Saturday, December 31, 2011

Travel Tips from Harald Hansen

As we begin the new year, it’s time to starting thinking about 2012 travel plans. We hope the January issue of Viking—our annual travel issue—will inspire you to set out on your own Nordic dream adventure. We've packed the issue with advice from travel experts, including Innovation Norway's Harald Hansen. You’ll find our interview in the January issue, and you can read the extended conversation here:

Viking: What new attractions are drawing tourists to Norway?
Harald Hansen: The traditional attractions and destinations have, of course, been Oslo, Bergen and the fjords—and still remain so. We see also that more and more Americans are visiting further north and south of Bergen to the Stavanger area and to the Ålesund region. There’s increasing popularity to visit northern Norway above the Arctic.

V: What's drawing people there?
HH: Arctic experiences—they want to see the Northern Lights and the winter. They want to see the Midnight Sun and do more of a soft-adventure type of vacation. That’s something we see all over Norway actually—hiking, biking, dog sledding, snowmobiling and king crab safaris.

V: Are there any new trends in Norwegian travel? Do you recommend any smart phone apps or websites?
HH: We recommend our website, We are on Facebook and Twitter. And in all the advertising we do, we put up apps where you use your cell phone to get onto our website. More people are using the new apps to get information. Check out our Visit Norway app. We’ve just been doing an advertising campaign with Iceland Air and Scandinavian Air the past year, where we have billboards up on bus stops on subways and trains, where people use their iPhones to enter a competition, or just to access information. So it's becoming more and more important for us to use all the new gadgets that are out there.

V: Do you have any money-saving travel tips to share?
HH: A lot of people think that Norway is very expensive. It is expensive compared to the United States or Canada, but there are ways to work around that. If you go to our website, you can look at the accommodations, and there’s a lot of hotel passes. For example, there's an excellent pass called the Fjord Pass where you can get up to 40 percent off hotel rates. And the same thing with train passes and bus passes. Norway bus express has its own pass, and there are ways of avoiding those high costs. Scandinavian Airlines and Iceland Air are always running specials. It’s important to follow that. Be active and be online to find deals. We put out all of those offers on our website. Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim now have city passes, which gives you free entrance to all attractions and museums, free public transportation within the cities, even reductions on restaurants and sightseeing. That is something you should always look into and either talk to your tour operator or travel agent. Or buy it when you get to Norway. They are sold at tourist information offices, so it's not something you necessarily have to purchase ahead of time.

V: Are the Northern Lights a big draw?
HH: Yes, the Northern Lights are the most popular attraction in the world for travelers now. And Norway is the best place to see it. This year is actually the best cycle in 50 years to see them!

V: What are some of the top sites to see?
HH: The Oslo Opera House opened three years ago and has become the most visited attraction in Norway. You can walk up on the roof. The Opera House is actually built into the fjord, like an iceberg. The roof is made of white marble, so you can walk all over it and there are restaurants there. In addition to housing the National Opera and Ballet, it has also become a place where people meet up and sun bathe up on the roof. In the summer, they have rock concerts and set up stages out on the fjord where people sit on the opera house itself and the performances are on floats out in the fjord. The new Holmenkollen Ski Jump has also become a very popular destination. In February, Oslo will host the world championship in snowboarding, which is a big attraction for Americans. And 2013 is the 150th anniversary for the birth of the painter Edvard Munch, so that's going to be a big deal.

V: Are there things to do with kids when visiting Norway?
HH: Yes! Go to the fjord region for some kayaking, hiking and biking. The Bergen Aquarium is very popular, and there is the new science center called VilVite. Of course the funicular and the cable car overlooking Bergen are cool. They have just opened up a new restaurant up there which is a great experience. In Oslo, there’s the reptile park and the International Museum of Children’s Art. At the Noble Peace Center, you can learn the history of all the winners, and it’s very interactive so kids can use technology to learn about peace efforts. It’s a great center—one of my favorite places to go.

