Norway: radiant jewel in rugged Scandinavia
by Agnes Chung
In the Land of fjords, polar nights and Vikings, Norway glistens in the rugged Scandinavian landscape. Its striking beauty and unique cultural scape inspired Disney’s hit family movie, Frozen. Norge or Noreg, as known to locals, cradles the Western Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe – bordered by Finland, Sweden and Russia.
The ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’ shines, and for several reasons. Norway is the world’s happiest country, cited a 2017 United Nations World Happiness report. They are recognized for their global peace-negotiating efforts. The Nobel Institute based in Oslo, the country’s capital and largest city – is home to the Nobel Peace Prize. The 2018 Travel Risk Map ranked Norway the safest country in Europe.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Norway may be small but its stunning natural wonders, rich history and cultural heritage secured the country eight sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Bryggen’s wharf with its colourful, wooden buildings was a key Northern European trading port for the medieval Hanseatic merchants. Today the waterfront structures house the Hanseatic Museum, restaurants, tourist shops and artist studios.
At Ornes, the 12th century wooden Urnes Stave Church is the oldest of the 28 remaining Stave Churches in Norway. Its unique architecture incorporates elements of Celtic art, Viking heritage and Romanesque spatial structures.
Fjords that should be in your bucket list
The Norwegian coast borders the North Sea, Norwegian Sea, Arctic Ocean and Barents Sea. Its craggy shoreline ,punctuated by nearly 1,200 glacier-carved fjords, is home to the impressive West Norwegian Fjords – Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord. UNESCO World Heritage listed the site among the world’s most dramatic landscapes.
Soaring glaciated mountain ranges open to majestic fjords surrounding picturesque villages. The pristine wilderness abounds with wildlife, cascading waterfalls that flow into gushing rivers and glacial lakes teeming with marine life.
The three heritage sites are accessible from Bergen, Norway’s second largest city and the gateway to fjord country. Seven mountains frame the Bergen city centre, offering plenty of hiking trails, camp sites and lakes for watersports.
Within reach are also two of the world’s three longest fjords: the famous Hardangerfjord and the Sognefjord. Cruising is a great way to enjoy Norway’s fjords and pristine waterways.
If you love seafood, Bergen is for you. The seafood culture in this UNESCO City of Gastronomy is considered the most sustainable in Europe. Traditional Norwegian cuisine is heavy on seafood and game. A must try is klippfisk (dried and salted cod).
Popular seafood dishes include fiskesuppe (cod and root vegetable chowder), røkt laks (smoked salmon), sild (pickled herring) and gravlaks (cured salmon served with mustard sauce). Game ranges from duck, goose and other fowl to moose, elk and reindeer.
The Viking reign lasted 250 years in Norway. The stories of these fierce seafaring warriors who are also shrewd traders, skilled craftmen and explorers – is evident in the fjords. The largest Viking longhouse unearthed at Borg is housed at the Loftr Museum in the Lofoten Islands.
Other UNESCO heritage sites include the Røros Mining Town and the Circumference, Rock Art of Alta, Vegaøyan – The Vega Archipelago, Struve Geodetic Arc and Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site.
Arctic experience in Tromsø: The key to enduring dark, cold winters
Canada and Norway share the Arctic. Both offer similar wildlife and seasonal experiences. However, the indigenous people are of different heritage. Sami are fair-haired and light-skinned, whereas Inuit have Asiatic features. In addition to living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the Sami people are also reindeer herders.
Tromsø, Norway’s Arctic gateway sits on an island 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. Visitors come to experience the spectacular northern lights and the Polar Nights (when the sun is below the horizon) in the winter.
Winters are long, dark and frigidly cold, yet Norwegians, particularly those living in Tromsø, Northern Norway’s largest city don’t experience as much winter blues as others, said Stanford University PhD student Kari Leibowitz in the academic publication, The Conversation. The key is to have a positive wintertime mindset. Enjoy the winter activities and cozy up.
From late May through July, the Midnight Sun bestows 24/7 daylight. It’s a surreal experience. The pristine wilderness and fjords are ideal for activities from hiking, fishing, kayaking, sledding to whale safari and visiting the Sami community.
Norwegian courtesy: a cultural etiquette
Many believe that being polite means respecting another person’s privacy and not to bother others unnecessarily. This explains why Norwegians may appear aloof to strangers, but behind the façade, they are warm and hospitable people once they get to know you.
If you need help, approach them in a calm, friendly and sincere manner. Don’t criticize. Flaunting your wealth is frowned upon. Remove your footwear on entering a residence.
When it comes to travel, Norway is on the pricey side, but there are always affordable ways around the country. Take advantage of the excellent public transport system, cook your own meals, camp and travel during off-peak season. The major airports are in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Tronheim.