Archive for the ‘Norway’ Category

Lillehammer’s Legacy - and New Look

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

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There has been much discussion in the news over the U.S. vs Madrid bid for the 2016 Olympics and it has inspired us here at the Nordic Company to reflect on what we think was a shining moment for Norway and one of the most exciting times in Scandinavian travel for us: in 1994,when the Winter Olympics came to Lillehammer.

Norway was made for the Winter Olympics. Their cold climate and constant snow coupled with their rough-and-rugged population that prids themselves on physical fitness is precisely what has allowed them to nab 280 medals at the Winter Olympics - more than any other nation. In fact, Norway is just one of three nations to have won more medals at the Winter Olympics than at the Summer Olympics.

At the heart of their Olympic pride lies the Holmenkollen Ski Jump.  Opened in 1892, the Holmenkollen remains the second oldest ski jump in the world. It became the focal point of the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, rising 60 meters above ground and 417 meters above sea level. It is now also one of Norway’s best known tourist destinations. From the top, visitors are afforded a spectacular panaromic view of the city of Oslo and its glittering Oslofjord. Below, the Holmenkollen Ski Museum (opened in 1923 and still the oldest ski musuem in the world) offers a comprehensive history of the area and an interactive video game that allows you to see and feel what ski jumpers do when they put themselves over the edge. It’s crazy!

But don’t let the ski jump take you away from the town either. What makes Lillehammer so unique is that it remains the host of the last Winter Olympics to date that has been held in a small town. Norway beat out Alaska and Sweden for the bid and Lillehammer has since flourished into a charming, but quaint tourist haven with good shopping and delicious cafes.

If you ask the locals what they think were the highlights from the 1994 Olympics, aside from Norway’s many medals, they usually tell you two things: “When Tanya Harding’s ex-husband hired a man to take out Nancy Kerrigan in the knee” and “when on the day of the opening ceremony, art thieves stole the famous Edvard Munch painting from the National Museum in Oslo.” And next, they will tell you about the construction taking place at Holmenkollen right now, set for an improved ski jump to open in 2012 for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championship.

This last bit has become a particular obsession of mine. The architecture company has been kind enough to post a webcam of the construction process on their website - which you can check out here, but be careful, because witnessing the building of a legacy - well, like most things in Scandinavia, it’s addicting.

The Book Towns of Norway

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

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Book town tourism is fast becoming one of the more popular forms of off-beat travel and Norway is one Scandinavian country that stands to benefit from it. Book shops attract a certain kind of eccentric - the literature lovers, the world-curious, historians, and people just passing by. They also give rise to cities that might not be as well-known at first glance, but are worth checking out. The concept of book towns as a form of tourism was partially developed by Richard Booth of Hay-on-Wye in Wales, UK.  Established as a book hub in 1962, Hay-on-Wye attracts approximately 300,000 visitors each year and is frequently dubbed the “book capital of the world.” Booth later went on to create the International Organization of Book Towns - of which both Tvedestrand, Norway and Fjaerland, Norway are proud members of.

Fjaerland’s reputation as a book town is not something you have to read between the lines to know about either. We send clients here every year as a scenic stop along their journey through the Sognefjord. What makes Fjaerland special is that you’re not wandering into just any old standard book shop,  (see above photo for an example); the locals have converted barns, stables, and even old boathouses into storage space and display cases for beautiful antique books. Their town boasts 12 shops total and over 250,000 books.

And if you grow tired of sifting through the shelves and reading off the fine print, you can always check out the endless array of cafes and arts and crafts shops. If you want to stretch your legs even furhter, you’re not far from the mighty Jostedalbreen glacier and two National Parks. There, you can hike to your heart’s content and stop at a scenic point where you can relax and do a little reading from your new book (that you picked up at a local book shop!)  Fjaerland was also host to the International Book Town Festival in 2006.

