Finally, this window-seat girl returned to the skies, stepping into the world for the first time since 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic would become our all-consuming reality, grounding intrepid but conscientious travelers like me.
I escaped to Norway, a new direct service from Fort Lauderdale to Oslo on no-frills Norse Atlantic Airways making the more than nine-hour trek easier — and, at $930.13 for an economy round-trip ticket, a bargain in inflationary times.
Now I’m back from a life-affirming journey to the mythical land of Vikings and majestic fjords, a place as different from the United States and as far from Florida and its hallucinatory politics as I could find on a flight map of outrageous airfares to Europe.
Almost 5,000 miles away — and no culture wars over sexuality or religion being stoked by divisive politicians.
No hang-ups with sexuality
In fact, nudity is elevated to its rightful stature — fine art, and not only Renaissance-style but more daring playful and erotic modern sculpture and installations. They’re showcased with grace and style — even in family-friendly parks. No gangs of medieval moms are vetoing them or sex education policy like in Miami-Dade County or trying to shut down a poetry festival like in Sarasota.
Norway heavily invests in cultural institutions accessible to all and in public art in recognition of the power of the arts to uplift the human condition.
Diversity of lifestyles isn’t an electoral issue, nor is the legality of same-sex marriage — permitted since 1993, with rights to adoption and artificial insemination expanded in 2009 despite objections from some Christian groups — under threat and at the whim of political winds.
There’s only one love: the one you choose to give and receive.
Despite the fact — or perhaps because — a gunman went on a rampage at a gay club on Pride Day in June, killing two and injuring 21, the rainbow flag remains an organic part of the landscape in Oslo as a show of widespread support.
It’s on the facade of the National Theater, painted on an excavator at a job site and on decorative lions, one named Pride, the other Proud, in front of a city-center restaurant.
“We must protect the right in Norway to love whomever we want,” Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon told journalists.
In other words, the unequivocal response to incivility and criminality coupled with the rights bestowed on all to live free and safe lives feel like paradise for the weary American soul.
Inflation & COVID
But, surely, there’s no escape from inflation — or COVID.
Inflation is, I confirmed, a global phenomenon.
Norwegians protested at a Bergen town square the high price of petrol and electricity. People I met from all over the world also complained of price increases in all areas of life, from real estate to groceries. But those from Scandinavian countries didn’t feel the sense of constant insecurity we do. They have a strong safety net built into their lives. No politician is campaigning successfully on taking it away.
Another lesson learned: Ours is a world that wants to feel — and in this we’re all alike — that we’re now living in post-pandemic times. We’re not. COVID-19 is still with us in another highly contagious mutation, the BA.5 variant.
I was surrounded by plenty of sick people on planes, museums and trains, and I saw a family’s lonely quarantine in their hotel room a few doors from mine. First, a COVID test was dropped off at their door, the free kind the Biden administration last mailed to homes, then came a steady stream of deli orders and room service for the duration of their stay.
I stayed healthy for only one reason: I masked up in close quarters.
I double-masked on flights, and this became crucial to survival on the return flight as an unmasked mother and her daughter sitting next to me nastily coughed for the 10-hour duration, as did the guy behind me. But he had the decency to wear an N-95 mask to protect others.
I also doubled-masked on a train from Oslo to Myrdal, from where you switch to the scenic Flåm Railway — one of the most stunning train trips in Europe — because a woman in my compartment was visibly very sick.
I didn’t mind.
Small price to pay to jet, sail and cruise through stunning fjords, to climb mountains and get lost in city streets, averaging 22,000+ steps a day to offset the fabulous bounty of first-rate buffets and dinners paired with European and African wines.
Small price to pay to clear my head from Florida fatigue.
This story was originally published July 26, 2022 6:01 PM.