Exploring Norway, From Fantastic Food to Opera and Vikings

The Kingdom of Norway is the westernmost country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northwestern Europe. With a land area slightly less than that of California, it boasts a coastline that is over 15,000 miles long lined with thousands of islands. The majority of its five and a half million inhabitants live along the coast and in the southern portion of the country where its capital, Oslo, is located.

Founded in 1070, Oslo is both a city and a county, serves as the economic and governmental center of Norway, and has been ranked number one for the quality of life compared to other large European cities. A modern cultural nexus labeled one of the ten best cities in the world to visit, visitors find museums, galleries, music festivals, theaters, sports arenas, and the world-renowned Operahuset, or Oslo Opera House.

Clad primarily in white granite and white Italian marble, the main auditorium stage tower evokes old weaving patterns with its white aluminum sheath designed by Løvaas & Wagle. It is the Opera House’s roof, however, that earned the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2010. Sloping gently to ground level, the roof creates an inviting plaza encouraging visitors to walk to the top to enjoy spectacular views of Oslo. Nothing beats a cocktail on the rooftop as you watch the sunset!

Foodies are always thrilled to explore the many Oslo food markets, especially Mathallen Food Hall at Vulkan which is home to more than 30 cafes, eateries and specialty shops. The areas around the center of the city all have a high concentration of cafes and restaurants, and for the discerning palettes, there are six Michelin Star restaurants located within the city. Traditional cuisines vary from classic Norwegian fare such as lamb and cabbage stew (fårikål), brown stew (lapskaus), Norwegian meatballs (kjøttkaker), and steamed salmon or fish soup to specialties such as moose, reindeer and lutefisk (cod cured in lye). But while you visit, be sure to try the traditional heart-shaped waffles and their assorted toppings such as current jam or sugar and butter.

Bus and rail transportation will get you from place to place in Oslo, and the daily bus ticket also covers the inter-island ferry allowing tourists to explore some of the nearby islands for hiking, swimming, or sea views of the city skyline. Ikea, the Swedish home goods store, also offer quite popular free buses around town to encourage people to visit for shopping and food. And for those who want a bit more flexibility, bike rental stands can be found throughout the city if you want to take one out for a few hours to see the changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace.

No visit to Norway would be complete, however, without a bit of Viking history. It is quite simple to take a train or rent a car to head south to Sandefjord, the richest city in Norway and home to Europe’s only whaling museum. Known as the Viking Capital of Norway, it is also known as the Whaling Capital and has also been dubbed Badebyen (Bathing City) due to the many beaches and spas. History buffs can also visit the Gokstad Mound (Gokstadhaugen), which is a large burial mound at Gokstad Farm. Gokstadhaugen is also known as the Kings Mound (Kongshaugen) and is the discovery location of the Gokstad Ship, which is now in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

And finally, for the well-read visitors, Norway is home to literary greats such as playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Nobel Laureates Sigrid Undset and Knut Hamsun. The Ibsen Museum in Oslo is always a treat, his restored apartment is open for visitation, and if time permits, you can even take a day trip to his childhood home in Skien. If you are traveling in late May or early June, be sure to check out the Norwegian Literature Festival in Lillehammer and don’t forget a trip to the Litteraturhuset, or House of Literature, the national arena for literature, culture and debate.

Southern Norway abounds with treats for all the senses. Find out what else is in store with a visit arranged by Endless Travel.

Post written and photos provided by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach.

 

Petra, The Spice of Jordan

Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan sits at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa. Bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Palestine, it sits along the Jordan River to its east, the Dead Sea to the West, and has a short south-western coastline on the Red Sea. This constitutional monarchy is the 11th most populated Arab country, with a population approaching 10 million. And while the majority of its inhabitants practice Sunni Islam, there is also an indigenous Christian minority that coexists quite well, making Jordan a friendly place for Americans to tour.

When many people think of Jordan, the first thing that comes to mind is the facade of Al Khazneh (The Treasury) featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But this 45-meter-high elaborately ornate structure carved into the face of a pink sandstone cliff is only one of hundreds of buildings dating back to approximately 300 BCE.  And Petra is only one face of the many-faceted gem that is Jordan.

Petra, also known as “The Rose City,” is Jordan’s most well known and most-visited destination. The capital of the ancient Nabatean Kingdom is accessed via a picturesque trip through the narrow canyon named Al Siq. Voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and has an increasing number of visitors from around the world.

Beyond Petra, however, Jordan is the home to several other exquisite destinations including Wadi Musa, the town just outside Petra’s gates. Most visitors find Wadi Musa incredibly welcoming, and it is the perfect place for exploration not only of local cuisine, but of the Spice Markets, featuring delicacies such as saffron, za’atar, sumak, curry, and star anise offered at inexpensive prices in baskets as large as beach balls. These tasty souvenirs will have you reliving your explorations as you savor the flavors of the Middle East upon your return home.

