Category Archives: Europe 2017

Vikings and the Sunstone Crystal

The sunstone crystal has been one of the most widely debated topics by historians about the drama Vikings. Long before History Channel released the series, historians had been debating whether Vikings used a common calcite crystal, also known as an Icelandic spar, to find the sun in the high latitudes where they would have had to navigate despite long twilights and cloudy, overcast skies. “The Vikings could have discovered this, simply by choosing a transparent crystal and looking through it through a small hole in a screen,” wrote Guy Ropars. “The understanding of the complete mechanism and the knowledge of the polarization of light is not necessary.”

Ragnar uses a “sunstone” for ship navigation in the show, a piece of seemingly magical rock that will light up with the sun’s rays even on a cloudy day (the “sunstone” allows for the use of his sundial-compass even on long voyages, allowing him to eventually plunder England).

A Viking legend tells of a glowing “sunstone” that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the sun even on a cloudy day. It sounds like magic, but scientists measuring the properties of light in the sky say that polarizing crystals – which function in the same way as the mythical sunstone – could have helped ancient sailors to cross the northern Atlantic. A review of their evidence was published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (31 January 2011).

The Vikings, seafarers from Scandinavia (today’s Norway, Sweden & Denmark) who travelled widely and settled in swathes of Northern Europe, the British Isles and the northern Atlantic from around 750 to 1050, were skilled navigators, able to cross thousands of kilometres of open sea between Norway, Iceland and Greenland. Perpetual daylight during the summer sailing season in the far north would have prevented them from using the stars as a guide to their positions, and the magnetic compass had yet to be introduced in Europe – in any case, it would have been of limited use so close to the North Pole.

But Viking legends, including an Icelandic saga centring on the hero Sigurd, hint that these sailors had another navigational aid at their disposal: a sólarsteinn, or sunstone.

The saga describes how, during cloudy, snowy weather, King Olaf consulted Sigurd on the location of the sun. To check Sigurd’s answer, Olaf “grabbed a sunstone, looked at the sky and saw from where the light came, from which he guessed the position of the invisible sun”. In 1967, Thorkild Ramskou, a Danish archaeologist, suggested that this stone could have been a polarizing crystal such as Icelandic spar, a transparent form of calcite, which is common in Scandinavia.

Light consists of electromagnetic waves that oscillate perpendicular to the direction of the light’s travel. When the oscillations all point in the same direction, the light is polarized. A polarizing crystal such as calcite allows only light polarized in certain directions to pass through it, and can appear bright or dark depending on how it is oriented with respect to the light.

Scattering by air molecules in the atmosphere causes sunlight to become polarized, with the line of polarization tangential to circles centred on the sun. So Ramskou argued that by holding a crystal such as calcite up to the sky and rotating it to check the direction of polarization of the light passing through it, the Vikings could have deduced the position of the sun, even when it was hidden behind clouds or fog, or was just beneath the horizon.

Historians have debated the possibility ever since, with some arguing that the technique would have been pointless, because it would only work if the crystal was pointed at patches of clear sky, and in such conditions it would be possible to estimate the position of the sun with the naked eye, for example from the bright lining of cloud tops.

Gábor Horváth, an optics researcher at Eötvös University in Budapest, and Susanne Åkesson, a migration ecologist from Lund University, Sweden, have been testing these assumptions since 2005. The special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B in which their review appears is dedicated to biological research on polarized light.

In one study, the researchers took photographs of partly cloudy or twilight skies in northern Finland through a 180-degree fisheye lens, and asked test subjects to estimate the position of the sun. Errors of up to 99 degrees led the researchers to conclude that the Vikings could not have relied on naked-eye guesses of the sun’s position.

To check whether sunstones would work better, they measured the polarization pattern of the entire sky under a range of weather conditions during a crossing of the Arctic Ocean on the Swedish icebreaker Oden.

The researchers were surprised to find that in foggy or totally overcast conditions the pattern of light polarization was similar to that of clear skies. The polarization was not as strong, but Åkesson believes that it could still have provided Viking navigators with useful information.

