Norway – Land of the Vikings

Of the Scandinavian countries, Norway has the most spectacular natural beauty. A visit to Norway after or before a Baltic cruise (see our post) is an efficient way of exploring this area. Visiting the other Scandinavian countries around the same time gives you a glimpse into their differences and similarities.

Not every cloud that darkens the day brings rain – Viking proverb

Oslo

On the Inner Harbour, Aker Brygge are trendy restaurants, cafes and architecturally (modern) stunning buildings. For almost 150 years up to 1982 this was the Akers Mekaniske Verksted shipyard, and many of these old brick warehouses and factory buildings mingle with new construction.

Home of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet is the Oslo Opera House, completed in 2007. Resembling an iceberg, this angular building is made with white granite and Italian Carrara marble and has a main auditorium that can seat 1,364 spectators.

The more than 700-year-old Akershus Fortress is an important cultural monument. It is  a medieval castle that was built to protect and provide a royal residence for the city. It takes its name from the main fief and later main county of Akershus. The castle was captured in World War II and Norwegian patriots were executed here, while Akershus itself was surrendered to the Norwegian resistance movement in the last hours of the war. After the war Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian military officer and politician who headed the government during the occupation was held in prison here, for crimes against the state. Today, it is the site of the Norwegian Resistance Museum.

The artist Munch grew up in Oslo and most of his paitings are at the Oslo Munch Museum, including ‘the scream’ which is the world’s second most recognizable piece of art. Art fans will also be interested in the floating stainless steel and glass sculpture named She Lies  which was designed and created by Italian artist Monica Bonvicini and is based on Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Das Eismeer (The Sea of Ice). Its subtle movements in the water are a reminder of nature’s constant change.

Swedish businessman Alfred Nobel left behind one of the world’s largest private fortunes when he passed away in 1895.  His will specified that his fortune should be invested in securities to constitute a fund in which prizes would be awarded in the areas of physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, literature and peace. The Peace Prize was to be awarded to the person who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. Today, Oslo is home of the Nobel Peace Center, an arena where culture and politics merge to promote involvement, debate and reflection around topics such as war, peace and conflict resolution. The center is a landmark in Oslo and well worth a visit.

Bergen and the Fjords

Bergen is the gateway to some of Norway’s most famous fjords. A fjord is a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley. Some of the more famous include the Hardangerfjord in the south and the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, in the north. Many of the fjords have sidearms that are at least as beautiful, but far less busy.

A highlight in this area is the small Fjord town of Flam, a village in Southwestern Norway, in an area known for its fjords. It sits at the end of Aurlandsfjord, a branch of the vast Sognefjord.. You take the train from Oslo to Myrdal which takes about 5 hours and take the Flam line “Flamsbana”from Myrdal down to Flam (one hour). You can then change in Flam to a speed boat (3 to 4 hours) or scenic boat (5.5 hours). There are other variations of this trip, the important thing to note is that you want to be on a boat for part of the journey as you want to experience both train and boat, and that you take the Flam line to Flam because it was voted one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys.

The Oslo – Myrdal trains, running between Oslo and the high-altitude railway junction of Myrdal, are very modern and provide everything you might need during a 4.5-hour ride, the trains offer comfortable seats and impeccable punctuality. The early part of the trip takes you through farmland and wooded areas passing beautiful lakes and small towns and villages, slowly gaining altitude as you continue on through an increasingly barren, treeless landscape. Although the Flam line is advertised as the most beautiful part of this journey, we would say that the Oslo to Myrdal portion is equally breathtaking.

The award winning train from Myrdal to Flam, in the course of one hour, takes you from sea level at the Sognefjord in Flam to the Myrdal mountain station, situated at 867 metres above sea level. It is one of the world’s steepest train rides built on normal tracks, and close to 80% of its tracks run through a rise of 55%. During the 20 km ride, a tunnel spirals in and out of the mountain, you go from the high snow covered mountains down to the fjords, while passing impressive waterfalls. The Flåm Railway was recognized as one of the world’s 25 most beautiful train rides by The Society of International Railways. On this route, the train stops at a waterfall where a woman dressed in red performs a mystical dance. It is about a demon disguised as a beautiful woman who entices people in order to kidnap them.

The scenic boat ride from Flam to Bergen is truly memorable. It goes along the Sognefjord, which is located in the middle of Fjord Noray and stretches right into the foot of Jotunheimen and Josterdalen national park.  It is the longest fjord in Norway and by many described as “The King of Fjords”. The trip passes Vardetangen, Norway`s westernmost mainland point, Mongstad, a famous industrial site and the historical town of Skjerjehamn, once an important trade post along the coast. The duration is 5 and a half hours.

