Sharing first impressions from Scandinavia

We returned only a week ago from our trip to Scandinavia and have not yet started on either an article or picture gallery, but here is what we wanted to share. It was cold and often rainy (we are in the North of Europe!), but we had a terrific time every minute of our trip, rain or shine (well, it never did shine). We fell in love with this under-appreciated part of Europe. Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – constitute arguably: the most cultural and sophisticated, most educated and prosperous (with the least income disparities), most highly taxed and socialistic (oh well…), least churchgoing and most unmarried – part of the West. People are the happiest we ever encountered, reserved, but very polite and helpful and after few minutes of conversation.

What is not exactly clear to us is why on earth did this super-orderly, highly organized part of Europe, with the lowest-possible crime rate in the world, choose the crime genre as their literary trademark? They produced great crime fiction, like Elizabethan sonnets. Think Swedish Steig Larson with his Millennium Trilogy or Norwegian writer-superstar Jo Nesbo.

While traveling through three countries in less than 7 days, we “worked” morning till night: most museums are closed at 3 or 4, very few at 5, so we had to speed up and get to all we wanted to see before that time. My (very interesting and highly informative) interviews with the Jewish community leaders and/or clergy were also in the morning. Shimon Peretz’s visit to Oslo coincided with ours, so this also complicated my interview schedule (most of the Jewish leaders had to choose between me and Shimon, oh well…)

We divided our run (or studies!) into a few modules: the Vikings; Royal history; museum collections; architecture and life style; Jewish history and contemporary life; and of course culinary explorations, including new Nordic cuisine, especially in Copenhagen.

Thankfully, it does not get dark until very late (9:30 PM), so we had time to do my old and new cities walking tours…Especially in Oslo, the contemporary architecture is cutting edge and people-centric.

We even did our (alas very modest) tribute to nature by going/taking a boat to the fjords in Norway (Oslo) and the Stockholm archipelago.

It took us a while to get used to their super-high prices and taxes (you order alcohol at the restaurant and oops – 30% tax on that).

Our hotels had wonderful locations, amenities, designs, and services. Their breakfasts fit for the Kings by quality and selection (or to Vikings – by quantities) and everything is organic and very healthy.

Everything is so clean: the air, the water, the streets, the dogs… About 30% of their energy is clean; their motto is “recycling is the new black!” and buying a car comes with a 180% sales tax. This makes bicycles and public transportation, including ferries, much better options.

Alex was upset because of the poor light. Rain and cloudy skies were not exactly ideal for his photography.  I liked the light: it seems one existed in some kind of a crystal, surreal world since everything was lit by that soft, greyish, whitish, bluish color. But according to Alex, no amount of Photoshop would make these pictures presentable.  Anyway, when we do present our Scandinavian slide show, greyish or not, I will cook Swedish meatballs and fish. And for the brave – herring. 

Read Irene’s other stories from Europe, Asia, and Africa.

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