Posts Tagged ‘UNESCO’

A Visit to a Norwegian Summer Farm

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Terje Leiren is Professor of Scandinavian Studies and History at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is the current holder of the Sverre Arestad Endowed Chair in Norwegian Studies.

This summer Terje led a group of Smithsonian travelers on a Scandinavian Sojourn.


Amid the spectacular west Norwegian fjord landscape of two UNESCO world heritage sites (Geiranger and Naeroy fjords) lies the Herdal Mountain Summer Farm (Saeter). Here farming follows a tradition that dates back to the Vikings. The farm itself, run by Jostein Sande and Ashild Dale, has been in the Dale family for 300 years.

Herdal Mountain Summer Farm

The picturesque Herdal Mountain Summer farm. (Photo courtesy of author.)

The mountain summer farm consists of 30 small buildings with several hundred goats, scores of sheep, some cows and a dozen or so majestic Norwegian fjord horses. The animals graze freely in the open landscape of the mountain meadow from June through September. Goats are milked regularly for the rich milk that is used to produce brown and white goat cheese as well as goat’s milk caramels. Agricultural traditions going back countless generations thrive here, protected by international cultural agreements and the dedication of the Sande-Dale family.

Goat Cheese

Jostein Sande holding a large brown goat cheese produced on the farm. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

As visitors to the farm, we felt as though we had stepped back in time; a time before the industrial revolution changed the world, and Norway was one of the poorest countries in Europe. We marveled at the smell and the taste of the dairy products, especially the pure brown goat cheese that has become the very symbol of Norway’s traditional culinary culture. Enjoyed with “rømmegrøt,” a sour-cream porridge, cured ham and lamb, and some traditional flatbread, the Norwegian mountain farm food experience was unique.

Norwegian fjord horse

Norwegian fjord horse searching for a treat. (Photo courtesy of author.)

The Summer Farm culture broadly represents a living tradition of small-scale dairy farming that still survives throughout Norway. However, because they are most often found away from the tourists’ mainstream and visited only by the most determined of travelers, our visit to the summer farm left us feeling quite privileged that we could enjoy such a unique historical and cultural experience as part of the Smithsonian Scandinavian Sojourn tour. A true surprise in the land of the midnight sun.


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Scandinavian Sojourn trip here.

The Everlasting City: Prague

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
Old Town Prague, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992

Old Town Prague, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992

It has survived two World Wars and a Cold War. It has lasted through centuries of religious change and transition between Catholics, Protestants and Jews. It’s also the home of the oldest university in central Europe.

It is Prague—now the sixth most visited European city behind London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, and Berlin.

The city, situated in the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic, is believed to have originated as early as 200 B.C. when the Celts created a settlement in the area. By 973 A.D., Prague became the home of Dukes and Kings of Bohemia and an economic center attracting a diverse group a merchants from the region, including an increased number of Jews. In Prague, you can still visit Europe’s oldest active synagogue, built in 1270.

The population and diversity of the city has fluctuated greatly over time, while facing issues like the plague, which killed thousands of people at a time. After recovering from its final outbreak with the contagious disease in the late 17th century, the population rebounded to 80,000 inhabitants in 1771. Over time, the economy of the area grew with industry, and the population stood at 100,000 by 1837. By 1930, the population expanded to 850,000 people, but shrank during World War II, when Jews fled the Nazi invasion of what was then called Czechoslovakia. Today, the Prague is home to over 1.3 million people and is a top tourist destination.

What is your favorite site in Prague? Old Town Square? Charles Bridge? Or is it Prague Castle? Share below.

Prague is one of the many cities you’ll visit on our Old World Europe tour, including Vienna, Warsaw, and Krakow.

Photo: Not Your Usual Mid-Winter Stroll….

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

After graduating from London University with a degree in biology, lan Felstead took a summer job helping British tourists find their way around in Tuscany. This work ignited a lifelong passion for travel, and he has worked in the travel industry ever since. Today, his work with our partner Cross Culture Journeys takes him around the world. Here, he discusses Petra.

Variegated sandstone burial chambers at Petra. Photo: Paul Cowan

This winter, swap your overcoat for a sun hat and take a stroll through the natural canyons of the 2,000 year-old rose-red city of Petra, Jordan. Carved out of the solid rock by the ancient Nabateans, it became a fabulously wealthy city–only to be lost to outsiders for more than a millennium, and re-”discovered” by Europeans in 1812. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most impressive tourist destinations in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

What was the fate of this hauntingly beautiful place? How did the Nabateans become so wealthy in the inhospitable desert? Why was Petra finally deserted, and left perfectly intact?

