Hyggelig i Norge: Differences Between Norway and Britain

Hyggelig (or hygge) is a term from Danish culture that describes that feeling of absolute coziness in the midst of long winter nights. You know, books, tea and a snuggly blanket. But hyggelig goes beyond that. It’s more than one’s physical surroundings. It’s a state of mind and Scandinavian countries are renowned for their ability to find comfort when sunlight is a furtive commodity. After a short trip to Norway I have noticed several things that make it so different from Britain, where I’ve been residing for a while now:

  1. Hyggelig does exist and it has the force to startle you the minute you step foot on that old Viking land. Or maybe it’s due to my expectation to feel that way. I don’t know. But this feeling definitely didn’t come from the Norwegian people themselves, but their way of living a simple yet meaningful live. They seem to know life is in the little things and do not disappoint themselves always waiting for something big to happen.
  2. British strangers tend to say “Sorry!” even if your gaze meets on the street or if you get within one meter of each other in a shop, at least from my experience. Not the Norwegians! If by any chance you happen to be in someone’s way they don’t say anything, but they slowly creep behind you until you feel ashamed or until they just walk by at a very close distance.
  3. Just because it rains (a lot) in some countries it doesn’t mean homes are necessarily moldy. Britain should learn this from Norway. In the UK, so many houses that are out for rent have this problem and even at very high prices the quality of the flats doesn’t even compare to that of other countries. Seriously, the UK has the worst taste in interior design I have ever seen in my life! Most of the times £700 per month (bills and council tax not included) for a flat in southern England doesn’t even get you a place with cheap IKEA furniture. On the other hand, in Norway most buildings seems to be well insulated against moisture and decorated with very simple, yet modern furniture.
  4. The quantity of local produce in Bergen (Norway) was amazing. Instead of seeing the same chain supermarkets with food imported from all the corners of the planet, the Norwegians pride themselves with national stores that promote local products. Indeed, the variety to choose from is very reduced as compared to the UK, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not for the Norwegian economy anyway.
  5. And finally, Norway hasn’t wrapped everything in plastic unlike its insular neighbor across the North Sea. You can still get lots of vegetables and fruits in bulk. They even hang on a hook unwrapped smoked reindeer meat in supermarkets, which is more of an Eastern European practice (not reindeer meat though!).
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Blindness (book review) – José Saramago

Blindness is a journey into the depths of hell and Saramago is the reader’s faithful Virgil. It allows a brutal introspection and questions the resilience of human nature when faced with the nine circles of hell all at once. The story portrays the degradation of an unnamed town when a white blindness plagues all its citizens. The government responds to the crisis by isolating the first cases between the walls of a former asylum, which becomes a container for people who otherwise would not interact: the doctor and his wife, the girl with the dark glasses, the boy with the squint, the old man with the black eye patch, the car thief, the first blind man and his wife, the man with the gun, the blind accountant and other nameless creatures. Names are useless in a world of the blind. Among these blind fellows however, someone still sees but she soon learns that in the world of the blind seeing is as good as being dead. Through her eyes we learn about the slow yet certain degradation of human dignity between filthy bed sheets when the nocturnal nightmare extends far into the day. Life is so fragile when abandoned and abandoning one’s self leads to something more terrifying than death. When humans freely surrender themselves in the arms of lust and violence what replaces humanity is inhumanity. The woman who can still see struggles to save her closest companions from the depths of depravity because she feels that through her eyes they are a little less blind and by saving them she saves herself from becoming dehumanized among monsters. In the world of the blind intimate lovers are strangers, showing the superficiality of human bonds. In the world of the blind love is dead for the eyes no longer see the other. Hands reach out just to take and never give. The white blindness epidemic was a calamity for those who were already blinded by fear and the loss of dignity was easily accepted. The woman who can still see is the only constant in the whole story and maybe, just maybe, her bravery and inner strength say a lot more about human nature than all the raw anger in the new world she finds herself in.

A Time for Peace, A Time for War

This September the world celebrates 71 years since the end of the Second World War which summoned global solidarity to ensure such atrocities will never be repeated again. But for those born in times of peace the legacies and lessons of war are simply words and words are wind. The lack of internal conflict in some developed nations leads to the fake assumption that they are in a state of peace, whereas they may be heavily involved in military operations around the world.

The latest Global Peace Index (GPI), which can be accessed here, reveals that only 11 of 162 countries covered in the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP) study were not involved in any form of conflict. Violence strongly affects the global economy costing 13.4 % of the world’s GDP. It is common sense to think this otherwise wasted capital could be used for the betterment of peoples’ lives around the world, that nature may be cruel and we don’t have to be, but the origin of violence as part of human nature is a matter of sociobiology and I will leave that for another time.

2015 Global Peace Index

The Global Peace Index for 2015.

Global security is decreasing and more people are currently displaced than at any point since the end of the Second World War. This bleak state of affairs should serve as a warning to the world’s leaders that once again inaction and individual interests pull the society back from progressing. The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel said “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history” and numerous voices in the past century echoed this statement. We may ask how did the world end up in such a precarious state again, didn’t it have it’s share of fire and blood? Apparently not.

