Finishing up Norway and on to Holland

img_3607-1Time flies when you’re having fun! I’m a few countries behind, and have some catching up to do. I realize I never finished talking about Norway. I have so much to write about, I’ll try to keep it short. Coming from the US with all of our problems right now, it was refreshing to experience Democratic Socialism and see it working. I’m not trying to get political here (ok maybe just a little), but the people of Norway don’t have to worry about or save for:

  • good schools and university (free)
  • health care (free)
  • elder care (free – assisted living, nursing homes, home visits)
  • retirement (pension – rates vary depending on how long and which type of work)
    Also, paid at full salary:
  • personal sick leave (~4 weeks/year without a doctors note, 1 year with a doctors note, can continue after a year if still unable to work, but at 66% of salary)
  • leave to care for a sick child (~2 weeks/child/year – If there is only 1 parent in the picture, then that parent gets the allotted time for both parents, so double)
  • bonding leave for having/adopting a baby (1 year shared between parents)
  • leave to care for an elderly parent (~2 weeks/year)
  • time off for vacation (5 weeks/year)

Yes, their taxes are high, but Norwegians still have a very good quality of life. Depending on where you reference, between 77-83% of Norwegians own their own home compared with 64% in the US. Plus, many own a summer “cabin”, which are very small and simple but just fine for spending time in when the weather is good… especially when you have 5 weeks of paid vacation to get away. Now, take a moment and think about what stresses you out financially, now and for your future, and imagine what this would be like…. Oh, and by the way, tuition at university is free for foreign students as well, and many classes are taught in English.

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‘Uendelige Landskap’ in National Gallery by Harald Sohlberg

OK, so moving on to Holland. In 1994, my brother Mike and I traveled to Amsterdam to visit our sister, Hilary, who was living there. We were young and had an amazing time walking and biking all over the city. We visited museums and markets, churches and pubs, cafes and coffee shops. We called it “Disneyland for Adults” and it was magical.

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Oh that 90’s hair!

The city still has all that, but unfortunately millions of other tourists have discovered it too. It was extremely crowded and I’ll never go again in the summer. Locals I talked to said it’s better in the off season, but the mellow vibe of 25 years ago is gone.

Unfortunately, this is happening all over the world. In Europe, cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Venice, and Dubrovnik are being ruined by tourism. Cheap international flights make a trip to Europe as affordable as a trip within the US (you can find tickets for $400 RT in the off season, $600 RT if you plan ahead in the summer). And discount airlines within Europe make it easy to travel around as well. Rising rents and AirBnBs push out the locals in a new form of gentrification. Some locals have, understandably, become resentful and many cities are trying to figure out how to mitigate the problem. Tourist taxes and fines for bad behavior (like sitting on historic fountains) might help with the experience. They are also putting new restrictions in place on AirBnBs and suggesting that tourists find lodging out of the city centers and stay in established hotels nearby instead. We have plans to visit many popular cities on this trip. This experience has shown me how important it is to heed this advice for everyone’s sake. I still want to enjoy traveling and think its valuable for many reasons, but we also have a responsibility to minimize our impact and help preserve the very places we are visiting.

We still had fun in Amsterdam, though, and enjoyed wandering around, took a canal tour, rented bikes (yikes) and visited the Van Gogh museum and the MOCO museum with an exhibit of Bansky’s indoor work. The Anne Frank House was fully booked so we had to skip that unfortunately.

Next time, though, I would stay in Utrecht, a much smaller city 30 minutes away by train and day trip into Amsterdam for the museums. Utrecht also has canals, little streets, good restaurants and is way less crowded. Plus you can easily (and safely) bike from there into the countryside. We had a really fun day biking to a restaurant on a river that serves Dutch pancakes, Theehuis Rhijnauwen.

We also took a rest day. Our hotel, The Eye Hotel, was a little odd (it used to house a famous ophthalmologist – but the eyeball pictures were a bit much) but it was extremely cozy and comfortable. So after over 2 weeks of solid travel we had a chillax day and barely left our room. But when we did, we enjoyed the city and will return one day for more.

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In general, we enjoyed Holland. We loved the biking culture, the food, and the beauty, history and architecture of the cities. I especially enjoyed getting lost and all the little surprises one finds along the way.

 

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