The Kindness of Strangers in Norway
I couldn’t feel my toes. Norway was winning. Or my ankles, either. I began to long for the thick woollen socks I had left at home to save space in my carry-on. For the first time, I regretted following my usual mantra of “travel light.” I was thoroughly unprepared for January in Norway.
Most people would probably prefer not to head so far north in the winter, but when you’re on a student budget, you can’t be picky. My friends and I booked a trip to Norway after getting a good deal on flights. Norway is an expensive country to visit, so if we wanted to go, we needed to take advantage of the cheap tickets and deal with the harsh weather.
We were staying with my friend Conar’s family friends in Oslo, the Bjornstads. They had been wonderful tour guides. On the day I lost all feeling below my shins, they had taken us sledding just outside the city at the Korketrekkeren, a popular toboggan run known in English as “the corkscrew.” They had lent us some outdoor gear, like heavy ski coats and thick gloves, which would be warmer than the clothes we brought. But I thought I would be fine with my own hiking boots and socks. When the sun began to set, I realized just how wrong I was.
As it got darker, we began debating whether we should do one last run. I desperately wanted to go flying down the trail again, speeding around the curves and watching the lights down in Oslo begin to sparkle against the darkness. But my feet were so cold that walking felt like a painful chore, and I was starting to get a little worried. I had never been out in such cold weather for so long before, and my body wasn’t used to this kind of climate.
“I need to go inside,” I sighed. I explained that it was fine if everyone else wanted to continue sledding, but I also wanted to fly home with all ten toes attached.
“What size shoe do you wear?” asked Mrs. Bjornstad.
“These boots are an 8,” I replied, wondering if someone had left a pair of boots in the car that I could borrow.
Mrs. Bjornstad sat down on a bench, bent over and began untying her own boots, yanked them off her feet, and then peeled off her socks. She handed them to me. “I’ll wear yours. These boots were my husbands when he served in the Norwegian military, and my grandmother knitted these socks for me. They’re very thick, so the boots will fit you,” she said.
My feet were so cold that walking felt like a painful chore, and I was starting to get a little worried. I had never been out in such cold weather for so long before, and my body wasn’t used to this kind of climate.
My mouth dropped open, and if my tear ducts hadn’t been frozen from the cold, I might have cried. I quickly took off my own boots and socks and swapped them. I had met Mrs. Bjornstad only 24 hours before, and she had just given me the boots off her own feet so I could continue sledding with my friends.
Traveling always requires putting your trust in strangers, which can be scary. Whether you’re choosing a hostel based on positive reviews from previous travelers, asking a local for directions, or staying with a family you’ve never met in a country you’ve never been to, you’re taking a small risk with every decision. Sometimes, you’ll be let down and disappointed, but I’ve found that this usually isn’t the case. I treasure the beautiful moments–like Mrs. Bjornstad handing me her boots–more than any photograph or souvenir.