Even the European Union, a once shining beacon of peace, is crumbling under its own weight as if its foundation was built from the fragile bones of all those who fought and fell for freedom. The global financial crisis and the Arab Spring have led to the displacement of millions of people and the current refugee influx into Europe has created an unprecedented chaos for the Union which showed its Member States are anything but united. To me, the EU’s response to the migrant crisis proves two things: we are far too naive for this world and we lack the self-confidence of the United States. The EU could definitely be able to process all the asylum applications it receives without that monstrous deal with Turkey, which is probably one of the worst ideas in recent history simply because it does not solve anything much and it comes at a great financial cost. Plus, it is saddening to see Europe bows down to the personal ambitions of an increasingly authoritarian leader.

It remains to be seen if the EU wakes up even though the hour is late, but what is certain is that doing nothing is no longer an option. However, most European countries would rather raise fences between themselves than talking some sense into each other and acting together towards a common goal.

The current global crisis is a child’s play compared to the ravages climate change will cause by the end of the century. Thus, I expect the global political landscape will be altered greatly on the principle of survival of the fittest and countries which will fail to deal appropriately with organized conflict will have to surrender the reins of power to a new generation of world leaders who may or not be willing to tend to the flickering flame of democracy.

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Opinions expressed in this post are solely my own.

3 Opportunities to Learn More About Our Oceans and Climate Change

The Marine Cabinet of Curiosities

  • Coursera

Course: Climate Change

Offered by: The University of Melbourne

Starts: August 31, 2015

Duration: 13 weeks

  • Future Learn

Course: Exploring Our Oceans

Offered by: The University of Southampton

Starts: August 31, 2015

Duration: 6 weeks

  • edX

Course: Tropical Coastal Ecosystems

Offered by: The University of Queensland

Starts: September 1, 2015

Duration: 9 weeks

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Around Transylvania In 3 Days

The journey around the vast Transylvanian plateau sheltered by the wild Carpathians started in Cluj-Napoca, followed by Sibiu, a former European Capital of Culture. During the summer afternoons, temperatures easily reached 35 degrees Celsius in the shade but I hoped they would drop once we were in the mountains.

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Buildings in the central square of Sibiu

Having been to Sibiu once before, in the winter of 2013, I realized I loved this city during the colder months. Fewer people and the crisp mornings or evenings give it a surreal quality, hard to find anywhere else in Romania but in the Transylvanian towns and villages.

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Terraces and buildings in central Sibiu

The next day we drove further south towards the Southern Carpathians, where the highest point is Moldoveanu Peak at 2,544 metres high in the Fagaras Mountains. The main points of attraction were the famous Transgafarasan Highway, Lake Balea and Lake Vidraru.

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Peaks seen from Lake Balea

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Going up the Transfagarasan Highway

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Going down the Transfagarasan Highway

When we left the mountains behind us, we encountered the cruel heatwave in the old Wallachian territory of Arges county. After a short stay in Curtea de Arges, a former capital of Wallachia, we drove further East and later that day we were welcomed to Brasov county by a wonderful scenery, soaked in golden sunlight.

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Entering Brasov county

We spent the night at Bran, a very small town with a very big point of attraction: Bran castle. This was my second visit but it never ceases to delight me. We reached the town in the late afternoon and took a walk in the central area near the castle, wondering where all the tourists were. The next morning, when we queued for tickets at the castle’s entrance, waves of people kept showing up and by the time we left, the queue seemed endless.

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Tower at Bran castle

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A bedroom inside Bran castle

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Inside the castle’s courtyard

Following the visit to the castle we drove North and after only a short journey we reached the beautiful old city of Brasov, where temperatures were unexpectedly high. On our way to Brasov we glimpsed the enormous ruins of Rasnov citadel, built in the early 13th century as part of a defense system for the Transylvanian settlements exposed to outside invasions.

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Rasnov citadel as seen from the town of Rasnov.

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Brasov Council building

After Brasov we drove towards the beautiful town of Sighisoara, the birthplace of Vlad Tepes. I have been there four times but I can never get tired of walking the citadel’s cobbled alleys.

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Old buildings in the citadel’s centre

One very special place in Sighisoara is the old cemetery on the hill. A hauntingly serene forest shelters the silent graves, named or unnamed, making it seem an entire world by itself. It is one of the most amazing places of rest I have ever seen in Romania.

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A place for heros: grave stones wearing the names of men fallen in the First World War

After we left Sighisoara, we drove back to Timis county, leaving behind the citadels and the mountains, the histories and an enchanted castle, but we kept with us the sweet memories of moments that only came to pass.

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Leaving Transylvania behind

Selected Quotes from A Clockwork Orange

  1. “Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”
  2. “The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities.”
  3. “It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.”
  4. “It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil.”
  5. “Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles.”
  6. “We can destroy what we have written, but we cannot unwrite it.”
  7. “When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.”
– Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962)