Another sunny day, so we rode the train to Holmenkollen to see the ski jump. The size of this thing is hard to comprehend, so here are a few shots to give you some idea.
From the top we got gorgeous 360 degree panoramic views of the city and the Oslo fjord.
The little town of Holmenkollen is beautiful in itself. There’s an old hotel, an eternal flame of peace, and places to get a cup of coffee and enjoy the view.
The zip line down the ski jump was closed that day, removing any temptation to ride it. There was a ski jump simulator, but it was one of those pods that they load full of people, then it rocks around while you watch a movie from the POV of the ski jumper – so no thrill of victory or agony of defeat for us.
The ski museum was pretty interesting, even for non-skiers like us. They had remnants of skis that dated to about 600 CE, plus examples that showed the development of skis through the centuries. As you can imagine, the skis from a couple of hundred years ago were long, heavy and intricately carved. Ski poles were similarly heavy and beautifully carved. Skiers only carried one pole until the beginning of the 20th century, and they were often multi-functional: the handle could be carved into the shape of a drinking cup, or a spear point for hunting bear. The Norwegians are justifiably proud of being the developers of the Telemark ski, which has a concave bottom for greater maneuverability, and of their ski-based army defeating the Swedish army in 1716 and holding off the Nazis in 1940.
All in all a pretty good day – we’re glad that the Scandinavian summer is finally here (the locals said they were still getting snow this May: 20 cm in Oslo in one storm). Today looks really nice. We might even leave our jackets and rain gear behind — for a day, anyway.
Monday (June 12th) – Clay and I were getting a little tired of the weekend with rain every day. Happily we awoke Monday morning to beautiful skies and temperatures. We never really plan our day until after our morning coffee and breakfast. That works better because we can take the latest weather conditions into account. Much needed in Oslo!
We decided that 2 perfect outdoor places would be the Vigelandsparken (Vigeland Park), and the Oslo Botanical Gardens. The gardens are a short walk from our apartment so we decided to go the Vigeland Park first, and then take in the gardens near our apartment if we had enough time.
We took the bus up to Vigeland Park, and now understand why it is Norway’s most popular tourist attraction. It is a rather unique park that contains more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and forged iron. It represents the life work of sculptor, Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). We learned that he was known as a man with creative imagination, and also known for his exceptional productivity. (I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but Clay and I knew very little about him beforehand.)
The park is free and open 24hrs daily – 365 days a year. We both got lost in our own thoughts as we walked along the pathway with many of the statues on each side. Later, we both admitted that we were trying to wrap our heads around Vigeland. We found ourselves trying to analyze what he was thinking when he produced these sculptures. Take a look at some of his work and see if you find yourself doing the same thing. Below are some of our favorites. This is only a small fraction of the 200 that are on display there.
The Botanisk hage (Botanical Gardens) are in the center of Oslo and just a mile from our Oslo Apartment. We read that there are 7500 different plants in the gardens. Combined Clay and I could probably name 12 – so don’t expect a lot of plant names on the photographs. 🙂 The gardens are open every day of the week! How convenient.
Clay and I put a lot of planning into this trip, but I was still expecting that some things would go wrong. Fortunately for us anyway, we managed to get to Oslo and survived the first 2 weeks here – quite well, thank you. We also realized that we really packed well for this trip. Last year’s travel had us coming up with a list of “I wish I had brought this” – then just the opposite – “why did I bring this?”. This year we have been pleased to realize “we did it”. Actually, we only packed for one week, and do laundry at our AirBnb apartments.
Another thing we learned from last year’s trip is that we love the 2 weeks in one place. It takes that long to get to know a city, and to get around easily on public transportation. We actually start feeling “at home”. I remember when we were both working and our pitiful 3 weeks of vacation each year. It never was enough. Two weeks is just right for us.
Today we went to the Norwegian Maritime Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum. The Maritime Museum covers the 4000-year history of the Norwegians exploring the oceans. That’s a pretty impressive record, when you consider that it includes dugout canoes from 2200 BC, the Vikings, North Sea oil exploitation, Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, the Norwegian Merchant Marine during WWI and WWII, Thor Heyerdahl’s expeditions, and the modern Society for Sea Rescue (Redningsselskapet) picking up refugees trying to make it from Turkey to Greece. That’s a pretty awesome record, by any measure. When you consider that they had to cross the North Sea to get any where, it’s even more impressive.
One of the highlights for us was a film of a clipper ship in a voyage from Hamburg, Germany, around Cape Horn to Chile. I’m not sure what year it was done; obviously, it was made sometime when there were film cameras and sailing ships making regular runs across the Atlantic. We watched the movie twice and never got an explanation of why they didn’t take a steam freighter through the Panama Canal.