V: Is there a language barrier?
HH: Not a problem whatsoever. Everybody speaks English.

V: Anything you caution against while traveling?
HH: Not really. We are a pretty safe destination. Nobody has to be afraid of anything. But you always have to pay attention and be aware when you travel anywhere. We always say there's no bad weather, there's just bad clothing. When you travel in Norway—especially during the summer—bring a light raincoat, layers and be prepared for everything.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eighth Annual Christmas Concert from Norway Broadcast in the U.S.

I love this time of year for so many reasons. Everyone is in a cheerful mood, despite the weather turning colder and the days darker, the world is adorned in colorful decorations that are straight out of a child's dream, and I get to share in the holiday cheer with my family and loved ones .

What I love most about this time of year, though, is the music. Ever since I was a child I've loved Christmas music, especially the traditional music of carols. Songs like Little Drummer Boy, O Holy Night, The First Noel, etc. always bring warm and welcome memories from the past.

That's why it's so exciting to announce the 2011 Christmas Concert from Norway! For the eighth year in a row the Vang church in Hamar, Norway is the home of a beautiful musical broadcast that brings together world-renowned singers and musicians to perform a concert of traditional holiday and classical music! This year, thanks to PBS and Public Broadcasting channels across America, millions of Americans will be taken into the historic church for this glorious musical event.

Viewers will be treated to an American Christmas music medley, works by Handel, Vivaldi, Morricone, Piazzolla and a number of traditional Norwegian songs. In addition, Princess Martha Louise, will host this year's concert and share Christmas memories from her childhood.

The concert is being broadcast in a number of cities throughout the U.S., like New York, Minneapolis, Miami, San Diego and more! I've included a broadcast schedule below, but if you don't see your city listed then make sure to check with your PBS station to see if they will be broadcasting the event. 

New York WLIW 21       
Sun. Dec. 25  10:00 AM

Los Angeles KCET  28         
Sat. Dec. 24    2:00 PM
Chicago WTTW 11         
Sat. Dec. 24   9:30 PM
San Francisco KRCB 22          
Tues. Dec. 20    9:00 PM

Washington WETA 26         
Sun. Dec. 25    2:00 PM
Phoenix KAET  8           
Fri. Dec. 23   11:00 PM                                              

Tampa WUSF 16         
Sat. Dec. 24    4:00 PM
Minneapolis KTCA 2            
Sat. Dec. 24    8:00 PM
Miami WLRN 17        
 Sat. Dec, 24    8:00 PM
Cleveland WEAO 49         
Sat. Dec. 24    8:00 PM

Orlando WDSC 15         
Fri. Dec. 23     8:00 PM
Raleigh Durham UNCMX           
Sat. Dec. 17    9:00 PM

San Diego KPBS  11         
Thurs. Dec. 22    11:00 PM

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Commemorating the Amundsen Expedition’s 100th Anniversary

If you were following our blog during the royal visit in October, you know that Sons of Norway recently partnered with the Honorary Royal Norwegian Consulate, Destination Bloomington and the Airport Foundation MSP to bring Cold Recall: Reflections of a Polar Explorer—an exhibit detailing Roald Amundsen’s historic South Pole expedition—to over 6 million travelers during its stay.

What you may not know is that the festivities surrounding Amundsen’s historic expedition have been underway for weeks. That’s right, almost 20 expeditions from around the world have been vying for a commemorative 100th anniversary arrival at the South Pole on December 14th. In fact, it is believed that this historic gathering will cause the number of people to reach the South Pole to double.

While some expedition teams seek to successfully retrace Amundsen’s route, others sought to follow the path of another famed, albeit ill fated, polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Other teams in the hunt for polar success had different milestones in mind like becoming the youngest person to reach the South Pole.

Which teams succeeded in their polar aspirations? Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.

Norway - While Norway’s expedition team succeeded in reaching the pole in time to celebrate the anniversary with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, two of the four skiers (Jan-Gunnar Winther and Stein P. Aasheim) had to be flown in. Olympian Vegard Ulvang and Harald Dag Jølle completed the trek on skis. To learn more and to read diary entries about the expedition, click here.

