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What a wonderful surprise when tourists clutch phrase books that are only needed for extreme emergencies like "Where's the dollar store?" You can have a happy face in Denmark and Norway because many locals speak English.
While these two countries don't cover all of Scandinavia, if you only have limited time much can be seen when traveling by plane. Perhaps it's not true, but when you see the parade of blond-haired, blue-eyed men, women and children strolling by, there's a feeling that Scandinavians were the first to clone people.
The starting point can be Copenhagen, Denmark's capital, where many sights are clustered together: City Hall Square, Tivoli Gardens and the Stroget, the city's strikingly successful pedestrian shopping mall. The charm of its century-old architecture will take you back in time.
And, of course, everywhere is the influence and legacy of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), whose fairy tales and stories are familiar to children and their parents worldwide.
Another view of the past can be glimpsed in the oldest part of the city: The Copenhagen Synagogue, completed in 1833, is the seat of the chief rabbi. In June 2004, the city's first Jewish museum opened, offering Danish-Jewish culture. (The Jewish pop- ulation of Denmark is between 6,000 and 8,000, with only 1 percent living outside Copenhagen.)
One of the first things that you notice traveling on the main streets? The minimal number of cars compared to the ever-present bike riders - from teens to seniors. The reason bikes often outnumber cars is simple: Denmark has an exceedingly high tax on car purchases (high enough to make anyone take bike lessons).
But this tax demonstrates Denmark's determination to reduce air pollution.
Another unusual sight rests atop a nearby building marked "Phillips," where two rotating bronze golden girls indicate the weather. The one on the bike indicates fair weather; it's a downer when the other lady holds an umbrella above her head. They have cynically been called the only women in Copenhagen who can be trusted, probably started by a man who had three failed marriages.
A Garden of Delights
For entertainment, the highlight is Tivoli Gardens, the world's most illustrious amusement park. Built in 1943, it has 20 acres.
As twilight approaches, 115,000 lanterns with bulbs no brighter than 25 watts are turned on, creating a soft enchantment. The park is packed with a variety of entertainments and, if hunger attacks, there are 40 restaurants - from deluxe cuisine to fast-food - waiting for your order. The park is open April through December, beginning at 11 a.m.
Worth visiting any time of the year is Christiana, where day visits are now more tourist-oriented than in the evenings. This area of about 1,000 inhabitants has attracted nonconformists, idealists and hippies.
Soft drugs, like pot and hash, are sold openly. Though they're illegal, the government does more accepting than arresting. And on these items - in a wild spirit of political correctness - seniors get discounts. But some things have changed; Christiana has recognized the value of visitors by providing tours - not exactly enchanting ones, but theyserve as one heck of an eye-opener.
Find time to visit the Dutch Renaissance-style, 24-room Rosenborg Castle, built by Christian IV in the early 1600s. As a "romantic gesture" to his girlfriend, he gave her earrings fashioned from shrapnel removed from his eye and forehead after a naval battle.
One of Copenhagen's most famous attractions is the Little Mermaid statue perched in the harbor facing the nearby shore. Built in 1913, it commemorates Hans Christian Anderson's fictional character. Nonetheless, it's one of the few statues that look better in photographs than in real life.
Unlike Denmark, which has a scarcity of hills, the flight north to Norway reveals mountains and lakes that make you appreciate nature's ability to amaze.
Situated at the head of a 60-mile fjord surrounded by forests, Oslo, the capitol, has its own statues, notably the Vigeland Sculptures and Museum. No sight is more stunning and mind-boggling than this 75-acre park containing 40 acres of work by Norway's greatest sculptor, Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943).
It consists of 192 bronze and granite statues adding up to 600 figures, all representing a range of human relationships: childhood, young love and adulthood.
On another emotional level is the Oslo Synagogue, where its 950 members hold tight to their Orthodox traditions. It's used for services every weekday morning, as well as Shabbat and holidays. On Shabbat is a usual attendance of 150 to 200 men, women and children.
(Then there's another type of prayers in the main streets. Bike riders, as numerous in Oslo as smorgasbord sandwiches, pray that they don't get entangled with another biker or car.)
A visit to City Hall, near the main train station, is worthwhile. What makes it unique is the interior; Norway's leading artists - including Edvard Munch, whose museum has many heart-wrenching paintings - all contributed.
The huge murals illustrate people from all classes and all walks of life working together for a better society. It traces Norway's rural beginnings through the degrading Nazi occupation. Taking the 50-minute guided tour offers a poignant moment.
Although this is one of the more compelling sights in Oslo, the city offers many other must-do and must-see sites. A short ferry ride from central Oslo to the Bygdoy peninsula brings Norway's maritime history to life in three neighboring museums.
There are three original Viking ships in one museum that also reveals some Viking artifacts (eighth century C.E. to 10th century C.E.). Because the Vikings were noted for their brutal and ruthless ways, many Europeans ended their prayers with, "And deliver us from the Vikings. Amen."
Bergen, west of Oslo, surprises you with its scenic richness. It's built on seven hills, with the fjords on one side and Mount Floyen on the other. Its old-city attractions make up for its sometimes damp weather. The action is on the waterfront, where many sites are within a few minutes walk from the fish market.
Its main attraction - though not reminiscent of any perfume - is the sheer variety of fish sold there.
Sognefjord, called the "King of Fjords," is the largest and deepest fjord in the world, with a length of 126 miles and a depth of 4,200 feet. Along the ferry route that twists and turns are canyons, craggy mountains and waterfalls. Carved out by the Ice Age, they embrace the fjord with a few farms and villages giving it a touch of civilization.
You may not get into any deep philosophical discussions with local people during your trip to Denmark and Norway, but just being able to carry on conversations in English makes this a more meaningful and people-oriented experience.
For more information, go online at: www.scandinavia. com.