Top Ten Things to Do in Brussels

Source(s):penpaland.com
buzzle.com

Chocolates, beer, waffles, art, sculptures, botanical gardens, ancient Gothic-style churches, historical monuments, comics, military museums, art museums… Do any of these interest you? If so, then Brussels is the place to be.


Did you know?

The world’s largest chocolate selling point is The Brussels International Airport.

Brussels is home to Nemo 33, the world’s deepest indoor swimming pool at 34.5 meters deep.

Brussels (French: Bruxelles), is the capital of Belgium. It is officially known as the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region. It is also the de facto capital of the European Union (UN). Out of all the places, Brussels is the largest urban area in Belgium. Historically, a Dutch-speaking city, Brussels experienced a major shift towards the French form of communication since its independence in 1830. Nevertheless, it has officially been declared a bilingual city.

For the shopper in you:

Brussels is home to Les Galeries Saint-Hubert, Europe’s oldest shopping arcade.

For the foodie in you:

On an approximate, Brussels has restaurants per square mile.

For the chocolate-lover in you:

Brussels International Airport is the world’s largest chocolate selling point.

For the musician in you:

The most esteemed and most difficult of all music competitions of the world, the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, was founded in Brussels.

For the lawyer in you:

The largest court of justice in the world, the Palais de Justice or the Law Courts of Brussels, is in Brussels. The building is the biggest construction of the 19th century.

There is a lot more to Brussels than just Brussels sprouts, beer, chocolate, frites and waffles. Go through the following list of ‘must-dos’, before you plan your trip to Brussels.

Ten Must-Visit Places in Brussels

Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis

An extremely famous Brussels landmark, the Manneken Pis (Dutch for Little Man Pee) is a 61 cm tall bronze fountain sculpture of a little, naked boy urinating in the fountain’s basin. It has been officially declared as the emblem of the City of Brussels, depicting its rebellious spirit. The statuette was designed around 1618-19, and placed on the junction of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat.

It is a tradition in Brussels to dress up the Manneken Pis in several different costumes every week. The designs for the costumes are submitted to a non-profit organization, The Friends of Manneken Pis, who then select and produce a few to be used. The dress-up is changed based on a pre-decided schedule. The change of costumes for the Manneken Pis is a huge affair and is done amidst celebrations, accompanied by brass band music. All of its costumes are put up on display for viewing at the Brussels Historical Museum at the Grand Place.

Occasionally, it is attached to a keg or barrel of beer. Instead of water, beer flows out from the statue, which is filled in cups or glasses, and given to the tourists and passers-by. In 1987, Jeanneke Pis, the female counterpart of the Manneken Pis, was erected on the east side of L’impasse de la fidélité (Fidelity Alley), Brussels.

Flower Carpet

Flower Carpet

If you plan to visit Brussels in August, make the most of it by experiencing the spectacular Flower Carpet at the Grand Place. Every two years, the central square on the Grand Place grounds is covered up with more than a million beautiful, colorful, and assorted begonias, to create a ‘Flower Carpet’. Such an enormous display was first designed in 1971. The tradition gained immense popularity, and has been followed ever since.

The Flower Carpet is left on display for a weekend only, and the entrance to the Grand Place grounds is free for children and minimal for adults. To take in the entire beauty of this spectacle, climb up a few stories of the Grand Place. The view from up there is breathtaking. The music and light shows during the weekend further scintillate your senses, and make you appreciate beauty in its entirety.

Grand Place

Grand place in brussels

The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels. The architecture on this square is a composition of art from three different eras – Gothic, Baroque, and Louis XIV. This ethnicity and beauty led to the declaration of Grand Place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also known as Grote Markt, the Grand Place is surrounded by the city’s Town Hall, the Breadhouse (Broodhuis), and guildhalls. In 2010, this square was declared as the most beautiful square in the world.

The main attractions at Grand Place include the Flower Carpet in August (held every two years), the Electronic Christmas Tree light and music show (every year during Christmas), Meyboom (every year on the 9th of August), and the daily flower market. Sometimes, the place is also used to showcase concerts.

Everard ‘t Serclaes

Everard 't Serclaes

A war hero, a patriot and a legend, Everard ‘t Serclaes was very popular in Brussels during the 14th century. The Everard ‘t Serclaes monument is a shiny bronze statue of the legend, and honors him and his achievements. The monument is very intricately placed beneath the arcades of Maison de l’Étoile in the Grand Place of Brussels.

It is believed that if you stroke the statue of Everard ‘t Serclaes, especially its arm or the dog’s nose, or the shield, it brings you good luck and fortune. A widely believed superstition is that rubbing the statue with your arms will bring you back on another visit to Brussels. Fallen in love with the city and would like to go back? You know what to do.

Royal Palace of Brussels

Royal Palace of Brussels

As the name suggests, the Royal Palace of Brussels is the official building where the King and Queen of Belgium reside. It has been declared as the most beautiful official building in the national capital of Brussels. To be able to witness the beauty of the Royal Palace of Brussels, you need to visit here during the summers, the public is allowed access to the royalty gates only then.

Located opposite the Parliament on the other side of the Royal Park, the Royal Palace of Brussels is not just a royal residence but also a symbol of the nation’s system of government. It is also the place from where the king executes his political rights and authorities as the Head of State.

A trip to the Royal Palace of Brussels would get you in touch with not just one or two, but four different types of contemporary art forms. The beautifully done interiors of the palace are adorned with pieces of art from all over the world. The new design of the palace, which still maintains ancient beauty and perspective, is a feast for the eyes.

