What is the difference between Scandinavia and the Nordics?

The Deutsch, who are German, are neither Danish, Dutch, Scandinavian nor Nordic. The Dutch, who hail from the Netherlands, also commonly called Holland, are neither Danish, nor do they speak Danish.  This is despite a number of similarities including elements of the language, culture, and social behavior which are very close to those found across the Nordic and Scandinavian peoples.  Not only are the Dutch not Danish, they also fall outside of both the Scandinavian and Nordic categories. Also, while less common, it is important to recall that the Swiss are not the Swedes as they hail from Switzerland, which is not remotely near Sweden and also falls well outside the Nordic and Scandinavian regions.

So. Now that we’ve got THAT out of the way let’s tackle one of the most common questions I’ve heard and discussed. That is the difference between Scandinavia and the Nordics. For many, and perhaps with good reason, Scandinavia is thought of as a country and comes as part of the assumption that the Scandinavian people and by extension the Nordics are essentially all more or less one and the same. Before I re-located to Scandinavia, the distinct character of the various Scandinavian countries and the sharp contrasts between their Nordic siblings was something I found deeply confusing. Luckily, I’ve had a chance to learn a bit more about them. I’d like to share those thoughts with you.

Danish National Museum in Copenhagen

Scandinavia vs. the Nordics

The term Scandinavia encompasses the two countries that make up the near-majority of the Scandinavian peninsula and Denmark which consists of 400+ islands and the majority of the Jutland peninsula (Cimbrian Peninsula). Though Finland arguably shares the base of the Scandinavian peninsula with Norway and Sweden it is not considered a Scandinavian country.  Finland also tends to be excluded because, while they do share many behavioral traits, the Finnish language and much of the Finnish cultural heritage differs widely from those of the relatively homogeneous Scandinavian countries.

Oslo Culture Clash – Weekly Travel Photo

Oslo Fjord - Norway

Today’s feature highlights an interesting cross-section of history. Snapped in the Oslo Fjord, it is of a small fisherman’s church (or shrine, I’m not sure which) *Scratch that, I’ve been told it is a converted lighthouse that is now a restaurant – see the comments for more!* situated on a tiny piece of rock.   I took the photograph as our ferry passed it, steaming within a few meters of it and apparently quite confident that the rock didn’t reflect a submerged outcropping. I can only hope the model-sized church reflected a prayer and general tribute, and not a memorial to another vessel that wasn’t so careful, well informed, or lucky.

The ferry (more like a small cruise ship) was out of Copenhagen and proudly flying the old Danish colors.  Something that no doubt annoys the Norwegians as much as accomplishes any regulatory requirements that may go with it.

If you find yourself on a boat navigating the Oslo Fjord in Norway, make sure to keep an eye open for this great little landmark.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and it oozed its own special charm.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

A Norwegian Sunrise – Weekly Travel Photo

Oslo Harbor - Norway

We found our way to Oslo as part of a mini-cruise special.  The cruise ship – and it was a cruise ship, not the ferry I expected – left Copenhagen at 4PM in the afternoon, steamed over night to Oslo and then disgorged us near Oslo’s famous opera house on a cold January morning.  The deal was a fun one – $4.50 for the entire cruise.  The catch?  We had 7 hours in Oslo before we needed to be back aboard and steaming back to Copenhagen.

As we made our way up the final leg of the Oslo fjord we were treated to an incredible sight. Blanketed by clouds, the early morning light that surrounded us was a foggy gray. On the horizon, where the water met land and the clouds broke, golden morning rays were visible.  It was one of the strangest, and slowest, sunrises I’ve seen.  As the weak winter light fought against the thick, low hanging, coastal clouds the light slowly worked its way closer and closer to Oslo. A progression that mirrored our own voyage.  Then, as we disembarked and wandered the city – eventually finding our way down to the harbor which is where this photo of the Helena was taken – the light finally started to fall across the city, brightening it.

