love top ten lists. Whether asked or not, I am always more than
happy to submit my pretentious list of everything from favorite
French New Wave films and Beatle songs to regional Italian dishes.
Curiously enough, when asked to list favorite travel destinations
I am always reluctant to answer. When pressed, I'm known to say
annoying things like my favorite travel destination is the one
just around the corner. Recently my ten year old nephew demanded
in his own special way that I at least name what I thought was
the most beautiful place in the world. I finally succumbed, but
explained to him first that everyone's concept of beauty is subjective.
He in turn explained to me that I never refrained from saying
With its jagged mountain peaks that jolt vertically from the
sea, stunning waterways, cascading waterfalls, tiny fishing villages
and mountain farmhouses, the fjords of Norway would be my pick
for the most beautiful place on the planet. I'm not exactly going
out on a limb when I say this. Two of Norway's most famous fjords,
the Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, have joined the
Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt, and the Grand Canyon
as a UNESCO World Heritage Site-a prestigious award whose purpose
is to preserve the cultural and natural importance of a site for
future generations. And National Geographic Traveler Magazine
also rated Norway's fjords as the top travel destination in the
world in their first "Index of Destination Stewardship"
- an elite list of the least spoiled, great places on earth.
To understand the fjords is to understand the Norwegian character,
whose national identity has been formed by its passionate bond
with nature. When a Norwegian goes on vacation-an average of six-weeks
a year-the destination of choice is (usually) the Norwegian countryside.
CARVED BY THE HANDS OF GOD
The Geirangerfjord and her
Seven Sisters is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Credit: Courtesy Hurtigruten
Nestled on the western coast of Norway, the fjords were carved
out in a succession of ice ages. When glaciers retreated approximately
12,000 years ago, plants soon appeared, animals thrived and man
eventually made his way into this spectacular, but remote, heaven
on earth. Small fishing villages were established and tiny sod
roofed farmhouses quietly dotted the landscape, some situated
on mountains so steep that they required a ladder to ascend the
terrain. Once tax collectors realized there were people living
in this isolated region, they made an annual trek to the farms,
only to find that many of the ladders had mysteriously disappeared.
When the first tourists arrived-primarily European aristocracy-who
came to fish in this untouched paradise of crystal-clear waters,
they were guaranteed all the fish they could carry. Word spread,
and the fjords became the sportsperson's paradise. Soon the rest
of the world heard about them.
HURTIGRUTEN: "The World's Most Beautiful
Lofoten fishing village, along the fjords.
Credit: Courtesy Hurtigruten
In 1891 Norwegian Coastal Voyage (now Hurtigruten) established
a daily, year-round boat service along the western coast of Norway,
with Bergen at the southern terminus and the Russian border at
the north. With 34 ports of call, the coastal trek became a lifeline
along the west coast of Norway, carrying cargo to isolated villages
and farming communities. Tourism quickly became an important component
of the voyages, giving people the opportunity to experience the
fjord-filled coastline, Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights.
Travelers came in the thousands, making Norwegian Coastal Voyage
one of Europe's biggest attractions. On my four-day journey, I
found that more than 60 percent of the tourists on the voyage
were Norwegian. It was wonderful to travel with locals and see
the county through their eyes-and the fact that it was a real
working cargo vessel made the experience even more authentic.
The vessel makes an interesting hybrid of a working ship and tour
boat, with all the comforts of spacious cabins, lounges and dining
rooms. Sitting on the deck at midnight, sipping a glass of aquavit-the
national drink of Norway-while the sun refused to go down was
an amazing experience. The journey also includes land tours by
bus; which meet back with the vessel at future ports.
Bergen - Gateway to the Fjords
Your journey will begin in Hanseatic Bergen, but before you hop
on-board the boat, it is essential that you spend at least two
days in this World Heritage City. Bergen boasts endless tourist
attractions, and the Bergen Tourist Card is an important component
to your tour of this historic harbor town. The price allows you
free or reduced- price admittance to the Bergen Art Museum, Fantoft
Stave Church (a medieval wooden cathedral), harbor boat tour,
Bergen Castle, St Mary's Church, and Troldhaugen, composer Edvard
Grieg's home. If you're lucky, you might catch a concert in Troldhaugen's
intimate concert hall, discreetly built into the landscape and
overlooking Grieg's working studio, where he wrote most of his
later work. Wander through the harbor fish market and down the
wooden streets of the historic warehouse district. A fish buffet
should be on everyone's list for a sampling of Bergen's world-famous
fish soup, gravlaks (cured Atlantic salmon), fish cakes and hearty
breads, all washed down with the city's own Hansa beer. The local
watering hole, Café Opera makes for a great late night
Trondheim - City of the Viking King
Caption: Troldhaugen, the Edvard
Grieg Museum, is located on
Lake Nordås in Bergen, Norway. Credit:
Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway, and was the country's
first capital for two hundred years. Two millenniums ago, Viking
King Olav Tryggvason sailed up the Trondheim fjord in his longship
and established this city. Trondheim's most important tourist
attraction is St. Olav Catholic Church, built on the site of his
grave. Numerous kings of the middle ages have found their final
resting place in Trondheim, and the city has gained popularity
as one of Europe's most important medieval pilgrimage centers.
