Norway: The land of whalemeat sandwiches - Europe - Travel - The Independent

Norway: The land of whalemeat sandwiches

Michael Williams is cheered to find that a cap on luggage doesn't limit his fun

I'm sure there are easier things to explain than why I'm sitting on the harbourside in Bergen at dawn, nursing a whalemeat sandwich wrapped in my underpants. The sun is freshly up and is picking off the Farrow & Ball palette of greys, gravels and pinks of the medieval clapboard warehouses of the quay - as romantic a sight on this pale northern morning as you will find anywhere in the world.

So let's not spoil the mood with scatological talk right now - let's get on to the whales. There is something deliciously naughty about indulging in any kind of vice in goody-goody Norway - surely the world's most politically correct nation. The Norwegians inhabit what is regularly voted the best country to live in on the planet, with one of the highest per capita incomes, magnificent fjords, unpolluted mountains and a population half the size of London. They are the only people in the world ever to vote overwhelmingly in favour of prohibition (in 1919). And in the unlikely event that global peace ever broke out, you could be sure it was brokered in Oslo.

But hunting whales? Here the Norwegian hunger for a rare whale steak has invited international pariah status. "How could such nice people end up so far beyond the pale?" I ask at the harbourside stall of Mr S Sorenson, purveyor of whalemeat to the distinguished citizens of Bergen.

"You British talk a lot of sentimental crap about whales," Mr Sorenson tells me, carving glutinous chunks of dried whaleflesh, the colour of his face, into a bap. "You think they are dogs and cats. But they are no different from cod - except you have killed all of the cod for your fish and chip shops, and we have plenty of minke whales. Eat here, or take away?"

Cue the underpants. Not any old John Major ones, you understand, but just about as state-of-the-art an article of underwear as money can buy. As it says on the label, they are "the most vital ingredient in your luggage", containing silver oxide "to reduce odour" and "dynamic moisture control to speed up evaporation and keep you cool". Nothing is more perfect than this nanotechnological wonder to wrap my increasingly whiffy sandwich, as I head up the hill to Bergen railway station on this warm summer's morning. Most important of all, I am smug in the knowledge that they weigh a mere 51g.

You see, I am here not just for exotic food, spectacular scenery, nor the miracle of Europe's last remaining wilderness, not even the awe-inspiring sight of reindeer herds charging through the tundra - but for something more prosaic. A bet to see how far I can go and how long I can last with the smallest weight of carry-on baggage allowed by any airline in the world.

Now, I can hear you saying, it's not exactly Around the World in Eighty Days. But there is a twist. I had also to perform three tasks: to travel stylishly by plane and train, to walk at altitude in snow at sub-zero temperatures, and to don appropriate formal wear as though I were entertaining the head of state in the smartest restaurant in the capital. The rules stipulated: no washing (cf. underpants), no purchases after leaving home and never looking less than stylish for any part of the journey.

Where else but Norway could provide such a variety of extremes in the early summer? I would start with a budget airline (Norwegian Air Shuttle) with one of the most cheese-paring luggage limits in the world (a strictly enforced 8kg). Then I'd join one of the world's great train rides, taking me over the snow-capped mountains from Bergen to Oslo. On the way I'd take in the world's steepest adhesion railway, plunging at a gradient of 1 in 18 from the snowy mountains where Scott of the Antarctic trained, down to the fjords, made balmy by the Gulf Stream. Journey's end would be in Oslo, not so prim and proper as it was in the days of Ibsen and Munch, but still sufficiently starchy to fulfil my last task with proper formality.

So here I am, on my knees on the living-room floor, hunched over kitchen and bathroom scales, making some fine calibrations. Musts include my clever Rockport Dressports - light-as-a-feather brogues, built like trainers, in which you could run a marathon. Also top of the list are Rohan Uplander trousers, made of space-age material that miraculously wicks away rain faster than it soaks in. Out goes the digital camera (all that charging gear) in favour of the lightweight 35mm Ricoh. I consider junking the Rough Guide (420g) in favour of the Lonely Planet (380g), but quality wins. Styling also tips the balance against the M&S washable suit - the Rohan alternative, even after two days in a stuffsac, looks so much more Paul Smith.

