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    
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Out and About in Oslo
by Bob Brooke

In what other European city can you find a dairy farm within the city limits? That pretty much sums up Oslo, Norway. In fact, there are also 140 lakes within the city’s boundaries and enough berries and mushrooms grow in the city to feed most of its population. And its citizens can go hiking or cycling in the woods five minutes from the city center.

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.

Twenty percent of Norwegians, more than half a million, live in and around Norway’s capital. Oslo is Norway's cultural hub, offering a smorgasbord of historic sights, art, and natural landscapes. The city offers some of Europe's best museums, a cosmopolitan streetlife, and easy going lifestyle that allows visitors to relax while taking in the sights.


Oslo is the oldest of the Scandinavian capitals, founded around 1048 by King Harold Hardrade. Six centuries later, after several devastating fires, Danish King Christian IV moved the city west to its present location and changed its name to Christiania—after himself. The new city prospered, and by the time Norway broke with Denmark in 1814, the citizens of Christiania, as well as the rest of Norway, wanted independence, which they achieved in 1905. However, Oslo didn’t get its former name back until 1925.

Life in Oslo hums along. You can't help but smell the fragrant aromas coming from the many coffee/pastry shops. It has a distinctively Scandinavian charm. Compared to other European cities, Oslo is relatively quiet. You’ll hear no blaring horns and pedestrians go about their business quietly.

All in all, you'll find the city a good-natured kind of place that’s easy to walk around, with plenty of free sights to see, including the remains of ancient Viking ships and others that took Norwegians on far-flung adventures. Norway’s folk culture comes alive at the open-air folk museum and its heroic spirit is evident at the Nazi Resistance Museum.

A good transport system likewise makes it easy for you to get around quickly if your time is short. And despite the city’s awesome size, it's difficult to get lost in the city center, running from the railroad station to the Royal Palace, between the city hall and the harbor. Through it runs Karl Johans Gate, the central thoroughfare, which stretches from Oslo’s main train station on its eastern end to the impressively low-key royal palace in its public parkland on its western end.

Archaeologists have discovered 3,000-year-old rock carvings on the southern outskirts of the city. Many of the buildings in its Gamlebyen, or Old Town, east of the Oslo Central Rail Station, date from the 11th century, including St. Hallvard Church. Oslo was a backwater, a poor cousin of Copenhagen and Stockholm until the 1950s when the city remade itself into a cosmopolitan world capital.

The Akershus Fortress
Rising above the harbor south of the City Hall is one of Oslo’s oldest buildings, the Akershus Fortress, also known as Akershus Castle. Its large, empty rooms are stark compared to other European castles. Behind the chapel altar, steps lead down to the tombs of some Norwegian kings.

Though very much part of central Oslo, the Akershus Castle, dating from 1300, with its battlements, towers, ramparts, marching grounds, stables, prison grounds and cannon, stands on a plateau overlooking the harbor. The castle was already the veteran of several unsuccessful sieges when it assumed the role of city defender in 1624. King Christian IV had the castle rebuilt as a Renaissance castle on the site of the medieval forteress. But despite restoration, all Norwegians remember it as the Nazi Headquarters during World War II. Today, it’s the home of the Royal Mausoleum, as well as the Defense and Resistance Museums, the latter displaying a moving account of the Norwegian resistance during the Nazi occupation.

Modern Oslo
The modern center of Oslo has wide streets, dignified parks and gardens, many beautiful, pastel 19th-century buildings, and panoramic vistas. The centerpiece of the modern city is its richly decorated, red-brick Rádhuset, or City Hall, begun in 1931 and completed in 1950 to celebrate the city's 900th birthday. Many of Norway's leading artists, including Sorenson, Rolfsen, and Krohg, and Edvard Munch, contributed to this avant-garde masterpiece. The building’s interior features 2,000 square yards of bold and colorful "socialist modernism" murals that cover the entire history of Norway, right up to the Nazi occupation. Its main hall celebrates the socialist credo of "work, play, and civic administration." It’s here each December that the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony takes place. Underneath the Rádhuset’s towers stand six powerful bronze and granite figures representing the people who worked on the building. Today, the City Hall’s twin towers stand as a source of civic pride along Oslo’s waterfront.

Another must-see sight of modern Oslo is the 75-acre Frogner Park, which contains the life’s work of Norway's greatest sculptor, Gustav Vigeland. From 1924 through 1943, he sculpted 175 bronze and granite statues. Across a statue-lined bridge rises a huge fountain, supported by larger-than-life figures. Sculptures surrounding it of humans intertwined with trees tell the story of mankind. Vigeland's crowning achievement, and the centerpiece of the park, is his 60-foot-tall tangled tower of 121 bodies called "the monolith of life." While it seems the lower figures are laden with earthly concerns, those higher up are free to pursue loftier, more spiritual adventures.

NOTE: To enjoy Oslo and save money at the same time, purchase an Oslo Pass for free entrance to all the museums and sights the city has to offer, as well as free transportation between them.

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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

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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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