Discovering Norway: Land of the Vikings, the Dog Sledding Englishman and One Mexican Chef
Updated: Apr 13
Is no secret that Viking culture has been suffering a steady renaissance in pop culture. You can find much content about this ancient people in media and video games, series depicting their adventures as "Vikings", "Last Kingdom", and even the comedy "Norsemen" have done it or video games such as "God of War 4" and "Assassin's Creed: Valhalla" which allow you to be a part of Norse mythology and raid with the vikings that took over Great Britain.
I would like to ride this "Viking wave" and spin you all some yarn about the land that gave us this fearless explorers: Scandinavia, to be precise I want to talk about some amazing people living in Norway.
As always allow me to give you some basic knowledge about Norway so you don't arrive empty-handed. Its capital is the city of Oslo which also has the biggest airport in the country, to fly here you will not need a visa (if you're a Mexican citizen), their currency is the Norwegian Krone equal to 0.12 USD, and Its official languages are Norwegian and Sámi but there's one regional dialect spoken in the north also known as a Finnic dialect: Kven.
Here are some useful language basics to learn, I do apologize if they're not correctly written, my keyboard has limited characters.
Hello - Hallo
Please - Vær så snill
Thank you - Takk
You're welcome - værsågod
Yes/No - Ja/Nei
Goodbye - Ha det
Apart from trying your best at learning Norwegian remember to brush on some of this country's law. Norway has some of the most strict laws concerning drinking and driving. This isn't supposed to sound as "you can go ahead and do it everywhere just not in Norway". No. Never drink and drive, anywhere, do not push your luck. Be responsible.
The next advice comes from my Norwegian brother from another mother, the great Harald, with whom I share a tattoo of a Vegvisir in our right hands, he's advice for anyone coming into Norway and wanting to know the locals is as follows: "Us in Norway we are reserved people, not a lot of touching as you do. You shake hands when you meet someone, no hugs. Don't walk with your hands in your pockets it's rude, I don't remember why but my mother taught me that, so I do it! Actually if my mother or any Norwegian invites you for supper it's probably going to be very long, well not probably, it is going to be very long. We like to talk a lot after and share ideas, sometimes we drink after too! It's a lot of fun!"
One thing Harald never told me, which later was revealed as a prank pulled on me (I respect that, you halvparten), is the sauna etiquette. This etiquette changes depending on the Scandinavian country but I can assure you those changes are minimal. You need to disrobe and take a quick shower, remember to enter the sauna naked (wearing a towel is OK but most won't). Stay as long as you want there's no time limit, once you want to exit and cool off you may go directly into the snow or a cold shower. This is not going to be the end, Norwegians will repeat this process two, three or even four times so feel free to enjoy. At the end, depending on where you are, some hotels may have washing women that will clean you, if you are in the outskirts it's up to you.
You like Dogs? Norway loves Dog Sledding
I'm a dog person. Sorry, I respect you if you prefer cats, but they are furry little demons. Yet my love for this outstanding animals is nothing compared to my mate Charles Jenkins' love for dogs. It has to be the purest expression of love I've ever seen. Now, where could a man with such love go to enjoy a job that indulges it? Well Norway of course.
I went on one dog sledding trip up in the north of Quebec, Canada. Honestly, it wasn't as fun as I expected, the guides were pretty mediocre at their job and the sights weren't even the same they advertised. Norway is another story though, as there're places that specialize in full-service dog sled tours that will make you leave the experience of a lifetime, here I have two options for you Tromsø Villmarkssenter and Jotunheimen Husky Lodge. And who better to explain what this places got to offer other than Charles, the man himself:
"Tromsø Villmarkssenter does mostly shorter trips - 45 to 60 minutes. You can drive your own sled or just ride as a passenger and be driven by staff. So it's more accessible for everyone, old, young, disabled, whoever. And it's a more accessible place, coach ride from the city is included. " Something to know about Villmarkssenter is that they've been around since 1988 and have a total of 300 Alaskan Huskies, that's an incredible amount of dogs!
"Jotunheimen Husky Lodge does mostly longer trips - half day, full day, multi day. You have to drive yourself, or at least one out of two has to drive, we don't have staff to drive you. It's in a way more remote area, deep in forests and mountains, and not easy to get to without a car, though we do also have apartments here you can book. The dogsled experience here is different, you will harness and set up your own team." Nice little fact is that the Jotunheimen mountains are the highest in northern Europe. It's the land of the giants in Norse mythology .
