Monday, 28 March 2016

Borgund Stave Church – a Wooden Jewel

Borgund Stave Church (Borgund stavkirke) is one of the oldest wooden-framed churches located in the municipality of Lærdal in Sogn og Fjordane county. In Norway, there were built more than 1500 wooden churches, but only 28 of them survived to the present days. 

Borgund stavkirke, Norway

Borgund stavkirke was constructed supposedly in 1150-80 in the name of St. Andrew the First Called. For some parts of the church ash was used as a construction material – a sacred tree in Germanic and Norse mythology. Its mythological prototype – Yggdrasil ash tree – was a connection between Asgard, the sky, Midgard, the Earth, and Hel, the kingdom of the dead. Valhalla, home of Norse gods and heroes who perished in a battle, was built around that ash-tree. 

Borgund stave church

You can find the symbols of St. Andrew in the churches interior: section of bars in the choir loft (upper galleries) were made in the form of the X-shaped cross of this saint. However, Borgund stavkirke features four carved dragon-heads on the roof ridges as well. On the western portal, next to the iron door-handles with multiple snakeheads, you can see runic inscriptions, presumably carved to protect the doors from enemies. All these testify that ancient builders skillfully intertwined pagan and new, Christian, concepts and images. 

Roof ridge, Borgund stave church

Metal was not used during the construction (we can see similar method in the Russian North, for example in Kizhi). The church comprises more than 2 thousand details. The robust frame was built on the ground and then raised vertically with the help of long poles. 

Hundreds years ago, the interior and the facades of the stavkirke were brightly decorated – the remains of paint can be found on some wooden details. In the middle of the XX century, Borgund stavkirke was conserved with resin compositions and considerably blackened as a result. 

Borgund stavkirke, Norway

Except for the color, this church managed to survive without major changes in technology or decorations. That is truly unique for the Norwegian wooden churches. 

Borgund stave church was built on the place of the elder church: fragments of the building were found under the XII-century floor. In 1877, Borgund stavkirke was bought by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments (Foreningen til norske fortidsminnesmerkers). 


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Friday, 25 March 2016

Vardø: Where Ancient History Meets Modern Arctic

Travel by car through a picturesque tundra of the Varanger Peninsula, take a Widerøe flight, board a Hurtigruten cruise liner – and you will find yourself in one of the most peculiar towns of Northern Norway

Vardø: Where Ancient History Meets Modern Arctic

It may seem that you are in the edge of the world, but soon you will understand that it is also a center – a center of the Norwegian Arctic history, pomors trade, fishing trade and starting activities in the Barents sea – first and foremost shipping industry and offshore mining. 

Vardø will impress you with its location on a windswept island, connected with the mainland with the oldest in Norway underwater tunnel. Being the last stop on the way to the North Pole, Vardø will refresh you with its climate. And it will surprise you with amiability of the locals. 

Varanger Museum, Norway

However, it may also make you sad. Today Vardø is just a shadow of the flourishing trade center of the Barents Region it used to be just a hundred years ago. Although restauration works have been carried out in the recent years, the town is full of ramshackle historical buildings that make the impression of charm and melancholy. Statistically, the population of Vardø decreased by 20 per cent for the last decade and equals to approximately 2800 people. 

Vardø is the oldest town in Northern Norway and one of the oldest in the north of the Arctic Circle. It received its official status in 1789, but its history goes far beyond that date. First, Vardøhus Fortress was built there in XIV century for protection from the powerful Novgorod Republic. The modern fortress in the form of an eight-pointed star that is open for tourists was built in 1734-1738. During its almost 7-centuries' history, this northernmost fortress accepted a fight only once, in 1940, during the invasion of the Nazi troops. 

Vardøhus Fortress, Norway

When in Vardø, visit the Varanger Museum, the Pomor Museum and the Vardøhus Fortress. If you have time, walk along the coast. In the eastern part of the island, you may enjoy great views to the Hornøya island and the open Barents sea. Turn to the south, and between the domes of Globus II radar, you will see the south coast of the Varangerfjord.

Yukigassen (snow fight)

In November, Vardø hosts blues festival. In the end of March there is a yukigassen (snow fight) festival. At the end of July each year, Norwegian-Russian markets are held in Varanger. The Pomor festival marks the trading which formerly took place between the Russians and Norwegians up until the time of the Russian Revolution. Fish was traded for other wares such as wheat and timber. 


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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Norwegian National Costume

The Norwegian national costume, or bunad, strikes with its beauty and sophisticated embroidery. Bunads are popular in modern Norway and are worn both by men and women for holidays. Not just general citizens, but also members of the royal family flaunt in these richly ornated national costumes. Bunads pass from one generation to another, and the cost of the whole costume may equal the cost of a new car. 