Law Courts of Brussels

Law Courts of Brussels

Bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Law Courts of Brussels or the Brussels Palace of Justice is the biggest building ever constructed in the 19th century. It has 8 huge courtyards spanning a surface area of 6,000 sq. meters, 27 big courtrooms, 245 smaller courtrooms, and other smaller rooms. Its most striking feature, the dome, is 104 meters high and weighs 24,000 tons.

Located atop the Gallows Hill, the building is the most important court building in Belgium, acting as a very important landmark of Brussels. Its construction had begun during the reign of King Leopold II. Towards the end of World War II, the Germans tried to destroy the Palace of Justice by starting a fire while retreating. The building suffered heavy losses and damage thereafter. The start of 2003 saw the start of the ongoing process of redesign, reconstruction, and renovation phase of the building.

In order to construct the biggest building of the 19th century, the demolition of a massive part of the Marollen neighborhood was required. This was based on the design submitted by an architect, Joseph Poelaert. Due to the destruction of property in the Marollen neighborhood, many citizens lost their houses, due to which, the Poelaert was heavily criticized and disliked. The dislike grew to such an extent that the word ‘architect’ was thought of to be an insult and was looked down upon. In spite of all this, the Palace of Justice was constructed and went on to become the most important court building in Belgium. You can visit here anytime of the year, except when a case of particular importance is in progress.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Situated atop the Koekelberg Hill in Brussels, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is also sometimes known as the Koekelberg Basilica. The first stone of its foundation was laid by King Leopold II in 1905, to mark the 75th year of Belgian independence. However, due to the immediate outbreak of the two World Wars, the construction couldn’t be continued, and was completed only in 1969.

The Basilica is a Roman Catholic Minor Basilica and a parish church in Brussels. King Leopld II’s visit to the Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Paris, inspired him to build a similar monument in Brussels. Standing tall at 89 meters, the church is the largest structure of the world built in the Art Deco style, and is a landmark in the Brussels’ skyline.

The church can hold 3,500 people at one time, and is so huge that it has found its way into the list of the ten largest (by area) Roman Catholic churches of the world. The colossal stone, brick and concrete construction makes the church stand out against the backdrop of the clear Brussels sky. Apart from Catholic ceremonies and religious services, the area is also used for exhibitions and concerts. Don’t forget to hit the green dome terrace of the monument and take in the breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the entire Brussels city.

Botanical Garden of Brussels

Botanical Garden of Brussels

If botany interests you, then this is the place you should go to. The Botanical Garden of Brussels was originally founded in 1826. It is located on Rue Royale in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, which is near the Northern Quarter financial district of Brussels. Le Botanique, or the main orangery (very similar to a greenhouse or a conservatory), consists of rotunda or a dome with two side aisles marked with windows.

Due to financial disabilities, the construction was withheld, until in 1870, when the Belgian state bought the garden and took up the responsibility to enhance its beauty and up its value with respect to art, culture, and heritage. This was done by finalizing contracts of electric lighting, different types of fountains and sculptures depicting various pieces of art.

The Cinquantenaire Arch

The Cinquantenaire Arch

Parc du Cinquantenaire, French for ‘Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary’, is a recreational park located in the easternmost part of the European Quarter in Brussels. The park was built in 1880 to mark fifty glorious years of Belgian independence. Its main attraction is the triumphal arch which was erected in 1905. Built with iron, glass, and stone to depict the growth and development of the Belgian economy, the triumphal arch adds a touch of royalty to the beautiful park.

When it was first constructed, the place was used to hold exhibitions, trade fairs, exhibitions, national festivals and concerts. Gradually, precisely in 1930, these events were no longer held, and the park was declared a leisure park. However, many museums still hold works of art and history from the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian cultures, as well as artifacts from the military, army, and automobile sectors.

Go here if you want a break from the city’s hustle-bustle, and want to enjoy a silent stroll on some quiet streets that are lined with beautiful trees. Connect with the locals of Brussels as you watch dog-owners, corporates on a break, groups playing their favorite sport, and the occasional couple in love, as they take in their moments of peace and happiness.

Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

Victor Hugo, one of the many world famous and greatest French writers, novelist, poet, and a dramatist of the Romantic movement, described this monument as ‘the purest flowering of the Gothic style’. The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is a Roman Catholic Church located in Brussels at the Treurenberg Hill.

The church was renovated and reconstructed in the Gothic style in the thirteenth century. Exclusive Gothic architecture characteristics like the pointed arch, the flying buttress, and the ribbed vault, make this cathedral stand out, and lend it a distinct sense of powerful beauty and elegant style.

Its location in the national capital makes it a monument of national interest, where many important events like state funerals, Catholic ceremonies, and royal marriages take place. As soon as you enter the gates of the church, you are awestruck by the grand arches, high ceilings, and tall pillars. Watch out for the ‘judgment window’, which is glass-painted and lights up as the rays of the sun shine through it. A must visit, if age-old, yet modern architecture interests you.

Food/Beverages Not to Be Missed

Beer and Breweries

Two glasses of beer barrel

Did you know that Belgium produces more brands of beer than there are days in a year! According to sources, there are more than 800 different types of beer produced in Belgium. The citizens of Belgium feel that beer is more than just a beverage or a drink to them. Beer is more like a culture to be respected, and a tradition to be followed. So serious are they about their beer, that they have a road running parallel to the countryside named ‘Beer Route’. If this wasn’t enough, they have special glasses for each type of beer, which may be served in those particular glasses only. This is said to enhance the flavor of the beer, and make it a more enjoyable experience.

