Copyright Used by Permission John Erling Blad
Norway is the westernmost, northernmost - and in fact the easternmost - of the three Scandinavian countries, located in Northern Europe west of Sweden. Best known for the complex and deep fjords along its west coast, it stretches from the North Sea near Denmark and Scotland into the Arctic Ocean.
Norway is well known for its amazing and varied scenery. The fjords in the west of the country are long narrow inlets, flanked on either side by tall mountains where the sea penetrates far inland. Norway was an old Viking kingdom. Economically it is known for its oil and seafood exports.
Norway is a sparsely populated country, roughly the same land size as Great Britain or Germany. It has a population of only 4.76 million people but a land area of 385,155 square kilometers. Thus, for each inhabitant there is 70,000 square meters of land, but the vast majority of this land is a rocky wilderness which is completely unusable for agricultural purposes. As a result, Norway has a large number of completely unpopulated areas, many of which have been converted to national parks. Even outside the national parks, much of the land is unspoiled nature, which Norwegians strive to keep unspoiled.
In winter, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and snowboarding are very popular. In summer, hiking and biking are obvious ways to enjoy the enormous mountain areas. For the adventurous, kayaking, wildwater rafting, paragliding, cave or glacier exploration are possible. Car tourists will enjoy driving along the fjords and mountains in the west or to the midnight sun in the north. In short, Norway has a lot to offer in terms of nature.
Norway is located on a large peninsula shared with Sweden in the north of Europe. In the north, it also borders Finland and Russia. A large but loosely defined northern part of of Norway and Sweden, as well as parts of Finland and Russia outlines an area known as Sapmi (Sameland), which is where the most of the Sami people live.
A rugged landscape shaped by the Ice Age, shows forested hills and valleys, mountains, waterfalls, and a long coastline with fjords, islands, and mountains growing directly up from the sea. Norway's highest point is Galdhøpiggen (2469m) in the Jotunheimen region that lies midway between Oslo and Trondheim, but away from the coast. In the far north (Finnmark), you will find flatter open spaces.
Norway's primary income is the petroleum industry in the North Sea. It also has several other natural resources such as fish and minerals, some industry, and a healthy technology sector. Politically, it is dominated by a widespread and continued support for the Scandinavian model, which means high taxes and high government spending to support free schools, free healthcare, an efficient welfare system and many other benefits. As a result the unemployment rate in Norway is extremely low (about 2%).
The Norwegian people have rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in two independent popular votes in 1972 and 1994, both times just by a few percent, after being vetoed out of membership by France in the 50s and 60s. However, being a member state of the European Economic Area and part of the Schengen agreement, Norway is closely connected to the EU, and integrated as a full member in most economic matters, as well as in customs and immigration matters. This is of great economic importance to Norway.
Norway is a Christian country, so Sunday is considered a holy day and most business are closed Sundays. Many gas stations are open 24-7, some malls are partly open and restaurants are normally open, but this varies from place to place. Christmas and Easter are major holidays in Norway, and most Norwegians are on vacation for more than one week. Although a Christian country with a dominant Lutheran majority (90 %), Norway has become rather liberal in moral issues and thus more similar to southern neighbors like Denmark and the Netherlands. Prostitution is (unlike in Sweden) legal in Norway. Homosexual lifestyle is accepted by most people and recently (2008) same-sex marriage was given the same legal status as traditional marriage. For instance, a previous minister of finance and prominent figure in the conservative party is in partnership with a prominent business manager.
As one of the richest countries in the world and with a strong currency, most visitors should be prepared for greater expenses than at home. In addition, Norway has a very compressed wage structure which means that even the typical low skill work is relatively well paid. For the same reason, firms try to keep the number of staff as low as possible, even for low skill service work. On the other hand, many attractions in Norway are free of charge, most notably the landscape and nature itself.
Oslo - the capital and largest city of Norway, with museums of national importance, a beautiful setting and lively nightlife and cultural scene. Not the most coveted of capitals, but nevertheless enjoyable. Demographic, political, economical, and logistical centre of Norway. For a small city, Oslo has an amazing number of museums. Many of them are located next to each other and don't take long to visit but, as with most things in Oslo, those with an entrance fee are not cheap. Oslo is situated in an amphitheater like setting, with the city centre in the bottom close to the Oslo fjord, and residential areas stretching uphill from there in all directions. Behind the residential areas, the forested area of Marka (Nordmarka, Østmarka, Lillomarka) extends, with flora and fauna that is quite extraordinary for a city of this size. Moose are commonplace (easily spotted in winter), and the whole of the capital is part of Norway's wolf reserve (even if they rarely come here).
Ålesund - a splendid Art Nouveau centre in the very western coast of Norway. Ålesund is built on a row of islands extending towards the Atlantic. The compact old city centre is thus surrounded by water and Ålesund is a major fisheries harbour.
Bergen - old Hanseatic trading center