Main Language Spoken: Norwegian
I am at a total loss of of how to pen down my thoughts on Norway, renowned for so many things: the ethereal northern lights, trolls and Vikings, its deep calm fjords, and the glowing midnight sun. Its beauty as if has been honed to perfection and it is just like a world of fantasy.
Oslo, the capital of Norway, was founded in the 11th century and is on the south coast of Norway. Akershus Fortress in Oslo has lovely views of the surrounding city and North Sea and the Aker Brygge harbour - a lively, bustling harbour with an abundance of multi cuisine restaurants. Right next to Aker Brygge harbour is the Nobel peace prize centre where the Nobel peace prize is given annually, Malala being the youngest to ever receive it. The building was a complete antithesis to what I expected. I expected a grand edifice whereas this humble structure can actually be quite inconspicuous. Another vibrant street is from Parliament House (Storting) to the Royal Palace, lined with cafes and shops. The city’s main highlight, Vigeland Sculpture park, consists of more than 200 sculptures, all made by Vigeland. There is one main structure in the middle of the park called Monolith that took him 13 years to build it is composed of 121 human figures 36 figures are erected on the elevation bringing with them the “circle of life” message.
Lofoten, an archipelago in the Arctic Circle, is endowed with natural beauty opening up a new scene at every turn; its multiple little islands connected by never ending bridges. To add to that the midnight sun glows up the scenery. That was truly once in a lifetime experience - not seeing any darkness for 24 hours!! The sea has a stark change of colour, from turquoise to deep blue, it’s almost as if there was a line and the two sides were painted in different colours. That was so spectacular.
Lofoten has striking red traditional fishermen houses called Rorbuers. They were built in 1120 by king Øystein so that it was easier for the fishermen to fish. This resulted in many more fishermen coming to Lofoten. Now they have been converted into stylish and sought after holiday homes.
Lofoten is without doubt the fishing goldmine of Norway because it has perfect conditions for it - perfect spawning sea temperatures, the correct amount of salt in the sea, appropriate depth and has the suitable warm Gulf Stream current flowing in. A thousand year old fish preserving technique is to dry the fishes on wooden racks called hjell locally. Lofoten has perfect climatic conditions for drying fish using this technique. If it is too hot, food flies will stick on it and if it is too cold it will freeze. This technique has been around for about a thousand years while all the other fishing techniques have changed and modernised. Reine, is a stunningly beautiful fishing village, blessed with a dramatic setting off cliffs and sea. It is in my opinion the most beautiful village in Lofoten. Another highlight of Lofoten are its white sandy beaches which are splashed along the whole coast. Though the water temperatures are freezing, it’s lovely to just bask on those beaches on a sunny day.
Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, surrounded by 7 fjords and hills is a starting point for many ferries and tours. The old town, Bryggen, a UNESCO world heritage site, has brightly coloured houses lined up by the sea. It has bustling streets with a lively atmosphere. While we were there there was a local and seafood festival taking place. The live counter stalls, which made your mouth water, were selling local foods like smoked salmon (a top notch salmon recipe), reindeer meat and whale meat. People were thronging the stalls. I tried a reindeer sausage. It was so fabulous that a normal pork sausage totally pales in comparison. It was very interesting to see live king crab and lobster being cooked in front of us. In 2015, Bergen was awarded the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for gastronomy which comes as no surprise to me. To get phenomenal views of Bergen you can go up the funicular to Floyen, one of Bergens mountains, it has lovely viewing and play area and you can also have a go at canoeing.
Since Norway is famous for its fjords (a long narrow and deep inlet of the sea between cliffs that were created by melting glaciers) and the trip would be incomplete without exploring one. We visited Flåm, which is situated on Sognefjord. The Flåm Railway, a very picturesque year round train ride with a steepest incline of 55% and has 7 stops. Did you know that until 1944 all trains on the Flåm Railway were run by steam engines. Then in 1944 the Kjosfossen hydroelectric plant was commissioned. Since 1947 all trains on the railway started running on electricity from the Kjosfossen plant. The train takes a five minute photo stop at Kjosfossen waterfall . To keep the area folklore going, two ladies in red appear very mysteriously and start dancing and singing whenever the Flåm railway stops there. The legend is that there was once an underground spirit called the Huldra that captivated men and lured them into the mountains. The girls who you see now are from a ballet school in Norway.
In Flåm we went on a fjord cruise. The cruise started on Sognefjord which is the broadest fjord in Norway. Tall green cliffs surrounded the fjord and it was very peaceful. Then the ship took the turn into a narrower fjord, Naeroyfjord ( a UNESCO World Heritage Site) which is one of the the most beautiful fjords in Norway. On that particular fjord it seemed as if everybody was on deck gaping dumbfounded at the vast, calm and pristine beauty of the fjord. It was, it seemed as if everybody was in a dream. The ferry dropped us at Gudvangen, true to its name - the abode of Gods.
The biggest attraction in Gudvangen especially for children is the Viking Valley. The people who live in Viking Valley are actually Viking descendants. The idea of that village is to keep up and promote the Viking tradition. The Viking Valley is a must do for all kids. I went on a tour which was extremely informative. In the tour the first thing I was told was that the village was like a typical Viking village of that era (709- 1066)— the way they dressed, the houses, the shops, everything. I felt that I had been taken back in time. The biggest fallacy is that Vikings have horns on their helmets. Only one helmet in all of Scandinavia was found with horns. That actually makes sense though because if your opponent had a long axe he could just pull your helmet and attack you. It was a myth, the monks who were attacked by the Vikings were the only ones who could write so they described them as demons with horns on their heads. I also got to hold and try a lot of weapons that original Vikings used and I wore a replica of the real helmet they have found. I tried archery, where I almost hit the target, I tried axe throwing, sword fighting (in which I broke my opponent’s sword) and then after what seemed like only five minutes of the uttermost enjoyment the tour was over.
Norway is well also known for the mythical and magical creatures called trolls. They have not only been used in traditional Norwegian tales like Billy Goats Gruff but has inspired even Disney to use trolls as characters in its blockbuster movie Frozen. You might be prejudiced against trolls - thinking they are evil creatures by reading various books and listening to stories but trolls are supposedly peaceful creatures that have lived in the north way before humans and live in the forests and mountains. We rarely see them because they like to stay away from human civilisation. They have befriended all birds and animals and are always ready to help. Trolls like to keep the ecosystem clean and tidy and are scared of the sun.
With so many new and exiting experiences in Norway and I really wish to come back again another day.