Just like a visit to Belgium is incomplete without having Belgian beer, it is just as much incomplete a visit to Brussels without visiting the Cantillon Brewery and Museum. It is the only brewery that has remained in the city of Brussels. Founded in 1900 by Paul Cantillon, the brewery is famous for lambic beers (beer formed by spontaneous fermentation), Gueuze, Kreik, and fruit beers.

Waffles

Belgian Waffles

Waffles. Kid or not a kid, everybody has to love them. Waffles topped with vanilla ice-cream and chocolate or strawberry syrup. Best breakfast ever. The world has a lot to thank Belgians for, as it was them who introduced waffles to the world. It would be the biggest mistake ever to be in Brussels and not have a waffle breakfast. Contrary to popular belief, there is no one identified ‘Belgian Waffle’. There are many kinds, and Brussels Waffles is one of them. Brussels waffles are crispy and hard on the outside. Also, they have bigger pockets as compared to the other European varieties, and are lighter, too.

The first time waffles were ever showcased was in Brussels in 1958. Waffles were introduced to the Americans in 1962, as Brussels Waffles. The name was later changed to Belgian Waffles, as the American population could connect with a national name. Whether you have them at a roadside stall, or a cafe or a five-star hotel, it doesn’t matter. The varieties of toppings are innumerable, and the next one is much better and tastier than the previous one.

Frites

Belgian Frites

Contrary to popular belief, and as misleading as the name may be, French fries weren’t a French invention. It was, in fact, in Belgium where the earliest of fries were cooked and tasted. The history of ‘thinly cut and deep-fried potato slices’ dates back to as far as 1680, when ancient Belgian inhabitants used to substitute fish with potato fries.

Frites in Brussels are more than just potatoes; they are a treat for your taste buds. The best frites are fried in beef or duck fat, for that extra greasiness and flavor, cooled off and fried once again before serving. You would find a variety of accompaniments to go with your frites, like chocolate, salads, mayonnaise, more than fifty types of dips, and the evergreen ketchup. There are more than 5,000 frite vendors and friteries in Belgium, and more than half of them are in Brussels alone. A well-researched suggestion, visit Antoine’s, on Place Jourdan, which is known for serving the best frites ever. Don’t miss out on the ever-popular local dish of moules frites, a French dish which comprises mussels and frites.

Chocolate

Belgian Chocolate

Belgium is practically the birthplace of the heavenly delicious praline chocolates. Those little treats which are full of flavor, packed with just the right amount of sweetness, bitterness, and nuttiness, come in a variety of flavors and are extremely light on your pocket. To make the most of your trip, visit the Place du Grand Sablon-Grote Zavel Plein, which is a one-stop shop for the best chocolates that you will find in the world. It houses chocolates by Pierre Marcolini, Neuhaus, and Wittamer, each serving their own special delicacies. With a sumptuous spread of cakes, pastries, Belgian chocolates and other chocolate savories, this is the place to be if you are a chocoholic.

If you somehow, don’t get a chance to visit any of the chocolate shops or confectioneries (which I think would be highly impossible), don’t worry. When you leave Brussels, you can shop for chocolates at the Brussels International Airport, which is the highest chocolate selling point in the world. Things made so much easier, no?

Other Places to Visit

Atomium

Atomium in brussels

A structure constructed out of inter-connected steel spheres, such that it looks like an atom, the Atomium is a landmark of Brussels in itself. Named as ‘Europe’s Most Bizarre Building’ by CNN, the shape of the Atomium is that of a unit cell of an iron crystal, that has been magnified 165 billion times. The nine spheres connected by twelve tubes are entirely habitable. You can actually walk through the connecting tubes, or else use escalators which are enclosed within the building. The view from the topmost two spheres is amazing, and should not be missed at any cost.

Mini Europe

Mini Europe

A miniature park located at the foot of the Atomium in Brussels, Mini Europe showcases a display of imitations of Europe’s most attractive monuments and places of interest. A tour around Mini Europe will show you more than 80 cities and 350 buildings, that have been represented in the most intricate and beautiful way. Apart from gardens, buildings, sculptures and art, these representations include live models as well. Some of them are that of trains, cable cars, volcanic eruptions, etc. Don’t miss the ‘Spirit of Europe’ exhibition at the end of the tour. It gives an interactive overview of the European Union in the form of multimedia.

Belgian Comic Strip Museum

Belgian Comic Strip Museum

Tagged your kids along with you and not sure what would keep them entertained while in Brussels? The Belgian Comic Strip Center is your savior. Watch your kids squeal with joy as they come across life-sized statuettes of cartoons like Tintin and The Smurfs, among others. The museum covers an entire range of comic art that includes fiction, science, politics and crime, apart from showcasing comics and cartoons as well.

Other attractions to keep your child entertained are the Aquarium of Brussels and The Toy Museum.

Brussels Beach

Although it doesn’t have a coastline, every year, the banks of the Brussels channel are covered entirely with real sand, and the place is transformed into a real beach. The beach is set up every year during the summer, and can be accessed for a month, generally between the 15th of July and the 15th of August. Make sure you visit here if you travel to Brussels in the summer, and experience a day at the artificial but amazingly beautiful beach cum holiday resort.

Brussels is a haven not only for foodies, but also for travelers, historians, architecture fanatics, and world heritage and culture lovers. It has something on offer for everyone. Go ahead, visit Brussels, and find out what intrigues you the most… the beer, the chocolate, the churches, the waffles, the sculptures, the heritage, or the entire City of Brussels itself!

What Makes Denmark a Happy Place

Source(s): penpaland.com
                      buzzle.com
The Scandinavian country of Denmark has regularly topped the list of the happiest nations on the planet. Read on to find out why Denmark is such a happy place to live in.

