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Scandinavia - an incredible dream trip
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30.08.2012 13:25
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What is Scandinavia? The land of the midnight sun … The land of the midday gloom …
What comes to your mind when you think of Scandinavia? What countries, what associations are triggered off? These questions, simple and hackneyed as they might seem, appear to be so confusing that I’d better start with making some of the lines of my narration precise and clear.

“Scandinavia” is quite an ambiguous term, for it has different definitions in different sources depending on what kind of definition is given – purely geographical, ethno-cultural or cultural-linguistic. Believe me, an attempt to understand which is which will only muddle you about. For example, geographically the Scandinavian Peninsula covers only Sweden, Norway and northern Finland. Some sources claim that Scandinavia is a region covering the three kingdoms descending from Germanic tribes – Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Some sources insist on quite a wide understanding of Scandinavia including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland in the list of the Scandinavian countries. These are, however, basically known as the Nordic countries. But if you ask a Scandinavian (as I did on several occasions to clarify the jumble in my head), you will hear the unanimous answer: Scandinavia consists of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. Being very educated, Scandinavians have their grounds for stating this. They all refer to genealogical classification of languages, according to which Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Icelandic make up the northern branch of the Indo-European languages whereas Finnish and Saami both are part of the Finno-Ugrian language family. They do know this and even strangers in the streets or sellers in fish markets will tell you this with perfect confidence showing surprising general awareness. They will surely tell you about the shared heathen beliefs, the shared mythology, the shared Viking Age. Thus, among the unifying factors for inclusion in Scandinavia we can trace out linguistic, cultural, historic and geopolitical ones. So, on this note I must say right away that my trip can hardly qualify as a Scandinavian tour as I started with Finland, then sailed to Sweden on a beautiful passage boat, then drove through the picturesque expanses of Norway, from where another pearl ferry boat carried me to Denmark. I would therefore call my trip “a tour of the Nordic countries”. An incredible dream trip!

Associations and well-acknowledged facts about Scandinavia

What is Scandinavia typically associated with? Obviously, the main characters of Scandinavian folklore – the trolls inhabiting caves or mountains and playing tricks on people and the huldras – beautiful forest creatures seducing young shepherds.

Fish is the main ingredient of the Scandinavian cuisine. You will be stunned with the diversity of fish dishes there. Skiing and biathlon are the most favourite and highly favoured winter sports. The legend says that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet. Quite naturally the names of Petter Northug, Marit Bjorgen, Therese Johaug, Ole Einar Bjorndalen, Emil Hegle Svendsen, Tarei Bo and Tora Berger come to mind. They are regarded as national heroes of Norway. Other generalizations will all be in the superlative degree. Scandinavia is the purest region on the planet when it comes to ecology and nature preservation. Besides, it is the region with the highest life standards in the world, the highest taxes but at the same time the most generous welfare benefits.

Among some particulars are fjords as the riches of Norway, the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen and the name of Hans Christian Andersen for all Denmark, hockey and Astrid Lindgren for Sweden, as well as the Noble Prize, Volvo and Abba, and lakes for Finland as it is the country of lakes.

Due to the fact that Scandinavia is so far north, in summer the nights are very short and the days are long. No, literally speaking, you will not see the sun at midnight, but the night will be rather light. This is where the name “the land of the midnight sun” comes from. Just on the contrary, in winter the days are very short, hence it is “the land of the midday gloom”.

This list is far from complete. Most importantly, whatever your pre-existing notions of Scandinavia might be, a visit to these multifaceted countries is bound to both confirm and refute them. It is not only because our perception can be different, it is also because the Scandinavian countries – and wider – all the Nordic countries – present such a great variety of everything, including different mentalities, that each notion is subject to loose interpretation.

The most inspirational. The most scenic. The most captivating. The UNREAL. Simply fantabulous!

The acme of my trip was Norway – this land of natural wonders which presented me with a great abundance of astounding landscapes, breathtaking mountainous terrain, vibrant waterfalls, majestic fiords, and with awesome and unrivaled coastal scenery. This country does open up splendid vistas to its visitors, providing keen travelers with inspirational encounters with steep mountain rivers, turbulent waterfalls, glaciers and scarce yet various tundra vegetation as well as with totally barren, treeless moorland of the mountain plateau Hardangervidda. Norway is in inseparable touch with its beautiful and diverse nature. Throughout the countryside you can see isolated small houses which are skillfully hidden against the natural landscape. This is where the Norwegian tradition of isolated farmsteads situated in the most secluded corners of the country’s wilderness is best seen. Norwegians cover the roofs of their houses with greensward so that the houses become absolutely invisible from above. It seems as if isolation and seclusion were in their blood.

