Take a stroll through almost any village in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark and one of the first things you'll notice are the windows. Passers-by stop and study them like paintings in an art gallery, for each seems to reflect not only the imagination of the particular person who lives behind it, but also a certain style that is distinctly Scandinavia.
These are tidy, colorful, and efficient countries where nothing seems overdone -- where people generally have an eye for the artistic.
This sense of style and design dates back at least as far as the ninth century -- evident in the Viking ships on display at the Bygdoy Museum, just outside Oslo.
It is a bit awesome to stand in the presence of these elegant ships with their graceful lines and intricate carvings and imagine a group of Vikings meticulously constructing their seaworthy craft along the shore of an isolated fjord some 1,000 years ago. It is even more staggering to think of the Viking sailing to Western Europe and as far away as Iceland, Greenland, and even North America in these small, open boats.
These vigorous and adventurous people traveled farther than any other Europeans before them. Their ability to navigate the northern Atlantic in these seemingly fragile yet superbly designed ships is indeed astounding.
A major Viking exhibition opening at the Metropolitan Museum in New York this October will provide Americans with a rare view of this remarkable civilization.
Viking history, however, is part and parcel of the Scandinavian countryside and can be fully appreciated only if seen against the backdrop of the countries in which these people lived.
The imaginative spirit that led those early Scandinavians to set off in search of distant lands is still exemplified by modern Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes. This is the land that has inspired the music of Edvard Grieg, the drama of Henrik Ibsen, the sculpture of Gustav Vigeland, the films of Ingmar Bergman.
As you walk through the fantasyland park of Tivoli gardens in the heart of Copenhagen, you cannot help feeling that perhaps the Scandinavians are yet dreaming of faraway lands.