If you ask people what, in their opinion, is the most important thing in life, many people will answer, “Happiness.” Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the most important thing in life is also one of the most difficult to get. After all, it’s often said that anything worthwhile requires effort to achieve, and happiness is certainly a worthwhile goal.

The question of what happiness really means has been an important one throughout the history of civilization, and it may be one of those questions that doesn’t have just one right answer. In the ancient Greek world, the stoic philosophers thought happiness came from being emotionally detached from the world, so you could never be disappointed. These days, people tend to associate happiness with health and financial security for themselves and their loved ones. There have even been a few attempts to try to measure happiness. For example, one Gallup World Poll asked people around the world about the feelings they had experienced in the previous day. Questions like, “Did you learn something yesterday?” were meant to determine how fulfilling people were by their everyday lives.

The Happiest Place on Earth

If you had to guess, which country would you say scored the highest on the Gallup World Poll in terms of overall happiness? If you’re a happy person, maybe you think your country scored the highest. Otherwise, you might guess that people are happiest in warm, tropical places where they are surrounded every day by the beauty of the blue ocean. If you thought that, you’d be wrong, and the real answer might surprise you. The happiest country on Earth is actually Denmark, the small Scandinavian nation.

Why are the Danes so Happy?

Although the Gallup World Poll didn’t specifically address the reasons for people’s contentment, there are a few unique things about Denmark that could help explain their high happiness scores. For one thing, Denmark has a comparatively high GDP (gross domestic product). In 2009, Denmark’s per capita GDP was $68,000, which was around $20,000 higher than the per capita GDP of the United States. Additionally, at the time of the poll, Denmark had an unemployment rate of just two percent.

Wealth isn’t the only factor in Denmark’s higher than average happiness. A strong economic and financial security could contribute to reduced stress levels, which could, in turn, make for a happier population. Many of the fears and worries that plague people in other countries simply do not exist for the Danes. For example, healthcare and college education are provided free for all citizens. College students even earn a small salary while they complete their higher education. These are two more sources of reduced stress that could contribute to Danish contentment.

Cultural Factors

There are, of course, cultural factors involved in overall happiness. For example, some cultures may not value happiness or view happiness in the same way as other cultures. Those pessimistic cultures might answer “no” to questions that are supposed to measure happiness, but the results could be misleading. Even Denmark’s high happiness score has a cultural element. Researchers have found that the Danish actually have a fairly cloudy outlook and generally low expectations and hopes for the future. Danish researcher, Kaare Christensen suggested that people could report higher levels of happiness in Denmark because reality tends to outshine their low expectations.

Whatever the reason, Denmark has routinely topped the list of the happiest places on Earth. For those of us not lucky enough to live there, Danish society could provide us with a model for how to become happier in our own lives. The Danish model might not work in every country, but if happiness is the most important thing in life, it’s probably worth a look.

Top 10 Places to Go Skiing in Europe

 Source(s): penpaland.com
                       buzzle.com

The continent of Europe is nothing short of a haven for skiing enthusiasts. From Finland to Italy, and from snowboarding to tobogganing, this Buzzle post lists the best places to chill out in snow-capped Europe.

Since their inception in 1924, the Winter Olympic Games have been hosted 13 times by a European nation, making it the highest number for any continent.

Speaking strictly from a skiing point of view, Europe has it all―tall, snowy mountains, amazing weather conditions, and outstanding facilities for winter sports. As the skiing season begins, enthusiasts from all over the world head to Europe to ski, snowboard, and ice skate to their heart’s content.

Another reason that draws skiers to Europe is the relative ease of traveling from one country to another. So, whether you choose to visit one country or ten, it only adds to your skiing experience.

10 Amazing Places to Go Skiing in Europe

Zermatt, Switzerland

Zermatt

Our European skiing sojourn has to begin in Switzerland, for the simple reason that this is where the Swiss Alps are! The Swiss countryside is dotted with charming (but frightfully expensive) ski towns and villages. But the single aspect that puts Zermatt in this list is the domineering presence of the Matterhorn. Skiers come here to enjoy the three interconnected Swiss skiing zones, as well as two more across the border in Italy. Beginners relish the endless cruising on the slopes, while experts get their thrills with vertical drops of up to 7,000 feet. Zermatt is located in the Swiss canton of Valais, close to the Italian border.

Chamonix, France

Chamonix

Chamonix easily ranks as the Mecca for all skiing enthusiasts. For starters, the town’s location is legendary, with the massive Mont Blanc looming in the background. Rugged, thrilling, and unpredictable is what best describes the skiing experience in Chamonix, with 11 ski zones in the vicinity. During peak season, skiers can enjoy vertical drops of up to 9,000 feet. Chamonix is located in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France.

Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy

Cortina

The Italian Dolomites lend a unique and picturesque landscape to the ski slopes in Cortina. People from around the world flock here to experience la dolce vita; so expect a lot of tourists here. But amazingly, the ski slopes here aren’t as jam-packed as some of the other obvious destinations in Europe, so you have a reason to rejoice. Cortina d’Ampezzo is a town in the southern Alps located in Veneto, northern Italy.

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck

The Innsbruck region has numerous options for skiing, including Hafelekarrinne, one of Europe’s steepest runs, and Patscherkofel, based around the Olympic downhill course. While these are more or less meant for experts, you’ll also find dedicated areas for beginners and children. Innsbruck is located in the state of Tyrol, western Austria.