“I tried such a crystal on a rainy overcast day in Sweden,” she says. “The light pattern varied depending on the orientation of the stone.”

She and Horváth planned further experiments to determine whether volunteers can accurately work out the sun’s position using crystals in various weather conditions.

Sean McGrail, who studied ancient seafaring at the University of Oxford, UK, before retiring, says that the studies are interesting but there is no real evidence to indicate that the Vikings actually used such crystals. “You can show how they could be used, but that isn’t proof,” he says. “People were navigating long before this without any instruments.”

Surviving written records indicate that Viking and early medieval sailors crossed the north Atlantic using the sun’s position on clear days as a guide, in combination with the positions of coastlines, flight patterns of birds, migration paths of whales and distant clouds over islands, says Christian Keller, a specialist in North Atlantic archaeology at the University of Oslo. “You don’t need to be a wizard,” he says. “But you do need to combine a lot of different sorts of observations.”

Keller says he is “totally open” to the idea that the Vikings also used sunstones, but is waiting for archaeological evidence. “If we find a shipwreck with a crystal on board, then I would be happy,” he says.

One of these crystals has yet to be discovered in any Viking settlements, however one was discovered in an Elizabethan shipwreck from 1592 in the English Channel. Historians and researchers are currently trying to confirm whether or not this crystal could have been used to find the sun when it was out of sight, which they think might be true; as a large cannon on board the ship would have interfered with a magnetic compass. Regardless of whether or not the Vikings used such stones, it is clear that other nearby cultures used them to navigate the seas.

Original article on Scientific American

The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok

The drama Vikings is historical fiction but it’s easier to watch than reading the sagas! And it’s quite funny. The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok is a patchwork of literary styles, genres and stories. Add a lot of names and genealogies and a rather wordy translation, and it’s not the easiest read. No amount of doughnuts will get little bears through the reading 🙂

The series has gathered quite a following and various blogs and social media sites are a buzz with all things Vikings related. The show is well cast and the acting is well done which has given the series much praise. There has also been a lot of gruff given to the series by historians who have issue with some of the accuracies — or inaccuracies — that the television show presents. Seriously! The series doesn’t pass itself as a documentary or historically accurate, it’s just a good show. That took us about four years to get into… But that has nothing to do with the quality of the show! Little bears are very busy and getting them to sit still long enough to watch the series is quite a feat 🙂

It’s not like the sagas are historically accurate. The stories were part of the oral tradition, no doubt each story-teller adding more flourishes in the telling. They were also written about 400 years after the events were said to have happened. They tell stories of hate, vengeance, rivalry, murder of brothers, husband and children, incestuous relations, friendship, deceit, loyalty and everlasting love. They don’t miss much 🙂 It is in these fornaldersagas (literally, tales of times past) that we find the roots of modern fantasy and the world of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok tell the story of how Ragnar got his epithet “Lodbrok” (meaning hairy breeches), how Ragnar killed the snake and got his first wife Thora (who hasn’t appeared in the series). They tell Aslaug’s story; how she came to Ragnar “neither clad nor unclad, neither sated nor hungry, not alone yet with one coming with her”. Aslaug is daughter of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer and Brynhild (told of in The Saga of the Volsungs), even if there are three or four centuries between Sigurd and Ragnar (or their quasi-historical figures). But this is legend and everything is possible. The Icelanders sometimes referred to legendary sagas as lying sagas.

Aslaug makes her debut on Vikings at the end of season 1 with a netted gown, an onion and a dog

The sagas give the heroic legends of Ragnar and his sons: Björn Ironside, Ivar the Boneless, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Hvitserk, Ubbe and a few more! The sagas tell of Ragnar and his sons’ heroic battles, their plundering and terror, of how Ivar the Boneless conquered Northumbria, of the shirt that made Ragnar invulnerable, and of how he nevertheless ended his life in King Ælle’s snake pit while he, as the snakes bite in on him, makes the poem Krákumál. (The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok contains tree sagas, a list of Swedish kings, and a long poem, Krákumál – The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok; The Tale of Ragnar’s Sons & Sögubrot.)

