Sara Ramirez
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Norway: An LGBTQ+ Travel Guide

Norway: the land of fjords and lutefisk can’t wait to reopen to LGBTQ+ travelers.

There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.

The Norwegian saying is apt in these northern climes. I’ll hear it numerous times on my weeklong visit, in part because it’s June and I have a wardrobe more suited to the California desert than any place in adventuresome, rainy, snowy Norway.

Although I’m generally drenched each time I hear it, I honestly don’t mind. I’m already enthralled by the breathtaking country, and I’ve caught the spirit of its super queer-friendly people. Still, my ignorance is revealed when I foolishly ask Bergen locals if the country’s second largest city’s Pride march will still go on in event of rain. “Of course,” they say, with incredulity.

There’s a reason why Bergen Pride’s logo features a pink man with an umbrella. It does rain, and thousands do indeed march through the rain. What locals deem a “drizzle” certainly won’t stop Norwegians from celebrating equality.

Norway: the land of fjords and lutefisk can’t wait to reopen to LGBTQ+ travelers.

The Bergen Pride March (don’t call it a parade here) is more like the American Prides of the 1970s and ’80s, all the love and none of the commercialization. Sans the giant corporate floats and muscle-bodied boys dancing to EDM in their undies, Pride in one of Europe’s most charming cities is a sparser and yet remarkably friendly affair. No protesters line the streets. Instead, many of the spectators jump right in, joining our march, which grows as we make our way through the city.

Without the overtly adult sexuality that infuses many American Prides, much younger LGBTQ+ folks — as well as their parents and allies — obviously feel comfortable joining us as well. There are points when I can’t tell who is queer and who is just an ally.

Coming from a state where Pride still attracts preachers waving “you’re going to hell” signs, Norway is a refreshing change. (Oslo Pride is uniquely inclusive as well; not just LGBTQ+ folks march, but also everyday straight, cisgender Norwegians who support their neighbors.)

Norway: the land of fjords and lutefisk can’t wait to reopen to LGBTQ+ travelers.

Bergen is a one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, set on a harbor just minutes from gorgeous fjords. Norway is the fjord capital of the world, boasting numerous examples of the narrow inlets of the ocean where sheer cliffs dwarf sightseeing boats. Formed by the submergence of a glaciated valley, they are the beautiful remains of the last Ice Age.

With cobblestone streets, houses dotting the hills, and nearly everything within walking distance, Bergen is also a queer-friendly old-world charmer. A UNESCO World Heritage City, Bergen and its region offer a fabulous mixture of breathtaking nature, engaging history, and vibrant urban nightlife.

I can’t help but fall in love with the majestic Bergens Tidende newspaper building on King Olav V square, which dates from 1868. One of Bergen’s main attractions — the one you’ve likely seen — is Bryggen, an old wharf that was rebuilt after the great fire in 1702 and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, reflecting the region’s role as a center of international trade since the 14th century. Rebuilt with methods and materials authentic to the time period, it remains a working vision of a bustling port in the Middle Ages.

Norway has deep roots but also leads the world in embracing diversity, having outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1981. Today, Norway is widely considered one of the best countries in the world for LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality. Its LGBTQ+ rights movement is 70 years old.

Norway: the land of fjords and lutefisk can’t wait to reopen to LGBTQ+ travelers.

Visit Norway raises the rainbow flag along with the Norwegian flag on Constitution Day (in May) in part to show that Norway is proud of all citizens. Norway’s King Harald V (yep, it’s a constitutional monarchy, though his duties are mainly ceremonial) made a speech in 2016 in which he said, “Norwegians are girls who love girls, boys who love boys, and girls and boys who love each other...When we in our national anthem sing, ‘Yes, we love this country,’ we must remember that we also sing about each other.”

One spectacular way to see the country and its people is via a boat and two trains between Bergen and the nation’s capital, Oslo. The trip takes travelers along the Sognefjord, the “king of fjords,” the longest and deepest fjord (with mountains rising 6,500 feet above), which leads to active glaciers and Norway’s tallest peaks. Glacier-topped mountains rise above cascading green farmland and tiny villages dotting the hillsides and waterfront.

You can hop off the boat (and later the trains) in one of the quaint villages and pick up your travels the following day. I stop overnight in the village of Balestrand, home to St. Olav’s Church (the real-life inspiration for the chapel in Frozen). In fact, the entire country of Norway looks like scenes straight out of Frozen.

Norway: the land of fjords and lutefisk can’t wait to reopen to LGBTQ+ travelers.

