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!).

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

Hotel Inside a Man-Made Volcano

Montaña Mágica Lodge (translated as “Magic Mountain”… what a suitable name!) is a unique hotel situated in Chile’s Patagonian rainforest in the centre of a large private nature reserve. The building resembles a volcano, but instead of lava it spews water down the slope, through the moss and the vines that give it a more natural look. The 13-room lodge is accessible only by foot and visitors must venture on a swinging rope bridge to enter into the heart of the “mountain”.

On one hand, I believe it is wonderful that the architects and the designers of this hotel kept its appearance as natural as possible, using local building materials. On the other hand, I believe the rainforest belongs to wildlife and humans shouldn’t disturb the delicate ecosystem and as long as this business will not develop into a “mountain” range, it will remain an unparalleled project, attracting people who understand and respect the natural world around them.

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The Transfagarasan Highway (with video)

Resembling a restless snake that bends and coils in the cold embrace of the mountain, the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania offers a unique experience in Europe. At 2,034 metres altitude it is the second highest mountain pass in the country after Transalpina, where the elevation is 2,145 metres above sea level.

Built in 1974, the Transfagarasan is a 90 km (60 mi) long route that dissects in half the Southern Carpathians, offering amazing views and access to the nearby Bâlea Lake and Bâlea Waterfall from June/July until October/November, depending on the weather conditions.

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Due to the topography, the average speed is around 40 km/h (24.8 mph)

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View of the Transfagarasan Highway

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The Highway at dusk

In September 2009 the cast and crew of the British television show Top Gear were seen filming along the road. The segment appeared in the first episode of Series 14 which first aired November 15, 2009. They were in the country on a grand tour with an Aston Martin DBS V12 Volante, Ferrari California and a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder. Host Jeremy Clarkson went on to declare the Transfăgărășan as “the best road in the world” – a title that the presenters previously gave to the Stelvio Pass in Italy.

The Dark Side of Romania

While I may love Romania for its beautiful forests and pristine meadows or for its unchanged cultural practices, there are some aspects of living in this country that frustrate me to no end. Some people tell me I only look at the negative side so I often try to see the good around me, but the illusion doesn’t last long because… Romania happens – an extremely intoxicating whiff of car emissions hits me right in my face, or a very rude clerk treats people with an uttermost disrespect.

Here are some of the things that have gotten on my nerves:

  1. An endless superiority complex

There is a big problem with peoples’ mentality in Romania and it doesn’t seem to go away. For as long as I can remember, I have been told both at school and at home that Romanians are the smartest, the friendliest, and the funniest in all of Europe but as I grew up and traveled to other countries, I was proven over and over again that we aren’t any of that and in the process I have learnt not only what Romania truly is, but also what it could be. The overstated belief in a national grandeur, even if non-existent, is one of the legacies of communism and it might take decades until it disappears. Also, a strong superiority complex still damages social cohesion in Romania and will continue to do so for as long as we, as a nation, don’t accept that there are better countries than ours and that we have so much to learn from them.

  1. Kindness? What kindness?

I know many people who feel so sorry for animals or human beings in pain, but the general trend is one of ignorance and some sort of joy for the misery of others. A few years ago, while getting off a train – which in Romania it can be 1.5 meters (4.11 feet) taller than the platform is – I noticed a woman falling with a child in her arms due to the structural impediment. Despite many men observing the event, no one jumped in to help, but I couldn’t walk away without giving a hand. Poverty and the general dissatisfaction with life seem to make people so insensitive to the pain of others.

  1. The lack of green spaces in the cities

While 30% of Stockholm is covered by green spaces (accounting for roughly 1000 parks), most Romanian cities don’t even come close, except maybe Timișoara in western Romania, which is a greener place I had lived in for 3 years before moving to Cluj-Napoca. There are people in this country who consider trees a blessing in summer, but a nuissance in autumn when they have brush off some fallen leaves. Personally, I would feel so much happier to see more trees around me. Moreover, a busy city desperately needs them in order to combat the rush hour pollution, which often hurts my and everyone else’s airways and lungs. While there’s a national debate on the topic of religion being taught in schools, there’s very little concern about our forests being illegaly sold to foreign companies.

  1. The lack of infrastructure

This is one aspect that cannot be controlled by the citizens, yet I believe a part of the blame can be placed on those people who, for 25 years since the Revolution, have stood and watched the politicians strip this country bare. Don’t they see how much recent protests have changed in Romania? We stopped Gabriel Resources Gold Corporation from stealing the gold from the ancient mines in Roșia Montană. We managed to get some officials to resign from their positions. We ultimately inclined the balance in the favor of a more progressive newly elected president. Infrastructure in Romania is simply horrific, except some highways here and there (built with more than ten times the price paid per kilometer anywhere else in the world thanks to Victor Ponta’s useless government). Railways in this country are a national shame, a stigma of corruption and an incompetent government, where trains can go at best at a speed of 50 km/h.

  1. Highly inflated prices for almost naught!

The most famous case in this regard is the Romanian Black Sea shore, where many resort towns struggle to attract tourists who are considering more and more traveling to Bulgaria, Greece or Croatia for better services and smaller prices. Romanian sea resorts not only look unattractive and old-fashioned (except the VIP town of Mamaia), but also the services local businesses offer are dissatisfying when taking into consideration the high amount of money they charge for them. Almost all over Romania there’s a general disease called ‘avarice’. When a tourist is spotted, the very first thought of a business owner isn’t “How can I be of use so that I am worthy of my pay?” but “How can I rip off this tourist right here, right now?”. Isn’t anyone thinking that this isn’t doing any good for long-term business? Of course, not everyone in the country is like this, therefore it’s a matter of luck if you are willing to play Russian roulette… or should I say Romanian roulette?

6. Too many churches

There are over 18,000 churches in Romania, while there are less than 800 hospitals for a population of nearly 21 million. They are everywhere and more are built with each passing day, despite so many schools and kindergartens being in deplorable conditions or primary students not having books to study from. Also, there is a gigantic cathedral being built in Bucharest, across the Parliament, showing that the Romanian church wants itself a maker of decisions in this country. The cathedral cost at least 400 million euros, in the situation when so many Romanians struggle from one day to another. Recently, all 2,5 million underage students had to decide whether they will continue to study religion in school or not, and an astounding 88% said yes. What a shame! (For more about religion in Romania click here: https://theceltiberian.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/on-religious-scientists-and-other-things/)