If one book town is not enough, we’ll send you to Tvedestrand on the southern coast of Norway where you can weave your way through the “book triangle” - the area of Tvedestrand where most of the book shops are located. Tvedestrand is a coastal town that offers an elegent old quarter of white wooden houses, a welcoming harbor and a wealth of water acitivites to try. In addition to book hunting, you can also check out Lyngor, a town that sits between four islands off the coast, as was once ranked the “best kept village in Europe” or partake in diving, sailing, swimming, or fishing.

If a book town tour sounds like your thing, you should book today. :) Over 250,000 fairytales await your discovery!

Den Norske Matfestivalen

Monday, August 31st, 2009

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If you were in Alesund, Norway this past week, it is likely you are settling down for a three day sleep with quite a fully belly! That’s because August 26th - August 30th was the 25th annual celebration of the Norwegian Food Festival. “Den Norske Matfestivalen” - as its referred to in Norwegian - was originally started as a feature food day to counteract what had previously become a festival based solely around agricultural tools and supplies. Now the Norwegian Food Festival carries the delicious aromas of clipfish, whale, cloudberries, acquivit - you name it. People from all over the world come to bask in the gastronomical delights that fill Alesund’s sparkling thoroughfare. Patrons can attend food and wine seminars, outdoor concerts, cooking competitions, and of course, eat until their heart’s content.

The Norwegian Food Festival’s official mission - as stated on their website - is to promote the production, development, and consumption of Norwegian food derived from Norwegian raw ingredients from agriculture and fishing, but I have to say - half the fun of the festival is simply getting there. Your options are are plenty. You can hop on the beautiful coastal Hurtigruten ship and cruise straight into the Alesund port or you can catch a quick flight out of Oslo and Bergen. Our favorite - you can pick up a rental car and taking the winding E136 through the glimmering Nordic countryside. If you get lost, just let your tastebuds guide you and you’ll be there in no time! Skal!

Scenes from Norway

Monday, August 24th, 2009

There are lots of ways to get yourself psyched up for your upcoming Nordic Company vacation, but one of my favorites, is stalking Scandinavia on Youtube.  There’s something about picturesque scenery set to the heartfelt piano of Edvard Grieg or a chorus of Norwegian school children that brings me to tears every time. This video in particular is quite cheesy, but incredibly beautiful. It is interesting that the creator of this post hasn’t even been to Norway and he still loves it so much. That says something about the enigma of Norway and the rugged, versatile landscape that it has to offer.

If you like bustling cities and vibrant nightlife, Oslo and Bergen boast some of the best scenes. If you’re in search of peaks to climb and glaciers to conquer, head north and Norway will not disappoint. If you prefer the coastline, you can take an express boat and weave in and out of the majestic fjords. If you’re looking for something extended, you can take a ride on the Hurtigruten cruise that snakes all the way up Norway’s western coast, ending in Trondheim. The people are charming, the food delicious, and each season presents a unique array of entertainment, opportunity, and scenery. No matter what time you choose to go or by what mode of travel, your memories are sure to be unforgettable. Here’s one more - a humorous one - for the road…(warning: some adult content).

Midsummer is Coming!

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

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The Nordic Company’s (and likely all of Scandinavia’s) favorite time of year is fast approaching! If you’re going to be in Scandinavia for late June, specifically June 23rd, you’d better be ready to participate in bonfires, folk songs, and dancing around the maypole. Midsummer is the longest and brightest day of the year and Scandinavians have a lot to celebrate since they’ve spent the past few months shrouded in darkness.

Sweden remains the best known for it’s midsummer festivities. The bonfires are big, the maypole is always visible even if it may appear to be too old-school to dance around it, and the normally reserved Swedes are, quite frankly, kind of crazy!  Swedes get the day before midsummer off (known as Midsummer’s Eve) so this helps them to start their weekend. Usually, family and friends head to their countryside cottages to celebrate. The bonfires pop up in accordance with the pagan tradition that fires ensure fertile soil and ward off any witches. Another popular belief has young girls picking seven different types of flower’s on midsummer’s eve. They then put the flowers under their pillows and this helps them to dream of their future love. Because misummer is such an old tradition, there is lots of folklore surrounding the events, but in general, it is a holiday to have fun, be with family, and celebrate the arrival of summer.