Kongefamilienibunad

The word "bunad" appeared in Norway in the beginning of the 20th century. This term means both folk costumes created based on historical reconstructions as well as on folk motives. However, in modern Norwegian the word "bunad" is often used in the meaning of norske folkedrakt – the Norwegian folk costume. 

This word was chosen as originated from the old-Norwegian (and Icelandic) búnaðr, that means "home clothing". The period in the XIX century when the folk costume was revived is often called bunadbevegelsen. The pioneers of the movement of making of bunads were Hulda Garborg and Klara Semb. They recreated bunads based on engravings and watercolor sketches of Johan F. L. Dreiers and Johann Heinrich Senn. 

Bunad, Norway

In the 1930s bunads became popular. Exactly at that time people started to put them on for holidays. In other words, bunads became festive clothing – festdrakt. For 20 years the tradition became stronger, and approximately since 1950s bunads were put on for holidays (e.g. May 17th, weddings, confirmations etc.) everywhere in Norway. 

Nowadays bunad became a symbol itself and is a part of a wardrobe of 7 out of 10 Norwegian women. The designs are typically elaborate, with embroidery, scarves, shawls and hand-made silver or gold jewelry known as sølje. There are bunads both for men and women, although women's bunads are more diverse and popular. The male customers are often characterized as urban and modern, and range between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. 


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Thursday, 17 March 2016

Visiting Oslo: the Botanical Garden

The University Botanical Garden (Botanisk hage) is Norway's oldest botanical garden. It was established in XIX century and administrated by the University of Oslo. It is situated in the neighborhood of Tøyen in Oslo. 

Flowerbed at Botanical garden in Oslo, Norway

In 1814, Christen Smith (1775-1816) was named Professor of Botany and Economics at Norway's newly founded “Royal Frederician University”. This new title included responsibility to build and lead a botanical garden in Christiania, the name by which Oslo was then known. Smith, who died at of fever at age 30 during an 1816 expedition to the Congo, was never able to see the fulfillment of this goal. Nevertheless, the memory of the Botanical Garden's first leader lived on for a great time in the form of a Canary palm planted from seed that Smith sent home from a botanical excursion to the Canary Islands in 1815. This palm lived in the Botanical Garden's Palm House until its death in the year 2000. 

Johan Siebke, the gardener from the Botanical Garden of Copenhagen, was engaged as well in the development of the Botanical Garden from the date of its establishment. 

Today the main task of the Garden is to maintain its rich collection of plants that are used in scientific research and for studies of the University of Oslo. 

THE ABORETUM 

One of the largest zones of the Botanical Garden is the Aboretum. In addition to familiar Scandinavian trees and bushes, the Arboretum contains many that are exotic and rare on northern latitudes. 

One of the oldest trees in the Botanical Garden is the giant horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) that grew their already in the XVIII century. 

Ginkgo biloba, Oslo

Do not miss the collection of conifers. Plantings of circassian walnut (Juglans regia) with their dissected half-meter leaves make the place exotic and luring. White mulberry (Morus alba), one of the oldest trees in the Garden, is a peculiar exhibit as well. 

The most graceful three of the Botanical Garden is maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba); here it has been grown since 1870. Another “living fossil” is dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) – a large confer tree that used to be widespread in the Northern hemisphere and until 1946 considered extinct. 

THE OSLO RIDGE 

The Oslo Ridge is home for multiple species of plants that inhabit calcareous and shale-rich soils of the Oslofjord. This is a new zone of the Garden that appeared in 2000. Here you can find mountain clover (Trifolium montanum) and saxifrage (Oslo saxifraga) named after the city of Oslo. 

Flowers in blossom

The Garden exhibits many plants that blossom in spring like mayflower (Hepatica nobilis), meadow pasqueflower (Pulsatilla pratensis), European wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), cowslip paigle (Primula veris), and lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis). 

In summer, you will enjoy bright colors of purple blood-red crane (Geranium sanguineum), light-blue dragonhead (Dracocephalum ruyschiana), cream meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris), and yellow willow-leaf inula (Inula salicina). Some of around 90 exhibited species are at the edge of extinction in wild nature. 

THE HERB GARDEN 

The Herb Garden, Oslo

The Herb Garden contains both medicinal and poisonous plants, spices and culinary herbs, fiber plants and plants used for dyeing. In The Kitchen Garden you find vegetables, grains, fruits and berries. 