Norway, Landscape
Norway – Flam to Bergen – scenic boat ride

The Bryggen area of Bergen dates back to 1070 when the city was founded by King Olaf III. The area is filled with beautiful wooden buildings that overlook the bay Vagen and remains one of Bergen’s central meeting points to this day.  Around 1200, Bergen became an economical and administrative hub in Norway, and Bryggen a centre for commerce. Also known as Tyskebruggen, from the mid-1300s to the mid-1700s, Bryggen was the headquarters for the Hanseatic League, a trade confederation where Germany and Norway (among others) exchanged goods such as stock fish, salt, beer, jewelry, and grains. This was a fertile period for cultural exchange as well, and several German words and expressions have been internalized by the western city’s residents because of it. Bryggen has been on the UNESCO list for World Cultural Heritage sites since 1979.

Norwegian Cuisine

Norwegian cuisine today is said to be one of the healthiest in the world, as Norwegians are consuming most of their protein from seafood sources, like fish and shellfish, as opposed to meat. So, they’re getting a lot of good fats, lean protein, and vitamins and minerals from the fish. It was not always this way. Although the country always had enough game and fish, for much of history before 1900, it had marginal agriculture for crops, combined with its extremely harsh climate – long winters and short summers, the Norwegian diet lacked necessary fruits and vegetables. Many of the traditional dishes are the result of using conserved materials, necessary to survive the long winters. Even the nation’s flatbread, lefse, a crepe made with potatoes was first developed to stay good in the pantry for months.

In more modern times its most abundant produce is from plants that fare well in cool weather. Root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, rutabaga (kålrabi), and onions, are an important part of the traditional diet. Drying and salting methods are still popular ways of food preparation.

The production of Salt cod which formed a vital item of international commerce between the New World and the Old, is said to date back to the time of the Vikings. It eventually spread around the Atlantic and became a traditional ingredient not only in Northern European cuisine, but also in Mediterranean, West African, Caribbean, and Brazilian cuisines.

Norway’s most popular fish is undoubtedly Smoked Salmon,and the locals eat this in a variety of ways.  For a more traditional (and adventurous) take, try Rakfisk or LutefiskRakfisk is usually made from trout and is salted and fermented for 3-12 months. The fish is then eaten without ever being cooked. Lutefisk is dried cod that is steeped in lye, a process which takes about 1-2 weeks, and then cooked.  Lutefisk is a dish commonly served around Christmas time.

The most popular game meats are; moose which can be compared to venison if prepared properly, reindeer which is abundant in the far north of Norway, deer which has outgrown moose and is often served as steak and grouse, a sought-after bird for hunters, the breast is delicate and most flavourful.

The most famous cheese in Norway has traditionally been the brunost, or the brown cheese – caramelised whey cheese, quite similar to fudge, made with cow´s milk or goat´s milk


Historical Note – Norway

One can say that the modern history of Norway starts with the Vikings (793-1066 AD), people who lived in what is now Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They spread their influence throughout Northern Europe and far from being barbaric, they created complex social institutions, oversaw the coming of Christianity and left a major impact on European history through trade, colonization and exploration. The middle ages with its rapidly increasing population, social and political changes, rural exodus and urbanization required more sophisticated social alliances (Denmark-Norway Alliance -1380).

Norway, Oslo Marina

Political power was taken over by the Hanseatic Leaque (1356-1862) who controlled distribution of fish from Bergen to the Baltic area, Norway’s main export and income at the time. Copenhagen (in Denmark) became the capital and the kingdom was named “Denmark-Norway”. Prior to 1660, Denmark–Norway alliance was a constitutional and elective monarchy in which the King’s power was somewhat limited. In 1660 it became an absolute monarchy, which was not exactly popular in Norway. In May 1814, by signing the Constitution, Norway rejected the absolute monarchy from abroad, and now power would be split between the king and the Parliament of Norway. In 1905, Norwegians negotiated complete independence from Denmark by appointing their own King (Prince Carl from Denmark). Although a vast majority of Norwegians today agree with maintaining the Monarchy, it is mostly symbolic, ultimately the affairs of state rests with the electorate.

Mondisti’s Norway Trip Tips

  1. Visit Norway as part of a Scandinavian trip but leave enough time – 4 to 5 days at a minimum.
  2. Bergen is not to be missed.
  3. Getting to Bergen, make sure the itinerary includes both the train and a boat ride from Oslo, you will want to experience both.
  4. Oslo has some world famous sites, you will want to leave at least two days exploring them.
  5. Make sure you take the Flam train line, either to or from Myrdal as it is a unique experience.
  6. Trains in Norway are efficient and comfortable, do not hesitate to use them.