The new Astrup Fearnely museum, by too-hot architect Renzo Piano.
“I hear
it’s a bit of a backwater,” says an unnamed expat living in Sweden, looking
across at neighbouring Norway. Talk about winning friends… but I’ve heard this before, Swedes sniffing at what
they see as hard-smoking, hard-drinking Norwegians who are rich from oil, not
from hard work.
It’s the classic ‘fight-with-your-neighbours’ scenario. Think Britain and France. The USA and Canada. Australia and New Zealand.

If you
tuned into Norway’s national tv station NRK, you’d probably agree. Previous
programs include 12-hour features on stacking firewood, knitting and a minute-by-minute
program of the cruise/cargo ship route, the Hurtigruten, which makes its way up
and down the Norwegian coastline, from Bergen to Kirkenes. It was a 134-hour, non-stop
broadcast from one of the ships, and it rated its pants off.
“Did you
see the program?” an urbane concierge asks me at Oslo’s beautiful Grand Hotel. “It
was great!”
Elkburger at the face of new Nordic food, Kolonihagen,
in Oslo’s gritty Grunerlokka district.

“Sorry, can’t
say I did,” I reply. “But I’m going to be living it instead.”

After a day
in Oslo, where the nonsensical Norwegian hit song ‘What does the fox say?” blares
from cosy-looking bars, we fly to icy Kirkenes, way up in the northernmost tip
of Norway, in the Finnmark region, to start our trip.
To give you
an idea of the locale, Kirkenes is two hours’ flying time from Oslo, heading
due north, in the Arctic Circle. It’s 7km from the Russian border and 37km west
of Finland. Murmansk is 250km away, about four hours’ drive.
Looking out
of the plane window, the blackness is spotted infrequently with orange lights indicating
some sort of dwelling. The ground is white with snow and ice, slick with
running water and while the temperature reads a relatively balmy 2.2 degrees
(positive), the wind chill factor drags it down somewhere below zero.
“It’s quite warm for this time of year,” the
taxi driver tells me. “A few years ago, it was -20C in early November.” My face
starts to crack just at the thought of that cold.
Dinner is a
very red chowder with pepper, king crab and chunks of cod, and a reindeer
burger the size of a side plate: for all its insanely low temperatures, this is not a desert. The land provides.