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.

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"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
       Danish.

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in
       Swedish.

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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Mysterious Elsinore:
Hamlet's Legendary Castle or Not?

by Bob Brooke


When people think of Elsinore, they immediately conjure up deep, dark, mysterious images of the castle in Shakespeareís play, Hamlet. But, in fact, Shakespeare never traveled to Denmark, at least as far as anyone knows. And Elsinore is the town. The castle, referred to in his play, is Kronborg.

In 1412, when Erik of Pomerania ascended to the throne of Denmark, he assumed leadership over a country united by King Valdemar Atterdag, who ruled for 35 years from 1340 to 1375, and strengthened by his daughter, Queen Margrethe I, who ruled from 1375 to 1412. The Kingdom of Denmark had already become unified, and King Erikís goal was to stabilize it.

But to do that, he needed money. To secure revenues, King Erik introduced the Sound Duty, a fee imposed on all ships entering the Sound. To defend the country he decided to fortify the narrow seaward approach to the Sound between Elsinore and Helsingborg. On the Scania shore was the fortress "Karnan" in Helsingborg, and a short distance south of Elsinore stood Flynderborg. However, he decided to build a new fortress, "Krogen", on the point northeast of Elsinore.

In 1574, King Frederik II, who reigned from 1559 to 1588, began to rebuild and extend the medieval Krogen to the present Kronborg. However, a fire heavily damaged most of the castle. Fortunately, King Christian IV, the son of King Frederik, who occupied the throne from 1588 to1648, decided to rebuild his father's castle, which didnít require any great changes to its exterior.

The architect Hans van Paeschen started the rebuilding, but Anthonius van Opbergen, also a royal master builder, finished it. Both introduced several Dutch Renaissance architectural features. Long horizontal cornices under the windows underlined the facades of the Castle, topped off by the richly carved balustrade of the watchman's gallery. The walls have a covering of quarry-faced Scanian sandstone, but originally they had a covering of horizontally placed sandstone in the Dutch Renaissance style just like Frederiksborg Castle. Elsinore and the Sound, both dominated by the Castle, add to the beauty of Kronborg

Today, the road to Kronborg leads through a system of fortifications on the way from the railway station at the port past the Elsinore Shipyard located within the former fortress area. On the left stands a bridge leading to Wurttemberg's Ravelin, one of the two islands lying in front of the Kronverk (Crown Work). On the way, visitors pass the guardhouse, today converted into a restaurant and continue over a long wooden bridge until they arrive at the Kronvxrk Gate with its magnificent portal, built between 1688 and 1698 by Christian V to provide Kronborg with a stronghold on the land side.

Once you pass the Kronverk Gate, youíll face the west wing of Kronborg. On the right are several Army buildings. The main entrance of the Castle rises before the inner courtyard. The Kronborg Bastions stand guard over the castle.

The Big Square Tower, without a spire since a fire in 1629, dominates the west wing of the Castle and the King's Tower to the north. The north wing has probably always housed the Castleís main entrance, originally placed a short distance from the present entrance. Furthermore this wing is characterized by the most vital bastion of the Castle, the famous underground casemates. Today, the entrance is via a wooden bridge and through the MĘrkeport (Dark Gate), the portal which has hardly undergone any changes since it was erected in 1576. Beyond the shore stronghold, the east wing shows a classical example of Dutch Renaissance in the Chapel Wing gable, and the southeastern tower, Kakkelborg. The south wing shows part of the Big Square Tower and Kakkelborg, but also the highest tower of the Castle, the Trumpeter's Tower which you can see from the Castle courtyard.

From its large courtyard the Castleís grey sandstone walls and green copper roof, plus its big windows with sandstone casements, placed regularly above each other, and its many entrances and towers invite you to explore its interior.

Most of the Castle is open to the public. Begin by touring the Royal Apartments in the north wing. Then enter the Great Hall, also known as the Knights' Hall, one of the oldest rooms from the Danish Renaissance and one of the largest halls in Europe, through the Queen's long gallery in the east wing. From here, youíll be able to enter the Church where you can admire its fine, well-restored interior from the time of Frederik II. Then itís on through the chambers and Royal Rooms in the west wing and finally a stroll through the underground casemates where the Danish national hero Holger Danske (Holger the Dane) keeps watch over his country. According to legend, heíll wake up and fight when Denmark is in danger.

Kronborg Castle is also the home of Handelsog Sofartsmuseet, the Danish Maritime Museum. Founded in 1915 and one of the oldest and largest maritime museums in the world, donít miss its collections covering Danish shipping and trade from about 1400 until the present day. The permanent exhibitions of the museum consist of a large number of ships' paintings, ships' models, navigational instruments together with collections concerning the previous Danish colonies in India, the Caribbean, Greenland, as well as Danish trade with China.

For hundreds of years Kronborg Castle has been a landmark for seafarers as they returned from afar. Today, itís become another landmark for most tourists known as Hamletís Castle.

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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
from Denmark.dk
News from Sweden
from the SR International 
News from Finland
from Finnish News Agency STT
News from Iceland
from The Iceland Review
All news is in English
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THE VIKINGS:
THE NORTH ATLANTIC SAGA

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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To read more articles by Bob Brooke, visit his Web site.

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