The Andrew Harper Traveler speaks to Norwegian Adventures’ Jan Sortland.
What prior experiences and influences inspired you to become a guide?
I have always loved being around people. I love to help people and make them happy. That is my main motivation for becoming a guide and getting involved in the travel industry. I made my first trip abroad without parents when I was 15 years old (in 1974) and everything was planned down to the smallest detail. The trip was a success and, since then, itinerary-making has been my passion. Several generations of my family have been travelers. For instance, both my grandfathers traveled a lot; one of them even traveled all the way from Norway to the Philippines almost 100 years ago.
What do you enjoy most about guiding in Norway?
First and foremost, it is to meet the different individuals. To be a guide is quite personal, and one comes into quite close contact with interesting people, especially Andrew Harper clients. They are mostly educated, curious and interesting people. Secondly, I love being a guide in Norway because I love my country. I am very proud of Norway which I honestly think must be one out of the five most beautiful countries in the world. Norway is so unknown to most visitors and it is a joy to be able to teach people new things.
How does Norway most surprise first-time visitors?
Since we only have five million inhabitants, people think about Norway as a small country. When they come to Norway I think the biggest surprise for many is the fact that Norway covers such a large area. Norway is as long as from Miami Beach to New York City, and the width of Norway covers three time zones! Then visitors are surprised that Norway is so clean and untouched. Even if most people come because they have heard about Norway’s natural beauty, I see over and over again that our clients are not prepared for the splendor and majesty of the Norwegian fjord landscapes. They are utterly surprised and impressed! Another thing that surprises many is our history. There are few that know Norway once was a small empire and that we ruled large parts of northern Europe.
What makes Norway such a unique place to experience?
There are many things that make Norway unique. First and foremost, it is of course our very many and very long fjords and the breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Norway is still an almost untouched and undiscovered destination. When you travel in Norway you will, in many places, get the feeling that you are the first foreigner to visit. Such experiences are rare in our time. I would also like to mention Norway’s diversity. Norway is so large and is able to offer so many different aspects of scenery, culture, activities, food and wine, history, accommodations and transportation. Norway is surprisingly multi-faceted. Another unique thing is all the space we have, with so much wilderness, but still all the natural beauty is within an easy reach. Lastly, I have to mention our very long coastline. Compared to the size of Norway we have an extremely long coastline peppered with more than 100,000 islands. That makes Norway quite unique; Our coast is the backbone of Norway, so to speak.
What types of activities and adventures are offered on your custom-made itineraries throughout the year?
Summer: Deep-sea fishing; glacier-walking; mountaineering; kayaking in the sea, fjords or glacier lakes amongst floating icebergs; whitewater rafting; exploring our cities like Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim; searching for the polar bears at Spitsbergen; whale-watching; hiking and biking; exploring our coast and fjords by private motor or sail yachts.
Spring: In May we have the fruit tree blossoming which is overwhelmingly beautiful; we have a lot of music festivals; hiking and biking; and most of the above-mentioned activities except glacier-walking because there is too much snow in the mountains in the spring. And of course, even in the spring, visitors shouldn’t miss exploring the fjords.
Winter: All kinds of skiing—Norwegians invented skiing 10,000 years ago and we taught the world to ski in the late 1800s; seeing the Northern Lights; snowmobile safaris; dog and reindeer sledding; spending a day with a local fisherman in the Arctic on his boat as he catches huge king crabs; spending a day with a member of the Sami tribe—a reindeer owner—and following him in his work looking after his reindeer; building your own snow cave and sleeping in it overnight; tobogganing and other fun snow activities.
Fall: You can explore the fjords also in the fall. We have huge leaf tree forests that turn the most fantastic colors. We have special mushroom-picking guides that can take you out in the forests to pick delicious mushrooms; enjoy fine dining at Michelin-star restaurants; see the Northern Lights; fish; hunt and hike in the mountains.
When is your busiest season?
Our busiest season is summer, from May until late September.
Explain the climate and overall environment in Norway:
Norway’s climate is determined by the Gulf Stream that runs all the way up north along our very long coastline. The Gulf Stream is warm and gives us a very pleasant and mild climate—even in the middle of winter. When you look at the map and see how northerly we are located one would expect Norway to be very cold, but that is not the case. The only certain thing we can say about the weather is that it changes all the time. During summer we normally have some long periods with sunshine and really nice weather, but we can also have long periods with rain during summer. In winter we also have a lot of sun, but also rain on the coast and we can get a lot of snow in the mountains and the interior.
Norway is very clean and we are a very environmentally conscious people. We love the nature and we take good care of it. The air is so fresh that you almost get intoxicated.
The typical daytime temperature in summer is around 70F, and in winter around 30F on the coast and 20F in the interior.
Describe the Genealogy and Family History tours:
Millions of North Americans have Norwegian or Swedish ancestors, but many have lost track of where their forefathers came from. We have the ability (in most cases) to identify your forefathers in Scandinavia and locate exactly where they came from. Then once we have located all the family farms, we bring our clients over to Norway and then make a journey for them in which they can literally walk in their forefathers footsteps! That is normally a very unique and touching trip—a memory for a lifetime! These trips will help you better understand who you are. Sometimes we also find living relatives you likely did not know of, and sometimes we arrange family gathering parties.