Though it was now late-morning the nature of the Nordic light made it difficult to tell if it was mid-day, just after sunrise, or just before sunset.  None of which really mattered to us, as the view and the sun’s hues were stunning.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a  Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – A Flower in Bloom in Oslo

Oslo Cultural Museum - Oslo, Norway

Norway has a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful destinations.  The majestic fjords, stunning waterfalls, and inspiring vistas of massive snow capped mountains have come to define the country.  Yet, there is an added richness that goes beyond that – small details which add to Norway’s charm and make it an ideal destination for a variety of other reasons.  This photo captures one of those charming aspects. Taken on the outskirts of Oslo at the Museum of Cultural History, this photograph features a beautiful flower in bloom along an old wooden fence in front of a traditional Norwegian farmhouse.   The museum, which has a large out door component, is home to wonderful old Norwegian buildings, horse drawn carriages, and cultural performers playing traditional music.  It is well worth a visit!

When you think of Norway, what image or memory comes to mind?

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos?  View past travel pictures here.

It’s Good to Have Friends

Stave Church, Oslo, Norway

As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been reading my Scandinavia trip posts, it was one heck of an adventure.  One filled with great food, amazing natural scenery, beautiful cities, fantastic cultures, and wonderful people.  I’d like to dedicate this post as a thank you and as a wonderful illustration of the value and power of social media as a way for coordinating meet-ups and maintaining international friendships.

While I met a lot of great people during my trip and will be keeping in touch with many of them, there are four in particular I owe a huge thank you to.  They opened their homes, treated me to meals, introduced me to their culture, shared their friends and set aside large chunks of time to show me around their cities.  The time spent with each was special and something I hope to reciprocate in the future.

Friends in Oslo

Hildur and Sten – I’ve known Hildur for a number of years and met her initially while she was at Arizona State University getting her undergraduate degree. As school wrapped up and we graduated she headed back to Norway and settled in Oslo. Which worked out great, as Oslo was my gateway to Scandinavia and first real taste of Norwegian culture. Upon my arrival Hildur introduced me to her boyfriend Sten – an awesome guy who volunteered to give me the premier local’s walking tour of Oslo.  Make sure to check out my blog posts from Oslo for an idea of what we covered during my visit.  From Viking museums to Palatial parks we hit them all.

The two really made my time in Oslo special.  They introduced me to a number of amazing local foods, taught me several park games, introduced me to a bunch of great people, and really shared a much better understanding of the city with me.  They also hosted me in their guest room for the duration of my stay.  Thank you!

Kevan in Copenhagen

Kevan – I met Kevan just under a year ago during my Central America trip.  At the time he and another friend where in Mexico to celebrate the New Years.  I rolled in to the hostel fresh off the bus from Guatemala, grabbed a beer and got to know everyone as the New Years festivities wound up. When Kevan noticed I was heading to Denmark/Copenhagen on Facebook he volunteered to show me around and set aside a day and a couple of evenings to introduce me to the town via a great walking tour, his group of friends and a fantastic tour of Copenhagen’s local watering holes.

A gracious and generous host, I really enjoyed the insights Kevan had to offer both into the history of the city, the local culture, and the general history of Denmark as a whole.  It’s an amazing place populated by an incredible people and somewhere I’m eager to re-visit and explore in great depth.  Believe it or not, I even learned a bit more about English as a result of our conversations.  Thank you!

Hamburg Friends

Philipp – Another friend from my Central America trip, I originally met Philipp in Playa del Carmen.  We met at the hostel during my first visit when four of us teamed up to rent a car and then set out to snorkel Dos Ojos, visit Tulum and look for turtles in Akumal.  With just over a day to properly explore Hamburg, Philipp stepped up and took me on a fantastic tour of the city.  The walk was a real kick – from underground tunnels to old Nazi fortresses and golden sand beaches we covered a ton of ground and history.  I was also introduced to a regional Germany drink I’d never had before and had the opportunity to dive into local German fare.

A great guide, he really went out of his way to show me around the city and share some of the more obscure elements of the city’s history with me. While I knew some of Hamburg’s history, I had no idea just how interesting a city it was, or how major a commercial player on the national scene. The tour was great, the food good and the company exceptional.  Thank you!

Bergen from Above, Norway

While still possible, most of these connections would have been nearly impossible to maintain without modern technology and infrastructure.  Without tools like facebook, IM and e-mail I probably would have all lost touch shortly after meeting.  Instead, we’ve been able to maintain our friendships and connect when opportunity permits. That’s an incredible thing, and one I really value and relish.

Each of the four I mentioned in this post showed fantastic hospitality and kindness.  They set a wonderful example and serve as a constant reminder for me, of how important it is to strive to pay-it-forward.  To host, and help travelers and friends when the opportunity presents itself. It’s a wonderful reminder that the little things are sometimes some of the most powerful.