Norwegian fjords are a veritable wonderland. My trip along the fjords was stunning. It is a shame for a linguistically minded person to be lost for words, but I was. I was on cloud nine, treading the blue, high in the sky. Despite the fact that I was not dressed for the occasion. It was stingingly cold and bitingly windy on the deck of the ship, but the unearthly beauty that I was exposed to compensated for it all. If you are open to this raving beauty, you simply stop noticing anything else. Visual perception outdoes everything else. You lose touch with mundane reality, forget about all the troubles and hassles of your everyday life. Small wonder, this is a different reality… You start floating in a soft adventure among the spectacular mountains and magnificent fjords, you start imaginably diving in clean air and pure water of mountains and fjords and for a second you feel you are part of Pandora, the fictional reality of the “Avatar”.

One more pearl of my trip was the thrilling Flåmsbana railway trip. It climbs up into the dazzling and frozen beauty of the Hardangervidda Plateau and then goes down through the pretty countryside landscapes. Along the way it passes within a touching distance of the Kjosfossen Waterfall where, if you are lucky, you may see a beautiful and mysterious Huldra. I was fortunate enough to see and hear one singing.

Yes, Norway is worth visiting for sheer scenic thrills, but there is also an impressive cultural heritage and an array of places of interest carefully preserved in the cities. The high spots in Oslo for me were the Royal Palace, the City Hall, the new glacier-white Opera House, the Akershus fortress, the Holmenkollen Springboard and Vigeland Sculpture Park. They are incomparable according to the impact they exert, but undoubtedly worth seeing at least for forming an attitude. I may sound nonconformist saying this, but Vigeland Park which Norwegians are so excessively proud of seemed nothing but perverted. It killed me dead. But I do not claim to be an art connoisseur. The Akershus fortress, on the contrary, was exhilarating. You climb down the catacombs being promised an entrance to the treasure depository just to see the holographic image of a guy who is hopelessly knocking his head on the wall not being able to pass through. Apart from this joke, which made me physically weak, for it was quite a long way down, the fortress is history itself.

The main attraction in Oslo for me was the visit to the three museums devoted to seafaring: the Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum and Thor Heyerdahl’s Museum of Kon-Tiki and Ra. Yes, Norwegians really treasure their seafaring roots. The Viking Ship Museum presents great Viking ships discoveries from the three ships - Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune, which were later turned into tombs, according to the Viking tradition. The Fram museum carried me away with its attractions: this is where you can touch everything, you can see aurora polaris simulation and attend a simulation cabin which will give you a fit of panic as being caught up in a small box you see and feel a huge iceberg crashing right into you. The image is so powerful that the awareness of its theatrical origin doesn’t help. And if you are interested in the history of seafaring, the Kon-Tiki Museum will be a delightful event. Thor Heyerdahl’s reed boat Ra II and his balsa raft Kon-Tiki aroused a heartfelt respect for his courage, intrepidity and adventurous nature in me. Everything I knew about Heyerdahl’s expeditions (especially the Ra expedition) which had been described by Yuri Senkevich materialized. That was a fascinating experience!

Bergen, the second largest city of Norway, has two world-known nicknames – the capital of rain and the gateway to the kingdom of fjords. According to Norwegians, both nicknames are fully justified. They say it rains either daily or every other day in Bergen, which I cannot support as the two days I spent there were sunny and hot. The origins of the second nickname emphasize the fact that earlier Bergen was the capital of Norway and it opened the way to the two biggest fjords of Norway – Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord.

Bergen is best known for its old wharf, Bryggen, which features on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and the Edvard Grieg Museum which presents the composer’s life and his best creations through specially organized concerts. I was most impressed with the Hanseatic wharf with its titled and colourful wooden buildings and the famous fish market of Bergen.

