The Place: Trondheim, Norway
Trondheim is a city that would be hard for anyone to dislike. Between the colourful houses and shops lined neatly along a canal, cyclists dinging their bells as they whiz past you on the road, and beaches with water so clear it rivals like the tropics, this is a city where there is truly something for everyone. Want a coffee? Sit outside one of those colourful buildings that almost all have cafes on the ground floor. Want a cheap meal? Even the local IKEA serves inexpensive food that also is surprisingly quality. Cycle touring from the arctic to Asia? Trondheim is so bike friendly that it has a lift that takes cyclists up the steepest hill. In all, it’s a gem of central Norway with huge cultural and historical significance, and well worth a stop if you’re exploring Scandinavia.
Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.
The People: Hege Fossland, 47, Manager at an Oral Health Centre, and Nippe Fossland, 44, Chief Maxillo-Facial Surgeon
Hege (right in photograph): I´m educated as an engineer, and have one year additional with expert marketing. I have a masters degree in organization and leadership. I work at an expert center for oral health as one of the managers. it´s for providing dental services for the public in the middle of Norway. It´s strange to be in a field that I’m not educated in. I’m not a dentist. It´s just been one and a half years, and it takes time to adjust.
My sport from when I was younger is handball- it´s not very American or English but we love that sport. So all the kids play handball and football; that´s our hobbies. Other than that we like travelling and theatre.
Nippe and I met in Trondheim before we lived in Oslo. And then we moved to Oslo for nine years before coming back here.
Nippe (left in photograph): I went to med school, and then did a residency in ENT. In the last year I got the chance to spend a year in the Maxillo-Facial unit. I loved traumatology and facial reconstruction so I went for ten years as a resident, but now I´m chief Maxillo Facial Surgeon here in the hospital.
For hobbies, I think our three kids and their activities that take up a lot of our time; I’m a football coach for Theo’s team, so that takes up a bit of time. And Hege´s a handball coach, so that takes up a lot of time. There are cups and different activities throughout the seasons; we’re thinking about doing less of it, maybe because in Norway almost all the trainers are parent trainers and then when they´re about 14 or 15 more of the professional coaches step in. But the children’s sports are a lot of unpaid jobs for parents.
Hege: We have this term “Dugnad” in Norway- it’s the way of people coming together to do volunteer work… non-profit work. We do that a lot.
- What does home mean to you?
Hege: Well home is of course where my family is… I grew up in Trondheim, so for me Trondheim is also home. But, most importantly it’s where Nippe and the children are. Since we live close to my parents and my sister, that is important to me too; extended family.
Nippe: I didn´t grow up in Trondheim, so I moved around a lot more than Hege. I grew up in a really small mountain village. When I went to high school I had to move 80km and stay with my grandma. Then I moved for one year to Trondheim, and then nine in Oslo. It took some years after we moved to Trondheim before I thought of Trondheim as my city. For many years it was Oslo, because that’s where I lived the longest and spent my twenties. But now Trondheim is home. We moved here in 2004, 14 years ago.
- What is special about Trondheim?
Nippe: After staying in Oslo for many years, Trondheim has got a lot of city qualities without being a big city. It´s got an international airport close by, so it´s easy to travel to and from, and a big university with 20,000 students. A lot of young people means there are concerts and different cultural events, good theatre, and a very nice outdoor environment where you can ride your bike or go skiing in the winter. Skiing up in the hills around Trondheim in the winter is very popular. It also has an alpine skiing area not very far away; the biggest in Norway. It´s also close to where I work at the big university hospital. We can walk to work. It takes us twenty minutes.
- Have you learned something from living here?
Hege: Well, the first thing I noticed when we moved is that we drive more slowly here! The traffic in Oslo was kind of busy and fast, and when we came here we thought “why is everyone driving so slow?” Now I think we have adapted.
Nippe: It’s more steady weather in Oslo. If it’s raining, it rains for many days. Same if it’s good weather. In the Spring in Trondheim, you can have all the seasons in one day. It can be raining and the sun is up at the same time. Then it gets warm and dry. It can rain and then snow.
