30 Jun 2010

That’s the way I do it!

In purpose to crown the end of my study I have organized the bicycle tour throughout Norway. My goal was to see Kjeragbolten, which a big rock that has fallen into a crack in the mountain and there it has been wedged into the crack. Kjeragbolten is located near Stavanger, but I was in Oslo, so I wanted to make my tour more exciting and that’s why I decided to arrange a bicycle tour. I invited my friend Lukasz who is as adventurous as I am and together we climbed Rysy (2 499 m above sea level, the highest Polish peak) last year. Wikipedia says that bicycle touring is a form of cycling where rider travel long distances and he prioritizes pleasure and endurance over utility or speed. That’s what I expected from my tour – pleasure and endurance. 

However, we had a limit of time and resource such as food and money, so my tour became a real project to deal with and I was promoted to project manager. We have chosen the cheapest form of bicycle touring – self-supporting touring i.e. apart from two bicycles carrying everything we need including:

-       two bike bags 35l.
-       bicycle tools in case of emergency such as hex keys, pump, cone wrench, peanut butter wrench, spare tubes etc.
-       clothing such as cycling shirts, helmet, shorts, jacket, sunglasses etc.
-       lightweight tent and sleeping bags
-       food such as Kaviar, brunost, crispy bread, pate, pølse, chocolate, energetic bars and vitamins  etc.
-       accessories such as map, camera, credit cards, insurance policy, lighter etc.

Bicycle touring has almost 150 years history and it’s started in 1869 when John Mayall with Charles Spencer and Rowley Turner rode on their velocipedes from Trafalgar Square, London to Brighton in 15 hours for 85,30 km. Since that tour many daredevils was setting off from places around the world enhancing the potential distance of the bicycle tour. John Foster Fraser, Edward Lunn and F.H. Lowe were the first who set off round the world on safety bicycles in July 1896. They rode 30 958,95 km through 17 countries in two years and two months. An interesting is story of Jaques Sirat who felt very proud riding round the world for five years – until the met an Australian who had been on the road for 27 years. Nowadays bicycle touring can be of any distance and time. One famous German Heinz Stücke who left his job as a die-maker in North Rhine-Westphalia in 1962 when he was 22. He has never been home since. By 2006 he had cycled more than 539 000 km and visited 192 countries. He pays his way by selling photographs to magazines.

My and my friend’s bicycle tour started in my Studenthouse’s cellar Oslo on 19 June 2010 at around 7 am. First we had prepare our bicycles for a long journey i.e. install two bike bags and fulfill them with all the heavy staff necessary to survive. We set off around 11 am and since that we continuously cycling for next 10 days with several stops for nature and landscapes contemplating. Each day was different not only because of places we saw and slopes we dealt with but also because of food we ate, kilometers we made and weather conditions we experienced. Places are displayed on the map, the most beautiful in my opinion was fjord near Larvik. 
The coast on this fjord was covered by huge rocks and the water transparently clean and terribly cold. We were experiencing for our bivouacs such places usually close to water (fjords, lakes, rivers and sea) due to beautiful views and hygienic reasons. Twice we rent a place on the camping, because of heavy rain that wet us to the skin and deprived us from hot meal and tea. We were diversifying everyday food, but breakfasts usually were similar – crispy bread with Kaviar, brunost or paté. We always were waiting for dinner under pressure and we always ate it in the evening after setting up a bivouac. We took a disposable grill or light a bonfire and cooked a salmon, chicken or other meat. 
The weather conditions are difficult in Norway. During nights it was cold and during the sunny day it was rather hot, but the worst was heavy rain that we met in the mountains. More obstacles with had to cope with include bloodthirsty midges, fatigue, muscle & ass pain, sunburn on the hands, knees and ears, thirst & hunger and high exposure of the roads.

I’m not going to describe my tour in details, just have a glimpse at the movie I made.

To sum up, we rode 750 km and enjoyed Kjeragbolten. The average speed was 22 km/h, hence the maximum was around 72 km/h and the average distance per day we made was 83 km. This bicycle tour as my previous  experiences just  strengthened my desire for more spectacular adventures. 

11 Jun 2010

Time to sum up…

It took exactly 6 months since I had posted first time on this blog. I have just written my last exam and before I leave Oslo I want to say thank you and goodbye to You, my reader.

This 6 months was extremely amazing time that I will remember for the rest of my life. I met wonderful people, visited gorgeous places and experienced a fantastic time here, in Norway. For sure I will keep in touch with my friends found here and for sure I will come back sooner then I expect. Well, answering for the question if Norway is the best to live, there is no clear answer. I personally believe that the best place to live wherever I am, because my happiness depends mainly on me. In case of Norway I am sure that with respect of social life, health care system and education benefits this country is absolutely the best place to live for Norwegians, who really love their king and their country.