THE SYSTEMATIC GARDEN 

The Systematic Garden demonstrates the family relationships among plants. Botanical systematics have undergone great changes in recent years due to genetic analysis, which yields new knowledge of these relationships. This garden is frequently used for teaching purposes. 

THE GREENHOUSES 

In 1868 the Palm House was built – a palm greenhouse with three separated zones: two climatic zones – the Mediterranean Room and the Desert Room – and the Evolution Room to study the evolution of palm trees. 

Victoria House, Botanical Garden in Oslo

Soon, in 1876, the Victoria House was specially constructed for the demonstration of an amazing water plant – giant tropical water-lily – royal water platter (Victoria regia). Around the pool with this wonder, they plant various industrial plants of the tropical region: mahogany, cinnamon, papyrus, sugar cane, rice, vanilla, ginger, and cacao. The majority of tourists visit the Victoria House in August when Aristolochia maxima – a most rare tropical liana with 30 cm disc flowers – starts to blossom. The greenhouse has a special room for exotic orchids. 

THE ROCK GARDEN 

The Rock Garden contains alpine plants from all over the world. The miniature mountain landscape includes a meandering creek, ending in a small waterfall and pond. The flowering season starts in April and is at its peak in May and June. 

The Rock Garden, Oslo

The Rock Garden is one of the most interesting and loved by visitors zones of the Botanical Garden. A relatively small territory replicates the Alpine landscape with its stone ridges, peaks and grass-covered slopes, meadows and valleys. The Garden is divided into different geographical areas like American Plateau, Asian Landscape, Asian Ridge, Alpine High Mountains, European Rocky Slope, European Ridge, European Cliff, and Caucasian Mountains. Every zone presents its endemic plants. 

The Rock Garden is especially beautiful during the blossom period – in spring and the beginning of summer. In autumn the Garden is decorated with brightly colored and fruit. Its territory accounts approximately 1400 species and forms of alpine plants. 


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Sunday, 13 March 2016

Hiking Equipment: Getting Ready for Norway

Norway is a severe country with fickle weather. That is why you can’t be too scrupulous while selecting clothes for hiking, camping or mountain climbing. You should have all necessary things with you but make sure that your luggage is not too heavy. The key is multifunctional clothes. 

Hiker on trail towards summit of Stornappstind

CLOTHES FOR WALKING DURING THE DAY 
  • Trousers – preferably thick and with many pockets. It would be great if trouser-legs were removable allowing you to have shorts when you need them. 
  • Good waterproof trousers to protect you from rain and wind. 
  • A t-shirt preferably made of synthetic fabric as they dry faster. Take with you 2-3 t-shirts to wear every day. 
  • Fleece jacket is a must! Have two of them – one should be thinner and one – quite thick. If you put them on together, you may get warm when the temperature falls. 
  • Waterproof kagool should be of high quality to protect you efficiently from snow, rain and icy winds of Norway. 
  • A hat – preferably warm and windproof. 
  • Gloves – 2 pairs, one should be a windblock. 
  • Socks – as many as you need. 
  • A scarf – it will help you to keep warmth in windy weather. 
  • Linen. 
  • Trekking boots, preferably waterproof. Dry feet guarantee a successful and enjoyable hiking. 
Trekking boots for Norway

CLOTHES FOR SLEEP AND CAMP 
  • Thermal underwear to keep you warm in the camp and during the sleep. It is indispensable for day hiking if the temperature falls down. 
  • Thin down vest is not necessary but may be pretty useful in a camp when you don’t move actively and freeze faster. 
  • Camp shoes (sandals or flip flops). 

USEFUL EQUIPMENT 

Hiker crossing mountain stream, Norway
  • A sleeping bag – for winter season, with a comfort temperature of -2 -5. 
  • A two-layered tent. 
  • A mat. 
  • A backpack. 
  • Trekking sticks. 

VITAL SMALL ITEMS 

Female hiker sets up tent on wild camping trip
  • Personal first-aid kit. 
  • Everything for personal hygiene, including toilet paper. 
  • A cup, a bowl, a spoon, a knife. 
  • A headlamp. 
  • An insect repellent. 
  • A sunscreen. 
  • Sunglasses (they will protect you from wind too). 
  • A photo camera and a mobile phone. 

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Norway with Children: Where to Go

Norway is a land of outstanding natural beauty, magnificent fjords, ancient legends of trolls, powerful waterfalls, polar nights in winter and midnight summer in summer, mountains and glaciers, history of Vikings, clean towns and vast parks. 