Hege: I also think people are more relaxed here. In Oslo, it’s not so easy to get to know people. I find it easier here but maybe that’s just me.
Nippe: When you have a city of 180,000 people, and 20-30,000 of them are students, then the population is quite young and more open. It’s not that busy here, but still there is a university environment. It’s high-tech, and the hospital is really nice. Another thing is that when I studied in Oslo, I thought that everything good had to be in Oslo, because it’s the capitol and a lot of the professors there write books and stuff. So when I came to Trondheim, I was amazed to find that there were so many good doctors and work environments here in the city.
Hege: I found it much harder to get a good job here than Oslo. In Oslo, it was quite easy to get a job, but here you have to fight for it. And I think that is to do with the university. Many students move here, study, find somebody and then want to stay. So there are lots of very qualified people here.
- Have you travelled much outside of Norway?
Hege: We travel mostly for pleasure, not so much for business. One of our best vacations was California.
Nippe: I travelled a couple of times to attend conferences. But we like to travel. Last year travel has been a priority. I’ve been to America three times last year: twice in Florida and once in New York. We’ve also been to California. I loved California. Three weeks there. We went to San Francisco and then took the coastal highway down to L.A. Then went to death valley, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Diego.
Hege: Then we stayed in Hollywood for the last 12 days in an apartment. I found it easy to drive in L.A. Lots of parking.
- Can you think of something that has made you proud of Norway?
Nippe: It’s funny, the last winter Olympics, Norway with just 5,000,000 people set a new record for the number of medals.
Hege: I’m also proud of when you go back to 2011. We had the Utøya attack and the bombing in Oslo. I felt at that time that I was proud of being Norwegian and answering that attack with peace and love, instead of hatred.
Nippe: Also the welfare state, and how we take care of people.
Hege: Yes, in America, I know a lot of people complain about the taxes. And we pay a lot of taxes but I find that ok because I see all the benefits that you get from it. When you find out you’re pregnant, everything is paid for until the child is 18-years-old. The birth, the follow-ups, the healthcare, the dental (except braces), the school. You get to stay home for a whole year with the child. So I like that you don’t have to worry about health and money. You don’t worry about money when you get sick. And we also don’t have to save money for education. We know that everybody has the same opportunity.
Nippe: A friend of mine took her paediatric exams in Los Angeles. Because I am an ENT, she sent me a picture. She had a friend with a daughter that had a severe throat infection, and she asked if she needed to go to go to the doctor. I said “Yes.” But they said that their insurance was so bad that it costed too much, so she wouldn’t go to the doctor. Instead they waited and hoped for the best. That for me was crazy. That you have to even think about it before taking your child to the doctor. I know Scandinavian socialism is presented as a bad thing in America, and I understand that, because it’s different. So you can’t just take the Scandinavian model to America and just say this is how it’s going to be. It has taken Norway, Sweden and Denmark many years to get to where they are now. There are pros and cons, but the pros are so much more than the cons.
Hege: And also for crime. When you combine the healthcare and the crime, we have a system for taking care of mentally ill patients. You don’t see any severely mentally ill people just in the streets, like we did in L.A. which was kind of scary. Here, they are taken care of and they get help. And that makes it safer.
Nippe: And with guns, we have a lot of guns in Norway, but nearly no homicides. It’s popular to go hunting. I go hunting and have some guns. But the culture is so different here. My brother has an AR-15, but he has been in the army. And it is really, really difficult to get a gun like that. You have to be specially trained and have checks, it takes some years to get one.
- What is your main concern about Trondheim or Norway?
