International calls to Norway
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Norway is a relatively small Scandinavian country and the place from which the Vikings came originally. The Viking kingdoms were unified way back in 872 AD by Harald Fairhair and from then on, they started colonizing the neighboring countries (Faroe Islands, Iceland, Ireland and Scotland) and called themselves Norwegians. Ok, maybe I am simplifying history a little bit, but basically what I’ve just told you is historically pretty accurate. Today’s Norway is a constitutional monarchy, it has a population of approximately 5 million people and a land surface of 304,282 square km. What makes Norway an awesome touristic destination is its inherent natural beauties. Norway is a land of crystalline fjords, beautiful glaciers and untouched wilderness, a place with a beauty almost impossible to overstate. The Arctic North is absolutely incredible, with its endless summer days, when the sun shines even at midnight, not to mention the astoundingly beautiful Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) which immolate the skies during the long and harsh winter nights. Along with its epic scenery and natural beauty, Norway is a highly developed country, which reached an “end of history” status, where you can visit picturesque cities like Trondheim, Oslo (the current capital) and Bergen (in the south); they all are uber-cosmopolitan places that embraced multiculturalism, places where you can live the time of your life if that’s your cup of tea. But even if these cities are pretty stunning with their flair and panache, colorful populations and incredible architecture, the real thing while visiting Norway is to be found in its great outdoors.
What to see, what to do in Norway
Svalbard is a glacier covered peninsula, located far North, with a sub polar climate; this is a magnificent place to visit and one of the few remaining spots on Earth where you can observe polar bears in their wild/natural habitat. If you’re looking for skiing destinations, the Arctic tundra spreads on hundreds of square miles in Norway, making it the ideal place for winter sports, not to mention seeing the Northern Lights in the process.
If you’re into Art Nouveau architecture, Alesund is the place to be in during your Norway trip. The city was totally rebuilt 100 years ago, after a big fire which consumed the old wooden edifices.
The city of Bergen harbors picturesque buildings made from wood, being an UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to 1979, where you can take a ride in the funicular and admire the beautiful panoramic scenery of Norway’s biggest fjord, Sognefjord, the former Hanseatic port in Bergen or the magnificent Hardangerfjord located farther in the South. Norway has a rich folk culture, along with dance, music and food; you can experience all of them during the summer events which take place at the Norske Folkemuseum near Oslo, on Bygdoy Island.
Fredrikstadt’s Gamlebyen is one of the best preserved Scandinavian fortified towns and it’s located near the Hvaler archipelago. This place is especially delightful to visit during the summer, when it transforms into a paradisiac place made from hundreds of small and pretty islands. Also, while here, you can visit Norway’s Marine National Park, inaugurated in 2009.
Norway harbors Europe’s greatest glacier, Jostedalsbreen, which is also the centerpiece for a huge and outstandingly beautiful national park; this place a true Mecca for outdoors enthusiasts and adventure fiends, providing its visitors with lots of adrenaline-pumping sports, such as mountain kayaking.
One of the most popular tourist traps in Norway is represented by the Hardanger Fjord, located 50 miles from the city of Bergen. The area is absolutely breath-taking, featuring virtually any type of natural landscape you can admire in Norway, ranging from hiking trails and scenic waterways to cherry and apple orchards, mountain plateau and beautiful glaciers. There are also museums in the area, for art and history buffs.
Oslo is the capital of Norway and the largest city; while here, I must recommend visiting the Royal Palace (Kongelige Slott). Be aware of the fact that the palace is only open for visitors between the second half of June to mid-August. Skien is another interesting destination to visit while in Norway, being the birthplace of the world-renowned play-writer Hendrik Ibsen. The world’s greatest and strongest whirlpool is the Maelstrom, and yes, it can be admired from Norway. The Saltstraumen, as they call it, is basically a powerful tidal current which can be seen 20 miles east of the city of Bodo. Norway is also home for dozens of lakeside cabins, where you can admire the virgin natural beauties of the country and engage in fishing and various outdoors activities (take a stroll in the nature, a hike, admire the elks and what not). Another great news for history aficionados: Norway harbors 28 wooden churches dating from the Medieval period, the oldest one being the Urnes Stave Church dating way back from 1130.
If you want to see what’s Norway in a nutshell, all you have to do is to take the tour with the aforementioned name from Bergen (yes, it’s called Norway in a Nutshell) and enjoy epic rides in buses and trains along the best fjords in the country.
Food and Drink
Obviously, Norway takes pride in its fish-based cuisine, along with various other meats, root veggies and potatoes. The hugely popular/traditional snack in Norway is a sort of sausage called polse, while breakfasts usually consist of a variety of meats, fish, cheeses and bread, all served with fried/boiled eggs and coffee, buffet-style. Specialties include brown cheese, roasted wild elk meat, reindeer, baked cod, porridge (Grot) and cloudberries. Regional drinks are schnapps, light lager/beer and lagerol.
Norway is a member of the European Union and it signed the Schengen treaty, hence if you’re an EU citizen, you’ll not require a passport, just an ID card for visiting the country. For USA/Canadian tourists, a passport is required (no Visa though).