Children, Norway

WHERE TO GO WITH CHILDREN 

Tusenfryd 

Thousand Joys

Tusenfryd (Thousand Joys) is an amusement park located 15-20 km to the South of Oslo. It is a perfect place for family holiday. The visitors can have a ride on various attractions for different ages, including the 44 meters’ high big wheel, Speed Monster or Super Splash; enjoy summer waterpark and open swimming pools with areas for kids. Every year new attractions appear in the park. 

Reptilpark 

Oslo Reptilpark, Norway

When Oslo Reptilpark first opened its doors on 2002, its only manager was the sole employee. It was a yearlong childhood dream came true. Now the park boasts over 50 different species of reptiles, including snakes, lizards, turtles, tarantula, even crocodiles! 

Child Planet 

Child Planet Atlantis

If the weather is bad or if you just want to take a break from excursions, visit Child Planet – a two-storied amusement complex not far from the center of Oslo. Dry pools, chutes, walls for young alpinists and games surveyed by instructors and animators – you can spend the whole day there! Child Planet offers separate rooms for birthday celebrations, and you can also book your own "oasis" (seating area). 

Open Farm with Animals at Bogstad 

Open Farm with Animals at Bogstad, Norway

The youngest tourists will be excited to visit the Open Farm with Animals at Bogstad located in the southern region of Oslo – Sørkedalsveien. Here you can see rabbits, hens, cows, pigs and other animals. 

Bø Sommarland 

Bø Sommarland Amusement Park

It takes about 2 hours to drive from Oslo to Bø Sommarland Amusement Park, the largest aquapark in the country. Various chutes, artificial waves for surfing, rides on inflatable rubber dinghies and much more! There are animators and special performances for children and a playground. 

Kristiansand Dyrepark 

The Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park is a Zoological garden and amusement park situated 11 km east of Kristiansand, Norway. It is Norway's most frequently visited attraction, covering an area of 61 ha. Animals include wolves, lynxes, wolverines, tigers, lions, cheetahs, chimpanzees, moose, zebras, and orangutans. 

Lynx, Kristiansand Dyrepark

Other attractions include Cardamom Town, which is made to look like the town in the book by Thorbjørn Egner, and Captain Sabertooth and pirate village Abra Havn (Port of Abra). 

Hunderfossen Family Park 

Hunderfossen Familiepark is an amusement park north of Lillehammer in the province of Oppland in Norway. The park is one of Norway's biggest tourist attractions, with over 250,000 visitors each summer. 

Troll, Hunderfossen, Norway

Guarded by a 14 meter high troll, behind the gates of the 37 meter tall fairy tale castle the treasure of the Norwegian folk stories is kept safe in Hunderfossen Family park. Step inside and be a part of the fairy tales yourself! In the unique and mysterious atmosphere of Hunderfossen Family Park you will meet the Prince and the Princess, the King and the Queen, Trolls and many other odd characters from the old Norwegian folk stories. 

Kongeparken 

Kongeparken (The King's park) is an amusement park in the village Ålgård, near Stavanger, Norway. Kongeparken is the biggest amusement park in the southwest of Norway and Rogaland's biggest tourist attraction. The park offers over 50 different rides and adventures for the entire family and has been awarded several times for good service and innovative attractions. 


It is the only amusement park in the world that holds the theme of bears. Brumle, Brumleline, the King and the Queen of Bears, The Bie Queen, Pysjamas, Tranbamsen, Storm and the Icebear is some of the bears you can meet in the park. The park has a BearBotel where your teddybear can check in for a spa treatment, while you enjoy the park. 

In the Freia theater you can watch the bears of BrumleBand or make chocolate with the bears in the Chocolate Factory. 

Residence of Julenissen in Savalen 

If you travel in Norway in winter, we recommend you to visit the residence of Norwegian Santa Claus – Julenissen, or Nisse – situated far away in the mountains on the Savalen lake. The easiest way to get there is from Lillehammer. 

Julenissen  Residence

Nisse lives in a big fairy-tale house where there is a real production line of presents. In a big dining hall dwarfs offer you a cup of tea with biscuits and tell Christmas stories. Not far from the residence, you can see a puppet show in a tent or take a picture with different animals or birds at a farm. 


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Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Ladder of Trolls – Trollstigen

Trollstigen with its steep incline of 10 per cent and 11 hairpin bends up a steep mountainside is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Norway. 

Roads Norway

Trollstigen is situated in the north of Western Norway – Vestlandet. It is part of Norwegian County Road 63 that connects the town of Åndalsnes in Rauma and the village of Valldal in Norddal Municipality. 

