Kristiansand lived up to its reputation as the warmest, sunniest town in Norway although it took awhile for the sun to break through the clouds today. We were just here a few days ago at the end of the last cruise, but since it seems to be a tourist mecca, there were still interesting things to see that were not included in our last visit. We took a tour to Høllen, a picturesque seaside town that it is overrun with tourists in the summer doubling the size of the local population. Many of the locals rent out their houses and move into their boats for the season. The kids are back in school now and things are considerably calmer. We strolled small quiet streets with our guide, admiring the old wooden homes painted white to show the affluence of the owner. (The zinc in white paint made it the most expensive.) Many flowers were still in bloom, a testament to the mild climate here. One of the homes had a mirror shaped like an open book attached to the window. The guide said these used to be common. People used them to keep an eye on what was going on in the street without standing near the window, revealing how nosey they were.
As we have come to expect in Norway, every yard was well maintained. We haven't noticed a piece of litter since we left New York. Norwegians are said to be among the happiest people in the world and we can see why. We haven’t seen a single slum and do not realize we are in a fancy neighborhood unless the guide says so. The low lows and high highs that we see in our country are missing here. No one likes to pay taxes, but here they seem to be well spent on things like free education including university, low cost health care and maintaining and improving the infrastructure. Over 900 tunnels covering about 500 kilometers of road have been built, saving drivers the hair-raising zig-zag drives around the fjords, providing dry pavement in the winter. New mothers are paid to take up a year of maternity leave and fathers can take up to twelve paid weeks off as well. The Norwegians have banked a sizable percentage of their oil field profits, saving them for the rainy day that has now arrived. They used a chunk of the funds to subsidize pensions, enabling retired people to remain in their homes and secure extra services as needed. Because nearly everyone is comfortably middle class, they can afford to take advantage of their month of vacation time to head south when they need a break from the dark, cold winter. A sane, sensible approach to life.
We visited Vest Agdir, an open-air museum. Wooden homes from nearby farms were moved into one section, all covered with thickly growing grass. Some of the homes were surprisingly tall - first floor for animals, second floor for household goods, third floor for sleeping quarters. Others were one small room with a hole in the roof to let out the smoke from the cooking fire. The beds were all quite small, not because the people were so small, but because they believed that the only time people lay down flat is when they are dead. They slept sitting up, their backs padded with straw, a bit like birds in a nest. Life expectancy during these early primitive times was 45. Once some of the farmers were able to visit Kristiansand and see how the other half lives, they began to spruce up their crude wooden huts, painting at least the front white and inserting windows and chimneys. Another section of the museum was houses moved there from town. Most of the rooms were extensively furnished as they had been back in the day.
We ended this day in port with a stop in the concert hall next to our ship, taking advantage of their fast, free wifi. Two days at sea lie ahead and you can't count on good connections as we head north toward the Arctic.