Norway – or, more correctly, the Kingdom of Norway – has two official names. And neither of them is “Norway!”
The country’s two official names are Norge and Noreg, depending on which written standard of the Norwegian language you’re using (Bokmål or Nynorsk). Norge is the more common one to see as you’re traveling around. “Norway” was a name given to the region by the Anglo-Saxons all the way back in the late 800s. It translates to “northern way” or “way leading to the north,” referring to the country’s Atlantic coastline.
Norway certainly has had an interesting history. There have been people inhabiting the land since prehistoric times (as early as 9000 BC), especially in the north. But of course most people associate Norway with its Viking Age, from the 8th to the 10th century AD.It was during this time that Viking seafarers raided, traded, and colonized all across Europe and the Atlantic, from the British Isles to Iceland to even eastern Canada. (Did you know that the Vikings founded cities like Dublin and Reykjavik, and first settled Normandy?)
The Kingdom of Norway was founded all the way back in the year 872, when several different kingdoms were merged by the Viking king Harald Fairhair. The Kingdom has existed ever since, though it of course has changed shape and has often been part of larger kingdoms with Denmark (1537-1814) and/or Sweden (1814-1905). Norway separated (peacefully) from Sweden in 1905, and has been sovereign even since (with the exception of when it was under German occupation during WWII).
Norway still has a king (currently Harald V) and is a constitutional monarchy, but state power is held by parliament, the cabinet and the supreme court.
Norway is a long, skinny country that covers just under 150,000 square miles. Its borders include Sweden to the east, Finland and Russia (yes, Russia!) to the north-east, the Norwegian Sea (part of the Atlantic Ocean) to the west, and the North Sea to the south.The entire country only has a population of about 5.4 million, though, meaning it’s one of the least-densely populated countries in Europe. If you spread the entire population out evenly, you’d have less than 40 people per square mile. This is why, when you visit Norway, most areas still feel quite untouched.
Today, Norway is regarded as a “rich” country in Europe thanks to its oil production. The country is one of the largest producers of oil and natural gas in the world. But the oil industry in Norway is relatively new; before the 1970s, Norway’s economy revolved around fishing and other maritime industries. The fishing and aquaculture industries are still big parts of Norway’s economy, along with shipping, timber, tourism, and now hydropower. The government of Norway has been investing surplus revenues from its oil industry since 1990 in what’s officially called the Government Pension Fund of Norway, but most often called just the Oil Fund or simply “The Fund.” The idea behind this fund comes from the knowledge that there’s only so much oil to be refined, and that even during boom times it’s a good idea to plan for the future.
Even though it seems at-odds with oil/gas being one of Norway’s largest industries, Norway is a world leader when it comes to being eco-friendly at home. Currently 98 percent of the country’s electricity production comes from renewable energy sources – mainly hydropower. Norway also has the largest number of electric cars per capita in the world, and buying an electric vehicle is becoming the norm there. Owners of electric cars in Norway get big tax breaks, as well as reduced fees on things like parking and ferry fares.
None of this is surprising; Norwegians tend to have a very positive relationship with their outdoor environment, so a desire to protect and preserve all those gorgeous natural spaces makes sense.
There are plenty of countries around the world that are known for their cuisine. Like Italy or Japan or Mexico. Norway… isn’t exactly known for its culinary creations. BUT, that doesn’t mean that Norway doesn’t have great food! There’s plenty of good food to be found in Norway, including some patently “Norwegian” dishes that you might want to try.
Brunost – Brown cheese is ubiquitous across Norway. It’s the common name for mysost, or whey cheese. This cheese is sweet, with an almost caramel-like flavor, thanks to the fact that it’s made in a way that allows the milk sugars to caramelize. It’s normal to have this cheese at breakfast or lunch, sliced thin and served on rye bread or toast.
Cod – Norway has lots of excellent seafood (remember, miles and miles of coastline!), but the most common fish in the country has to be cod. You can find it served every which way, though the most “traditional” is probably unsalted and dried.
Waffles with berry jam – You might think of Belgium when you think of waffles, but Norway makes a thinner version, with the individual segments shaped like hearts! Top with some cream, sugar, and a berry jam (try lingonberry, or cloudberry if they’re in season!) and enjoy.
Reindeer – With so many reindeer in Norway, you often find it on menus. Reindeer can be served many ways, though you’re most likely to find it in sausages, meatballs, and stews/soups.
The Arctic Circle runs through the northern part of Norway, meaning that locations above this line experience both Polar Night and the Midnight Sun, and offer a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights during the dark winter months. One common misconception is that you can see the Northern Lights EVERYwhere in Norway. This is not true; they are very rarely visible as far south as, say, Bergen or Oslo. For your best chance of seeing them, you want to be at least as far north as the city of Tromsø, nicknamed the “Gateway to the Arctic.”Another misconception is that it’s pitch black during Polar Night. This also isn’t really true. While it’s true that the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon in the dead of winter when you’re above the Arctic Circle, most places still experience the equivalent of several twilight-like hours per day; it’s not 24 hours of full darkness.
The Midnight Sun, though? Yes, it stays light for pretty much 24 hours a day around the Summer Solstice! You still get golden “sunset” and “sunrise” hours, but it doesn’t get completely dark. And even outside of Solstice time (like in July) even the middle of the night looks more like dusk/dawn than full dark.
Which of these Norway facts surprised you the most? Did you learn anything new?
By Olga Bejuà / 2020 Travel with D&F Magazine