The Nordic Company recommends heading to the countryside for midsummer because you will find the cities to be deserted of locals. Many of our scenic hotels offer special midsummer celebrations. Sitting up in the early hours of the morning, watching the first rays of midsummer sunlight peak between the fjords is one of those moments you’ll never forget!

Now is the Perfect Time for Heritage Travel

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

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I was thinking a lot today about how to rejuvenate people’s spirits in such tough times. Taking a vacation has always seemed to be the cure-all, but in a recession, travel expenses frequently become just another form of anxiety. However, looking over our clientele this year, the rare exception to this rule is heritage travel. When the economy takes a hit and we are forced to re-evaluate our lifestyles, this soul-searching almost always leads to the desire to seek out our ancestral roots.

Many clients have to come me this year with the expressed need to “see where it all began” and “remember where we came from” in hopes of putting their current lives in perspective. Thankfully, due to the Nordic Company’s strong overseas relationships with transportation suppliers, hotels, and the genealogical services - heritage travel remains one of our more inexpensive Scandinavian options. Clients are able to travel to their family homestead and often times reconnect with relatives (many times removed) who still live on the farm. Hearing the retelling of this kind of reunion always sends shivers up my spine! People who have a stronger identity typically exhibit a stronger willpower and that kind of willpower is what sees them through a difficult state (such as our recession).

Our clients come home ripe with wonder at the simplicity of Scandinavia, its rich conversation, and its stupefying scenery, but most importantly, they come home with their hearts a little fuller and their heads ready to move forward. “It’s an experience I will definitely carry with me for the rest of my life,” one client told me. The Nordic Company understands that it is these kinds of heart-enriching (rather than pocket-book dipping) experiences that are in demand today and we do everything in our power to deliver the best.

Bring Me to Balestrand!

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Sometimes, when I’m sitting in the office on one of our manic Mondays where the phone is ringing incessantly and we have about forty documents to ship out that day, I need to take a breather. I lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and almost immediately, without fail, my mind brings to me to Balestrand.  It’s ironic, really, that when I’m trying to escape from work that I am thinking of a place that has to do exactly with my work, but I suppose that’s why I send people to Scandinavia - because I love it so.

Balestrand is an idyllic little pitstop that we suggest to all of our travelers to Norway. It is a unique twist that the Nordic Company offers in its Norway in a Nutshell package as well as a venture we try to incorporate in all of independent itineraries. Why? Well, take a look at the view for starters.

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After a spectacular train ride from Oslo to Flam, and then a ferry from Flam to Balestrand, you can soak in the might and wonder of the Sognefjord from the balcony of your historic hotel, Kvikne’s. Kvikne’s Hotel is famed worldwide for its traditional charm and family ownership. The Nordic Company is personal friends with Kari and Sigrid Kvikne. It is a popular location for weddings, family reunions, and obviously, relaxation. Kvikne’s Hotels offers a spectacular array of cuisine and exceptional hospitality while town of Balestrand and nearby Flam afford a wealth of activities including glacier hiking at Fjaerland, biking through Flam, waterfall visits, hiking, and even a trip to a goat farm!

If you’re a little intimidated by the grandeur of Kvikne’s, you can always stay at its sister hotel, the Balestrand. And when we say sister hotel, we mean sister. The Balestrand Hotel is owned by Kari Kvikne’s sister, Unni Marie. A green volvo will usually be waiting for you at the ferry dock to take you and your bags directly to the hotel, a service Unni Marie provides free of charge….And your stay at the Balestrand will still allow take your dinners at Kvikne’s, providing you with the best of both worlds.

