Norway, Queen of the North
One of the few countries of the planet that serve as inspiration for fantasies of universal appeal, Norway –in its northern regions—es home to the legend of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer. But that is only one of the Norwegian gifts for travelers: others include one of the most spectacular coasts in the world with fjords, mountains, cascades and other panoramas of such natural beauty that they appear to be out of a book of fairytales –and that are brightened by the ineffable light of the midnight sun.
And as if all this were not enough, Norway offers cities like Oslo and Bergen filled with cultural treasures. This Scandinavian country has 4.6 million inhabitants; is a constitutional monarchy headed by King Harald V, and is a country were travelers feel super-safe, as it has a very low crime rate.
What to see: A visit to Norway typically starts in Oslo –it’s important to spend three or more days in the Norwegian capital to enjoy all its points of interest including the new Opera House –with futuristic architecture and superb acoustics. “It has been compared to a glaciar in the Oslo fjord,” our guide comented, adding that he had already enjoyed three excellent productions in the Opera House since its opening last year.
Other must-sees include the Royal Palace dating from the 19th century, at the top of the city’s main street, Karl Johansgate, and the Parliament building, on Karl Johansgate 22, seat of Norway’s legislative body since1866 (admission is free and there are guided tours inside). Akhersus Castle, on the port, was constructed in the 13th century and renovated in renaissance style in the 17th century (guided tours are available inside).
Nobody leaves Oslo without visiting Vigeland Sculpture Park with more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and iron by Gustav Vigeland. “It’s totally incredible,” said Susan Webb, a traveler from New York, admiring a colossal column filled with sculptures. “I’m going to take at least a dozen pictures.” Located on Entre Kirkevn, Vigeland Sculpture Park is open 24 hours a day and admission is free.
The Nobel Prize Peace Center, B. Bullspl 1, is another Oslo must. Here the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year – Al Gore, ex-vice-president of the U.S. was one of the recent winners por his work on the environment – and the center has exhibits about Alfred Nobel, prize recipients and their work for peace as well as various exhibitions.
The National Gallery, on Universitetsgata 13, is yet another vital point of interest with its excellent collection of art including the famous original painting The Scream by Edvard Munch (admission is free).
Bergen – Try to spend at least two days in this charming city that serves as a starting point for Norwegian fjords cruises and tours. Bergen’s panoramas seem to be out of a book of scenic postcards: wooden houses in bright colors, cobblestone streets, seven mountains that surround the city, a fish market and a skyway to ascend to the top of Mount Floyen.
Among Bergen’s must-sees is Bryggen, the area of the port that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a history dating back to medieval times and the Hanseatic League, in addition to a good number of museums and an aquarium that has even seals and penguins.
Norwegian Fjords – Geirangerfjord, Sognefjord, Trollfjord: these and other fjords with snow-capped mountains and waterfalls offer unforgettable scenery. Visitors can arrange from Bergen to explore the fjords via ferry, cruise ship, train or land tours.
Lapland – This northern region of Norway whose best known points are the North Cape and Kirkenes, served as inspiration for the legend of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer –it is estimated that there are 100,000 of these agile and cute creatures in the region so it is difficult not to come across with at least some during a visit. We saw them in the fields near the North Cape and eating flowers in the gardens of homes in the small fishing village of Skarsvag.
In this region too, travelers come across Sami natives, representatives of one of the oldest cultures of Norway. These native peoples, who wear colorful costumes and four-cornered hats (to symbolize the four seasons) dedicate themselves to farming and raising reindeer.
Svalbard – This archipelago halfway from the North Cape to the North Pole is a natural Arctic paradise. Its principal island is Spitsbergen, where travelers may spot polar bears, whales and a multitude or marine birds. During the summer, the sun never sets, so one is able to explore until late at night and get up early the next day to continue exploring panoramas of glaciers, snowy mountains and the sea filled with white and blue icebergs. In the summertime it is possible to book excursions that include hikes on glaciers, tours via sleds pulled by dogs, boat excursions to see whales, kayak and horseback tours and more.
Where to sleep: The Hotel Continental, on Stortingsgaten 24-26, in the heart of Oslo is wonderful: one can walk to the Royal Palace, The National Gallery and other points of interest and it offers a bountiful breakfast buffet. Visit www.hotel-continental.no.
If you decide to take a cruise to explore the fjords, the ship is your hotel. A company that offers them is Hurtigruten (visit www.hurtigruten.us).
Where to eat: Salmon and fresh seafood are superb in Norway. Try the oysters and lobster at 34 Restaurant & Bar, with views of the city from a height of 107 meters. It’s at Sonja Henies Plass 3. Visit www.34etg.no.
Where to obtain more information: Log on to www.visitnorway.com
By Georgina Cruz
For Al Día Today