Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.


"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in

Correct answer?
OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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by Bob Brooke

A Scandinavian toast.Whatever the season or cause for celebration, Skal! is the toast.

Foreigners are always immensely amused by Norwegian drinking laws. There’s a certain humor in laws that permit people to buy a whole crate of beer at the local store, but not one bottle on its own. Or when a local inhabitant is refused a drink on the terrace of the local hotel, while his good friend from the neighboring town can order as much as he likes. This is the tail-end of a tradition of fighting the evils of alcoholism that Asbjorn Kloster, a pioneer in prohibition, inaugurated a century ago. A campaign that meets with little enthusiasm today.

Norwegians have extraordinarily long and strong traditions in drinking and drunkenness. The Norwegian hero of Viking times, Olav Tryggvason, got people drunk so he could set fire to their houses if they refused to become Christians.

"They longed for the intoxicating drink as a bear longs for honey," runs another description of the Vikings, who would travel great distances in foreign parts in order to get wine while on their plundering trips to the Mediterranean. "Rich merchants live well and drink fairly heavily, "wrote Jacques de la Tocnaye, a French traveler. Europeans must have learned the art of distilling liquor some time after the end of the Viking period, but Archhishop Olav Engelbrektsson first introduced alcohol distilling to Norway in Trondheim in 1530. Once in the country, distilling apparatus became as normal a part of household equipment as pots and pans.

It just had to go wrong for the drink-crazy Norwegians. The battle against the Demon was launched in the middle of the 16th century, when it became forbidden to serve spirits (hard liquor) on Sundays and holidays–a law that stands to this day. Despite all regulations, people went on making spirits, first from grain, then from potatoes when they were introduced in the 18th century. At about that time distilling became illegal, though the government repealed the law in 1816. Once more consumption increased dramatically, reaching 32 pints of spirits per citizen in 1833. It was this that led to the temperance movement.

In 1848 a law on the manufacture and processing of spirits put an end to home distilling. However, industrial distilling was legal. In 1832, there were 10,000 registered distilleries in the Norway, twenty years later there were only 40, thus halving the number of establishments licensed for the sale and serving of spirits. By 1851 the consumption of spirits had fallen to 12 pints per person.

The Norwegian government enforced prohibition from 1916 to 1927, and for a few years even fortified wine. Since 1922 the State has had a monopoly on the distribution and sale of wines and spirits in the country, and since 1927 over the production of spirits as well. Today, six distilleries sell spirits to the Wine Monopoly, about two million litres a year. About 2,000 farmers send potatoes to be distilled. The Wine Monopoly carries out production in Hamar Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim, and sells it in 95 shops throughout the country.

In latter years there has been a relaxation in alcohol legislation. It’s still not possible to buy wine in the local store, as in Denmark and most other European countries. But in 1955 only half the population of Norway could buy beer in their own parish. Now 97.3 per cent of the population can not only purchase wine, but about 50 per cent live in one that has a Wine Monopoly outlet.

< Back to Norway                                                    Go to Stave Churches of Norway >

Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

Read more about Swedish burials

News from Norway
from Aftenposten
News from Denmark
News from Sweden
from the SR International 
News from Finland
from Finnish News Agency STT
News from Iceland
from The Iceland Review
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In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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