Interlaken, Switzerland

Interlaken

Interlaken receives thousands of tourists all year round, seeing as it is the go-through town for visiting Jungfraujoch, referred to as the ‘Top of Europe’. What brings skiers here is the Männlichen-Kleine Scheidegg trail, an Alpine trail that offers the most amazing views you’ll ever witness. Interlaken is a town located in the Swiss canton of Bern.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Garmisch Partenkirchen

Garmisch-Partenkirchen played host to the Winter Olympic Games way back in 1936, at the peak of the Nazi era. Its skiing reputation is heightened owing to the presence of Germany’s tallest mountain, Zugspitze. With 75 miles of downhill runs of varying difficulty levels, this area also has 68 miles of cross-country trails, and a terrain park as well. The Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is located in southern Germany.

Lapland, Finland

Lapland, Finland

When you come to Lapland, considered to be the hometown of Santa Claus, what else do you expect to find but snow, snow, and more snow? Lapland is the perfect getaway for families wanting to soak in some history, as well as enjoy their time skiing. Besides the obvious, you’ll also be able to witness the northern lights since you’re so close to the Arctic. Lapland is a province in northern Finland.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

St. Moritz, Switzerland

St. Moritz is where the glamorous set comes to ski. It goes without saying that staying here is super expensive. However, that doesn’t take anything away from what the fabulous ski slopes have to offer. St. Moritz is perfect for beginners, with easier rides, and tons of instruction schools that dot the area. St. Moritz is a resort town located in the Eastern Alps, a part of the Graubünden canton.

Courchevel, France

Courchevel, France

What is considered by many to be a skier’s paradise, Courchevel is where all the serious skiing fanatics come to. The slopes here are considered perfect, and there’s also a snowboarding area, along with designated places for ice skating, tobogganing and ice climbing. Courchevel is a resort town located in the Rhône-Alpes region of France.

Gstaad, Switzerland

Gstaad, Switzerland

Gstaad truly is a gem of a skiing locale favored by European royalty. It has 5 skiing areas, which also include the glacial area in the Berner Oberland region. Heiti Gsteig and Lauenen are favored by beginners, whereas snowboarders love to frequent La Braye. Gstaad is located in the canton of Bern, southwestern Switzerland.

Europe offers the best in terms of skiing; be it facilities, or spell-bounding natural beauty. So, if skiing in Europe is on your mind, just take a pick from any of these amazing destinations and enjoy the vacation of a lifetime!

Facts About Norway

Source(s): penpaland.com

                      buzzle.com 

Norway is one of the northernmost countries of Europe. Here are some interesting facts about this mystic beautiful place.

Known officially as the Kingdom of Norway, it is a Northern European country, which is also a constitutional monarchy, that is situated in the western part of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The Arctic islands, Jan Mayen and Svalbard are also part of Norway. Given the shape of the country, the terrain from the north to the south is long, whereas it is quite narrow in breadth, from the east to the west. Norway is bordered on its eastern side by Russia, Finland, and Sweden.

The sparsely populated country of Norway is divided by mountain ranges as well as has a long coastline bordering the North Atlantic Ocean on its west, extending over 13,050 miles, or 21,000 kilometers, which is gashed by its famous fjords, of which the Sognefjord, or the Sognafjorden, is the deepest and longest.

The highest mountain of Norway is Galdhopiggen, at a height of 2,469 m, the largest lake is Mjosa, while the largest glacier in all of Northern Europe is Jostedalsbreen.

The Viking Age, which began in the latter part of 8th century, lasting up to the middle part of 11th century, was the era in which the Norwegians started seeking new lands because their population had increased so much that they had begun falling short of cultivable land.

Being skillful at building boats and ships, along with being well armed with iron weapons, they set off on voyages over the seas in search of wealth and land. These were the famous Vikings who came to be feared for their ferocity all over Europe. This was also the time that Scandinavia also actually became a part of Europe.

The Norwegians set up settlements on Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, as well as parts of Ireland and Britain. In fact, it was the Norwegians who established the modern-day cities of Ireland, Waterford, Dublin, and Limerick and also set up the trading communities nearby the Celtic settlements, Dublin and Cork.

It was the Vikings, returning from their voyages, who brought Christianity to Norway. Although the first Christian king of Norway was Haakon the Good, it was Olav Tryggyasson, who ruled from 995 to 1000, and St. Olav, who ruled from 1015 to 1028, who actually established Christianity in Norway. Thus, between the 9th and 10th centuries, the Norse traditions like worshipping pagan gods like Odin and Thor, his son, were gradually replaced with the traditions of Christianity.

In the year 1349, when the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, spread all over Europe, it killed almost 40-50 percent of the population of Norway, resulting in both economic and societal decline.

The sea has always been Norway’s source of strength, ever since the Vikings set out in their sea going vessels in the 9th century. Nowadays, fleets of oil-tankers and merchant ships can be counted amongst the largest in the world, while its fishing boats boast of getting the largest catch in Western Europe.

Since oil was discovered in Norway in 1969, it has been a source of wealth for this country, and subsidizes many public welfare and health programs. There was recession during the 1980s, however, Norway has recovered and has been enjoying a higher rate of economic growth compared to other countries of Europe.

The Laerdal tunnel, which was opened in 2000, situated on the Oslo-Bergen highway, is the longest road tunnel in the world, measuring 15.3 miles, or 24.5 kilometers. One of the aims of the tunnel was the hope it would encourage tourism to Norway’s beautiful fjords. The tunnel, which features huge caverns, which drivers can pull over into and rest, and which also simulate the rising sun, has become quite a tourist attraction by itself.

Swedish People and their Culture

Source(s): penpaland.com
                     buzzle.com 
Learn about the culture of Sweden and the lifestyle of its people. Also take a look at some famous Swedes.