We meet dragons, enormous serpents, holy and powerful cows, talking birds and flying horses. Some people, the shape-shifters, have the ability to turn into animals or birds, and the berserkers turn into wolfs and raging bears. There are giants, dwarfs, elves, spirits, and all kinds of magic; people who can foretell the future and visit the other worlds. In these sagas we meet Odin, the all-father, and Loki, the trickster, meddling and interfering with human fate, we meet soothsayers, seid-woman, shield-maidens, Valkyries and all kinds of rune magic and sorcery, charms, spell, cursed golden rings and magical swords. But first of all we meet human tragedy.

Vikings follows Ragnar Lothbrok as he rises from a being farmer to becoming a powerful warrior king.

The show is brimming with tough female characters – from warriors like Lagertha, to the steely, conniving Queen Aslaug and Frankish warrior princess Gisla. Unlike a lot of medieval-themed shows, the women in Vikings don’t take a backseat to the men. The shieldmaidens are based on the old Norse sagas, and women regularly fought in the frontlines of Viking raids.

Lagertha, a shieldmaiden, Ragnar’s first wife in Vikings

Gisla, daughter of Emperor Charles of Frankia, throwing a drink into Rollo’s face (her Viking husband)

Vikings has some of the largest and most complex battle scenes filmed for TV, choreographed by large teams of experts and based on a mix of historical facts, weaponry and well-trained actors.

The battle scenes are consistently well-choreographed and thrilling, with haunting music and well-timed pauses to check in with each character to ensure that the viewer never gets lost among the action. Creator Michael Hirst says the fighting is for real. The actors turn up several weeks before shooting starts so they can go through the choreography, because it’s actually quite dangerous. They use real weapons and hundreds of people are fighting. It’s not recreational!

Little Puffles is using rose-coloured glasses to watch the battle scenes 🙂

The Paris siege sequence is a nail-biter and the first time we’ve really seen the Vikings get their asses kicked. There’s a lot going in the siege — Rollo’s berserker antics on top of the walls and that spiked wheel; Kalf’s surprising move to save Lagertha; Floki’s impassioned invocation to the gods as he burns in the tower; Bjorn and Ragnar’s injuries, and through it all, we’re waiting in vain to see things turn around for the Vikings. That finally comes in the second Paris attack. Although it’s not as epic in scope as the first attack, the story includes character development as Bjorn Ironside takes up the mantle of leadership, balls of steel in Ragnar’s death fake-out (even Honey and Isabelle opened their eyes wide when Ragnar jumped out of his coffin 🙂 ) and improbable odds. Even when they breach the walls, the Vikings are still outnumbered and facing a technologically advanced enemy.

Little bears are still waiting for Build A Bear to make Vikings costumes 🙂 The hairstyles in the series are famous and turning into fashion statements. From braids and mullets to faux-hawks, shaved heads and beards of all shapes and sizes, Vikings has it all. Many of the looks – though they appear to be pulled from a recent underground gig, are based on historical fact. Vikings were the original punks.

Ragnar Lodbrok

Little Isabelle has taken a liking to ponytails and decided to get some 🙂

As for the eyeliner, it turns out to be historically accurate! Ibrahim Al-Tartushi, an Arab traveller who visited the Viking trading hub of Hedeby in 950 wrote: “there is also an artificial make-up for the eyes, when they use it beauty never fades, on the contrary it increases in men and women as well.”


Vikings used a type of eyeliner known as kohl which was a dark-coloured powder made of crushed antimony, burnt almonds, lead, oxidized copper, ochre, ash, malachite and chrysocolla. It helped keep the harsh glare of the sun from damaging one’s eyesight while also increasing the dramatic sex appeal of the wearer.

Rollo has a special message for Puffles and Honey 🙂

The Bear aka Rolf The Ganger aka Rollo Sigurdsson aka Clive James Standen

The Science of the Northern Lights

The aurora polaris is a phenomenon that offers a unique experience to anyone who views it. It is made up of two auroral ovals: the aurora borealis, found at the North Pole, and the aurora australis, found at the South Pole. Appearing as a shimmering curtain of light in the night sky, it has amazed and astounded mankind for thousands of years. Many tales of the magical and supernatural have emerged over time, each attempting to explain the phenomenon, but only relatively recently have scientists developed an understanding of the aurora.