Norway’s New Star Power

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

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As if we need to give you another reason to travel to spectacular Norway…but seriously, take a look Alexander Rybak’s adorable face and listen to that voice! Last night, the violinist, singer, composer, and actor who calls Norway home, stole the hearts of Europe on the musical talent show, Eurovision, with his song “Fairytale.” Rybak is already a well known star in his hometown of Akershus and the winner of many awards across Norway. His success on Eurovision has now cast him in an international spotlight.

Rybak secured his win with 387 votes, a record number in Eurovision’s 53-year history and he even beat out a fellow Scandinavian from Iceland, who took third place. Alexander Rybak’s “Fairytale” can only add to the allure of Norway. It’s not hard to believe such a beautiful voice can come from a land marked by rich countryside, majestic fjords, and stunning glaciers and Rybak’s fame is sure to attract more travelers.

Akershus is located just outside of Oslo and if Rybak is hanging around Norway, you may or may not see him performing at one of the many elegant concert halls in Oslo and the upcoming summer music festivals. To tap into the Olso music scene, we suggest checking out the following: Oslo Konserthus, Bla - a very popular music bar, Valle Hovin outdoor concert venue, the Oslo Summer Festival, Oslo Jazz Festival, and the Oslo Chamber Music Festival.

May marks the start of the Scandinavian festival season

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

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Tomorrow marks the beginning of May and there is a lot to be excited about in Scandinavia. In the office, May means the summer travel blitz is officially underway; we are taking calls, designing itineraries, and sending off our clients on their much anticipated tours. In Scandinavia, May always offers a wealth of art and outdoor activities that allow you maximize your vacation stay. For example, we recommend starting in Stavanger, Norway for Stavanger’s International Jazz Festival that spans May 6 – 10. The Nordic Company has sent many clients to this festival over the years and they can’t say enough about a jazz scene juxtaposed by fjord scenery! Next, make your way to Copenhagen for their annual Architecture and Design Days, May 16-18.

For fascinating art and arguably equally fascinating political climate, catch an Icelandair flight to Reykjavik for the Reykjavik Arts Festival, May 15 – May 31. Iceland is increasingly breaking into the international scene in terms of art and music and this is the perfect chance to see where they get their muse from. Finish back in Denmark to make your trip come full circle by taking a spin at the Aalborg Carnival in late May. The Aalborg Carnival is the largest carnival in Northern Europe and probably the only time you’ll find a whimsical event that rivals the fame of Tivoli!

Dinner for Two - Oslo

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and Scandinavia provides a wealth of romantic moments and intimate dining experiences to make your day special. The Nordic Company will not only make your reservations, we’ll make it a night to remember. Over the next couple of entries, we’ll let you in on some of our favorites.

Theatercafeen at the Hotel Continental – Oslo, Norway
The New York Time’s lauded the Theatercafeen restaurant as one of the world’s top ten most famous cafes and you don’t even have to leave your hotel to see it! The Nordic Company regularly books its clients at the beautiful Hotel Continental in the center of downtown Oslo. If you’re coming in on an early flight and are not quite ready to venture out into the city, an evening at this hotel restaurant will provide exceptional service and delicious food. The café is modeled in a Vienna motif and its atmosphere is as rich as its cuisine.

Theatercafeen was originally opened with the hotel in December of 1900. Its interior was modernized in 1949, but when a new owner took over in 1953, it was decided that the Theatercafeen would be restored to its original grandeur. Its notable features include a floor made of 100,000 tiny pieces of linoleum, building glass screens, and china designed by famous architect, Finne. The portraits that adorn the walls are of famous Norwegian poets, musicians, artists, actors and other famous citizens who have frequented the Theatercafeen over the years. Thus, in more than one way, you will be dining in esteemed company. Our guests have always been pleased with their meals at Theatercafeen and we can’t say enough about the sincerity of service and the overall quality experience given by the Hotel Continental staff.