This was no sight seeing cruise. They had to wait out a storm in the North Atlantic for 17 days before they could really get on their way. The narration quoted the captain as saying the 3-4 feet of water over the rail was no big deal, compared to what they might see going around the Horn. We got a lump in our throats watching the men climb the rigging, up to 170 feet above the deck, to set the sails every time the wind changed. One thing’s for sure, the captain was right about the storms. Rounding the Horn, the tops of the waves towered above the deck. It was an awesome sight, even in an old black and white movie. Needless to say, they made it to Chile and calm water – but of course, they were going to have to turn right around and do it again.
Fast forward to more modern times: not enough can be said about the Norwegian Merchant Navy. In WWI, they supplied Great Britain in spite of Norwegian neutrality, U-boats and mines. In WWII, when the Nazis conquered Norway, they ordered all of the Norwegian merchant vessels world wide to find a neutral or German port; for the most part, they ignored that order and supplied the Allied war effort. About 40% of the oil shipped to England went on Norwegian-flagged ships. They paid a heavy price: over 500 ships and 3,000 men — but without their contribution, there’s no telling how the war would have come out.
There’s a lot to this museum: ship models of every kind, an art exhibit, a panoramic movie of the Norwegian coast (unfortunately out of order when we visited), along with some reconstructed parts of old sailing ships: passenger cabins and a fo’c’sle – that is, the part of the ship that housed the crew, when they weren’t working. The passenger cabins were far from luxurious, but I bet you wouldn’t complain after spending some time “before the mast.” The rooms were small, the ceilings were low, the beds cramped – the only bright spot would have been the warmth from the wood burning stove (!) in the next room where the cook would have been working.
Right across the street is the Kon-Tiki Museum, which details Thor Heyerdahl’s expeditions to prove that pre-Columbian people could have sailed from South America to Polynesia, instead of Samoan people sailing in from the west. The success of the Kon-Tiki voyage sparked more trips: the voyages of Ra I and Ra II to show that ancient Egyptians could have sailed to the New World, and the truncated expedition of the Tigris to show how far Mesopotamian people could have explored, all in boats made of reeds.
The personal stories of heroism, ingenuity and perseverance are great. There’s no doubt that the men who took on these challenges are a breed apart. The scientific justification is tenuous, though. With modern archaeology and DNA evidence, it can be shown that Polynesian sweet potatoes have South American sweet potatoes as part their genetic make-up; that doesn’t prove the case, but it’s some evidence. As far as the rest of the claims go – well, let’s say that Mr. Heyerdahl was in the minority among the scientific community.
After today, Maggie and I had to hand it to the Norwegians — they’re a tough bunch. That might be partly due to the Norwegian winter, both as a toughening agent and a motivation to get far, far away. Not just anybody would have taken on this level of challenge, not to mention succeeding. For a small country, Norway has accomplished a lot; it’s fair to say that they changed history, and we all benefit.
Friday (6/9/17) – Woke up this morning to a steady light rain and cool temperatures (high 60 degrees). That’s cool by Texas standards anyway. Weather forecast for tomorrow is better so we are going to run errands today, and go to the Maritime Museum tomorrow. As a reward for completing our errands, we decided to go to our favorite “hangout” place in Oslo this afternoon. Our plan was to read our books, and then write postcards to family. Mission accomplished!
This hangout place is very different from any local bar or coffee shop that we have ever been in. The name of the place is Oslo Mekaniske Verksted. No food is served here – just drinks. What I find interesting is that they actually encourage you to bring in food. Because Oslo is so expensive – some bars have found an interesting way to encourage customers to frequent their businesses. At Mekaniski you can bring food from home, take out from local restaurants, and thus cut the high cost of dining out in Oslo. They win because they get to sell you the high priced drinks (that is a result of the government monopoly on alcohol sales).
Clay and I like to go over in the late afternoon for coffee and to read, and today just went a little later, took a dessert from a local bakery to pair with a glass of red wine (we came in with the intention of drinking coffee, but, you know). Fun place to hang out. People watching is exceptionally fun there as well. Different groups of people (I assume from the same office) bring in food for their Friday night Happy Hour.
As you can seen Clay is simply relaxing after reading a French book and writing postcards. Also, you will note there are lots of books on the walls including scholarly works and a few cheesy westerns in Norwegian as well. You can’t see it in this picture, but the walls are decorated with huge medical charts, detailing the anatomy of various body parts. Remind me not to drink too much in here. I wouldn’t want to wake up to people using me for practice.
Maggie and I won’t complain about being cold or hungry for a while. We went to the Fram Museum, which about the Norwegian polar explorations. The whole afternoon, we read about people spending years in the Arctic or Antarctic, surviving on spoiled pemmican and waterlogged crackers.
