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Fun Things To Do In Norway And Sweden -- Best Scandinavia Attractions
Though we weren't sure what to expect when we visited Norway and Sweden, both my husband and I had positive memories of being in Scandinavia. We'd loved our vacation in Iceland; meanwhile, his first time out of the country had been to Finland -- a trip he still speaks fondly of. That said, we were almost certain that we'd have a great time returning to that area. We were right.
Scandinavia was one of the most beautiful areas we've been to with jagged, snow-capped mountains, crystal blue lakes and fjords, charming towns and cities and lush, green forests. When we were there, the air felt cleaner, everything seemed to be more peaceful and we just felt a lot calmer than do in New York City.
We easily could've spent a year exploring Norway and Sweden, but because we only had a week, chose to go to Stockholm, Sweden, Oslo, Norway and Tromso, Norway. We do intend to return, though and see the rest of these exciting countries.
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From the moment we entered Stockholm, we were blown away by its beauty. The city is actually built on many small islands, so it's surrounded by water. The streets are clean and bright, and the old turreted buildings are colorful and opulent. As we rode in the cab to our hotel -- the uber-modern Clarion Stockholm -- our driver played tour guide, pointing out all the sights. We couldn't believe how grand the museums and even the apartments looked.
One of the great things about visiting Scandinavia in the summer is that it doesn't get dark until about 11 p.m. (or in the case of Tromso, never, but I'll get to that later). Even though we didn't begin our first "day" until 6 p.m., we still managed to have a full schedule.
That evening, we met up with for dinner with a friend who lives in Stockholm. Sweden is known for having great food, so we went to a pub and enjoyed some traditional Swedish comfort food. I had probably the best Swedish meatballs I've ever had (which shouldn't be too surprising!), which were served with roasted potatoes and lingonberry sauce. My husband had a herring appetizer and Sweden's answer to beef and potato hash.
After, we attended the Stockholm Jazz Festival, which happened to be held the week we were there. They actually got some great names to play, including Steely Dan and Ziggy Marley (most of the acts weren't actually jazz). We saw Lala, a half-Swedish, half-Iranian singer, whose music reminded us of Tori Amos's. Lala sung in both Swedish and English, so we could understand at least some of her stuff, but it didn't really matter. It was 10 p.m., the sun was shining, and the surprisingly-non-blonde crowd was having a great time. It was the perfect way to kick off our trip.
Since we were only in Stockholm for a day and a half, we spent the next day simply walking around and exploring the city. First, we wandered through the old section, known as the Gamla Stan. After visiting the local Tomtar (troll) shop --really! -- we enjoyed an impromptu concert in the sqaure. We then noticed droves of people hurrying over to the palace, so we followed them. Turns out, it was time for the chaging off the guard. A few moments later, a parade of well-dressed soldiers rode through the streets on white horses, while a band played behind them. We hadn't expected to see this, so it was a nice surprise.
Later, after taking a boat ride around the islands, we sat down for lunch in one of the small parks near the water, where a carnival was being held. Again, we encountered a random event: a Children's Cancer Research organization was selling balloons to gain money for their cause. They then released 30,000 into the sky, breaking the previous record. Watching so many balloons drift away was quite a sight..
We finished our day by walking through town to Skansen, this bizarre park that has a zoo, an amusement park and miniature models of Srockholm's buildings. My favorite exhibit was the lemur house, where they have about 25 lemurs that they basically let run wild. The animals will leap around you and climb right past you; it was a little surreal and definitely not what I expected to experience in Sweden, of all places!
Stockholm, Sweden, a crown jewel
Thet next day, we were off to Oslo, Norway. I have to say, SAS is probably the most efficient airline we've ever taken. Our flight was going to be a mere five minutes late, and they were right there, making announcements and apologizing for the "inconvenience." In the States, we're lucky if our flights leave within a half hour of their scheduled time.
