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

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

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Brown goat cheese.
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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
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          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
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Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
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Stavanger—Norway's Secret
by Bob Brooke

At first glance, Gamle Stavanger, or Old Stavanger, the area of town closest to the water, looks like a transplanted, salty New England village, with its cobblestone streets lined with one and two-story wooden houses faced with white clapboard. The air smells salty, too, since the town lies along the Norway’s southwest coast.

But then you notice little differences. The roofs on most of the 18th and 19th-century houses are unglazed tile, and casement windows punctuate their facades. But what really stands out are the brightly painted blue doors. Every street is neat as a pin. Charm seems to seep out of the seaside atmosphere. The town also boasts the best light in Norway for photographers and artists. It’s a picture perfect old town with spectacular scenery beyond to rival some of the most majestic in the world.

Stavanger offers a total Norwegian maritime experience. Norway has a long history with the sea and the town has been involved in most of it.

Stavanger is Norway’s oldest city and its third largest. It’s name comes from the Old Norse form of Stafangr. Many historians believe that it was originally the name of the inlet now called Vågen, which was the original site of the town, on the east shore of the bay. The first part of the name is stafr meaning “staff or branch.”. The second part is angr meaning “inlet or bay.” Facing the North Sea, Stavanger has always been economically dependent on its access to the sea.

The first traces of settlement in the Stavanger region date from the days when the ice retreated after the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. A number of historians have argued that North Jæren was an economic and military center as far back as the 9th and 10th centuries with the consolidation of the nation at the Battle of Hafrsfjord around 872.

With the founding of the Bishopric of Stavanger by Bishop Reinald in the 1120s, the town took on a new role as a religious center. But with the Protestant Reformation in 1536, Stavanger's role as a religious center declined, and the establishment of Kristiansand in the early 17th century led to the relocation of the bishopric. However, rich herring fisheries in the 19th century gave the city new life.

This history of Stavanger is one of boom and bust. During most of this time, the shipping, shipbuilding, and fish canning industries sustained it. The latest boom was after the discovery of oil in the North Sea. Today, the city has become the supply center for the off-shore oil rigs.

While other Norwegian coastal towns have suffered from the precarious fortunes of fishing, Stavanger has over the years grown into one of Norway's most dynamic economic power bases. Fish canning and its own merchant fleet brought initial prosperity, which shipbuilding and, more recently, the oil industry have since sustained: the port builds the rigs for theoffshore oilfields and afterward refines the oil before dispatch.

Stavanger was one of the first settlements in Norway influenced by the European Christian culture during the Viking era. In the mid 10th century, traditional Norse burial customs ceased in the Stavanger area, at the same time as the first Christian priests began their work. Large stone crosses are visible memorials of this early Christian age.

Archaeological investigations in the current downtown and in the crypt of the Domkirke show that the great fire of 1272 probably left large parts of the city and the Cathedral in ruins, including the Cathedral’s Romanesque chancel.

Stavanger has a long history of education in Western Europe. The first organized education in the city probably took place at a Benedictine monastery in the mid-12th century. Stavanger was a church city throughout the Middle Ages up to the Reformation. But the Reformation, however, dealt a hard blow to the Church in specific and Stavanger in general. The cathedral, the bishop and canons of the monastery had been large landowners. Recession of the city began with the loss of people in rural areas, as a result of which the revenues of the cathedral and the bishop fell dramatically due to reduced rental income. In 1537, the king confiscated the bishop's and the monastery's estate and property.

Old Stavanger
Gamle Stavanger is the least changed part of town. The buildings here are a product of their own wealthy age. Wooden warehouses flank the western dockside, split by a succession of narrow lanes. Stroll up any of them, and you're in the heart of the residential quarter, once home to local seamen and visiting merchants. The long rows of white-painted houses, gas lamps, picket fences, and tiny terraced gardens, most dating from the late 18th century, make for an engaging walk along the cobbled streets.

Here, amongst the clapboard houses stands the Norwegian Canning Museum, a reconstructed sardine-canning factory which gives a glimpse of the industry that saved Stavanger from decay in the 19th century.

Walk back through Gamle Stavanger toward the center, and you'll pass the Maritime Museum, which offers another insight into Stavanger’s history. The exhibits are as much to do with the trade that the shipping industry engendered as the sea itself. Be sure to see the old sailmaker's room and various reconstructed shop and office interiors.

Along the length of the harbor, there's a daily market, selling flowers and produce, while for fresh fish you should check out the teeming watertanks on the wharf. The streets around Skagen, on the eastern side of the harbor, make up the town's shopping area, a bright mix of spidery lanes, pedestrianized streets and white-timbered houses, that covers the area where the original settlement of medieval Stavanger once lay—though little remains of the layout, or the atmosphere. The Valberg Tower was a 19th-century fire watchtower which gives sweeping views of the city from its top.

The only relic of medieval Stavanger is close to Lake Breiavatnet which sits in the middle of the city. The pointed-hat towers of the Domkirke, or cathedral, hide a Romanesque church altered by modern restoration. The classically simple interior, built by English craftsmen, has been spoiled by ornate 17th-century additions, including an intricate pulpit and five huge memorial tablets adorning the walls of the aisles: all a whirling jumble of richly carved angels, crucifixes, death masks, animals, and apostles.

Around from the cathedral east of the lake is the Norwegian Emigration Center, with its extensive archives. If you have any Norwegian ancestry, this is the place that will help you learn about your past.


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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

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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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