All of these people were remarkable. They needed raw courage for starters, but beyond that, survival depended on planning, organization, leadership and ingenuity. The man who led the first expedition to the South Pole, Roald Amundsen, didn’t have a scientific background and he wasn’t a ship’s captain. He realized that success depended on having one man who both the leader on the long voyage and on the trek across the ice, so in preparation for the trip, he consulted with scientists and got his Master’s license. Fridtjof Nansen was an artist, zoologist when he led the first expedition across Greenland. Later he became a diplomat and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Attempting one of these journeys took a strong spirit of adventure, but there was a strong scientific justification, as well. Nansen collected tens of thousands of plant samples in Greenland. Amundsen’s first Arctic voyage could have been first one through the Northwest Passage, but instead they remained in the ice for two years, collecting data on the position of the North Magnetic Pole. Although he didn’t know it at the time, his instruments picked up data which was used decades later to examine solar winds, which were unknown in Amundsen’s time. The expedition of Adolphus Greely collected reams of data on the Arctic region, even though it resulted in the death of most of the explorers and the destruction of Greely’s reputation.
Death was a constant presence on all of these journeys. They figure that the exploration of the Northwest Passage alone cost about 1000 lives. That doesn’t count those lost at the South Pole or those who committed suicide afterwards. Undergoing that kind of deprivation must have taken a toll on the psyche that most of us can’t begin to imagine. Unbearable cold, unbelievable storms, ice that threatened to crush the ship could end a person’s life at any time. Medical care would be in short supply. Several people died from eating spoiled food. That doesn’t count the isolation of having to spend a year or two with the same dozen or so people as your only companions, with no link to the outside world. Suicide, either during the trip or afterwards, took several lives.
Why did they do it? It wasn’t for money. Early explorers to the New World had the promise of coming back with treasures that would set them up for the rest of their lives. They would get a little fame, but after the welcome home parade was over, the world’s attention moved on to other distractions. No, it was something beyond that. The desire to see what’s beyond the horizon is part of our make up as human beings. It led the first of us out of the Great Rift Valley, into the rest of the world. It’s taking us to the bottom of the ocean and out into space. At its heart, it’s the uniquely human belief that there is nothing in the universe that we can’t know, and so there is nothing that makes us more human.
Tuesday morning and the Olmsteads have to take a breather and do some errands here at our Oslo apartment. However, the day turned out to be fun all the way around. Even a simple task, like going to the grocery store is entertaining in a foreign country where you don’t know the language. For example, while I shop, Clay follows me around with his phone, translating Norwegian words to English to help me figure out which item is butter or margarine, etc.
After completing our shopping errand, we headed over to the Central Train Station, which is very close to our apartment. We wanted to pick up our Oslo to Bergen train trip tickets for June 17th. The reason for booking so early is that this train trip is considered to be on of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and we wanted to make sure we got window seats. We did! Better yet, since I am considered a “senior” by Norwegian standards, Clay also got the senior rate, so we saved 50% on the train trip. I guess there are a few advantages to getting older. 🙂
Because we got so much accomplished in the early morning, we decided to treat ourselves to a long lunch. We decided to go to an upscale restaurant (The Festningen), because it was very close to the Norway Resistance Museum, which we planned to visit after our late lunch. We usually keep expenses down by eating only one meal at a restaurant per day. This one was special and here are the photos to prove it.
Norwegian Resistance Museum
This is a small museum that probably gets missed by the people who arrive on cruise ships in the morning and sail off in the evening. It tells how the Norwegian people responded to the horrors of the Nazi occupation during WWII. An incredible number of them actively resisted: in spite of the threat of being shot or sent to prison or a concentration camp, they committed countless acts of resistance, large and small; actors refused to act in propaganda shows; police spied for the resistance; the Norwegian Merchant Marine refused to surrender their ships, instead joining the chain of convoys shuttling between the U.S. and England, submitting themselves to the U-boat scourge in its darkest days; 30,000 to 40,000 men and women joined MILORG, the armed resistance organization. Their spotters relayed the positions of the damaged battleships Bismark and Tirpitz to the British, allowing Allied bombers to finish them off as they tried to shelter in the fjords. MILORG commandos blew up the Nazi heavy water processing facilities in Telemark, setting back the Nazi nuclear program by months, helping to ensure that the Nazis never developed an atomic bomb.
We walked from exhibit to exhibit, marveling at their courage and ingenuity. Inevitably, we wondered what we would have done in their place. You’d like to think that you’d be one of them; maybe so, but any of us would have a tough time matching their perseverance, much less carrying out some of their audacious operations.
Back out in the sunshine, we returned to the modern world. Our president is trying to engage in a Twitter war with the mayor of London, who isn’t having any; the people of London are once again showing their courage and resilience, and the Norwegians maintain their commitment to peace. It’s just rained, everything is clean, and there’s a marching band passing by playing “Copacabana.” The Norwegians are committed to peace, but not necessarily quiet.