i scream you scream we all scream for…norway?

The Scream - Credit:  Munch Museum/Munch-Ellingsen Group/BONO

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who painted a little canvas you’re likely using as a mouse pad right now, VisitNorway has released a short film on its website to show travelers a few Norwegian-style scream experiences. Don’t expect The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Killing (Sweden and Denmark, respectively), or even a sinister Nordic take on splatter-porn, however; this flick is all about the good things in life that make you scream. The fun part is that anyone can join in helping to create what organizers hope will become the longest scream in the world – and ride it all the way to the land of northern lights and midnight suns. Upload your own scream clip and have it added to the original film, helping to grow it longer. (It sounds like a Warhol experiment, doesn’t it?) As the film grows so does the value of the grand-prize trip drawn from all the submitted entries. Norwegian director of tourism, Per-Arne Tuftin, put it in a Nordic nutshell: “We basically want to make the world scream.”

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full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

Now an ecumenical church, Iona Abbey, is of particular historical and religious interest to pilgrims and visitors. For one, it’s the most elaborate and best-preserved ecclesiastical building surviving from the Middle Ages in Western Scotland. Though modest in scale compared to medieval abbeys elsewhere in Europe, it has a wealth of fine architectural detail, and monuments of many periods: in front of the Abbey stands the 9th century St Martin’s Cross, one of the best-preserved Celtic crosses in Britain; the ancient burial ground, called the Rèilig Odhrain, contains the 12th century chapel of St. Odhrán and a number of medieval grave monuments. The abbey graveyard holds the final resting place of kings from Ireland, Norway and France, as well as a number of early Scottish Kings, including Malcolm, Duncan, and Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, better known as MacBeth.

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in search of sea eagles

I enjoy the sight of a pretty bird in flight as much as the next person, but I’m not what you would call a twitcher, one of those sad people who spend their days in the back of a caravan checking names of birds off a list, ever on the lookout for a golden-winged Warbler or some such avian rarity. Though I’ve been known to get excited in Central Park at the sight of a heron or a hawk, when it comes to birds I am strictly a dilettante. Yet my friend suggested that while we were on Mull there was one bird in particular we needed to search out: Haliaeetus albicilla, the great sea eagle. Also called the White-tailed Eagle, it is the UK’s largest bird of prey and once a common sight all over Scotland in the 19th century before they were persecuted to extinction across the British isles. Thanks to the efforts of the RSPB, Europe’s largest wildlife conservation society, the eagle has successfully been reintroduced over the past ten years via Norwegian birds transplanted to the western Scottish islands of Rum and Mull. In partnership with the Forestry Commission, Mull Sea Eagle Hide was created in Glen Seilisdeir to allow the birds to be viewed from a safe distance without any human interference. As fate would have it a nesting pair of eagles hatched two chicks not six weeks before my arrival. Even stranger, prior to arriving at the hide we spotted an eagle from the road but had no idea what it was doing sitting in a tree. We were soon to discover how it was watching over a pair of jet black, fluffy-feathered eaglets. While fascinating to safely observe the birds through a telescope under cover in the hide, it was even more impressive to see the mother bird take flight in search of food: sea eagles are massive; twice the size of buzzards with a wingspan of 8ft. (You suddenly realize why 18th century farmers might have legitimately feared the eagles would make off with their livestock – or children.) Booking a visit to the hide is essential and well worth the time and effort spent in finding it.  The 6 pound admission fee not only gets you the guidance of a well-informed naturalist to tell you everything you never really needed to know about sea eagles, but also a singular view of these rare, majestic birds returned from the brick of extinction.

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norway on my mind

I was recently invited to travel to Norway next month and go trekking in search of the Northern Lights.

Coincidentally, an exhibition of the groundbreaking Norwegian architecture firm, Snøhetta, only just opened at Scandinavia House here in New York.  I’m eager to get down there to check it out before it shutters April 3rd.  Snøhetta is doing some of the most exciting work out there today:  socially conscious and sustainable, they create structures integrating culture, climate and context as these striking photos of the 2009 Mies van der Rohe Award winning Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo attest.  (Click each image for greater detail)

Even more exciting for New York, the firm has been commissioned to design the 9/11 Memorial Pavilion dowtown.

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you light up my life

I confess:  most of the press releases that drift into my in-box don’t ever get opened.  You can tell from the mangled subject lines of most of them that some poor intern has been subjected to the trial-by-fire assignment of making the latest happenings in St. Elsewhere sound sexy.  More often than not I’m tempted to click the “spam” button, but we all have our little crosses to bear in life, don’t we?

Today, however, an email arrived with a simple, elegant subject line that set my imagination running wild and made me want to open it right away:  Create your own Northern Lights.

The folks behind Innovation Norway – the name alone tells you they are interested in a lot more than just PR -  have launched a program that allows you to create your own computer generated version of the Aurora Borealis against a fairytale-blue Norwegian backdrop.  Paint the sky with your mouse, or choose your astrological constellation to use with a palette of colors that reflect your mood.   It’s surprisingly addictive, plus there’s even a mysteriously meditative soundtrack to accompany it.  And once you’re appropriately blissed – or tripped – out, save the choicest bits of your handiwork and share it via Twitter, Facebook or email.

The micro-site also includes destination information and special offers from Norway’s travel partners, for anyone who wants to see the Northern Lights for real.  For a change, I was  actually interested in navigating my way around, looking for inspiration and discovering factoids – like during the Viking Age, the Northern Lights were considered the armor of the Valkyrie warrior virgins; who knew?  Thanks, Innovation Norway, for the creative break in my day.

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