My last comment dealing with Norway concerns some typical patterns of behaviour and inherent features of character. Norwegians are, to all appearance, very reserved. At a glance they are cool and composed. But if you need help and ask them for help, they will never leave you in the lurch. I was stunned most of all with the general level of education of Norwegians. You may ask any Norwegian in the street to show you the way, and you will be given detailed directions in English, German and French and in 50% of encounters in Russian. You do not need to ask to explain once again, they simply change the languages in this ordered manner as if testing the waters. As soon as they see that you have chosen English, they either switch to English or politely ask you to practise Russian with them. It is so funny and so unexpected to be asked the permission to speak Russian. You simply cannot refuse. In conversation they are always so knowledgeable that I was surprised to the core because understanding that you are a tourist they are ready to supply you with additional information about culture, about history, about their lifestyles and national priorities. Choose whatever topic you like and they will pick it up easily and dwell on it knowingly. The most incredible thing is that not only adults are so educated. Youngsters are none the less well-brought and well-informed.


Finland is known as a country of a thousand lakes. It is, therefore traveling through the countryside was really impressive: the countryside is a thick forest interrupted by numerous beautiful lakes, large and small, but invariably beautiful. Rural Finland is in great contrast with urban Finland. It came as a surprise to me to see the urban cosmopolitan lifestyle of Helsinki. The major sights of Helsinki for me included the Senate Square with the symbol of Helsinki – the Lutheran Cathedral seemingly soaring above the ground, the Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral, and with the Parliament building, the railway station building with its awkward and undistinguished architecture, the Sibelius Monument consisting of hundreds of hollow steel tubes resembling organ pipes, and the Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the “church in the rock” as it was blasted out of solid rock. The pleasant and very familiar, just very Russian-like, was my stroll along the Northern and Southern Esplanade – this is a refreshing green passage right in the middle of the city which connects the center with the sea market and the sea.


Sweden is the largest Nordic country, hence it offers its visitors a great diversity of climate, landscapes, cityscapes and street designs. Stockholm is situated on 14 islands. Thus, the city is composed of natural water pools surrounded with green spaces right amidst the megalopolis. Swedish architecture is a true sample of the Scandinavian tradition in architecture, only it is, probably, the most pronounced in Sweden. Terracotta-coloured buildings shimmer between blue water and still bluer skies. Brass and steel are everywhere not only as construction materials, but as decorations, as well as high metal towers bursting high into the sky. All these attributes of anthropogenic influence and technological advances of a modern cosmopolitan city are in conjunction with its history and with its nature: a huge expanse of fascinating Lake Mälaren is crisscrossed with many bridges, both old and modern. And all these contrasting details (nature and civilization, history and modernity, small winding streets in Gamla Stan (the old town) and the grandiose City Hall or the Royal Palace) are somehow so intricately organized that I could not stop wondering if Swedes are also such a harmonious people that they find consensus by default, without drawing much attention to this. This question appeared to be more difficult to answer that I could have imagined. But on closer look I noticed that Swedes are rather inert and sluggish. And here comes a surprise: they are really active fighters for nature preservation. So, it is not that they do not care, they just take much as it is. It is, probably, not lassitude or inertness, it is tolerance that is the most prominent feature of them.


Denmark is a very friendly country where there is always something wonderful around the next corner – something to see, something to feel, something to hear, something to smell, something to eat and something to live through. It seems as if the whole country were plunged into a wonderful fairy tale, so everything is unbelievably unreal there: very beautiful females, lots of Princes Charming among males, very sophisticated architecture that is fairy-tale-like. Copenhagen for me was the most captivating city of all the Nordic cities that I visited. It is a city of canals, cobbled squares and innumerable bicycles (Danes are renowned for their love of cycling). It is the city of a buoyant economy and continued prosperity, which is seen in the city’s exterior details. And the citizens exhibit a burgeoning confidence in the charms of their home city. There you will hardly have to confront any of the high-stress bustle common to most capitals. There I met a cosy atmosphere fostering appreciation of a uniquely Danish sense of conviviality. The brightest and most memorable spots of my trip were a walk past the colourful harbour district of Nyhavn to Amalienborg Palace, a visit to the Gefion Fountain and, of course, the Little Mermaid, inspired by H.C. Andersen.

What was the most captivating about my trip to the Nordic countries? The fact that this trip was overly captivating!

© V.Shashkova - 2012



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