I catch Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana), which offers one of the world’s most spectacular train rides. You are so close to panoramic views and amazing waterfalls along the fjord that you literally get wet from the cascading spray. The train is on one of the steepest standard gauge railway lines in the world, but even someone who doesn’t like heights will enjoy it. The train ride from Myrdal and Flåm takes you through fjords, rivers, deep ravines, snow-capped mountains, and those tiny farms and villages along the river, the sheer isolation of which reminds me of how connected cities can be even in lockdown.

Much of Norway is inside the Arctic Circle, meaning you can see the northern lights (a.k.a. aurora borealis) in most of the country. And because I’m here in summer, there’s a midnight sun, a phenomenon where the sun never sets. In Balestrand, I stand outside at 1 a.m., marveling at the tiny walkable village surrounded by endless water and craggy cliffs. As the images wash over my imagination, it helps me retreat to a different sort of relaxation. It’s easy to feel dwarfed by such natural beauty when you are confronted with it 24/7 without night’s darkness offering a respite.

Norway: the land of fjords and lutefisk can’t wait to reopen to LGBTQ+ travelers.

I spend an afternoon at Ciderhuset Balholm, a brewery in Balestrand that makes what Americans call “hard” cider and what Norwegians just call cider. Åge Eitungjerde, who founded the brewery and runs the orchard and cider cellar, educates visitors about cider and fruit, and far from feeling like a boring elementary school trip, it was fascinating to learn about the copper still, the fermentation, the differences between the ciders. I leave with a taste for a cider that is difficult to find in the U.S.

Ciderhuset’s “champagne method” (which has been used in cider making since the 1600s) makes a delightful and effervescent hard cider that’s hard to replicate.

For more solid consumption, food trucks and stands offer reindeer meat and whale but also Thai, Mexican, and incredibly fresh seafood.

Fish and cheese show up at every meal (salmon is Norway’s second-largest export), but it is also common to see matpakke (basically very sparse meat and cheese or spread on bread), waffles (no clue why, but they are everywhere), and in some places, the traditional lutefisk. I ask a Norwegian octogenarian on the plane (Norwegian Air is a delight) what food I must eat while in the country, and lutefisk is her reply. Lutefisk is dried cod pickled in lye, then rehydrated, boiled, and served with butter. You’ll either love or hate it. I fall in the latter camp.

Norway: the land of fjords and lutefisk can’t wait to reopen to LGBTQ+ travelers.

But that is practically the only thing I don’t love. Hiking, boating, kayaking, rigid inflatable boats, so much wildlife (do you know polar bears can be found in Norway?), and the attitude that nothing is impossible if your spirit is willing. There’s a destination here for anyone seeking beauty and adventure, from a floating luxury lodge (Volda on the Arctic coast), to cantilevered cabins over the Steigen Archipelago (Manshausen), to an old-world mansion-like waterfront hotel that has been welcoming royalty, presidents, and artists since 1752 (Kviknes Hotel in Balestrand).

Norway demands more than a single visit. The nation of islands and icy lands offers too much to do. Take a luxurious cruise, hide out in The Thief hotel in Oslo, climb the 1,400 Sherpa-made steps to the top of Vegatrappa, paddle to a deserted island, or ride a tricycle on an old railway line.

Or just stay in Bergen, the charming city where LGBTQ+ folks just are, instead of having to fight to be, and a global pandemic couldn’t dampen the Pride spirit. Rather than canceling the event, organizers just shifted from land to sea, launching their first Pride boat parade.

Norway: the land of fjords and lutefisk can’t wait to reopen to LGBTQ+ travelers.

Girl in Red (a.k.a. Marie Ulven), the unofficial and unexpected global queer girl icon, may have written most of her songs at home in Oslo, but she traveled to Bergen to record her new album, if i could make it go quiet. Essentially the musical distillation of Ulven’s solitary conversations on the road during eight-hour Norwegian treks, the album says all those things we wish we could say to others, but only tell ourselves.

“Driving is a cathartic thing,” Ulven says. “It gives this amazing feeling of freedom. I love to talk to myself, so most of the time, if I didn’t listen to my songs, I would just reflect in the car.… The drives, they take you out of all the other distractions because you just gotta pay attention to the road. It allows you some headspace.”

That’s Norway in a nutshell, really. Everywhere you turn, every adventure you take, it allows you some headspace.

This travel guide is part of Out's 2021 Fashion Issue. The issue is out on newsstands on August 16, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

Tags: Print, Travel

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