An understanding of the aurora first requires an understanding of the Sun and of our planet, as well as some of the fundamentals of physics.

At the centre of our solar system is the Sun: a huge ball of super-heated gas, or plasma, which accounts for over 99 percent of the total mass of the entire solar system. The gas in question is hydrogen, the lightest and most abundant element in the universe. Within every star, including our Sun, this gas is constantly undergoing nuclear fusion. This is a process whereby the hydrogen is converted into helium gas, the second most abundant and second lightest element in the universe, by means of a nuclear reaction which is responsible for the production of all the energy radiated by the Sun. It provides all of the light, heat and energy necessary for life on Earth. Despite its relatively calm appearance when viewed from Earth with the naked eye, our star is an extremely complex, dynamic and active object and it is this activity that causes the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis.

A section of the eleven year cycle of the Sun, between 1996 and 2006. NASA

The Sun has an eleven-year cycle of activity, which peaks and troughs regularly, and which is responsible for what is known as space weather. At the beginning of the cycle, activity on the SUn is high, a state known as solar maximum; this takes approximately five and a half years to peak. After this, activity on the Sun decreases, to solar minimum, reaching the trough where activity is at its lowest point after another five and a half years, before it returns, once again, to the beginning of the cycle and solar maximum. At its minimum level of activity the Sun is still dynamic, but, in comparison to solar maximum, this is considered to be calm space weather.

The activity associated with the solar cycle manifests itself in several ways. Observations of the Sun have revealed three of the principal types of activity to be sunspots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Sunspots are dark spots on the photosphere, the outer shell of the Sun from which light radiates, which are cooler than the surrounding area and therefore appear darker in colour. These are temporary phenomena which are caused by intense magnetic activity, and generally appear in pairs.

Three images of the Sun showing increasing sunspot activity. NASA

Solar flares occur when plasma erupts and is flung upwards, after which it rains back down on the Sun. A coronal mass ejection (CME) is very similar to a solar flare and occurs when the erupting plasma has enough energy to break free from the Sun and travel into space. These ejections are incredibly energetic and travel at a very rapid rate, which is necessary for the material to overcome the gravitational pull of the Sun and achieve what is known as escape velocity. This is the speed at which an object or objects must travel in order to escape permanently the gravity of another object in space. This speed is variable and is calculated based upon the mass of the object that is to be escaped from. The more massive the object is, the greater the gravitational pull and thus its escape velocity.

A coronal mass ejection (CME). NASA

In addition to these phenomena, the Sun also produces ‘solar wind’. This is not wind as we understand it on Earth, generated by the flow of warm and cold air around the planet. The solar wind is a stellar wind, produced by the stars and it consists of charged particles which stream outwards from the Sun in every direction, travelling at approximately 1.5 million kilometres per hour. All stars produce wind of this type and they do so to varying degrees of intensity.

The heliosphere is a huge ‘bubble’ that is blown by the Sun by means of the solar wind, and it is within this bubble that the solar system resides. The farther form the Sun the solar win travels, the weaker the influence of the Sun becomes, and eventually it approaches a boundary known as the termination shock. This is the point at which the particles of the solar wind are travelling at subsonic speeds, or slower than the speed of sound. There is a second, more distant boundary known as the heliopause. The heliopause is the point at which the pressure of the solar wind pushing outward from the Sun is equal to the pressure exerted by the interstellar medium, that is the material in space between the stars, and the stellar winds produced by other stars close by. This is the edge of the bubble. The area between the termination shock and the heliopause is known as the heliosheath. Because the Sun is travelling through space, taking with it the solar system, a wave forms in front of it as it travels, and this is called the bow shock.

A diagram of the heliopause. NASA/JPL

This can be visualised by imagining a boat travelling through water. As it does so it creates a wave that goes before it. In recent years, NASA has collected new data which contradict this theory, suggesting there may be no bow shock at all. The heliosphere is so large that the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 are only now reaching the threshold between the heliosphere and interstellar space. NASA is attempting to explore this region with the Interstellar Boundary Explorer mission, or IBEX, which examines the nature of the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the edge of our solar system.