It is the people who make a nation. So understanding the culture of a country naturally involves knowing about its people. It is the lifestyle choices and traditions of the natives of a country that define its culture. Rather than referring to a group of people as being of a certain country, it is more correct to refer to a country as belonging to people who share its history, traditions, culture, and life’s values. So, let’s call Sweden the country of Swedes, instead of going the other way round. And on that note, here’s an insight into the people of Sweden and their rich culture.
Sweden comprises 25 provinces, each with a culture of its own, which is why they are recognized as cultural regions though not having any political or administrative significance. Swedish people belong to the Nordic ethnic group that is native to Sweden, Finland, and Estonia. Swedish people include the Swedish-speaking Finns and the most exclusively Swedish-speaking people of the Aland Islands. Swedish-speaking people have inhabited Estonia since the Viking Age. During the Second World War, most of the Estonian-Swedes moved to Sweden. Today, a few hundred Estonian-Swedes inhabit Estonia and a few hundred are found in Ukraine. There is a debate over whether people from Finland can be called Swedes. Swedish people migrated to the US and Canada in the 19th and the 20th century.
Culture of Sweden
Catholic Church and Germany have influenced the culture of Sweden. During the 18th century, France impacted the Swedish culture. Presently, Swedes have largely adopted the modern Western culture. The Swedish are honest and hardworking. Corruption is less prevalent in their country. They value the environment and are vigilant about the protection of animals. Swedes love coffee. A simple meal that is a combination of potatoes, meat, and vegetables forms a part of their daily diet. They enjoy sailing, ice fishing, and swimming. The people of Sweden are deeply rooted to their families and religion. Most of their festivals and holidays revolve around their religion and are about the coming together of family and friends.
Swedish Art
Considered as a part of Nordic art, Swedish art bears influences of the art of Europe and the United States. Viking art, which exemplifies the Nordic influence on Swedish art, has survived in the form of stone monuments around the countryside and objects that have been excavated lately. Petroglyphs and other Stone Age expressions represent art of the Stone Age. Rune stone, an art form representing the Nordic culture, and spiral and animal ornamentation were seen in the Bronze Age. Christianity brought with it, new iconography to Swedish art. The Gothic style came in during the later half of the 13th century.
The architecture of early Sweden was characterized by wood. Stone came in later. The Danish churches and Cathedrals are a part of the architectural heritage of Sweden. The influence of the Swedish art of the olden times is apparent in its frescos and altarpieces.

Husaby, a village in Sweden is known for the Husaby Church characterized by steep walls and high towers, which is perhaps the only piece of Romanesque architecture in Sweden, of this kind. It was a wooden church in the 11th century until 12th century when a stone church was built.

The Uppsala cathedral, situated between Uppsala University and the River Fyris, dates back to the 13th century. Standing 389 feet tall, it is the tallest church in the Nordic countries.
Late 15th century witnessed the creation of visual narratives in churches. Princes were portrayed during the Vasa period. A cultural boom was part of the Liberty and Gustavian period. In the years after the 1880s, Swedish art began to get international acclaim. In the 1900s, modernism followed by surrealism and expressionism were seen in Swedish art.

Inaugurated on December 7, 1754, Stockholm Palace or The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Swedish monarch. It also houses offices of the king, the other members of the Swedish Royal family and the office of the Royal Court of Sweden. It represents the Baroque architectural style.
Timber dominated as a building material in the Middle Ages. Stone began to be used from the 12th century. The Gothic style brought in brick as a building material, and many cathedrals of the period were built in brick, while some others used limestone. Many cities were established in the 17th century. The Building School of the Academy of Arts and the Office for Supervision of the Building Industry established in the 18th century served as an impetus to Swedish architecture. The beginning of industrialization in the 19th century led to urbanization.

Once used as a toy for kids, the Dalecarlian horse (or Dala horse) is a carved and painted horse figurine that came from the Swedish province of Dalarna. Today, it has become a symbol of this province and of Sweden too.

Literature
The Rok Runestone carved during the Viking Age is the first piece of literature from Sweden. During the Middle Ages, most writers used Latin. The Swedish language was developed further by authors of the 17th century.
Georg Stiernhielm was the first and a very important name in classical poetry writing and Johan Henric Kellgren was first in writing Swedish prose. The Emigrants (Utvandrarna) is regarded as one of the best works in Swedish literature. The country has produced famous writers like Selma Lagerlof and August Strindberg. The children’s book author Astrid Lindgren is a well-known Swedish.
The 18th century is considered as the Swedish Golden Age in science and literature, owing to high-quality works produced during this period.
Music
 

Music is popular among the Swedes. Sweden has given rise to many opera singers. A majority of the Swedish population belongs to different choirs.
The pop music group ABBA was famous in the ’70s and the ’80s. The Roxette band that came up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is known for its delightful songs and is popular in the USA.

Indie pop/rock is an important part of the music of Sweden. Death metal is equally big.


Clothing
 
 

The Swedish wear their national costume on occasions like Midsummer (or St. John’s Day), a festival based on the summer solstice. Modern clothing of the Swedish has international influences.
Since 1983, Sverigedräkten (prominently blue and yellow in color, has been designated as Sweden’s National Costume.
Cuisine
The cuisine of North Sweden is different from that of the South. Reindeer meet used to be eaten in the Northern regions while fresh vegetables dominated the cuisine of southern Sweden.

Meatballs and brown cream sauce with tart is a traditional dish of Sweden. Dairy products, berries and stone fruits, meat and seafood are the main constituents of the Swedish cuisine. There are a variety of breads in this cuisine and potatoes are often served as a side dish.
Bakery products like cookies, buns, and cakes are eaten with coffee. Fika, meaning “to have coffee” is a part of the Swedish culture. Today, it may mean having coffee, juice or other drinks or getting together for some sandwiches or a small meal.
Cinnamon rolls are believed to have originated in Sweden, where they are called kanelbulle.

