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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Norway.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Norway.
The Age of the Vikings, when Norsemen terrorized the coasts of Europe, lasted approximately from 800 to 1050 (the bold explorer Leif Ericsson is said to have discovered America in 1001). Little was written down of their vivid sagas and legends, embellished over the ages by word of mouth.
The single best place to experience the wealth of their heritage is at the cathedral-like Vikingskiphuset or Viking Ship Museum, built in 1936 to house three incredibly well-preserved 9th-century Viking burial ships discovered at the turn of the century in the nearby Oslo Fjord.
Considered the country’s most important archaeological cache, the three vessels contained the royal bodies of Viking chieftains and one queen (believed to be the grandmother of Harald Fairhair), all entombed with their servants, pets, and countless artifacts meant to serve them in the afterlife in the royal manner to which they were accustomed.
Together, they constitute the largest Viking find ever recorded, and have shaped the understanding of Norway’s distant maritime past. The artistry and craftsmanship confirm that the Vikings excelled at more than sailing.
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) remains hugely popular today, the only Nordic painter whose influence is recognized on a global level. That he was not terribly successful during his lifetime (he was posthumously hailed as the father of Expressionism) is evident from the fact that he was able to hold on to much of his work: more than 22,000 pieces in his possession were bequeathed to the city of Oslo in 1940 shortly before his death.
As if these weren’t enough, the collection has been augmented over time by gifts from individuals, filling the Munch Museum, opened in 1963, to the rafters. It now includes paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, sculptures, and personal possessions such as books and letters, an edited portion of which is exhibited and rotated regularly.
Munch lost his mother at age five, and was often ill as a child. His lifelong struggle with malaise and mental torment colors much of his work, which ranges from realism to latter-day Expressionism. His most famous work, The Scream, was stolen from the museum in August 2004. Fortunately, Night (like The Scream, painted during the same prolific period in the 1890s when he had achieved a certain renown) is still here.
Despite the massive number of works on display, representing the artist at every age and under the sway of a variety of aesthetic impulses, there is a constant current of melancholy and loneliness.
Hotel Continental, the capital’s finest accomodations, is privately owned and faultlessly operated by four generations of the Brochmann family, who built it in 1900. It features Norway’s largest collection of Munch graphics – the family’s own – used to decorate the public areas.
Right across the street from the National Theater (and excellently situated in the privileged shadow of the Royal Palace), it has long enjoyed a bond with the theater, hosting performers and playgoers as hotel guests or at its famous Theatercafeen. The most authentically re-created Viennese café in northern Europe, the Theatercafeen has been legendary since the day it opened.
Lively and always full, it is eclipsed only by its more formal sister establishment, the much touted Annen Etage, an elegant venue for some of the city’s most refined dining. It’s a whole other scene in the hotel’s trendy Lipp Bar and Restaurant, popular with a handsome crowd since its birth in the early 1990s.
Nature is powerful in Norway, perhaps nowhere more so than in the Lofoten Islands, 123 miles north of the Arctic Circle. This 118-mile-long archipelago of small fishing communities set against a dramatic wall of towering snow-patched peaks – granite formations that date back several billion years – has drawn increasing numbers of mainlanders (and foreign artists) attracted to its seclusion, special light, bracing air, and unpolluted waters.
The traditional rorbu (fishing cottage) was traditionally built on the docks extending out over the water; today they are popular as rentals for their simplicity (and the insight into the local way of life).
This steep island-world is bathed in summer nights of eight-hour dusk, with the midnight sun shining from June until late July. Svolvaer (population 4,000), the main town for the islands, has a thriving summer art colony.
Ferries arrive here from mainland Bodø, where Edgar Allan Poe spent a number of years writing A Descent into the Maelstrom, describing the unique phenomenon of immense volumes of water flushed through deep, narrow gorges with the outgoing tide.
A maelstrom – the word, of Dutch origin, means “grinding stream” – is a furious, natural whirlpool (also known as a “kettle”) that creates a goose-bump-inducing howl. Before catching the ferry to the Lofoten, visit Saltstraumen Eddy on the mainland to see what mesmerized Poe.