I weigh in at Stansted at 5.6kg - less than four bags of flour - which comprises all I have to live with for a week. Ideally, I would have chosen not to travel in my Salomon hiking trainers, which are designed for fell-walking. But the Rockports are more packable, and the trainers are street-smart enough, and wearing them on the plane is the only compromise I make on the entire trip.

In any case, I am vindicated when I arrive at Bergen, which is living up to its reputation as one of the dampest cities in the world. (Local joke: tourist emerges from airport and asks a boy, "Does it always rain here?" "I don't know," the boy replies. "I'm only 13.") I fish in my bag for my Cloudcover jacket - little bigger than a tennis ball, and lighter.

Apart from the brief glimpse of Bergen morning sun, it rains/snows/rains, not necessarily in that order. At Finse, bleak and treeless, the snow is two metres deep. But although minimalist, I remain snug in my layers and muse on how miserable it must have been for the early Polar explorers slogging round in all that sodden wool and leather. At Geilo, where I break my journey, the stationmaster says it has been the worst Norwegian spring for 30 years. The only respite is when the train grinds down precipitously to Flam on the Aurlandsfjord, where I bless my fake linen trousers (dry in 10 minutes).

But two days along the line in Oslo, it is the suit that proves the biggest test. It's easy enough to put hi-tech extreme wear through its paces. But what should I do with the jacket and trousers (plus formal shirt and tie)? I remember the story of the dying Ibsen, who refused to pass away until he had donned his suit and parked himself upright in his favourite armchair in his apartment at Arbins Gate. Sadly it is closed for restoration, so I stroll down the hill to the Grand Café, all bow-tied waiters and cut glass, where the great man held court. But now it is full of tourists chomping pizza and quaffing chardonnay.

"Try the Engebret Café," one of the older waiters suggests, "it's just what you're looking for." He's right, and my dark blue two-piece seems entirely appropriate for the fin-de-siècle atmosphere - all dark-wood panelling, cut glass and starched tablecloths. I am the only customer, but, as I tuck into a comfortingly large reindeer steak, it seems just possible that Mrs Alving could walk in any minute off the set of Ghosts, which is playing at the National Theatre down the road.

At Oslo's sleek Gardermoen airport, I check in like a bantamweight, even though I have stocked up on a hoard of hard-to-find Norwegian literature in the city's excellent bookshops. Thinking of all that aviation fuel saved, I feel smug enough to spend my last few krone on a souvenir packet of air-dried whalemeat in the airside deli. OK, I know that one man travelling light doesn't save the world. But, I rationalise, he's not going to dispatch the world's whales to oblivion, either.

Michael Williams travelled to Norway with the following items in his bag: Rockport Dressport shoes (390g); Rohan Globetrotter jacket and trousers (1,060g); Rohan Travel Linen trousers and shirt (760g); Rohan Cloudcover II jacket (395g); Vivienne Westwood tie (50g); two pairs Marks & Spencer odour-free socks (120g); X-stinctive T-shirt (120g); X-stinctive briefs (51g); toiletries in Eagle Creek "Pack -it" bag (250g); 'Rough Guide to Norway' (420g); Ricoh GR1V camera (200g).

(Rockport, 0161 831 9771; Rohan, 0970 6012244; Vivienne Westwood, 020-7439 1109; Marks & Spencer, 0845 609 0200.)



Similar trips can be made with Inntravel (01653 617906; and Great Rail Journeys (01904 521980; A 15-day tour of Sweden and Norway with Great Rail Journeys costs from £1,790. Airlines serving Bergen include Norwegian Air Shuttle (00 47 21 49 00 15; from Stansted, SAS (0870 60 727727; from Gatwick and Wideroe (00 47 81 00 12 00; from Aberdeen. Oslo is served by SAS, British Airways (0870 850 9850; and City Star Airlines (01224 722610; Ryanair (0906 270 5656; flies to Torp.


Engebret Café, Bankplassen 1, Oslo (00 47 22 82 25 25;


Visit Norway (020-7389 8800;

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
Life and Style
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
Kenny G
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week