Nippe: The polarisation that is happening also in Norwa; the same as in England or America. The “Us” against “Them”. They talk about immigrants being a “threat”. A lot of elderly people, especially, are sceptical towards immigrants, and there has been quite hard rhetoric against helping refugees. I think the immigration laws in Norway are the strictest in Europe. It’s really difficult to get in. Maybe it has to be like that if the welfare state is going to be upheld-
Hege: –But we should help more, though. And I agree with the polarisation. Just a few years ago we were more friendly in political debates, but now it’s more polarised. “Left” vs. “Right”. It has changed the way we talk to and about each other. I think we’re influenced by America. You can see we adapt a lot of what you do in America.
Nippe: Norway has always been looking to the West, towards England and America.
- What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of people from Trondheim?
Nippe: Trondheim is the easiest. They say “Trønders”, for people from Trøndelag in the middle of Norway (the county that Trondheim is in). They have a moustache, white sports socks and a leather vest. They like Norwegian country music, drink moonshine and have snus- chewing tobacco. If you ask anyone outside of Trøndelag, that’s what they’ll say Trønders are like.
Hege: And also very slow. Speak slowly. And very nice too. But that’s a really old stereotype. But Trøndelag is also really good at sports, especially cross-country skiing and football.
Nippe: Best football team in Scandinavia: Røsenburg.
- What is the best thing to come out of Trondheim?
Nippe: My wife, of course. And Røsenburg football team.
Hege: Mari Bjørgen, the best female cross-country skier here. She is the best winter Olympian of all time in the World, actually. She’s 38, and has just finished her career in March. She participated in the last winter Olympics and had three gold medals. She has more gold medals than any other winter Olympian in the world, and more medals in total. She just beat another Norwegian by one medal.
- How would you convince someone who’s never heard of Trondheim to visit?
Hege: It’s really old, especially for Americans. All your cities are younger. It’s more than 1,000 years old.
Nippe: It was one of the Viking capitols. There were Viking chiefs around Norway, but the one here was one of the most powerful. The man that united Norway, “Holy Olav”, is buried in the Cathedral here. He christened the country, and died in 1030AD. He was made a saint. The story goes that after they opened up his casket his nails, hair and beard were still growing. So it’s a very historical city. And with the safety and how clean it is it’s a really easy country to be in… except it’s expensive.
Hege: So every year there is a pilgrimage up to Trondheim. But I’m not sure where they start. Kind of like going to mecca. It’s very cultural and historical. And we also have very good theatre here. We have two actors who are crazy and make these really funny acts. They parody other stories like Robin Hood. The theatre is more than just them but they are special for Trondheim.
- What do you eat during the Holidays in Trondheim?
Nippe: We eat traditional Norwegian courses during the Christmas holidays. It’s ribbe, pinnochet (lamb’s ribs) which is smoked and salted and then we eat Lutefisk. Lutefisk is strange; it’s a gelatinised kind of fish course. It doesn’t actually taste of that much, but you eat it with different accompaniments, beer and akievitt.
- What is your favourite national or local dish?
Nippe: Wild salmon cooked with potatoes. The farmed salmon is good too, but the wild one is very different. More flavourful and less fatty. The Norwegian cuisine has moved miles in the last 10 years. When we moved here, we’d had a period of eating at a lot of restaurants in Oslo, before we had kids, but there wasn’t a single place to get high-end food, because the Trønders just ate burgers and stuff. In the last 5-10 years, a lot of good restaurants have popped up here that use a lot of local food. There’s a lot of good seafood here, and vegetables from Frosta which is not far from here. It’s kind of one of the purest and best food areas in the world I think. When you get good chefs that put together very simple but very pure flavours, then Trøndersk food tastes just incredible. But the traditional courses can be a bit boring.
Hege: We also like pinnochet. It’s not a Christmas without pinnochet. And cod too. I also like these little shrimp we have in summer. They’re just boiled and then we peel off the shell and eat it with white bread, mayonnaise, dill, lemon, and pepper.
They have also started all these small production companies out of the local farms producing cheese, sausages and other meat. So it’s all short-travelled food. There is a food festival here each year. It’s in a month.
Nippe: And a beer festival around the same time. There’s actually a lot of small breweries here too.
- And your least favourite?
