Posts Tagged ‘Scandinavia’

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!

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).

Why Denmark? 109 reasons from an American Expat

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

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  • #8 Denmark is the 10th greenest country in the world
  • #18 Denmark is the second most visited destination in Scandinavia with over 4.7 million visitors each year
  • #32 Denmark hosts more than 100 festivals every year
  • #49 Danes enjoy one of the highest rates of social equality.
  • #71 Denmark boasts no less than 14 Nobel laureates
  • #86 The Danish have  a 37 hour work week and six week paid vacation each year

These are only a few of the 109 reasons why Denmark is such an amazing place to live and to visit, given by an American Expat who has been living there for years. I recently came across his blog, “To love, work, study, and travel in Denmark” and it’s definitely worth taking a look. Whereas we at the Nordic Company can only manage to do personal site visits once or twice a year, here is the view of an individual who wakes up every day to the bustling city life of Copenhagen.  In fact, a quick blogspot search of Denmark blogs will offer nothing, but good praise and addicting insider perspective.

More often than not, our clients call with the explicit intent of traveling to Norway. Many have ancestors and others would like to experience the fjords. One of our favorite suggestions is for them to fly into Copenhagen, Denmark for a few days and then take the overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo to start their Norwegian journey. Our clients are never disappointed. They are always taken aback by Denmark’s charm, exclaiming, “I had no idea it was such a destination!” Get out into the countryside and there are lots of opportunities to stay in quaint cottages, play at Legoland, bike around, or spend time on the coast. If you’re still not convinced, here’s 103 more reasons.

The U.S. Education System: Schooled by the Swedes?

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

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One of the most fascinating aspects of traveling in Scandinavia is learning about their unique systems of welfare, education, and government that contrast greatly from the United States. Along with engaging scenery, you can definitely spark a lively conversation on politics and population management. To prep yourself for any roadside debates you might have, I suggest you follow this link to a video posted by the New York Times Op-Ed.

“Sweden’s Choice” highlights the school voucher program that has seen success in Sweden and suggests it may be a useful approach to education in the United States. Instead of money being filtered down into school districts, such as in the United States, funding for education is given directly to each individual kid. With this voucher in hand, kids are no longer forced to go to their local public school - they have the power to choose. This power to choose then causes area schools to step up their services and competition.

“Education is so important that you cannot just leave it to one producer,” Per Unckel, Governor of Stockholm and Former Prime Minister of Education explains. Granted, as you can see by the photo comparison to the UK, Sweden spends a lot more on education than other countries, but their dedication pays off. Most Swedes will tell you the system is a success.

The Nordic Company is not endorsing any particular style of government,  we promote travel :) , but we do encourage you to ask questions. One of the best parts about an experience abroad is seeing your own country through the lens of someone else. Extend yourself to the locals and you’ll be surprised what you’ll learn and how willing they are to share.

As a side note: Our apologies for not keeping up with the blog for a month. Summer is the high travel season and you better believe our phones were ringing off the hook. We’ll do our best to pepper you with weekly Scandinavian anecdotes from here on out. Thanks for your patience!

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.

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!

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!

Set the example with travel

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

A talking point that has already come up at London’s G20 summit is the importance of tourism and travel in combating the economic decline. That’s right, we knew we were in the right business. Consider these words from UNWTO secretary-general adinterim Taleb Rifai: “Tourism and travel mean jobs, infrastructure, trade, and development. These are the issues that world leaders are emphasizing in coordinated recovery actions. What we need is recognition of the value of travel in this mix and most importantly, it’s capacity to generate jobs.”

Furthermore, leisure travel is one of the first signs of the return of consumer confidence. A wide variety of businesses at home and abroad benefit from the travel industry and the consumer can take their mind off the world for awhile. In Europe, many citizens are opting to take extended vacations or reduced hours instead of a total lay-off, which gives them relative job security, but also frees up some of their time - which many have been spending on travel.

Rifai also stressed that the travel and tour industry has the rare opportunity to shift its focus to a much greener pastures and he means that sustainably.  Investment in green infrastructure - modern airports, high speed roads, and ports would all be excellent job creators and extremely beneficial to the economy in the long run.

The Nordic Company has been providing green travel for years, specifically in Iceland. As one of the hardest hit in the financial downturn, Iceland is certainly in need of a pick-me-up these days and it may be the a most curious, yet most adventurous time to travel there. The Nordic Company offers independent and group tours that feature remote Iceland’s rugged landscape and a little time in Reykjavik will certainly give you an earful of their new, rugged politics. The Nordic Company is even offering stimulus travel packages - you can’t go wrong!