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.

Read more

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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The Natural Origins of Scandinavia
by Bob Brooke

Far back in geologic times the "North" lay buried under the great ice sheet. Slowly the frozen mass receded under the warmth of the sun. The dynamic of geology asserted itself and the land rose, released of its crushing burden. The Baltic Sea took shape as an inland lake in the heart of Fenn-Scandia, the land mass comprising what’s now Finland, Denmark, and the Scandinavian Peninsula.

The Baltic then rose higher and at last broke through a channel to reach the North Sea, forming Oresund--the narrow sound between Denmark and Sweden. The Danish lands were separated from the Scandinavian Peninsula, and the waters of the Baltic made contact with the Atlantic. Boats could then traverse the Baltic and sail out to the British Isles, to Iceland and Greenland and Vinland. The Baltic provided pathways for travel and commerce and nurturing a common culture.

The barriers weren’t the sea but the vast forests and swamps which lay between Finland and the inhabited parts of Russia. High mountains, marshes, and broad barrens were what man could not cross. Thus isolated from the East, Fenno-Scandia aligned itself and with the culture of the West. The region was and remains a natural area of common culture, its entire history intricately intertwined. The islands in the Atlantic, separated by greater distances, still lay within easy reach of Viking seamen and have borne the stamp of Scandinavian culture for over a thousand years.

On the globe, it seems hard to imagine an active modern society with large towns prospering in latitudes more northerly than Labrador, with some of the land above the Arctic Circle. The answer lies with the Atlantic Ocean. Aided by winds from the west, it keeps the Scandinavian peninsula warmed and watered. The Gulf Stream gives an added touch. But it’s the whole breadth of salt water that modifies the winds, creates the temperate marine climate, and makes the lands to the east livable. To the west of the Atlantic, Labrador suffers under cold winds blowing off the northern plains.

The town of Tromso in northern Norway, located above latitude 69 degrees North, has a winter temperature averaging about 37 degrees Fahrenheit and a summer average just above 50 degrees. Spring flowers bloom in February. The mountain backbone of the Scandinavian Peninsula blocks off some of this ocean warmth, but never all of it. Even the west coast of Finland feels something of the moderating influences from the west, though by the time the winter breezes reach Finland's eastern border they’ve lost their delicacy, and a northern "continental" climate prevails.

Generally Scandinavia has a stern, but not capricious climate. Hurricanes and sizzling heat and earthquakes are unknown, floods and drought rare. Moderation seems to be a habit of Mother Nature, though there are exceptions.

Summer in these northern lands brings days which linger through long twilight far into the night. In the northernmost parts, for weeks before and after the summer solstice one may see the sun which never sets but merely glides low to the horizon and rises again. This is the compensation for the long nights of darkness in the winter, and helps to explain the sun worship in ancient ritual and on modern beaches.

The warmth, the sun, the moisture dropped in frequent rains from the western winds, make crops grow quickly where the soil is good. Yet the glacial terrain of Finland and the Scandinavian Peninsula often leaves only small patches of arable land, sometimes in inner valleys like Gudbrandsdal in Norway or in strips between water and rock in the western fjords, sometimes along quiet river mouths in northern Sweden, or in clearings in Finland's forests. The ice sheets scraped off the earlier topsoil, and the present thin covering is geologically recent, lying on top of rocks 300 million years old.

Iceland has vast stretches of barren land, and Greenland is only a name given by Eric the Red, that early genius of real estate promotion. Greenland's real claim to fame is her "icy mountains," one of the determining forces in the climate of the world. The major food-producing area of Scandinavia is in southern Sweden and in the fertile fields of Denmark on the sedimentary rock plains. Great contrasts exist between the grandeur of the western Norwegian fjords, with their perpendicular walls, and the green shores of the Danish islands creeping out of the sea.

In Scandinavia sea and land exist together, complement each other. Man lives on the land but draws sustenance from the sea and makes it serve his needs. The sea isn’t only his highway of commerce, his connective link within Scandinavia and with the lands which lie beyond. It’s also his most dependable source of nourishment. "Norway has plenty of food-but it's all fish" is exaggeration based on fact. The fishermen of the Lofoten Islands and of the whole long coast, like the fishermen of Iceland who provide that country's most important export, attest the importance of the sea.

Ships carry pulp, paper, and prefabricated houses to the markets of the world through the Baltic Sea. It’s because the Baltic flowed to the west and opened a sea route through the Danish Sound (Oresund) that Finland maintains an active trade with the United States, 4,000 miles away, and it’s the North Sea which makes Britain the best customer for Danish butter and eggs.

The coast lines of the Scandinavian countries are long and usable. Harbors overflow with as many boats as the streets of Copenhagen do with bicycles. When the Vikings began to build streamlined seagoing ships in the 9th and 10th centuries, they were simply learning how to use the natural advantages of their harbors. The fjords led to the ocean, and the ocean continued to the lands beyond. It’s no accident that these northern countries are leaders in seamanship and that Norway has one of the largest merchant fleets of the world.

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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
.

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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