Trolls' Road was opened on 31 July 1936 after eight years of construction. Even today, this road is an outstanding example of engineering. In the middle of the road there is a bridge over the Stigfossen waterfall (180 meters high). At the top of it (858 meters above the sea level) you will find a large parking and many souvenir shops. Nearby from the parking there is a platform with a view to the curving Trollstigen and Stigfossen. 

Stigfossen, Norway

In some places, Trollstigen is just 3.3 meters wide, that is why vehicles over 12.4 metres (41 ft) long are prohibited from driving the road. Trollstigen is closed during late autumn and winter. A normal operating season stretches from mid-May to October, but may be shorter or longer due to weather conditions. 

HISTORY OF CONSTRUCTION 

For several hundred years (1533–1875) the Romsdals Market had been a vital annual event for trade and social life in the area, so access over the mountains was an important factor for farmers who bought and sold both horses and cattle. It was a major reason why the inhabitants of Valdallen wanted more convenient communication through Trollstigen. The inhabitants of Romsdalen were interested in the road to Valdallen as well. The challenge was to design and build the road through the mountains.  

Traditional Dress Norway

In 1891 first 8 km of the road were constructed. Afterwards, the engineer Nils Hovdenak was charged with the project. It was Hovdenak who first saw the possibility of building a motor road there instead of just a path for people and horses. In the next years, he devoted much effort to make the communication through Trollstigen real. In 1905-1906 the government allocated 4000 crones to build the road. 

Norway, More og Romsdal, Rauma, Trollstigen road

The works started 1n 1905 and finished in 1913. Still, Nils Hovdenak had ambitious plans to build a motor road from Valldalen to Romsdalen. He predicted that the road would become an important touristic route because of the amazing beauty of the local landscapes. 

King Haakon VII, Norway

In October 1916, the Department of Public Works (Arbeidsdepartmentet) gave the go ahead for work to start on the construction. Work started on the Valldal side, with the building of new bridges over the Valldøla River near Gudbrandsjuvet (1919), at Hoel (1921) and Krike (1926–27). Work started on the Romsdal side in 1928. Years later, on July 31, 1936, the road was ready and included 11 turns on sharp mountain slopes with multiple artificial objects like walls of natural stone and bridges. King Haakon VII himself opened the road and gave it its name – Trollstigen – the Trolls’ Ladder. 


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Friday, 4 March 2016

Drinking Coffee in Oslo

"As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move... smiles arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle" said once Honore de Balzac. Here are some coffee shops definitely worth visiting while in Oslo

Coffee, Norway

KAFFEBRENNERIET 

In the very heart of Oslo, in the historical pedestrian street from the railway station to the Royal Palace, you will find a coffee house from another network – Kaffebrenneriet. There are about 25 cafes in the city and they work only with specialty coffee as well. Apart from coffee, the café offers sandwiches and croissants. It is so enjoyable to sit on the terrace and look at passersby and the National Theatre

STOCKFLETHS 

The first coffee house you will see in the city is Stockfleths next to the railway station where you get from the airport. Stockfleths is a small network of coffee houses that works only with specialty coffee (high quality coffee that growth more than 1500 meters above the sea level). In addition, it is one of the most affordable cafés in the city. 

Coffee beans, Oslo

This coffee house has many awards from local barista championships and even Golden Aeropress from the International AeroPress Championship. It is the largest Stockfleths café in Oslo and is very comfortable, with plenty of space, sockets, Wi-Fi, and WC. In the menu – simple sandwiches and juices. You can work here with a cup of coffee very efficiently. 

SOLBERG & HANSEN 

The next coffee house totally worth visiting is a Solberg & Hansen’s concept store. This is a small coffee- and teashop in Mathallen – the center of gastronomic culture of Oslo. Here you can buy quality Norwegian food, including products for raw food diet, cheeses, Fair Trade goods, chocolate, craft beer, or have a nice meal. 

TIM WENDELBOE 

Tim Wendelboe is World Barista Champion 2004 & World Cup Tasting Champion 2005. His café is situated across the river and the park from Solberg & Hansen. The coffee house is small and ascetic with two tables inside.  

A cup of espresso

The Grünerløkka area where the café is situated is a busy part of Oslo with multiple cafes, china shops and second-hands. 

SUPREME ROASTWORKS 

Another coffee shop that should not be missed is Supreme Roastworks. Here, life is boiling. In the evening, the café turns into a bar. Light music is playing, a barista simultaneously makes five cups of coffee and fills guests’ glasses with vine. You will want to visit this café daily even if you have just a couple of days in Oslo. The atmosphere is great and enjoyable. 


HONORABLE MUST-VISIT MENTIONS: Kaffa, Mocca, Java, Loving Hut (offers vegan food). 


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