Believe it or not, there is an element of truth to all this - taken with a pinch of salt, of course. Swedes and Norwegians do indeed love the outdoors, and it is even written in the law that the public may have access to private land for recreational purposes, provided they treat said land respectfully. They also show an impressive amount of concern for sustainability and the environment, with widespread awareness of key issues like recycling and responsible energy consumption.
As far as the houses are concerned: examples of the archetypal colourful wooden house can still be found in many places across the two countries, particularly in more rural areas. In the cities, however, such as Stockholm, a series of devastating fires across the ages has led to their reconstruction in brick and stone.
Perhaps this is the origin of the opposing stereotype: that of modern, functional and understated architecture with clean lines and minimal, Ikea-style furniture. I have to say, I did get the impression in both Sweden and Norway that this style isn't so much a trend as a way of life. It's logical, of course, that the living spaces of a population be a reflection of the way of life and ideals that are prevalent in that country. Nevertheless, it's incredible to see to what extent the Swedish concept of lagom ('just enough') is physically manifested in their architecture and furnishings. All the Airbnb properties in which we stayed followed this model of interior design, regardless of the age or profession of the owners.
The two wildly opposing images of Sweden and Norway - as modern, technologically advanced states or as a collection of antiquated rural communities - may seem a strange juxtaposition, but it's surprising how well these two concepts work hand in hand. There may be a lot of remote villages and towns dotted around the Nordic countries, but they are well connected by advanced infrastructure and innovative technology. The roads, even in the deepest depths of the countryside, are efficient and well maintained. We lost count of the number of tunnels we passed through in Norway (there are over 900 in total), each of them incredible feats of engineering, boring straight through kilometre upon kilometre of mountain. It goes without saying that the famous Atlantic Ocean Road, which bisects the Norwegian archipelago in Møre og Romsdal and consists of tiny islands connected by causeways, viaducts and bridges, is not only an amazing feat of engineering but - and I've never said this about a road in my life - a beauty to behold. The Trollstigen Mountain Road is astonishing in its own way, consisting of 11 hairpin bends down the mountainside. Each new turn felt like entering a new level of Mario Kart, whether we were cruising down endless stretches of open road, zooming over sky-scraping bridges or contemplating hairpin bends and a sheer drop.