CMEs, or solar flares and the solar wind are the causes of the aurora, and the significance of a solar maximum is that it causes more and greater interactions between Earth and the Sun, and therefore auroras which are viewed during a solar maximum are usually more spectacular, energetic, and ultimately, more beautiful.

The interaction between the Earth and the Sun is responsible for the aurora borealis. Earth generates an invisible magnetic bubble, or magnetic field, called the magnetosphere. This magnetic bubble encloses the planet in a protective shield, preventing us from being subjected to an array of toxic sources, such as radiation from the Sun or from other sources, such as cosmic rays. The Sun produces vast amounts of radiation which is hazardous to life, in particular ultraviolet light, although some of this does manage to get through the magnetosphere: if you are exposed to it you will, depending upon your skin complexion, receive either a sun tan or sun burn.

Earth’s magnetosphere deflects most charged particles away from Earth – but some do become trapped in the magnetic field and create auroras when they rain down into the atmosphere. NASA has several missions that study Earth’s magnetosphere – including the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, Van Allen Probes, and Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (also known as THEMIS) – along with a host of other satellites that study other aspects of the Sun-Earth connection.


The magnetosphere is generated deep inside the Earth, in the core of the planet. Composed mostly of nickel and iron, the core has two separate and distinct parts. The inner core is solid and the outer core is molten, and therefore very hot. The rotation of the Earth has the effect of producing convection currents in this molten metal. Convection is the transfer of heat within a material where the material itself does not move as a whole; thus, the heat in the hotter parts of the liquid metal core is moving to the cooler areas, and the currents produced by this transfer of heat generate the magnetic field of the magnetosphere. This is sometimes referred to as the Dynamo Effect. The magnetosphere is active and energetic. Magnetite deposits on Earth shows us that it ‘flips’ every so often, so that the poles change over, reversing the polarity of the magnetosphere. The next time the polarity flips it will cause the compasses to point south rather than north. There is nothing in the millions of years of geologic record to suggest that any of the doomsday scenarios connected to a pole reversal should be taken seriously. A reversal might, however, be good business for magnetic compass manufacturers. The conditions that cause polarity reversals are not entirely predictable, but the science shows that magnetic pole reversal is – in terms of geologic time scales – a common occurrence that happens gradually over millennia. Reversals take a few thousand years to complete, and during that time the magnetic field does not vanish. It does get more complicated.

A schematic diagram of Earth’s interior. The outer core is the source of the geomagnetic field. NASA
Supercomputer models of Earth’s magnetic field. On the left is a normal dipolar magnetic field, typical of the long years between polarity reversals. On the right is the sort of complicated magnetic field Earth has during the upheaval of a reversal. NASA
Earth’s magnetosphere as it would look if we had “magnetic field glasses”. The shape is created by the interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s intrinsic magnetic field. NASA

The magnetosphere is an invisible magnetic field that emanates from the poles. This is not true of all the planets. Mars, for example, has lost almost all of its magnetic field over time because its core has solidified, making it not only an aurora-free world (that settles it, we’re not moving there!), but also causing the surface of the red planet to be much more susceptible to the ravages of solar and cosmic radiation. Contrastingly, Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, generates a huge magnetic field. This is far greater in strength and intensity than Earth’s magnetic field, and would be extremely toxic to humans due to its ability to generate powerful radiation belts by trapping and accelerating radioactive particles. The core of Jupiter is made of hydrogen, which ordinarily is not able to produce electricity or magnetism. In this case, however, the enormous weight of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere subjects the hydrogen in the core to pressure equivalent to millions of times that of the atmospheric pressure on Earth, and under these conditions hydrogen is thought to enter an exotic state and become metallic, and is subsequently able to conduct electricity. This process is thought to account for the magnetic field that is generated around Jupiter.

