Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.


"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in

Correct answer?
OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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Salt Herring—The Fish of Destiny
by Bob Brooke

Salt herring played a major role in the destiny of Europe. By the 12th Century, it was a staple of the European diet, and it’s easy to see why. Two of these fatty fish furnish roughly 600 calories and two and a half ounces of protein. This is just about all the protein a person needs in a day.

Salt herring saved many an inhabitant of a beleaguered city from starvation and fed many an army on the march and in camp. Indirectly it helped start some of Europe's greatest navies. More than one sailor learned the rudiments of seamanship in a herring boat.

But even with this most plentiful of foods the Scandinavians had a somewhat fragile relationship. The herring, appearing offshore one year in shoals a half dozen miles long and wide, the next year could vanish almost completely. Explanations of the phenomenon varied as much as the runs.

As early as the l0th century a historian called Snorro attributed a magnificent herring run and a fine harvest to a beneficent reign. But when the herring stopped running, the blame was laid on "magic, bad men having sunk a copper horse in the sea." In 1549 the government of Denmark (which then ruled Norway) was sufficiently worried about the possibility of a decrease in the catch to issue an edict: "Since there is danger that God may withdraw his blessing on account of the great sins and vices of inhabitants of the coasts, our tax gatherers, each one in his own district, shall see to it that the people in the fishing stations lead good and Christian lives; that there is preaching every Sunday, and people exhorted to lead a Godly life, so that God may be moved by the prayers of good Christians to extend his blessing to us also in the future."

So venerated was the herring that it was looked upon as a bearer of divine messages. In 1587 anxiety spread through the realm when two herring fished from the North Sea off the coast of Norway flopped over to reveal Gothic letters on their sides. The Danish king interpreted the letters as foretelling his death, but three wise men intervened and read the message differently: "You will not fish for herring so well in the future as other nations." This turned out to be true, but since that interpretation was no less gloomy than the first, other learned men took up the task of trying to figure out the fish-borne prophecy. One scholar published a work that argued that the herring's message spelled the doom of Europe.

Even when the herring were abundant, there was always the hazard that there wouldn’t be enough salt available to preserve the catch. The Baltic's waters are too sweet to yield salt in any appreciable amount, and although the salinity of the North Sea is higher, a pale and unreliable sun prevented the Scandinavians from utilizing with much success the evaporation method employed by the French and the Spaniards. When dune grass was burned along Denmark's west coast to extract the salt from the grass, a method followed by the Dutch, the destruction of the plants enabled the sand to spread, overwhelming gardens and farms. The Scandinavians had no alternative but to import their salt, and in this the Germans saw an opportunity. The merchants of Lubeck began exchanging it for goods and wound up by moving en masse into Scandinavian ports, eventually taking over the lucrative herring trade. The imposing Gothic ruins of the Hanseatic League city of Visby on the island of Gotland Sweden, attest to the power and wealth the German Hansas thus obtained for themselves.

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Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

Read more about Swedish burials

News from Norway
from Aftenposten
News from Denmark
News from Sweden
from the SR International 
News from Finland
from Finnish News Agency STT
News from Iceland
from The Iceland Review
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In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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To read more articles by Bob Brooke, visit his Web site.

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