So, on a closing note – thank you all once again!  I can’t wait to see when and where our paths cross next.

A Taste of Scandinavia’s Natural Beauty – HD Video Tour

Youtube not working? View it on Vimeo.

The above footage was shot in late June and early July 2010 during my trip to Norway and Denmark. While the majority of the footage is from the western coast of Norway, I’ve also included clips filmed in Copenhagen and Oslo.

While the footage is from a variety of locations and intermixed, several of the major/re-occuring areas are the point at Preikestolen which is commonly known as Preacher’s Pulpit, footage shot along the Flam Railway and the Nærøyfjord which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Have a question?  Enjoyed the video? Please feel free to leave a comment here, on the video, share it with friends or give it the ol’ thumbs up!  Footage was shot on a Canon Vixia HF200.


Wandering in Oslo, Norway

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

My final day in Oslo was spent meandering the city’s cobblestone streets, wandering through the old harbor, and resting lazily in the park reading my book.   I’d paused at the local rail station during the previous day’s walking tour and picked up a discount reservation for an overnight train from Oslo to Stavanger on Norway’s western coast.  To my disappointment, my Eurail pass only reserved a reclining airplane like seat, but – it would have to do.   The train left late in the evening – 10PM if memory serves and would take just over 8 hours as it wound its way along the southern coast, before hockey-sticking up through the Fjords to Stavanger.

Downtown - Oslo, Norway

The late departure gave me the entire day to explore the city and relax.  Hildur was off work at 4:30 which gave me a sold 4 or 5 hours to explore.   Eager to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I struck off down towards the old harbor.  My path took me along major streets with old buildings, showcasing an eclectic mixture of architectural styles from all over the world.  Despite the inherent beauty in most of the buildings, one stands out in my memory: the US Embassy. The building stood on the corner of the street which encircles the Palatial Park/Main Palace.  It was an odd building.  Ringed by an imposing 10+ ft tall black fence, the building was all blacks and grays.  About 3 stories, it was square, with an odd architectural design, one which had arrow slit like windows.  The whole thing oozed a sense of…I don’t want to say Evil…but perhaps…unfriendliness is a better word.  It may have just been the color and the architectural era it hailed from.  Either way, it left me feeling disappointed and misrepresented.

The Harbor - Oslo, Norway

Though I’d poked around the main Harbor the day before, I relished the opportunity to continue my exploration.  The harbor is home to some 5-10 “tall ships” which is to say old/classically modeled sailing vessels.  Many have been converted into tour vessels but others are still classic sailing ships.  All offer a beautiful ambiance to the harbor which is ringed by cafes and small kiosks not to mention an incredible view back towards the down town area.

Street Performer - Oslo, Norway

From the harbor I struck back up, re-tracing the previous day’s steps, towards the Parliament building and central greenbelt.  From there it was up and down the main shopping street. Lined with people, the street also provided a wide selection of street performers.   From jugglers, to musicians most of the usual types were in attendance.  Some of the more a-typical ones, however, included a puppeteer playing the piano, and cripple using his two crutches to alternately perform tricks while bouncing a ball with them.  The sights and sounds left me chuckling at times, wincing at others and of course scratching my head in bafflement at yet others.

Flowered Square - Oslo, Norway

The street eventually led me down  towards the main train station, where I headed to the left, and quickly ended up in a picturesque square which was doubling as a flower market.  The market was awash in colors, scents and people as passerby’s paused to relax, pick up flowers, or wound through the square on their way to some errand or meeting.

Children at Play - Oslo, Norway

Eventually my meanderings took me back through the warren of H&M stores and small cafe’s towards the old National Theater.   The boulevard it sits on is split down the middle by a series of small fountains, flowerbeds overflowing with blooming flowers, and of course the usual assortment of relaxing and sunbathing Norwegians.  I paused briefly next to one of the fountains to capture the photo above – two young children at plan.  There’s something about it which just seemed to strike me as being a bit classic.  Boy meets girl.  Boy wears blue. Girl wears red. Both enjoy the innocence of youth, combined with the joys of a youthful, inquisitive nature, while relaxing in front of a gorgeous fountain on a beautiful blue day.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