Famous Swedes
Here is a look at some notable Swedish people who made significant contributions to their fields and made their country proud.
Alfred Nobel
 
Born on October 21, 1833, he is one of the most famous people in the world. He was a Swedish engineer, chemist, and the inventor of dynamite. In his last will of 1895, he devoted a large amount of his wealth for the establishment of the Nobel Prize. The prize honors achievers in the fields of medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, and peace. It was first given away in 1901. Alfred Nobel passed away on December 10, 1896 in Italy.
Lars Hanson
Born on July 26, 1886, he was a noted figure in the film and stage industry. He is known for his motion picture roles in the silent film era. He earned international acclaim for his role in the Stiller film, Gosta Berlings Saga in 1923. He gave his last performance in 1951. On April 8, 1965, he died of a short illness in Stockholm, Sweden.

Elisabeth Olin
 
Born in the December of 1740, she was a very famous singer, actress and composer. She was one of the first female Swedish singers. She was also the prima Donna of Opera. She is believed to be the highest paid woman artist of her time. She died in the March of 1828. She is remembered for her beauty and melodious voice.
August Strindberg

 

Born on January 21, 1849, he was a Swedish writer and playwright. His famous works include dramas like Master Olof, The Father and Miss Julie. The Son of a Servant is his autobiographical novel. Other interests of Strindberg included painting and photography. His death on March 14, 1912 meant the loss of the most notable figure in Swedish literature. His paintings are regarded as some of the most original artworks of the 19th century.
Jörgen Elofsson
Born on January 14, 1962, he is a prominent songwriter in Sweden. Starting his career in music at the age of 16, he became a full-time songwriter in 1994. He is a part of the team of songwriters at the Cheiron Studios and has been nominated for a Grammy Award.
Fredrika Bremer 
 

Born on August 17, 1801 she was a writer and feminist reformer. She mostly wrote romantic stories that were centered on independent women narrating their experiences about marriage. She is best-known for her Sketches of Everyday Life, which received popularity in Britain and the United States. She is known as the Swedish Jane Austen. Apart from writing, she also worked towards gender equality and women’s rights. She died on December 31, 1865.
Selma Lagerlof
 

Born on November 20, 1858, she was a Swedish author. Starting as a school teacher and working on her story-telling skills, she wrote her first novel during her teaching career. She is most acclaimed for her children’s book called The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige). She was the only female writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. She died on March 16, 1940.
Max Martin
Born on February 26, 1971, he is a songwriter, singer and record producer. After creating hit numbers for artists such as Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and the like, he became popular. He is an eight-time winner of the prestigious ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Award.
This was an overview of Sweden’s culture followed by a list of some famous Swedes. The Swedish take great pride in their country’s cultural heritage. Their cultural values reflect in their daily lives.

A Guide to Plan the Berlin-Prague-Vienna-Budapest Trip

Source(s): penpaland.com
One of the most popular European traveler circuits is a trip
through four of Eastern Europe’s biggest cities: Berlin, Vienna, Prague,
and Budapest.
 Just One Visa to Go 

Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic come under the Schengen Area, and thus don’t require separate visas.

Europe
has been the pioneer of the cultural, technological, and societal
development of the world for a few centuries. The geopolitical and
cultural history of the second smallest continent on earth invites
travelers of all kinds. Eastern Europe, long hidden under the Iron
Curtain, holds many spectacular examples of European heritage.Berlin,
the city that has had probably the most influence over the geopolitical
evolution of Europe through the ages, is one of the largest cities in
the continent, and the second most populous. It is the ideal city to
start one of the most culturally enriching and deservedly popular travel
routes in Europe: the Berlin-Prague-Vienna-Budapest journey.

The Eastern European Journey

This route is one of the most
popular among travelers from Europe and elsewhere, and not without good
reason! These cities are among the most advanced in Europe, and offer a
standard of living seen in few places elsewhere. Behind their modern,
sophisticated face, however, lies a treasure trove of wonders from times
gone by. All three were crucial at various times in European history,
and offer an irreplaceable glimpse into medieval times. Here are some
handy tips that will enable you to enjoy this vacation as it should be.

When Should I Visit Eastern Europe?
                                                            City Square of Prague
➙ The peak time for traveling in Europe is during the summer: Late
June to October. Traveling during this duration will allow you to enjoy
the full benefits of all travel-oriented facilities.

Traveling
off-season is usually a useful tip to lower the costs of any trip, but
braving the freezing winters or annoying rainfall just to save some
bucks can be pointless in this case. Unlike most tourist hotspots,
Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest are all bustling capital cities,
and don’t rely extensively on tourism for generating income for the
locals. Hence, the prices in such urban travel hotspots tend to not vary
too much seasonally. But going off-season will ensure that you at least
beat the rush, and still can sneak in a good deal or two. If you notice
most of the rooms’ keys still on the racks, you can often bring the
quoted price down to surprising amounts. Pretend to be a cash-strapped
student or beleaguered artist, if you must!

➙ Going in the winter by
design, to experience the Christmas and New Year celebrations, is
another excellent option. This way, you can be prepared for the bracing
cold, but still beat the peak-time rush of tourists. Off-season is also a
better time to pursue artistic endeavors. Given the vibrant cultural
and artistic background flaunted by cities like Prague and Vienna,
dodging the rush of tourists is the way to go.

➙ All in all, going just before or just after the peak time, i.e., April-May or October-November, should work out well.

