Archive for the ‘Scandinavia’ 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.

CNN Calls Stockholm the Capital of Scandinavia

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

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When talking to our clients about the grandeur of Scandinavia, Norway invariably takes the cake. It’s difficult to compete with its seductive fjords and diverse landscape. However, when it comes to capital cities, Stockholm is king. As of today, CNN even went so far as to coin Stockholm the capital of Scandinavia, a nickname that the Nordic Company wholeheartedly agrees with.

Its neutral status in World War II helped save its old architecture from damage, thus you can still freely walk the cobbled-stoned streets of old world Gamla Stan and soak up history. You must watch your step, however, as water is just as common in Stockholm as their colorful houses and city banter. Also called the “floating city”, Stockholm sits on approximately 14 islands where Lake Malaren unites with the Baltic Sea. But that’s just the beginning, in total, the city marks the edge of an archipelago that stretches out into over 24,000 islands. There are plenty of boat tours and/or dinner cruises with a view available to afford you the big picture.

In addition to its color, beauty, and unique location, Stockholm serves many pratical purposes. It’s one of the least congested major cities in Scandinavia and it’s a prime choice for business and innovation specialists to convene from all over the world. The months of September and October are usually booked with fairs, conferences, and events. Home to popular exports, H&M and IKEA, Stockholm is also a focal city for design. It is true that there is something for everyone - so when you’re traveling with everyone - Stockholm is a crowd-pleaser all around, truly the crown jewel of Scandinavian capitals.

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.

Despite the Crowds, the Kremlin Still Captivates

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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Sometimes, the best things in life are those that you have to work for. During the high-tourism season in Russia, that is certainly the case when visiting the Kremlin in Moscow. More than likely, you will have to wait in line for a ticket, for a photograph, and finally, to get in. With a wander around the Red Square, this could make for an all day affair, but trust us, it’s worth it.

Aside from its astounding architecture and international acclaim, there is something mysterious about the Kremlin that toys with the mind. Perhaps it’s the fact that its name “Kremlin” also functions as the pseudonym when referring to the former Soviet government, a government shrouded in espionage and political sourcery. Or maybe it’s some of it’s strange attributes, such as the fact that the world’s largest bell is cracked and broken into the grounds and you can even found a cannon that was built too large to fire an actual shot. And besides, who doesn’t want to visit the liar of a man called “Ivan the Terrible” anyway?

Overlooking the Moskva River, the Kremlin remains the heart of Moscow and clearly takes emminence over the many other medieval fortresses, known as “kremlins”, scattered across Russia. The Nordic Company offers many tours to Russia that encompass the allure of the Kremlin. Most of our travelers will tell you that it’s a must-see and because of this, navigating the crowds is a necessary evil. What’s more, Russia is incredibly easy to access from Scandinavia. Just a simple, scenic trip on the Sibelius train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg will have you in Russia in a matter of hours. We’re happy to arrange visa needs and tour bookings well in advance. St. Petersburg and Moscow serve as the perfect book-end to your spectacular Scandanavian adventure. If you’re still not keen on the crowds of Kremlin, our suggestion? Drink your fill of it by night: the picture speaks for itself!

Why Roskilde Rocks

Monday, May 18th, 2009

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What do Bob Marley, the Talking Heads, U2, Metallica, and Radiohead all have in common? Aside from being some of the biggest names in music, they also have taken the stage at the largest musical festival in Northern Europe, Roskilde. Since 1971 when two high school students decided to organize a concert series, Roskilde, Denmark has proven itself to be on the cutting edge of obscure beats, contemporary stars, and total legends. Last year at Roskilde 2008, Neil Young even declared it to be the “best rock show ever.”

Yet, the best part about Roskilde doesn’t actually have to do with the music. Since its fruition, the festival has been a non-profit event with many humanitarian and environmental components. Last year’s “Fair Phone-Fair Future” encouraged concert-goers to purchase sustainable phones made with fair trade practices and the proceeds from the concert went to a wide variety of charities. The concert is very friendly to international travelers and if you haven’t yet bought your tickets, don’t fret. Sunday tickets are for sale at the entrance July 6 at 8am, regardless of if the festival is sold out or not. Otherwise, you can buy tickets online at the Rothskilde website. For U.S. citizens, they are approximately $180.

This year’s festival runs from July 2 - July 5 and features Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, Gaslight Anthem, M.Ward, and…well, you better just check out the line-up here. As always, the Nordic Company is eager to assist you in your hotel, transportation, and concert needs. 41 days and counting!

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!