Hege: Maybe Rakfisk. It’s not easy to explain. It’s a rotten fish. You take a trout, and let it cure. You put chemicals on it to make it rot, basically. It smells terrible, but some say it tastes ok. We are not fans of it. They have entire festivals for it.
Nippe: You have to be really sterile preparing it. It’s like Spekemat (dried, cured meats like proscuttio) but for fish. You have to make sure it’s not contaminated with anything because if it is you can actually get botulism. And you don’t eat it if you’re pregnant.
- Anything else you’d like to add?
Nippe: The thing is when you’ve been travelling, you see a couple of things that you don’t think about when you don’t travel. One is people are the same wherever you are. Problems are the same. What they are happy about is the same. Family is important everywhere. Most people are friendly and enjoy interaction with other people, whether you’re in Africa, Asia, America, or wherever. That’s something I think a lot of people who don’t travel don’t get. Like we were talking about Iran. You think because you hear from the media that it’s scary to be there and people there are bad. So politics overhangs and destroys your perception of it as opposed to when you actually go and meet people from there. That’s why I think it’s cool that you guys are travelling in a way that’s unusual.
I was in Tanzania for some weeks when I was a student. When I was there, what struck me was that people were so happy, even though they may not have been as well off as some people in other parts of the world. Lots of people invited us into their homes. When I came back, I was struck by how stupid headlines in the papers were. How unimportant the things we were occupied by were. Like what’s the newest iPhone, when they could be so happy with so little.
Nippe: It has to be some fish. If you take away Norway’s oil, then the next biggest production is the seafood. It’s not like Illinois with the best farm fields. It’s a bit cold and scarce farming land, so we don’t grow a lot of crops.
Hege: I would say strawberries from Trøndelag at the end of July. It’s quite cold and there is a long summer, so they ripen slowly and they have a lot of flavour. Local strawberries are just the best, and you have them with cream and sugar.
Nippe: I actually think Bacalao. It’s strange because Kristiansund, where you are going, is the Bacalao capitol of Norway. They are really proud of their Bacalao. But it’s also Portuguese dish. The name comes from Portugal. Take salted and dry cod, and soak it in water, and boil it with tomatoes, potatoes and chilli. And salmon of course, too. Salmon is not that expensive in Norway. We make sushi with it. But, yes, seafood has to be the one you try when you come to Norway. Clams are also really good
The best food experience I think we ever had was in Freyja, where the whole family went. Someone in Hege’s family is connected to the seafood business in Freyja. Her Father had helped with some arrangements, and their way of saying thank you was preparing this huge feast for us. We didn’t even have room to eat the bread they served, or the accessories, because there was so much seafood. They had Clams, mussels, lobster, and big, fresh crabs. And everything had come out of the water just 12 hours before, so it was really, really fresh.Life According to Locals #Trondheim #Norway #InterviewsWithLocals Click To Tweet
The Plate: Norwegian Bacalao at Bjartmas Favorittkro
There’s no place to sample Bacalao other than the Bacalao capitol of Norway, Kristiansund. For someone who doesn’t enjoy fish, such as myself, bacalao is an absolute must. Ideally you’ll have it as we did; the Atlantic road to your back, at a restaurant with a very Scandinavian looking grass roof and charming atmosphere- Bjartmas Favorittkro. Even if eaten under different circumstances, however, it’s definitely still worth tasting when in Norway. It’s cod, but lacks that fishy taste that I usually can’t handle. It’s is both slightly chewy and tender, but goes together perfectly with the potatoes and tomato-type sauce that it sits in. The tomato sauce, while flavourful, avoids the common misstep of overpowering the other flavours. The fusion of Portuguese and Norwegian food means the saltiness of black olives counteracts the sweetness of the tomatoes, finding a healthy balance between the two. As a finishing touch, the pine nuts bring some much needed texture into the meal. Combined with excellent service, decor and atmosphere, it’s definitely worth stopping at Bjartmas Favorittkro on your way to the Atlantic Road in Norway.
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