How Do I Move About?
                                                      Szechenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest

 

➙ All four cities are connected to most major airports all over the
world. Berlin, especially, will almost definitely be within your reach.
If this trail is just one of many sections of your European vacation,
the Eurail is the most convenient option. However, last minute
reservations on the train can be expensive, and buses or low-cost
airlines emerge as better options.

➙ As for traveling between the
four cities, many tour operators offer an 8-night, two-nights-per-city
package. If you are not the sort of traveler who likes having things
done his own way, this is an excellent choice. Some operators also offer
11-day packages.➙ If you plan to travel on your own, getting a
Eurail pass is your best choice; most commercial operators also use the
train. If you want to fly, try low-cost airlines such as Wizz Air.


For visiting tourist sights in a city, use the local bus or tram
network. This is more often than not the cheapest option, and will also
allow you to experience day-to-day life in that city. In some cities,
especially Berlin, you can also hire bicycles and explore the city’s
myriad streets on your own.

Where Should I Stay?

➙ If you are a
premium traveler, these cities will leave you spoiled for choice with
their collection of high-end hotels and resorts. Being national
capitals, all four contain countless high- and mid-range options for
your stay.

➙ If you are traveling on a budget, couchsurfing can be a
huge help, since it will cut down on the cost of accommodation
altogether. If not couchsurfing, look for other options of homestays,
which is quite popular in Europe. This will also reduce your cost of
food quite drastically. Though some homeowners may charge a fee (which
is not the norm, but is understandably common), it is much less than any
hotel or even hostel.

➙ European hostels are an important part of
the experience of traveling through this continent, and are a lot
cheaper than hotels. Budget travel guru Nomadic Matt personally
recommends hostels such as ‘Aboriginal’ in Budapest, and ‘Wombats’ in
Berlin and Vienna.

How Much Will It Cost?

➙ Most commercial tour
packages charge well below USD 2,000 per person for this sojourn. If you
are traveling on your own, a standard 8-day itinerary will cost,
according to your starting point in the U.S., up to USD 2,200.

➙ Cut
down on needless, frivolous spending. Go to bars during happy hours, or
buy your liquor in stores. Or else, just jump onto the wagon for the
duration of your trip; your liver will thank you for that! Cut down on
impulse buying. Put aside a certain amount of shopping money before
leaving, and if you see something you really like, compensate elsewhere
to make up the extra expense.

What Should I Beware Of?

➙ Get your
mobile coverage and credit cards sorted out well in advance of your
departure date. You don’t want to come home to see a huge mobile bill
that you weren’t aware you were accruing, and you really don’t want to
have any problems with your credit cards in a foreign country!

➙ In
general, Europe is a very peaceful continent, and violent crimes are
rare. But tourists are scammed quite often, and in ingenious ways. So,
take some necessary precautions. Always order your cab from your hotel,
or if you are staying with someone, ask them the rates. If a cabbie
demands more than adequate, let him know that you know the correct
rates; most cabbies gamble on travelers not knowing the correct charge.
Another notorious scam is fake police demanding to check your money, and
taking some without you being any wiser. If a suspiciously dressed or
mannered cop does stop you and makes such a demand, politely ask for his
ID. Explain that you aren’t making any accusations, but you are a
tourist and really don’t know if he is a cop. Be pessimistic, and always
assume that any spontaneous scuffle on the streets is meant as a ruse
for pickpockets to get to work, and stay well away from such crowds.
Even if you are not a ‘mark’, you don’t want to get caught up in matter
you don’t understand, in a foreign country.

Why This Route?

Western
Europe, particularly France and Italy, have become so popular among
global tourists that the previously Soviet-aligned Eastern Europe
remains criminally underrated. Berlin is, of course, one of the most
influential cities in human history, having been a crucial junction in
Charlemagne’s kingdom, Barbarossa’s Holy Roman Empire, and the Third
Reich. It also houses the most notorious symbol of the Cold War: the
Berlin Wall. In modern times, the city’s progress has gathered
tremendous pace, and it now has one of the best standards of living in
the world.

                                                         Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Prague, like Berlin, having played a vital role in the Holy Roman
Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, has been an important cultural
and commercial center for centuries. It is one of the most attractive
and appealing cities in Europe, and its city center is a UNESCO Heritage
Site. Before the German annexation of Czechoslovakia, Prague was home
to a flourishing Jewish community, and artifacts from the period have
now become very popular tourist sites. It is also famous for its busy
art scene.
Vienna is an important nexus of Germanic and Western European
cultures, and flaunts its Baroque past with pride. It has a long
tradition of music, having been home to legendary musicians such as
Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Strauss. Other performing arts, such as
drama, are also held sacred in Vienna, with the city housing the oldest
English-language theater outside the UK. Vienna’s cafes are also very
popular.

Budapest, like Prague, is considered one of the most
beautiful cities in Europe, and lies on the picturesque location beside
the Danube. The banks of the iconic river are a World Heritage Site
complex. Like Vienna, Budapest is famous for its cafe culture. It is
also the best place to sample various Hungarian delicacies, such as a
plum cake. Various sightseeing programs can be arranged to properly
enjoy the numerous sights of Budapest. Hungary has a rich political and
cultural history, and Budapest’s museums pay a fitting tribute to that
very aspect of Hungarian life.

                                                 Natural History Museum, Vienna
If you are really intent on discovering more of Europe’s historic
architecture and exploring another of its disparate cultures, you can
take the Danube Express from Budapest to Istanbul―another bedazzling
jewel in the wonder that is Europe.So, when you plan your
once-in-a-lifetime European vacation, don’t forget to include this
stunning journey through the sands of time!