For those looking for a scenic ride potentially interrupted by goat crossings, the King’s Highway is not only an ancient trade route, but an important pilgrimage route for Christians as it passes next to Mount Nebo, the site of Moses’ death and burial. Bus tours along this highway can expect to enjoy unique scenery while seeing the local shepherds, small villages, archeological sites and more.

On the northeastern tip of the Red Sea lies the inspiration for the fictional sultanate of Agrabah in Disney’s Aladdin, Aqaba, a strategic center of trade between Africa and Asia for over 1000 years. With beach resorts known for windsurfing and other watersports, the city is also a popular destination for scuba diving, especially along the Yamanieh coral reef in the Aqaba Marine Park. The Aqaba Archeological Museum and Islamic-era Aqaba Fort provide an in-depth history of the region with artifacts dating back as far as 4000 BCE.

Sixty kilometers to the east of Aqaba you’ll find Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon.  This protected desert wilderness features dramatic sandstone mountains, natural geologic arches, and rocky caverns and chasms which sport prehistoric inscriptions and carvings. The domes of Jebel Um Ishrin, Burdah Rock Bridge, and Khazali Canyon provide numerous vistas for photographers of all skill levels, and Lawrence’s Spring is quite the popular destination. The spring is famous for an alleged visit by British soldier T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

All in all, Jordan is a wealth of vistas and sights that are beautiful, historical, and traveler friendly. Reach out to Endless Travel to book a tour, today!

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Recommended Reading –Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life Autobiography by American-born Queen Noor who penned an exceptional autobiography about her efforts to modernize Jordan. This strong and powerful woman worked closely with her husband to make Jordan the dynamic and exciting place it is today.

Written by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach for Endless Travel

See Stromboli, Italy in a Day

Stromboli – Lunch on an Italian Volcano

About 40 miles due north of Milazzo, Sicily lies the island of Stromboli, the setting for the conclusion of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. A member of the Aeolian Islands that sit in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Stromboli is one of Italy’s three active volcanoes. While Stromboli’s last major eruption was in 2009, it has spouted enough minor lava plumes on a regular enough basis over the last 2000 years that it has been nicknamed the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean,” and according to some scholars, was J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration for Mount Doom.

Accessible via ferry from Naples (ten-hour overnight trip), Tropea and Reggio Calabria on mainland Italy (just shy of four hours), and Messina and Milazzo in Sicily (just over an hour), it is a journey worth making if for no other reason than to be able to say you had lunch on an active volcano.

Coming into Ferry Terminal Stromboli

Most of the ferry lines will leave you off at San Vincenzo’s Ferry Terminal Stromboli, a small pier flanked by black sand beaches lined with fishing boats.  There are small stalls and food vendors all along the waterfront if you are looking for a quick souvenir or snack, but the real fun lies up Via Picone, which leads to Piazza San Vincenzo, a plaza overlooking the village and water

Black Sand Beaches

front.  Leading up to, and splayed out around San Vincenzo Ferreri Church, are numerous shops, clothing stores, and even a trekking shop to buy or rent equipment if you feel like climbing to the volcano’s observation point.

The tours up Stromboli aren’t for the timid. While there are local guides who will take you up and back, it’s about a three hour climb up, and another two back down in the dark should you choose that route. Stromboli lends its name to the type of eruptions you can often see from the waters off the western coast of the volcano.  These “Strombolian eruptions” are nearly continuous explosions of lava that are flung a small distance into the air.  If the mountain is willing, you’ll see several of these in a rather short amount of time. If you want to get up close and personal, you can view the volcano’s eruptions safely from the rim of the crater normally, but if a route or path is closed, its closed for a reason, so tread with care.

For those who are less adventurous, a late lunch or early dinner can be had with a stunning view of the shoreline before you make your way back down to the ferry terminal for the next leg of your journey.  If you have the time, be sure to book one of the ferry tours that brings you around to the western side of the volcano just after sunset.  As numerous tour boats stop about a kilometer off the western shore, the volcano will hopefully treat you to several “fire fountains” for your trouble.  And while the view isn’t nearly as spectacular as the one you would get from the crater’s rim, seeing red-orange fire explode into the night sky is impressive no matter the vantage point.

Depending on where your journey started, you may want to spend the night in one of the island’s hotels. The other option is to make the night time sail across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Sicily or Tropea. Either way, the visit is well worth the trip.

Written by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach for Endless Travel

Avalon Waterways – See the World Your Way

Written by Susan Hammond – You’ve always forged your own path…with your own distinct perspective of looking at the world. Avalon Waterways presents a river cruise experience with your unique style in mind-offering expansive views and wider perspectives. With river cruising’s only Open-Air BalconySM, these wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows open wider than any other in the industry, blurring the line between outside and in, forming a spacious seating area for six, and creating an open invitation to discover and dream. Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, you’ve never seen Europe like this.

Endless Travel recommends Avalon Waterways, whether you’d like a romantic mini-break, an extended exploration, or something in between, with Avalon Waterways, you get to choose the river cruise that reveals the very best of Europe, Asia or South America.