Hubble Captures Vivid Auroras in Jupiter’s Atmosphere. NASA
Blue aurora on Jupiter. NASA/J Clarke

Given the variations we observe in our own solar system, it is clear that we reside in a sort of magnetic oasis, a ‘sweet spot’ where the conditions are safe enough to protect us from harmful radiation produced by our star, but also interesting and energetic enough to allow us to observe one of the greatest wonders of the world, the aurora borealis.

Aurora Borealis, northern Norway

The interaction between the Earth’s magnetism and electrically charged particles from the Sun is what creates the aurora borealis. The charged particles of the solar wind, electrons, stream towards Earth and collide with the gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, made up mainly of nitrogen and oxygen. In the process of colliding, the electrons deliver energy to the magnetosphere and the energy is temporarily stored there as electrical currents and electromagnetic energy. This is not a stable state for the magnetosphere, however, and the energy is prone to sudden release. When this happens, the energy accelerates electrons in the magnetosphere and they are funnelled down towards the poles where they collide with gas atoms in the atmosphere. This in turn excites the atoms, causing them to become more energetic. The atoms of gas in the atmosphere consist of an atomic nucleus, the centre of an atom and a cloud of electrons which orbit the nucleus. In order for an atom to become excited the electrons must be pushed farther away from the nucleus. This is a higher energy orbit. The atoms do not retain this energy indefinitely and remain this way, however, and so they must undergo the process of returning to their previous state and that means that the electrons return to a lower energy orbit, closer to the nucleus. The energy that the atoms gain from the solar wind must go somewhere, for energy cannot be destroyed or simply disappear; it can only be converted into other forms of energy. It must obey the laws of physics. In the case of the aurora borealis, the energy is released again, this time in the form of photons, or light. It is this light that we see shimmering in the skies as aurora borealis. The more energetic the Sun, the more energy is delivered to, and subsequently released by, the atoms in the atmosphere, and the more light is produced. The more light is produced, the more spectacular the aurora that is observed.


Typically auroras are observed in several different colours. By far the most commonly observed is green, with red, blue, pink, white and purple appearing rarely. Different coloured auroras are observed because of the different gases that are producing them. Green auroras are produced by oxygen at lower altitudes. Oxygen at higher altitudes typically produces red, while nitrogen produces blue, often observed as purple due to atmospheric conditions and other light mixing. This mixing of light from auroras can also produce pink or white auroras.

Southern lights seen in the skies above Dunedin, New Zealand (Paul Le Comte)

A Bumper Season for the Northern Lights

Lonely Planet has just stated that according to recent reports, this winter, the Northern Hemisphere will encounter stunning views of the Northern Lights, with nature’s greatest light show set to begin its strongest cycle from September onwards.

We would love to know where these reports came from (a quick Google search didn’t uncover any of them), but we have a vested interest to seriously hope that they are right!

On Friday NASA reported that the sun emitted another mid-level solar flare, the sixth sizable flare from the same active region since September 4. That better be practice! The sun must have heard that little Puffles and Honey will be visiting the arctic region later this year to see the aurora borealis, so it’s busy practising for the most awesome display ever 🙂

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an M8.1 solar flare – as seen in the bright area on the right – on Sept. 8, 2017. The image is a blend of extreme ultraviolet light in the 131 and 171 angstrom wavelengths.
Credits: NASA

On September 6, a giant sunspot on the sun erupted with a colossal solar flare that registered X9.3 on the solar storm scale. Actually, the sun spot spat out two X-class flares, the biggest class of solar flare there is, and the largest explosions in our solar system, with loops of plasma tens of times the size of the Earth. The first flare came in at X2.2 while the monster X9.3 flare is the largest since 2005.

Sure, we’re headed toward solar minimum, but that doesn’t stop two gigantic sunspots – AR2673 and its pal AR2674 – from playing up and erupting in solar flares. They must be excited about little Puffles and Honey big trip! 🙂 This solar cycle, which began in 2008, has been unusually quiet, with very low sunspot activity. Not any more!

The most recent X9 flare took place in 2006, at X9.0. In 2005, a massive X17 flare erupted. The biggest solar flare of all time was a humongous X28 back in 2003, which luckily was at an oblique angle to Earth, so we managed to avoid the full brunt. Even so, it managed to overload all NASA’s solar sensors.