Learn about such destinations as Petra on our small-ship Red Sea cruise this coming January. Accompanied by Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Kenneth Perkins, as well as expert Egyptologists and guides, gain a new understanding of the history, the treasures, and the contemporary culture of the mesmerizing and contrasting lands of Egypt and Jordan.

So leave the hat and scarf behind, and enjoy a sunshine-filled tour of discovery this winter–and if you book by December 15, receive a free airfare bonus!

Click for our Ancient Civilizations of the Red Sea tour.

Which UNESCO World Heritage Site would you want to visit?

World Heritage: Egypt’s Necropolis

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

The Necropolis is one of the most frequently visited locations in Egypt, encompassing the enigmatic Giza Pyramids and the massive Great Sphinx. While long recognized as ancient masterpieces, today people remain intrigued by the mystery surrounding the engineering, construction, and intended purposes of these structures.The Necropolis was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, but long before 1979, in Hellenistic times, Greek tourists listed its Great Pyramid of Giza as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Necropolis is the only one of these Seven Wonders still in existence.

One of the most unique aspects of the Great Pyramid of Giza is the precision of measurement involved in its construction. The base forms a nearly perfect square and is almost exactly level. When first completed, this pyramid stood nearly 50 stories high (481.4 ft.) and consisted of 2.3 million blocks with an average weight of 2.5 metric tons per block. Today, it still dominates the desert landscape despite the effects of age and erosion.

Similarly mysterious are the methods by which the ancient Egyptians built these colossal structures. Scholars consider two major theories that might describe how the Great Pyramids were constructed. One theory purports that the stone was taken from a quarry and transported to the pyramid site. Another theory suggests the blocks were manufactured on site from a type of “liquid limestone,”–more like concrete. Both theories agree on the necessity for a large workforce; it is believed that as many as 35,000 men and women were involved in the pyramids’ construction.

The pyramids’ significance is similarly unknown. The Great Pyramid has multiple inner passageways and chambers which might have been royal tombs. In addition, scholars believe the structures may have held astrological significance because the sides of all three of the Giza pyramids were astronomically oriented to north-south and east-west within a small fraction of a degree.

Memphis, its Necropolis, and the Pyramid fields from Giza to Dahshur have been attracting travelers since Hellenistic times. Because of the immense size and durability of these structures, tourists can visit today and draw their own conclusions about the construction, use, and decline of the ancient Egyptian pyramids.

How do you think the pyramids were used? Share below.

Click here for information on visiting Egypt with Smithsonian Journeys.

World Heritage in Hoi An

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
A Vietnamese woman traveling by boat in Hoi An.

A Vietnamese woman traveling by boat in Hoi An.

Because of shifting trade routes, the old town of Hoi An in the South Central coast of Vietnam is a well-preserved example of a traditional trading town during the 15th to the 19th centuries. The shift of the trade routes from Hoi An to Da Nang resulted in the virtual abandonment of the town—leaving it in much the same state as it was nearly 200 years ago. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the small town on the coast of the South China Sea has seen an increase in the number of tourists and backpackers in recent years.

Hoi An was initially part of the Champa Empire, but it wasn’t until around 1595 under the rule of the Nguyen Lords that Hoi An became a major trade post. The town became one of the most important trade posts on the South China Sea because of the ability to ship goods, especially spices, down the river system between highlands, Laos and Thailand, and the lowlands. During the 16th and 17th centuries, many Japanese, Chinese, Dutch and Indians settled in Hoi An. Trade relations existed between the French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish, thus, Hoi An incorporated a unique blend of foreign and local influences.

The decline of Hoi An as the premier trade port makes this town unique because very little modern Vietnamese influence has infiltrated the town culture or cityscape since the 18th century. At the end of the 1700s, Hoi An experienced a sharp decline in trade activity due to the collapse of Nguyen rule. The new emperor, Gai Long, repaid the French for their aid in conquering the Nguyen Lords by giving them exclusive rights to trade in Da Nang, thus establishing Da Nang as the primary trade route in central Vietnam.

Today Hoi An serves as a wonderful cultural destination with numerous arts and crafts shops as well as several Internet cafes, bars and restaurants along the riverfront. Hoi An is famous for the Cao lầu noodle that the town has uniquely prepared for centuries. Today, visitors can walk the streets of Hoi An enjoying the magical mixture of cultures of a trade town largely untouched by modern Vietnamese influences for the past 200 years.

Join us in Hoi An on one of these Smithsonian Journeys tours.

What’s your favorite cultural destination? Share below.