You can see there's quite a contrast, and both are good in different ways, so it really depends on what is it you're looking for your dog sledding tour to be. I personally would recommend giving yourself time to do both, it might be the same activity but it clearly gives you two different experiences. Why not have both then?
Norwegian Food & Drink with a side of Mexican Cuisine
As backpackers or couchsurfers it's normal to live off of cheap meals such as pasta or can food, but I always urge travelers to try at least one local dish in every country they visit. After all, it isn't only your eyes that travel with you, let your tongue come with!
Norwegian cuisine is mostly based on seafood and dairy products, showing a long seafaring and farming tradition. Mostly fish and potatoes dishes balanced by cheese yet you can always find something more exotic such as reindeer roast or stew and a lot of different international cuisine options considering Norway's high immigration rates.
Here are some dishes I personally recommend. I have already enjoyed them and they were exquisite.
Lutefisk: Traditionally it was dried cod that had been steeped in lye but today you can find it made with klippfisk which is dried and salted cod, I was told it's more of a Christmas dinner tradition these days.
Pickled Herring: Salt-cured herring stands for 24 hours in a mixture made out of vinegar, sugar, dill, mustard seed, black peppercorns, onion and other herbs.
Smørrebrød: a piece of buttered rye bread or dark brown bread than can have different toppings such as cold cuts, pieces of meat or fish, cheese or spreads, and garnishes. Maybe even all the above.
Multekrem: a traditional dessert of cloudberries with sugar and whipped cream.
Akvavit: distilled from grain and potatoes, a spirit flavored with a variety of herbs distinctively caraway and dill seed. Great to have it in a small shot freezing cold.
As I already mentioned, Norway is also home to restaurants of various international cuisines, one of such restaurants is Coyo Mexican Food & Tequila Bar. Located on the Sørenga, a popular hot spot in downtown Oslo, Coyo is not just one of those Mexican restaurants that resembles Mexican cuisine, it's one of the most traditionally based Mexican cuisine spots in all Europe. This title is rightfully earned as Coyo's Chef sources all exotic supplies by selecting authentic Mexican ingredients, not cheap replicas.
The Executive Chef is none other than Christian García López, a Mexican Chef and gastronomic instructor who has been in this position for about 4 years now. "There's a very strong bond between Coyo and me, it is not a work issue, I consider that Coyo is an emotional vehicle with the Norwegian people, Mexican cuisine is highly charged with emblems, contrasts, lights and shadows. There's a history and a million experiences behind each dish. It's also a way to offer a little of me, of my style of cooking tempered in the suburbs of Mexico City and brightened by all the experiences with my country, with my people." Any meal becomes an adventure, an experience when visiting Coyo.
Going to Oslo for some Mexican food sounds a little far-fetched, but you have to remember that Norway welcomes and allows different cultures to grow, Coyo is an example of this. Chef Christian's advice for any new visitors to Coyo is not really to order a special dish but to come with a special state of mind. "My recommendation for those who are new diners at Coyo is to open their minds. Unfortunately, many Mexican-concept restaurants in the world have done a somewhat ridiculous job, compelled by maintaining profitability and low costs. Original Mexican ingredients are usually quite difficult to find. It makes sense. But in Coyo open mind means, preparing yourself to experience that unique magic that you usually find when eating in a restaurant, in a Taqueria, in the park or in the market, open mind to learn that Mexican cuisine is so warmhearted, that it's possible to invoke it on the other side of planet Earth. Furthermore, to learn that the true essence of Mexican cuisine is in the diverse variety of origins of its ingredients, like a good Mole with ingredients that are jealously guarded by other cultures."
If you're keen on achieving this staggering open mind I urge you to follow Chef Christian's YouTube Channel (link right here) and visit him in Coyo as well.
The North of Scandinavia is a Welcoming place
Norway is truly a land of wonder, I could go on and on about Viking culture, the Aurora Borealis, the Midnight Sun, the fantastic fjords or the Stave churches and I will, just not in this article.
What I wanted to bring a light to is how two people from different countries were able to start a life, and an outstanding one if I may add, in this staggering country. Norwegian people might be known for being reserved, but they have the kindest of hearts. I can't wait to visit once more and I hope you will too, as you can see food, drink and activities are not in short supply in Norway! Takk.