With time permitting make a stop at the Trøndelag Folk
Museum - an open air museum dating back to 1909. The museum showcases
the various building traditions through time, with 60 vintage
buildings on display, ranging from wooden huts to city mansions.
LOFOTEN ISLANDS - Lutefisk
Lofoten Islands consist of stunning mountain peaks that seem to
come right out of the sea, and sheltered inlets populated with
little fishing villages. For centuries, fishing has been the very
foundation of life on the islands. While on the deck of a vessel
outside a Lofoten fishing village, I overheard an American passenger
ask a Norwegian what those things were hanging on stilts. The
Norwegian replied that it was air-dried cod for making Lutefisk.
The American exclaimed, "And the birds don't eat it?"
The Norwegian shrugged, 'No, they don't seem to like It.' Everyone
of Scandinavian heritage knows of Lutefisk (pronounced lou-tah-fisk),
but few have actually eaten it. Lutefisk is a traditional Nordic
food of dried cod or stockfish, prepared in lye. It is soaked
in cold water for five to six days (changed daily). It is then
soaked in an unchanged solution of cold water and lye for an additional
two days. When this treatment is finished, a final treatment of
yet another four to six days of soaking in cold water (also changed
daily) is needed. Eventually, the lutefisk is ready to be baked
in the oven for 40-50 minutes. Some are known to even eat it.
Tromsø - Paris of the Arctic
Tromsø is the largest city in the Nordic countries north
of the Arctic Circle and is home to the world's most northern
university and cathedral, brewery, botanical garden and planetarium
Less than a century ago, visitors were surprised to find culture
and intellectual activity in a city so far to the north. Of all
the destinations on my journey I found the residents of this city
of 53,622 to be the most open and friendly in all of Norway. Look
closely and you will see location used in the original film, Insomnia
The Sami - Scandinavia's Aborigines
Tromsø was the first time I encountered the Sami - the
nomadic reindeer herders, who have their own dress, language (they
have 60 words for snow) and separate national identity. Today
they even have their own radio stations and are represented in
the Norwegian parliament. Once called Lapps, now regarded as politically
incorrect, the Sami live in a horizontal world that crosses the
northern borders of the vertical nations of Norway, Sweden, Finland
and part of Russia. Many Sami continue their century's long nomadic
lifestyle, living in tents and moving from place to place as the
reindeer require new grazing lands. The Tromsø Museum houses
more than 2,000 artifacts of the Sami, and offers the ideal opportunity
to learn about their unique culture and way of life.
Hurtigruten.us * VisitNorway.com/us
HOW TO GET THERE
I was just reading your great story about traveling
through the Norwegian countryside and the voyage along the coast
sounds amazing. Iíve been to Oslo, but definitely would like to
return to Norway one day to explore exactly what you wrote about.
The photos are spectacular. I can envision many a romantic novel
inspired by these majestic sceneries. Makes me want to do a little
more research on Norway. John Lenon must have been one of the
converts when he wrote "Norwegian Woods."
--- Peter Paul, South Pasadena CA
Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to write. Indeed,
Norway was paradise on earth, and I dream of returning again and
again. You had a funny line about John Lennon being so inspired
by the beauty of Norway that he composed the song, "Norwegian
Wood." If I'm not mistaken, his reference to "Norwegian
Wood" is just that: an inexpensive pine wood from Norway
that was becoming popular in the UK. I did read somewhere, though,
that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was inspired by Norwegian
and please keep writing.
Reading Peter's implication that "Norwegian
Wood" was based on a trip that John Lennon took to Norway
led me to do some research.
According to Paul McCartney at a press conference in Los Angeles:
'Peter Asher [brother of McCartney's then-girlfriend Jane Asher]
had just done his room out in wood, and a lot of people were decorating
their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine, really, just
cheap pine. But it's not as good a title, is it, "Cheap Pine"?
It was a little parody, really, on those kind of girls who, when
you'd get back to their flat, there would be a lot of Norwegian
wood. It was completely imaginary from my point of view, but not
from John's. It was based on an affair he had. She made him sleep
in the bath and then, finally, in the last verse, I had this idea
to set the Norwegian wood on fire as a revenge. She led him on
and said, "You'd better sleep in the bath." And in our
world, that meant the guy having some sort of revenge, so it meant
burning the place down....'
Of course, just cause it's on the 'net doesn't
mean it's true.