Enjoying the beauty

Oslo, Norway, is a graceful mix of ancient and modern architecture. Founded in 1000 A.D., it’s the capital city of Norway and a hub of Norwegian trade, banking, industry and shipping. The city is clean and efficient, with numerous roundabouts, an excellent mass-transportation system and bike paths everywhere. In general, it’s 1.5 million inhabitants are well-educated, well-paid, cheerful and in extremely good shape.

Dublin is the capital city of Ireland, with about 530,000 residents. Founded as a Viking settlement in the 9th century, it became the island’s principal city following the Norman Invasion of Ireland, launched from Wales in 1169. The River Laffey runs through the center of town. The north side of the river historically has been seen as the “working class” area, and the area on the south side of the river has been seen as the “middle to upper-middle class” section. Despite this cultural divide, Dublin has more green spaces per square kilometer than any other European capital city, with 97 percent of city residents living within 300 meters of a park area.

Norway shares the same latitude as Alaska, Greenland and Siberia, but compared with these areas Norway has a pleasant climate. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, temperatures along the coast of Norway are much higher than at comparable latitudes elsewhere. The Vikings had a bad reputation as raiders back in the Viking age between 800 and 1050 A.D., but they were also traders, explorers and settlers. Today, they’re peaceful, cheerful, resourceful, efficient and highly educated.

Norse mythology was not based on a religious community. It had more to do with actions than with faith. Norsemen worshipped the gods through ceremonies and offerings as it was important to keep the gods happy. The transition from the Norse chieftain society to kingdom and Christendom happened around the year 1000. Christian Norway belonged to the Roman Catholic church until the reformation of 1537. Today Norway enjoys religious freedom, but the evangelical Lutheran faith is the official religion.

Viking ships, like this one on display in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway, were considered one of the greatest technical and artistic achievements of the European Dark Ages. They could survive ocean crossings with a draft of as little as 50 cm (20 inches). Great for raiding, trading and exploring.

There are more than 400 castles and fortresses in Ireland, all with their own fascinating histories.  Most of them, however, have to do with protection from those nasty Vikings — at least until the Norman Invasion of Ireland in 1169. Then, the Irish had to worry about the English.


Fishing vessels, Vikings, castles, fortresses, bibles, monks and drunks. The small village of Doolin on Ireland’s western coast south of the Cliffs of Moher has seen them all.

Not just for hundreds of years, but for thousands of years.

We visited a “beehive” not far from here — a rock house that dates to 2000 B.C. No kidding. It was built along this protected coastline where you could see the enemy coming across the sea for miles.

There have been lookout towers along the tops of the Cliffs of Moher forever, their occupants watching for raiding parties or trading parties sailing on the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

Meanwhile, back in Norway, those Vikings could sail. The Viking ship was one of the greatest technical and artistic achievements of the European Dark Ages, according to literature I copped at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. That’s where I also found a cool new baseball cap for 200 Krone ($33.34 U.S.).

These speedy vessels had the strength to survive ocean crossings with a draft of as little as 50 centimeters (20 inches), allowing navigation in very shallow water. Great for trading, raiding and exploring — with about the same leg room as a U.S. Airways 747. Please store your carry-on under your seat as there is no space in the overhead bin.

These ships were adorned with brilliant jewel-filled carvings of snakes and animals and stuff, all of which the Irish, and most other people in 800 A.D. were very scared of.

Today, it’s a much different story. These Norwegians still can sail, but they’ve explored for and discovered immense bounty in their own waters — with deep-water drilling for oil and gas. Norway started undersea oil production in 1993.

This peaceful, highly educated and extremely efficient society does not resemble its ancestors if decapitation and pillaging are the standards.

Same with the Irish. They were quite barbaric before St. Patrick and a troop of stout-hearted monks brought a little religion their way. Despite/because of that, the Irish have maintained their grit and their laughter and their friendly smiles. Like the Norwegians, they have developed into a highly educated and sophisticated society.

How advanced? The Irish have debt. The Norwegians have high taxes and excellent government health care. Both have roundabouts. Everywhere. Thousands of them. The Irish have Guinness beer, Old Bushmills and Jamison whiskey. Norway has that, plus everything else you could possibly want because they can import anything and have it shipped in.

Viking ships certainly transformed both countries’ histories, and both are steeped so deep in history, it’s hard for an American punk like me to comprehend.

Lots has changed in these countries over the centuries, but modern-day Norwegians and Irish are still close to the sea, just like their ancestors.

Fish, anyone? Smoked, fried, grilled, blackened, baked — all fabulous, whether it was cod, salmon, pike, sole, scampi, monkfish or others I couldn’t pronounce.

There are a lot of meat-eaters over here, too. I learned salami is not just for breakfast anymore, although mostly it’s for breakfast in places like Norway and Sweden, where a normal breakfast may consist of salami and cheese on an open-faced sandwich.

It took me about three weeks to figure out what a “toaster” was. It’s a toasted sandwich, probably with salami and cheese.

They boast of their prized, grass-fed meat. They’re not into feedlots. Also, Norwegians and Irish appear to appreciate a good brew. And, for the most part, they all speak English.

Gas prices were high: 14.50 Kr ($2.42) per liter in Norway. OK, math whizzes, 3.79 liters make a gallon. So, how much is the gas per gallon? $2.42 times 3.79 equals $9.17.

Ready to stop whining about the cost of gas?

Petro was a little cheaper in Ireland. There, 1.61 Euro ($2.18) would buy a liter.

Of course, everyone in both countries drives smaller, more efficient cars and if they dwell in the city, they certainly use mass transportation.

Good thing those cars are smaller. Not only do they get better gas mileage, but many of the back roads, especially through the smaller hamlets, were very narrow — built for horse and buggy, not Ford and Chevy.

Those vehicles carry much smaller humans, as well. We never saw one person overweight or out of shape in all of Norway. We saw a few in Ireland, but they were American tourists.

Roadways in Norway were excellent, and the Atlantic Coast Highway is spectacular — an engineering marvel equaling that of Glenwood Canyon.

Freeways in Ireland are great, but backcountry roads are narrow, and that freaked us out, especially since it was my first time sitting on the wrong side of the car and driving on the wrong side of the road. (Actually, it freaked out my passengers more than me.)

What’s greener? Ireland or Norway? Hard to say. They both receive so much moisture it’s ridiculous – by our standards.

Which people are more friendly? Again, hard to say. They were all so warm and welcoming.

Would I go back again? In a minute — when I can afford it again. There are more castles to discover, more ships to sail, more beer to quaff, more trails to hike.


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