I remember travelling to Norway in 2004. I was an exchange student at Handelshögskolan i Kalmar, Sweden, at the time. It was going to be my second visit to the beautiful shores of Norway, or Norge, in the local language. I always call it Norge to myself, anyway.
It was only going to be a quiet long weekend with a few friends. The studies in Sweden were never particularly challenging time-wise, and I took every opportunity to squander my Erasmus scholarship on travels. The Eurovision Song Contest 2004 was about to kick off, and I looked forward to leaving the Swedish borders – according to the Contest’s rules, one cannot vote for home performers, but Sweden had a great entry that year; great by the Eurovision standards, anyway. Lena Philipsson was the girl’s name, singing “Det Gör Ont” (“It Hurts”). It was our anthem. Sweden was the first (so far, last) country where I ever bothered stepping into night clubs – because the company was excellent, and I could ignore the otherwise unpleasant prospects of squashing myself into a noisy room full of smoke. The morning-after-the-party syndrome was never particularly appealing, though.
Never mind – my thoughts are drifting away, as usual. Back to the Norwegian National Day! I arrived at Oslo central station on 13 May 2004 then. I could describe the next few days in lovely Norge – meeting my aged Norwegian friends from St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Riga, walking in Oslo, being taken to Stortinget (the Norwegian Parliament) as a guest by a retired friend, co-shopping for a new yacht (Norwegians are all stinking rich, you know), taking a train down to Horten to see more friends, spending a day on the beach, visiting Moss, Skien, and Fredrikstad, etc.
However, what I remember best is the Norwegian National Day, 17 May. The occasion dates back to 1814, commemorating the country’s declaration of independence and establishment of constitutional government. Despite the union with Sweden forced onto Norge shortly after (lasting until 1905), it was on 17 May 1814 that the foundations for the independent Norwegian state were laid.
Norwegians that I saw seemed to have a warm, loving feeling towards their National Day. Traditional costumes had been prepared days in advance to be worn for the occasion. In the early morning, the residents of Oslo could be seen dressed up in the regional variations of traditional costumes – to do the mundane task of walking their pets.
But the most memorable moments were children’s parades all over the country. This is something I loved about Norge. It was not the military might of the country marching through the streets of Oslo, past the royal palace, saluting to the royal family. There were thousands of little feet instead, waving Norwegian flags, playing musical instruments, singing folk songs and carrying the banners of Oslo schools. The royal family lined up on their balcony for the occasion, waving to the children passing by, for hours. I thought they might be quite tired, but every member seemed determined enough to last for the day. Wonderful memories! I wish I did not have to rush for the train to Göteborg, then. On a bright sunny day in Oslo, I could have watched those parades for ages. Such a great atmosphere.
I miss Norge.