From the fountain I decided to see if I could explore the inside of the city hall.  It was, after all, a rather unique building.  It seemed only natural that the interior would be equally interesting.  The 5 minute walk down to the main structure was quick and enjoyable.  I say walk, but it was more a lazy meandering as I lankily ambled my way along the sidewalk.   The building – a massive red brick creation – served as a picturesque backdrop for various pieces of artwork, often added seemingly at random.  A prime example is the large clock shown above, which I found all the more beautiful due to the relatively basic and plane brick backdrop that it had been set within.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

The building’s main entrance was equally interesting.  Though not completed until 1950 due to the War, the building was started in 1931 which is reflected in its general feel and appearance. Parts of the design left me thinking of a simpler, less ornate version of the Chrysler Building in New York.  Interestingly, the City Hall is also the site of the award ceremony each year where Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

The building’s immediate interior is a massive open room.  The room has a variety of different murals – all done in a similar style – decorating each of the walls.  The murals reflect the nation’s history and toils, while conveying a very propaganda-esq artistic style. One which, at least in the US, we’ve often come to associate with former Soviet and more Socialist governments. The murals focus on the people, their labors, culture and wars.  Not surprising given the building’s history and completion in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The Palace - Oslo, Norway

After leaving the City Hall, I found my way back up past the Royal Palace before connecting with Hildur, who had just gotten off work.  After a quick nap, we decided to pick up some Sushi to go (which to my surprise was only slightly more expensive than fast food), before heading to the park to enjoy the weather.  We ate, chatted, and enjoyed the weather before saying our goodbyes. It was time to head to the rail station and to continue my exploration of Norway’s culture and natural beauty.

My stay in Oslo was incredible.  Made that much more delightful by my incredible hosts, who truly went out of their way to share their city, culture and local cuisine with me.  I owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will always have very fond memories of Oslo, in no small part, due to their hospitality.

Oslo Continued – Local Food and Playing in the Park

The Harbor - Oslo, Norway

When I last left you, Sten and I had just finished exploring a large portion of Oslo.  It was a fantastic insight into the city, Norse history and local culture. But, I wasn’t done.  In fact, my hosts still had  a few surprises left up their sleeves.

After a quick hello, and then a far longer nap (dare I cry jetlag?)  I eventually stumbled out of bed and wandered into the living room.  A bit groggy but generally feeling refreshed I settled into a stool and joined the others.  As it turned out, we’d all crashed for longer than anticipated. When the sun never sets, a nap here or there quickly turns into a great idea.

Local Food - Oslo, Norway

To my delight Hildur had picked up some pre-cooked whole shrimp on her way home from work, and had set to preparing a classic regional dish.  The ingredients were simple.  Boiled and well salted shrimp, sliced bread, mayo, sliced green onions and lemon.  Combine it all as pictured in the image above, and then enjoy.  It was delicious, and a meal I hope to replicate sometime in the near future.  The shrimp in particular caught my attention – the Norwegian shrimp are a different species than the ones I’m familiar with in the US. They’re a deeper orange-almost red when cooked, slightly smaller and have a saltier/stronger shrimp taste. Stuffed, we decided to enjoy the weather and set out towards the park.  Hildur grabbed a bag of blocks – which I later learned was a fun game to play in the park.

The 3 minute walk to the park was pleasant.  The weather perfect – riding that fine line between cool and warm.  The sun had started its ever so gradual descent leaving everything with the slight suggestion of Sunset despite the reality that it was still hours off.  As seems to be the case with most Scandinavian parks in summer, despite the late hour (it was perhaps 10PM), there were still lots of people out and about.  BBQing, lounging, drinking, chatting, and playing an assortment of park games.

For our part we set up shop next to one of the small ponds, then found a flat area to play our game.  To my surprise, it was one I’d never seen before.   Each team set up a series of rectangular blocks standing on end.  The blocks were spaced about a foot apart in a long line, parallel to your opposition’s blocks. Each team had 6 or 8.   Located in the middle – about 10 feet from either side – was a larger, taller rectangular block.

The goal?  Each individual used three foot long round, wooden, stakes which were lobbed straight at the opposing bricks.  The goal?  Knock as many down as you could, before eventually going after the central block.  The catch?  Distance, aim, and a few additional challenges which went with each block which you managed to knock down.

All in all the game was one of the more entertaining park games I’ve played in a long time (afraid I’m not a huge fan of Frisbee).  The company was great, and the setting…well…how often can you claim to have spent a relaxing evening playing in the park in the shadow of Norway’s Royal Palace?