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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Henrik Ibsen—Norway's Master Playwright
by Bob Brooke

Playwright Henrik Ibsen stands watch over Oslo from his pedestal in front of Norway’s National Theater. Cast in bronze, he can no longer speak, but his words echo for all eternity from his plays.

Born on March 20, 1828, in Norway, Ibsen grew up in the small coastal town of Skien as the eldest of five children of Knud and Marichen Ibsen. His father was a successful merchant and his mother painted, played the piano and loved to go to the theater. Even at an early age, Ibsen expressed an interest in becoming an artist.

But while he was very young, his father had problems with his business and the family became poor. They had to sell off nearly everything just to cover debts and eventually moved to a rundown farm at the edge of town. There Ibsen spent much of his time reading, painting and performing magic tricks.

At 15, he quit school and went to work as an apprentice in an apothecary in Grimstad where he worked for six years. He spent his limited free time painting and writing poetry. In 1849, he wrote his first play Catilina, a drama written in verse modeled after those of William Shakespeare.

Early Works
Ibsen moved to Christiania—later renamed Oslo—in 1850 to prepare for entrance examinations to the University of Christiania. While living in the capital, he made friends with other writers and artistic types. One of these friends, Oleg Schulerud, paid for the publication of Catilina, which failed to get much notice.

The following year, Ibsen met violinist and theater manager Oleg Bull. Bull liked Ibsen and offered him a job as a writer and manager for the Norwegian Theater in Bergen. The position proved to be an intense tutorial in all things theatrical and even included traveling abroad to learn more about theater craft. In 1857, Ibsen returned to Christiania to run another theater there. But he ran into problems and people accused him of mismanagement and called for his replacement. Despite his difficulties, Ibsen found time to write Love's Comedy, a satirical look at marriage, in 1862.

Writing in Exile
That same year, and because of the problems at the Norwegian Theater, Ibsen left Norway, and eventually settled in Italy. There, in 1865, he wrote Brand, a five-act tragedy about a clergyman whose feverish devotion to his faith costs him his family and ultimately his life. The play made him famous. Two years later, he created one of his masterworks, Peer Gynt. A modern take on the Greek epics, in which play follows the lead character on a quest.

In 1868, Ibsen moved to Germany. During his time there, he witnessed his social drama The Pillars of Society first performed in Munich. The play helped launch his career and was soon followed up by one of his most famous works, A Doll's House. This 1879 play aroused controbersy throughout Europe for its exploration of the lead character’s struggle with the traditional roles of wife and mother and her own need for self-exploration. Once again, Ibsen questioned the accepted social practices of the time, surprising his audiences and stirring up debate. Around this time, he returned to Rome.

His next work, Ghosts, written in 1881, stirred up even more controversy by tackling such topics as incest and venereal disease. The outcry was so strong that the play wasn't performed widely until two years later. His next work, An Enemy of the People, showed one man in conflict with his community. Some critics say it was Ibsen's response to the backlash he received for Ghosts. Ibsen wrote The Lady From the Sea in 1888 and then headed back to Norway, where he spent the remainder of his years. He wrote Hedda Gabler, one of his most famous plays, in 1890. It featured one of the modern theater's most notorious characters. Hedda, a general's daughter and a newlywed who has come to loathe her scholarly husband, but yet she destroys a former love who stands in her husband's way academically.

Return to Norway
In 1891, Ibsen returned to Norway as a literary hero. Though Ibsen may have left Norway as a frustrated artist, he returned an internationally acclaimed playwright. Though he lived the life of a recluse for much of his life, Ibsen thrived in the celebrity spotlight of his later years.

Each day, Ibsen would go to the café in the Grand Hotel for lunch. He sat at the same table which the café preserves to this day as a memorial to the playwright.

His later works seem to have a more self-reflective quality with mature lead characters looking back and living with the consequences of their earlier life choices. And each drama seems to end on a dark note. The first play written after his return to Norway was The Master Builder. The title character encounters a woman from his past who encourages him to make good on a promise. In When We Dead Awaken, written in 1899, an old sculptor runs into one of his former models and tries to recapture his lost creative spark. It proved to be his final play.

Final Years
In 1900, Ibsen had a series of strokes that left him unable to write. Though he lived for several more years, he wasn’t fully cognizant during much of this time. Ibsen died on May 23, 1906. His last words were "To the contrary!" in Norwegian, of course. The Norwegian Government considered him a literary titan at the time of his passing and gave him a state funeral.

His Most Famous Works Live On
Three of his plays—Peer Gynt, A Doll's House, and Hedda Gabler— are the most widely produced plays today. He like Gustav Vigeland, another of Norway’s great artists, lives on through his works.


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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.

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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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