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While oil lurches toward some of our finest beaches—the powder white sand stretches along the Alabama and Florida panhandle coasts, I was in Norway last week where off shore oil drilling and the economy are basically one and the same. This Scandinavian country of four million people, laced by stunning fiords and mountain valleys, is essentially the Saudi Arabia of Europe and the third wealthiest nation in the world in monetary value.   In some villages which dot the countryside, entire populations work for the petroleum and gas industries. Shipbuilding, merchant marine, fishing (Atlantic salmon and mussel farms), sheep and goat farming and tourism are now secondary players relative to big oil. The government largely controls oil production and oil handsomely funds healthcare, social security, and infrastructure development (for the past 30 years since North Sea oil reserves were discovered Norway has been building tunnels through its mountain sides to make it easier for people to get around). That doesn’t mean taxes are low or gasoline pump prices are cheap—they’re not. The government realizes that its oil fields will eventually run out and builds a large reserve fund (the largest per capita in the world) to buttress the economy when black oil production begins to ebb.  In the meantime, the country has steered clear of membership in the European Union and keeps its krone currency separate from the Euro. Life in this capitalist-social democracy welfare state feels very secure at least for now—and locals shrug off the BP spill as something far away that won’t happen here.

In the meantime, Oslo and Bergen, the country’s two largest cities at about 600,000 and 260,000 in population respectively, are charming, but are too small and not dynamic enough to be hot beds for international real estate investors.  Most tourists don’t spend their nights in hotels—they sight-see the fiords in large cruise boats gazing at deep green waters and towering cliffs. Idyllic farm valleys irrigated by magnificent waterfalls and rushing mountain streams would make for outstanding resort developments except for their remoteness… I stayed in a farmhouse a thousand feet above the confluence of three fiords (comparable in beauty to looking down the Grand Canyon), taking a wood fired hot tub at gorge edge, watching below as one of those cruise liners passed by, and later dined in an outdoor kitchen, served last Fall’s venison kill washed off by currant juice and finished with a raspberry torte—the berries coming from surrounding fields. It was a once in a life time experience, but to get there I kayaked through the fiord and climbed up an ultra steep mile long trail where a slip along the path’s edge would have abruptly ended my trip so to speak. The American-born owner, who hosts occasional small groups in rustic accommodations (no electricity), brings up supplies from below on a zip line and tends an organic garden.  The main road between Oslo and Bergen still is a mostly two lane affair—forget major interstates let alone highways.

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