Australia – James Castrission (Cas) and Justin Jones (Jonesy) hope to set a new polar record by successfully walking from the edge of Antarctica and back unaided. Currently the two Australians are 408 kilometers from reaching their halfway mark, the South Pole. To track Cas and Jonesy’s daily progress and watch video of their expedition, click here.

Britain – A freelance travel writer, Felicity Aston was 100 miles from reaching the South Pole yesterday. Aston hopes to become the first woman to ski across Antarctica, a 1700-kilometer feat, alone. For more on Aston’s progress, click here.

Looking for a way to learn more about Amundsen’s historic polar expedition? Be sure to check out the latest stop of the Cold Recall: Reflections of a Polar Explorer exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. Not in the Seattle area? Be sure to check out the exhibit in February at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma or in April at the University of North Dakota.

Norwegian Butter Drama Unfolds

The drama continues to unfold over Norway's butter shortage. Early reports of trouble appeared in the Norwegian media last month. A fat-rich, low-carb diet craze sweeping the country, combined with a year of below-average butter production, resulted in a demand 30 percent higher than average in November.

With butter prices going through the roof in Norway and a Russian butter smuggler caught with 90 kilos (that's nearly 200 pounds!) at the Swedish border last week, the crisis has become international news and great material for satire. "Saturday Night Live" featured the story on its Weekend Update and even The Colbert Report has picked up on the news.

The whole situation leaves many people wondering what creative solutions Norwegians will come up with to bake their traditional sju slags (seven types) of Christmas cookies. I've seen Facebook updates from friends in Norway who were making do with—believe it or not—margarine. Maybe I should point them toward the Recipe Box on the Sons of Norway website. Among recipes for such butterific holiday favorites as sandkaker and berlinerkranser, there's a recipe for Tiny Almond Pies, which actually calls for margarine instead of butter!

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

Photo by cyclonebill (Smør), via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Interview With Mikkel Bang

This month we profiled Norwegian snowboarding sensation Mikkel Bang. The 21-year-old Oslo native is living his dream, jet setting around the world to find the freshest powder and compete on the pro circuit. You'll find the interview in the December issue of Viking, and you can read the rest of the conversation here:

Viking: Where do you live now, and what is life like as a professional snowboarder?
Mikkel Bang: I still live in Oslo. I stay at home and do my thing—skateboard, play music and work on house stuff. The season starts in December. I compete, film and travel until the beginning of May. Then I go where the snow is good—like Whistler. This year I have Burton as my main sponsor, and I'm in their movie "Standing Sideways." I didn’t get a chance to have a big part because I broke my ankle last January. I managed to get in a couple of tricks in though.

Viking: How do you feel about being on Team Burton and what's it like to have big companies sponsor you?
MB: They have given me the opportunity to travel around the world and have a job, which is pretty crazy. Snowboarding is not really a job to me because I enjoy it so much. I don’t take it for granted, and I’m really happy. The best part about being sponsored is that I get to see so many places.

Viking: What has been the hardest thing to overcome in your career?
MB: Injuries are always challenging. I think you need to get hurt to understand that some stuff is risky.

Viking: What are your career goals?
MB: I want to try to become a little bit more of a big mountain rider. I’ll still ride in contests as long as I’m able to do well.

Viking: Where are your favorite places in Norway and the world?
MB: There are so many beautiful places in the world—I don’t have one specific favorite. There’s a surfing spot on the West Coast of Norway called Stad. It’s probably one of my favorite places. There’s no phone reception—just beach and mountains. It’s not too warm, but it’s really beautiful and they have a really scenic route.

Viking: What are your other hobbies aside from snowboarding?
MB: I enjoy playing music with my friends. I like the guitar, bongo and drums. I really enjoy all kinds of music, especially classic rock and reggae.

Want to see Mikkel in action? Here’s a video of him catching some major air.