It’s much easier to get around in Winter in Norway when you have a car, however, it can also be dangerous too. The roads become slippery and many accidents can happen. It is very easy to just slide off the road into a ditch. The plough trucks try to come by regularly but sometimes there is just too much snow.
A lot of Norwegians pack their cars away in Winter. They store them in shelters or carparks. Some just put them outside in the open and let the snow pile up on them, turning them into little white mountains. It sure can be a hassle getting your car out in the winter every day, dusting off the snow, scraping off the ice and sitting in it for 15mins waiting for the fog to clear from the screen – so I can see why Norwegians just don’t bother and catch the bus instead.
Buses are the most common public transport in Norway. Because Norway is so mountainous it is much cheaper to build a road and put a bus on it than building tunnels through mountains for trains. In the snow and ice, cars are required to have studded tyres but buses use wheel chains because they are so heavy. The chains rib up the snow on the road and makes it very bumpy for cars (and prams).
It is a lot easier to take the bus than to walk. A lot of roads in Norway don’t have footpaths. There are many reasons for this: 1. It is because the cities don’t like to build and maintain drainage. There is usually so much snow that it isn’t worth it. Instead the melted snow is left to run off the hills into the fjords. 2. Because of the harsh climates, the footpaths would crack up and deteriorate quickly – you should see the roads just after one Winter! 3. When there is snow you usually can’t see footpaths, especially the edges and therefore many accidents can occur with people tripping over them. Also the snow gets so high and compacted that the footpaths just naturally turn into ‘road’. 4. It is harder for the ploughs to remove snow from footpaths. 5. A lot of places are so hilly that it is impractical and unsafe to have footpaths.
Riding on the bus in Tromsø in the middle of the dark season is very surreal. Many times you cannot see out of the bus. The lights are on inside the bus and so it is very bright which contrasts with the darkness outside – the bus is encapsulated in black and the windows become mirrors. (Very creepy to be able to look at yourself from all sides!) Moving in a bright-lighted cabin with nothing outside except darkness can almost be suffocating.
Most buses have a digital sign on the roof near the driver saying which stop is next, especially in Oslo . This is because it is usually so dark outside you can’t see where you are exactly. Some buses also have a voice recording for each stop – so annoying! But, it does help if you don’t know when to get off. However, the Norwegian accent can be hard to understand so if you are a tourist so just ask the bus driver to tell you when to get off.
If you live in the city, you’ll notice an odd thing. Every house has their bright lights on inside and their curtains wide open. This means you can watch everyone in their houses – watching TV, eating dinner and doing the dishes. Norwegians are very private people but they don’t mind us on the bus looking in on them. Very odd indeed.
Having kids, I’ve done the ‘pram on the bus’ a number of times. It’s not as scary as it sounds (not like London anyway). All the new buses have a low platform in which you can wheel your pram straight on. No need to pack down the pram – phew! You need to take the pram to the middle entrance and wheel on as you’ll get stuck at the front entrance. The middle section on the bus is especially designed for wheelchairs and prams. There are even belt locks so you can buckle your pram to the bus just in case. However, if there is already three prams on the bus then you can’t get on – but such a phenomenon in Norway is uncommon so you are always likely to get a ride each time. You might be unlucky and get an old bus which has stairs but don’t worry, every bus trip I’ve been on someone always asks if you need help. The bus driver will (should) even come over and help you too to get on and off. When locked in, you then just go to the front and pay the driver. (Correct change is always appreciated, but a bus-card is even better.) The driver should wait for you to pay but if he is running late sometimes he will start driving while you’re paying. Best thing is you don’t have to pay for kids or the pram.
It’s not very common but some people do bring their dogs on the bus. Kids shuffle on with their skis and sleds. The elderly can bring their walkers on. Sometimes a whole kindergarten will be taking the bus – boy, is that fun. And it is very rare for the bus to be crowded, although taking one to the university at 8:30 in the morning will have the students jammed in like sardines. I bet they take turns in bringing a can opener.
There is a bus-etiquette. People will give you a seat if you have a baby or children or if you are elderly or need support to walk. However, it is a little more tricky of you are pregnant. This is because every one wears big jackets in Winter and people are likely not to notice a pregnant woman. (Plus the embarrassment of asking if you need a seat and you weren’t actually pregnant but had just tucked away some extra pounds for the long Winter – oops.) If you say ‘Jeg er gravid’ (I am pregnant) you will likely get a seat – except if you are a big scary bald man with a black beard ;D.
Riding the bus in Winter certainly isn’t as boring as other countries. It’s just like a ‘safe’ ride at the fun park. Up and down, round and round – the mountains and valleys sure do make a great roller-coaster ride. Sometimes on the ice you can feel the back of the bus fishtailing around corners but the chains soon gain grip again. And the best thing – no ‘peak hour traffic’! Well, you might get some in Oslo, but it is hogwash compared to London.