife, “The weather isn’t so great huh? I wish it was a little better.” What he didn’t realize was that it rains over 300 days in Bergen, and that if it isn’t raining and the sun is shining it is considered good weather in Bergen. The point is, go to Bergen, but take an umbrella or two.

Bergen, Norway - View from Mount Floyen

Places & Things

  • Mount Fløyen – Take the tram up to get a picturesque view of the city and then walk down the trail back into the city, assuming it’s not balls out raining.
  • Fish Market I missed out on this. I saw the market after I had lunch, so I wasn’t hungry. When I tried to go later in the day they had already closed down. I feel eating here is a must. Fresh seafood made to order.
  • Pingvinen – I tried the whale steak. Well known restaurant with Norwegian delicacies.
  • Bar Barista – After you walk down Mount Fløyen, head to this hippie coffee shop for some old tunes, snacks and coffee.
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Stylin’ in Stockholm

After a few weeks traveling through Scandinavia, my girlfriend joined me in Stockholm. It was my last leg in Scandinavia before I headed to London.

This city was the most western/American city in Scandinavia to me or at least fit my taste. Plus it had a distinct style and character about it. I’ve been wanting to go to Sweden since the time I learned that IKEA, H&M and Spotify were all it’s children. I love modern design, and to me, Sweden is one of the cities pushing modernism from architecture to fashion.

Stockholm, Sweden - Vasa Viking Ship museum

Besides exploring the sites, and the hot hipster white girls with thick lips, hips, and tats, Stockholm has a lot of culture from the food, it’s Viking Ship museum as well as their music scene. Stockholm was also the place where I decided to do most of my Scandinavian shopping. My girlfriend and I found so many cool and unique pieces for our clothing collections that will never be available stateside. I get a lot of compliments on some of the stuff I purchased there, which I obviously love because I’m an attention whore. I also have a bunch of friends in Stockholm (that I met in Berlin) and it was nice getting a local’s perspective. I can’t wait to go back!

Places & Things

  • The Hairy Pig Deli – Tapas style. Great fuckin’ food. Mmmmmm mmmmm. It’s also within the old city, so you can explore then eat or eat then explore. They have weird hours, and it’s a tiny place with no reservations, so go prepared and expect to wait a little.
  • Nook – Modern eating and the most expensive, yet well presented meal, I’ve had in Scandinavia. It’s a prix-fixe menu, and the food looks like an Iron Chef made it for the Food Network. If you’re on a budget, I’d probably stay away. We were caught off guard by the expense, but it was worth it.
  • Strömmingsvagnen – A fish stand with very good and inexpensive open faced sandwiches.
  • Vasa Museum – A large, well preserved, viking ship. Must see!
  • Johan & Nyström Konceptbutik – Great coffee, cool people and neighborhood.

Should You Go?

If you’re going to Scandinavia, from America at least, I would suggest hitting up everything in one trip, including a stop over in Iceland as I suggested in my piece about Reykjavik. I was able to visit all of Scandinavia (minus Finland) within three weeks. If you don’t have as much time, Iceland is a must, followed by either Stockholm/Copenhagen if you want Scandinavian/American culture and Oslo for something completely different in terms of attitude/way of life.

If you’re American, Scandinavia is an area of the world that may change your perspective of “socialism” within society, in a good way.

Have you been to any of the cities in Scandinavia or are planning a visit? Share your thoughts in the comments section boo boo.

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