The X9.3 class flare glitters in this image from NASA’s SDO showing the sun in a deep yellow at 171 angstrom wavelength.

How long sunspots last varies. The longest-lived sunspot on record hung around for six months, so it’s entirely possible we haven’t heard the last from AR2673 and AR2674. We certainly hope so!

The Northern lights over Reinfjorden in Reine, on Lofoten Islands, Arctic Circle, on September 8, 2017. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Nordic Sense of Humour

Sweden’s deputy prime minister and climate minister Isabella Lövin signing a climate bill surrounded by her closest female colleagues, apparently mocking you know who.
Photograph: Isabella Lövin

Sweden, a pioneer in women’s rights, is known for its high level of women in the workplace, including in parliament and government.

Nordic Prime Ministers: (L-R) Stefan Lofven of Sweden, Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark, Erna Solberg of Norway, Juha Sipila of Finland and Bjarni Benediktsson of Iceland, in Bergen, Norway, apparently mocking you know who.

Norway holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2017, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg has hosted a meeting of her Nordic colleagues in Bergen on 29 and 30 May. The agenda items included: further development of the Nordic region to ensure that it remains the most integrated region in the world, the fight against extremism and the Nordic region in the world. The ball the PMs are holding in the photo has sustainability targets written on it. They hope they will be a roadmap for the future.

The Nordic Countries look like a very interesting place to visit!

The Princess Cake Story

Princess Cake Story

Did you know that the Prinsesstårta (Princess Cake) has a story?, says Puffles who knows all the stories worth knowing 🙂

Princess Cake Story

The Princess Cake is practically the national cake of Sweden. That would explain why Miss Maud, a Swedish Pastry House, makes it. And they make a really delicious cake! And it’s very impressive how they managed to fit all that writing on the cake 🙂

Princess Cake Story

Apparently, and according to Swedish Food, Jenny Åkerström is the originator of the recipe. Jenny Åkerström was a Swedish home economics guru at the beginning of the 20th century and was an instructor to the three Swedish princesses, Margaretha, Märtha and Astrid, daughters of Prince Carl (brother of King Gustaf V).

Princess Cake Story

She published a four volume series of cookbooks called Prinsessornas Kokbok: Husmanskost och Helgdagsmat (Princesses Cookbook: Home Cooking and Holiday Food). The first edition came out in 1929 with the princess’ portraits gracing the cover. With it’s great success, helped by the cover, came 18 reprints with revisions up to 1952.

Princess Astrid
Princess Astrid

The princesses were seen as role models. Their education included child care and cooking which was innovative at the time. Not so much now! You certainly won’t find Isabelle cooking! She’ll just wave Mummy’s credit card at Miss Maud and get a pink cake, inscribed with her name no less 🙂

Princess Cake Story

The original edition Prinsessornas Kokbok did not have a recipe for a cake anything like the prinsesstårta that is so popular today. Ha! The recipe did not appear in the 1937, 1945 or 1952 editions, but there IS a recipe for grön tårta (green cake) in the 1948 edition, which is similar to the recipe for prinsesstårta that’s in use today. For some reason the recipe was dropped from the 1952 edition, but the name grön tårta explains why the cake is normally green. Miss Maud now makes a pink and a blue version as well.

Princess Cake Story

The name change to prinsesstårta was a good marketing move as it is certainly more appealing than “green cake”. The change is believed to have been made because the princesses loved the cake so much. The princesses weren’t alone: the cake rapidly became very popular in Sweden, with around 500,000 sold every year.

The fourth week in September is officially Prinsesstårtans Vecka (Princess Cake Week) in Sweden. For every prinsesstårta purchased during the week 10 SEK (about £1, $1.50) is donated to Crown Princess Victoria’s Fund that benefits chronically ill and disabled children and adolescents in Sweden. Every prinsesstårta sold during the week is topped with a gold crown to show it is part of the fund-raising effort. During prinsesstårtans vecka sales are usually double any other week.

The Princess Cake is one of the bears’ favourite cakes 🙂 Låt oss äta!

Princess Cake Story