At the northwestern-most portion of the European continent lies a country, a kingdom that was both a union of little kingships and a part of other kingdoms itself. This is the Kingdom of Norway, home of the Norsemen of old, one of the many peoples from the 8th Century who became skilled sailors, navigators, and raiders of opportunity: the Vikings. For a time, the territory of Norway was a motley collection of so-called petty kingdoms, later unified under a single ruler in the year 872. Still, there have been times in history when that land was part of either of its neighbors Denmark or Sweden. But today Norway is one of the best-off countries of the world and a popular travel destination of tourists looking for a more outdoorsy experience.
As part of the geographical region of Scandinavia, Norway has a prominent place in the history of the Viking raiders. During the Viking Age of the 8th-11th Centuries Norsemen, already living by the sea and needing to supplement the fruits of their farming and herding in their rugged and not wholly bountiful homeland, took to the sea in the fearsome Viking longboats, either settling down on new lands like the Faroe Islands and Iceland, preying on coastal settlements of other realms, and sometimes outright invading and conquering. Despite the unification of Norway under King Harald I, by the 14th Century it was tied to Denmark when the Danish King also took the Norwegian throne.
When the Denmark-Norway union was broken in the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden invaded and added Norway into its own territory until 1905, when it became an independent Kingdom and adopted a Danish prince to be its king and start a new royal line. The last time Norway was conquered was in World War II by Nazi Germany – thanks to a coup by Norwegian Nazis led by Vidkun Quisling (whose surname is now a synonym of “traitor”. Recovery was remarkable and Norway once had the fastest economic growth in Europe. Today the country prospers from oil in the North Sea and tourism, especially with its cultural diversity and scenic geography.
Travelling to Norway
While there are no direct flights from the Philippines to Norway, it can be reached from several major cities with international air traffic. Both New York (JFK) and London (Heathrow) have flights going to Oslo Airport, which serves as the main international hub for the capital and largest city in Norway. Due to the country’s narrow land area, road and rail networks aren’t as fully developed nor extensive outside the major cities and towns. But local air travel can connect to out of the way locales and Norway water transport is the fruit of long tradition.
Most every city and town of note in Norway has something remarkable to look at. Oslo has its splendid Opera House. Bergen has the summer home-turned-museum of Norway’s most famous composer Edvard Grieg, whose musical play “Peer Gynt” contains some of the most famous incidental musics ever heard in media: “Hall of the Mountain King” and “Morning Mood” for instance. In Vestvagoy is the Lofotr Viking Museum, centered on the excavated ruins of a Viking chieftain’s longhouse and a reconstruction of the dragon-headed long-ship, escorted and educated by guides and historical period re-enactors. They even hold a Viking Festival every August.
Over at Trondheim can be found the (formerly Catholic, now Lutheran) Cathedral of Nidaros, built over the burial site of the Norse king Olaf II, who tried to Christianize his people and was canonized a saint after his death. Both it and the nearby archbishop’s palace were built in the 12th Century medieval era. Up north in Tromso are museums and attractions such as the Polar Museum, which herald the city’s history as a starting point for voyages and expeditions into the Arctic Circle towards the North Pole. A reminder of Norway’s early Christianization can be seen in the medieval wooden stave churches found in certain cities and towns.
The Sami and the Midnight Sun
A portion of Norway’s territory lies north of the Arctic Circle, where the Midnight sun can be seen shining at 12 midnight around the summer solstice. This territory is home to the Sami people, a distinct ethnicity that enjoys certain autonomous privileges such as self-determination and government representation. Seeing the sun up all day can be a most unusual yet breathtaking experience, well worth a journey and stay in any of the communities in the far north like Tromso and Hammerfest.
If you happen to have seen Disney’s animated film “Frozen”, you’d be surprised to know that the kingdom of Arendelle is partly based on Norway, while the ice collectors such as Kristoff were based on the Sami people, who do live excitingly rugged lives north of the Arctic Circle. You can see the country that inspired the film for yourself if you make plans to travel to Norway in the future.