THE NORTHERN REGION OF SCANDINAVIA is a place of mystery, unfamiliarity, and beauty. It's a region many have heard about, but few dare explore. Many trade the cold climate of this area for islands in the Caribbean or warmth along the equator, and let's face the facts, if you want an island suntan it won't be found here. But, if you want beauty that shimmers, romantic streets, sunsets and lighted skies that cameras can't fully capture, and a culture that leaves you smiling, than reconsider your bathing suit trip for an experience in Scandinavia.
*Scandinavia is a term that originated from the region of Scania.
*Scandinavia is now a term that refers to the three countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.
*The Nordic Region is the general term for the countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and the Faroe Islands (including Greenland).
This region of the world has many hidden geography gems. Norway has the Fjords that leave you awestruck by their size and thundering falls, the Scandinavian mountains and the low flats of Denmark are diverse, and The Archipelago in Sweden gives you your island buzz. Because of this region's northern latitude it also has some of the best viewing seats for the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). The further north you go in Sweden and Norway the more frequent and brilliant this phenomenon is, and in the upper half of these countries it can be seen nearly every clear night.
The climate, which is the major deterrent for most people, should be just the opposite. The cold and the snow only heighten the beauty of this nordic region. The snow-capped mountains make the most elegant backdrop. The jagged icy fjords look all the more spectacular. The Archipelago turns into a singular iceland. And, the Aurora Borealis reflects off the snow brighter than ever. This is not to say it's easy to forget about the chilly temperatures and climate, but traveling with expectations of cold weather eases the dislike and allows your other senses, like seeing, tasting and smelling, to lead your experience.
The facts:*Weather in Scandinavia varies dramatically from North to South, East to West.
*The warmest recorded temperature in this region was 38 degrees C (100 degrees F).
*The coldest recorded temperature in this region was -52 degrees C (-61 degrees F).
*Both of these records were set in Sweden.
Considered part of Northern Europe, the Nordic Region, and the Scandinavian Region, Sweden lies between Finland and Norway. I like to call these the three fingers of the Arctic, Sweden being the middle finger. Sweden is bordered by the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, Gulf of Kattegat and Gulf of Skagerrak. It's a peninsula country with lots of islands and varied landscapes. The land size is slightly larger than California, and there is a population of just over 9 million. The majority of the people live in the southern area in and around their capital city of Stockholm. Stockholm is also the most populated city in all of Scandinavia. Currently ruled by a queen, Sweden has a constitutional monarchy which means their head is a queen or king, but the ability to pass legislation resides with parliament.
Stockholm is a unique city, and it is easy to see why most of the population likes to live here. Technically 14 different islands, the city spreads itself out across Lake Malaren. In winter this island city sutures together when the water freezes over. It glitters at night as lights reflect off the division waters between islands. The border to the east is the Baltic Sea where cargo ships, fishing boats, and recreation boats line the docks and frame the city. Walking along the water's edge you can watch as cargo ships break through the ice and leave a trail of free-flowing water like a path out of this frosty region.
Ships are a major part of this country and have been for a long time. It is a main form of transportation and an economic route to and from countries and even among the city itself. It has also been home to many great naval ships which have protected the country in times of battle. One particular wartime ship was called the Vasa. The Vasa was a great battle ship built in the 17th century, but ended up being one of the biggest failures in their naval history. The size and the structural stability did not fuse and a terrible storm brought destructive waves which capsized the newly built warship before it even had a chance to fight. It sunk to the bottom with no signs of battle, and was preserved by the polluted water because very few wood deteriorating organisms could survive there. Salvaged many years later it is one of the only whole 17th century ships to exist in the world. However, after being taken from the water and rekindled with the air and surface environments the ship is on a nearly unstoppable path of breakdown, so don't delay in seeing this famous Swedish ship.
Stockholm is also a place of intelligence. Home to the nobel peace prize, there is a museum which decorates this history. It is not just an exception here to have people with high intellect; nearly everyone in Sweden can read and write. Their literacy rate is 99%, and from my experience I'd guess that rate goes for more than one language. Listening to the Swedish language is like listening to a song. The beauty of their tones, words and sentences makes me wonder why they bother learning any other language. None the less, everyone I spoke to communicated with perfect English and at a more refined level than most Americans.
Visiting a place like Sweden transforms you into royalty. When you walk amidst old town with the cobblestone streets, old street lamps topped with flakey hats of snow, and a cafe on every other block welcoming you in with a friendly smile you feel like an honored member of court. You pay with 500 or 1,000 Kronors without pinching your bank accounts. Then, when the winter light dims early, around 3:00, it casts a beautiful purple glow on the water and city. If you want you can climb to a high point and look down on the bustling city, counting your blessings for being in such a gorgeous, romantic culture. Smile when this moment comes because Sweden and Scandinavia is a one of kind place that is just as wonderful in the icy grasp of winter.