Our travel book ragged on Oslo, calling it "dreary" and "without character." Well, we beg to differ. No, it's not as stunning as Stockholm, at least not at first glance, but as we walked through the city, we stopped to admire plenty of well-kept Victorian homes and lush green parks.
Oslo's premier park is the Vigeland Sculpture Garden, which was designed by the Norweigian sculptor, Gustav Vigeland. He specialized in creating nude statues placed in unique poses, and he liked to include all ages from babies to the dead.
The park, which is beautiful in itself, contains over 200 of his works. It's very difficult to describe, and you have to see all the statues at once to get the full effect, but I'll attempt to share it. As you enter the park, you walk down a promenade lined with these figures, all naked and many in provocative poses. There was a man tossing a woman over his back; another had a woman holding a baby in the air. The most popular figure is of an angry baby, but my personal favorite was of a man shaking several babies off of his feet and arms. I titled it, "Man Flinging Babies."
Once you get to the end of the walkway, there are steps leading up to a platform with a fountain. Surrounding it are more of his figures, holding up the fountain and lining it. They're arranged in a "circle of life" formation, going from babies to people dying.
The final level is up several flights of steps on top of a hill. In the center is a huge monolith, covered with more figures; then circled around it are other statues placed in that circle of life order. These were the most evocative and you couldn't help staring at them. Somehow this artist managed to capture every pose and emotion, and even made the dying figures beautiful.
The next day was spent enjoying the many ruins and musems present in Oslo. We stopped by the Viking ship museum, then visited the most well-known site in Norway: Askerhus Castle. Those of you who've been to "Norway" in Disney's Epcot have seen it (sort of); this is the castle that Disney chose to represent the country ... only the real fortress does not have the Maelstrom flume ride inside!
Later, we took a ferry out to see a thousand-year old monestary on one of the small islands. We were practically the only people there so we got to enjoy the ruins ourselves. We then returned to Vigeland Park. This time, it was packed with tourists, but it was still a special place. That was definitely one of the highlights of Oslo, not to mention our entire trip.
We ended our day by having dinner in an Indian restaurant that overlooked the square. As we ate our meal and people-watched, we again regretted spending such a short time in that city.
Tour Of Vigeland Sculpture Garden
The final place we visited was Tromso, Norway. Tromso is the world's northermost official city, sitting well above the arctic circle. However, while it's colder there, the ocean currents keep it relatively warm. Also, in the summer, the sun stays out for 24 hours ... which was very cool, but seriously messed with our sleeping patterns.
While there, we stayed at the Thon Hotel, which is a popular chain in Norway. While it wasn't the fanciest place, our room at least had nice, thick curtains to keep out the sun.
Our first night there, we walked over the fairly large bridge to the mountains on the other side of the fjord. Sitting at the base of the mountains is the Arctic Cathedral, a white, modern church designed to look sort of like one of the mountains, or maybe an icicle. Each summer night at 11:30 p.m., they hold a concert there to welcome the midnight sun. At the one we attended, we heard an excellent alto sax player, who performed along with a pianist and organist. We finally headed back home around 12:15 a.m. Walking over the bridge with the sun still out was a very odd experience.
In Tromso, we also did some hiking, stopped by the world's northermost botanical garden, and went to see the local aquarium's seal exhibit. But our most memorable adventure -- besides the church concert -- was going on a 6 1/2 hour whale watching cruise. We happened to pick a day when it was pouring outside, though the whales don't really care. Still, while the first part of the ride through the fjord was beautiful, the water became rather choppy as we headed out into the ocean. Plus, it was freezing and for the first couple of hours we didn't see any whales. But then we finally saw several, including one that took a spectacular dive, showing off his tail. I never knew that whale watching would turn out to be such hard work, and that such large creatures could be so elusive!
Tour Of Tromso, Norway
Scandinavia In A Nutshell
Scandinavia comes with many stereotypes: quiet, reserved people and cold, dark nights. However, while the winters are cold and the people are rather reserved, we experienced nothing but warmth and hospitality from Norway and Sweden.