Norway’s legendary Hurtigruten cruise steamers sail along its intricate Gulf stream-warmed coastline, a region of exquisite fjords, glaciers, mountains, and in the summer months, a sun that never fully sets. The lifeline for the remote towns of northern Norway – some still accessible only by sea – this fleet of workboats stops in some thirty-five ports between Bergen and the Arctic Circle near the Russian border for a 1,500-mile, twelve-day round trip.
A Hurtigruten ship is not a luxury cruiser, but with this kind of scenery, the comfortable cabins and straightforward food are part of the adventure as you sail in and out of large and small ports. Some stops – such as North Cape (Nordkapp), a sheer, granite cliff rising 1,000 feet out of the frigid Norwegian Sea – are long enough for optional land excursions.
Due to the cape’s location, farther north than Alaska and most of Siberia, the sun stays above the horizon from May 12 to August 1 and below it from November 19 to January 25. The cape’s plateau, 800 miles from the start of the Arctic ice cap, is a largely uninhabited place of wild and romantic moonscape – nothing grows on this tundra.
This is a site that visitors either love or hate, but it elates adventurous tourists – just check out the festivity in the clifftop observatory’s Champagne bar, where you feel as if you’re about to fall off “the World’s very end,” as one Italian pilgrim wrote in 1664.
Founded in 1070 and the capital of the Kingdom of Norway during the Middle Ages, Bergen was an outpost of the powerful Hanseatic League of Baltic merchant communities organized in the 12th century. At that time the wharfside district of Bryggen (the Quay) was its bustling trading center.
It is still a remarkable collection of timbered warehouses and hostelries that today are home to artisan workshops, cafés, and the interesting Hanseatic Museum. Although most were destroyed by a series of devastating fires over the centuries (the museum building is one of the few that survived), many of the structures were painstakingly (and repeatedly) re-created until the league was phased out in the 18th century.
The beautiful Romanesque St. Mary’s Church (Mariakirken) is an original 12th-century gem, which served as the spiritual hub of the Hanseatic merchants for three centuries. Bryggen is the only surviving neighborhood of these gabled wooden buildings. Their distinctive red-brick and ocher color scheme appeared all over northern Europe during the era of Hanseatic influence, and they are much of the reason behind Bergen’s tourist moniker – the Wooden City.
Just south of Bergen is Troldhaugen (Troll’s Hill), the 19th-century summer villa of musician and composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), born in Bergen and buried at Troldhaugen with his wife. Try to catch a concert here in the summer or fall – visit in early summer for the acclaimed Bergen International Festival, which features a wide variety of music and performing arts but is always dominated by the work of the native maestro performed by Bergen’s Philharmonic Orchestra.
Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains (the funicular to Floyen climbs 1,000 feet to the steepest of them for gorgeous views), making it not only a naturally picturesque base but also the most practical gateway to Norway’s unique fjord lands.
A day trip from Bergen encapsulates the best of this breathtakingly beautiful corner of the country. Start with a bus trip through steep switchback roads to Stalheim for a view of the valley below. At Gudvangen, you board a boat to sail through the Naerøyfjord (the narrowest in Norway) and the Aurlands Fjord, some of the loveliest branches of the dramatic Sognefjord.
After that astounding panorama of natural beauty comes the train ride from the town of Flam 2,850 feet up and over the side of a gorge to Mydral. For 12 miles and forty-five harrowing minutes, your train darts in and out of twenty tunnels maneuvering twenty-one hairpin turns past countless waterfalls. The conductor’s reassurance that the train is fitted with five sets of standby brake systems – plus a shot (or two) of aquavit back at a Bergen café after the twelve-hour round trip – should calm any jangled nerves.
Norway’s unique beauty lies in its fjords, and the Sognefjord is not only the longest and deepest, but also one of the most dramatic. After a four-hour sail from Bergen along a spectacular landscape, you’ll see the rambling Victorian carved-wood frame of Kvikne’s Hotel on a small peninsula jutting into the 127-mile-long fjord.
Dating back to 1752, the hotel has been the destination of poets and monarchs for the four generations that the Kvikne family has been at the helm. A modern wing has been added, but ask for a room in the original house, where some rooms have balconies and unforgettable fjord views.
Though it is full of day-trippers and tourists, the hotel maintains a family-run base-camp ambience, encouraging treks and bike rides into the extravagantly beautiful countryside. A sail up the gorgeous little Fjaerlandfjord north of Sognefjord to see the Jostedals Glacier is a wonderful day trip.