“Syden” for Norwegian Americans

Just as Norwegians flock to the Canary Islands and Spain, Americans with Scandinavian heritage head for Southern Florida to embrace the sunshine—for a visit or a lifetime

Pompano Beach in Southern Florida

Photo: Richard Mc Neil / Wikimedia
Pompano Beach is a good place to spend any day, but it really comes alive on the Fourth of July.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Southern Florida is a magnet for Norwegian Americans, whether they have a permanent address or are part-time snowbirds. Nordic Americans, especially those from the East Coast and the Midwest, flock to this area when the frost sets in. And of course there are those who just prefer this sunshiny area of the U.S. as a vacation destination. Whichever of these categories you fit into, one thing is sure: Norwegian Americans crave the sun just as much as their Norwegian counterparts. In some ways Southern Florida is the equivalent of the Norwegian love fest with the Canary Islands.

In fact, during the week of the Fourth of July, I was in Pompano Beach, gazing at a lovely vessel named Valhalla on the Intracoastal Waterway. After visiting this neck of Florida for decades, whether driving along it, daydreaming about it, or dining alongside it, I finally saw the name of this amazing waterway written as “Intracoastal.” Previously I had always heard it as “Intercoastal.” This may have been because of my family’s origins as they were pronouncing it with a New York accent. But now that I had seen the name in writing, I was perplexed and had to do some research using maps, Google, and all the tourist ephemera that I could get my hands on.

And the story of the Intracoastal is astonishing. I had only known of its existence in Florida, but it runs from Boston to Florida and continues on through to Texas, boasting a length of 3,000 miles. This engineering feat wisely combines natural watercourses with man-made canals. And why pray tell would one bother to create this when we have the Atlantic Ocean? It was done as a way to improve the ocean’s existing attributes, creating a more refined mode of transportation.

Take advantage of this clear, shimmering seaway when you are in this part of Florida. Go in it by dropping a fishing line or wearing a snorkel mask; go on it while gliding on a glass bottom, sail, or motor boat; or go on top of it on a jet or water ski. Or if you are less athletically inclined, sidle up next to it while eating some fresh seafood and sipping a cold beer or glass of wine.

Photo: Marc Ryckaert / Wikimedia
The pier at Deerfield beach stretches out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The other wonderful thing about this part of the world is that the Intracoastal has a big brother, another waterway just a block or two away: its neighbor, the Atlantic Ocean. July is hot and humid with two capital Hs. But there is not a better time to get down to the beach than when the night sky is inky blue-black and the light breeze refreshes. This is the place to be on the Fourth, when you can see an explosion of fireworks cascading along the shore from towns three miles to the north and three miles to the south. There is so much to see that your head ping-pongs back and forth not to miss a beat of this colorful heat. This year I watched from Pompano Beach, and I was smack in the middle of the action.

And if one wishes to experience the wonders of nature, the Pompano area provides an awesome phenomenon; when walking to the beach, there were sections cordoned off with neon caution tape to protect the sea turtle eggs. I learned that approximately 3,000 creatures lay their eggs in this area. There are three species of sea turtles that dig their sandy nests here: the most common are loggerheads and the other two species are leatherbacks and greens.

It must be an intriguing sight to watch these ancient creatures emerging from the surf in the moonlight with a single-minded determination to find a safe place in which to create their sandy nest to lay their eggs, which can number over 100. The walks to observe this process are very popular. In fact, one organization was already booked for all of their 2017 night tours. This is the one thing I really regret missing due to limited time. It is certainly on my bucket list.

Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife / Flickr
If you’re lucky on your trip to Florida, you just may spot some wildlife, like this green sea turtle caught ambling along the beach.

According to a Florida Rambler article on sea turtle walks in Florida, some beaches have better odds than others with Palm Beach County beaches boasting 457 loggerhead nests per mile, the most in the 2016 season. In this county, turtle walks are organized at Gumbo Limbo, MacArthur State Park, and Loggerhead Marine Life Center.

Deerfield Beach, the beach adjoining Pompano Beach, can be reached in about 10 minutes by car. I would recommend the A1A route for a lush and lavish ride along the coast. There is a small jewel of an area with ocean views right next to their pier, where you have a choice of a couple of places to dine. On this trip my daughter and I chose Oceans 234, dining on raw oysters followed by scallops on the shell and a fresh shrimp and lobster salad. The meal was refreshing and the view restorative.

Folks who travel to this part of Florida have a choice of two airports: Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach, the latter being further north. Close to West Palm Beach, I discovered a wonderful Scandinavian café, Johan’s Jöe, which carries a variety of Scandinavian options including sandwiches, soups, pastries, and their own brew of coffee.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 25, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.