Furthermore, the claim of UNDP that Norway is the best country to live depends on the instrument they used – HDI index. This index has been criticized on a number of grounds, including:

-       failure to include any ecological considerations (which of course not worsen Norway’s position),
-       focusing exclusively on national performance and ranking, and not paying much attention to development from a global perspective,
-       having inappropriate treatment of income
-       lacking year-to-year comparability,
-       assessing development differently in different groups of countries,
-       it is redundant measure that adds little to the value of the individual measures composing it i.e. means to provide legitimacy to arbitrary weighting of a few aspects of social development,
-       the scores on each of the three included in the HDI (GDP per capita, life expectancy, and education) are bounded between 0 and 1 and they are equally weighted,
-       it should embrace both material and moral development, e.g. a high suicide rate would bring the index down.

1 Jun 2010

Are there any problems in Norway?

Norway is often referred to as among the world’s wealthiest, and the best place to live, but let’s consider some demerits and problems appearing in this “pink” country. First of all, Norwegian industry and actually whole economy is dependent on oil and gas. What if oil and gas will be gone? The country income from that source is a lot higher than the national budget. The excess money Norwegians keep in Oljefundet to save money for future generations when the oil won’t last anymore. On the other hand, a lot of the jobs and services are currently related to the offshore industry, what about them?

Next point is the perfect Health Care System I have described recently. It is free for everyone, but this commonness makes problems with cutbacks. There is never-ending waiting list for non-emergent operations and some hospitals have to little capacity and are forced to place patients in the corridors. Furthermore, there is a sickness absence among Norwegian employees. Recently the rate of absence due to sickness has been very high in Norway. Almost 10% of the total work force was absent due to sickness last year.

Maybe this absence is not caused by convenient Health Care benefits, but by mentally illness. It is said that 25% of the adult population in Norway falls mentally ill every year. Norway seems to be offering libing proof that money can’t buy happiness. Maybe this horrible sickness such as depression happens due to long, dark winters or just living without a social network.

Fourth problem raised in Norway recently is integration of immigrants. This occurs not only between Norwegians and immigrants, but also between immigrants themselves. Try to image Palestinians and Israelis living together in the same street or even building. That tensions are the soil for social malaise and protests.

One Norwegian told me that the cruise tourism causes a lot of pollution in fjords and cities. He concluded that there is a lot of black smoke coming out from the chimneys and leaving a haze around the whole area as the mountains block it from getting out. Well, I haven’t seen any haze, but I saw the movie and pictures from the BP catastrophe and that makes a difference. 

31 May 2010

Health Care System in Norway

All Norwegians are insured by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). This is a universal, tax-funded, single-payer health system. Compared to Poland, France, Italy, Spain and Japan, Norway has the most centralized system and all citizens and residents are covered.

The NIS is funded by general tax revenues. There is no earmarked tax for health care. The Norwegian tax burden is 45% of GDP. The government sets a global budget limiting overall health expenditures and capital investment. However, Norwegians can opt out of the government system and pay out-of-pocket. Many pay ou-of-pocket and travel to a foreign country for medical care when waiting lists are long. There are significant waiting times for many procedures. Many Norwegians go abroad for medical treatments. Also, care can be denied if it is not deemed to be cost-effective.

To conclude, Norwegian Health Care System is very generous. The program also provides sick pay and may even pay for “spa treatments” in some cases.

24 May 2010

Social life in Norway

To continue previous post, let’s concentrate on the facts. The Norwegian Welfare State is being kept by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Service (NAV) handling unemployment benefit, national insurance pensions, family benefits and a range of other social insurance benefits. All persons working and paying taxes in Norway are automatically members of the social insurance scheme. Premiums are paid as part of tax deductions and amount to 7.8% of tax deducted. The employer deducts employer’s premium from his salary. What is more, persons who are not working in Norway, but who hold a residence permit for a year or more are also automatically covered by the social insurance scheme. The benefits of social insurance include retirement pension, disability pension, rehabilitation, occupational injury compensation, single parent benefit, child benefit and paid maternity leave etc. Family related benefits consist of:

(1) Pregnancy, birth and adoption:
- pregnancy benefit – for healthy pregnant women who are unable to continue at work during pregnancy because this might cause risk of injury to the unborn child,
- parental benefit on birth – is paying until children reach the age of 3 years,
- parental benefit on adoption.

(2) Child benefit and cash benefit:
- child benefit – NOK 970 once a month per child,
- cash benefit for parents of infants – is paid for infant from the birth (NOK 3 303 monthly) up to the age of 32 (NOK 661 monthly),
- child benefit and cash benefit for foreign employees in Norway.

(3) Single mother/father:
- benefit for single mother/father – for unmarried, divorced or separated parent to ensure sufficient income to cover living expenses for single mothers/fathers who are the sole carer of a child
- transitional benefit – is granted for a limited period and varies according to the child’s age and needs, currently full transitional benefit is NOK 11 965 a month,
- child care benefit – to help a single parent pay for child minding so they can work, actively seek work or study, currently NOK 3 324 a month per child,
- educational benefit – for single parent who is taking necessary education or training e.g. NOK 54 590 for university studies,
- relocation grant – to help cover relocation costs if parent has to move to find work.
(4) Child support/advance support payment:
- advance support payment – to ensure that children receive money from state each month if the non-custodial parent does not pay enough child support ,
- appeals in maintenance support cases.
I’ve mentioned generally about the family related benefits that are many more of them e.g. children pension, benefits for surviving spouse etc.