More Seafaring Norwegians

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.

Map of Merchant Marines
Ships of the Norwegian Merchant Navy were scattered all over the world when Norway surrendered.

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.

More Seafaring Norwegians

Local Hangout

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.

clay at table

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.

Local Hangout

Polar Explorers

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.

Polar Explorers


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.


Nasjonal Musset for Kunst

Today was rainy and cool, so we went to the art gallery of the National Museum, which displays art from Roman times up to the mid-twentieth century. Much of it is from Norwegian artists, but there is art from all over the world. (There’s even one piece by a Swedish artist, Anders Zorn.)

The go-to piece here is Edward Munch’s “The Scream.” As you might expect, it draws quite a crowd – but unlike the Mona Lisa, you still can get close enough to appreciate it – if art appreciation is what you had in mind.


Maggie and I hadn’t had that much exposure to Norwegian artists. We were impressed by the quality, and by how connected they were to trends in the rest of the art world. They had an intense appreciation for the natural world around them; even though it was sometimes pretty harsh, they found beauty.

Oslo-NasjonalMuseet-JohanChristianDahl-LorvikByMoonlightOslo-NasjonalMuseet (15 of 21)Oslo-NasjonalMuseet-ThiemanOgGude

Another feature that differentiates the Norwegian art is how unhappy so many of the subjects were. For the most part, they were sick, hungry, cold and tired. The people seem to feel all of the depths of the human experience with very few of the heights. Their only saving grace seems to be that they had artists of passion, skill and empathy to capture their misery.

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The art from the rest of the world is more upbeat. One piece that stood out to me was Artemisia Gentileschi‘s “Santa Maria Maddalena Penitente.” Take a look at this for a minute:


This painting is unusual for several reasons: for one, it’s by a female artist, one of the few women painting in the post-Renaissance era; for another, the tone of the painting is completely the opposite from that shown in most of the other paintings of Mary Magdelene, where instead of being filled with inspiration as she is here, Mary is either sexualized, consumed by regret for past sins, or both; her life is spent, and all that remains is fear of divine retribution. It goes without saying that those other works were all painted by men.

For us, the one take-your-breath-away painting was Andrew Wyeth’s “Albert’s Boy.”


It’s hard to see in this picture, but the level of detail is amazing. Maggie and I were sucked into this boy’s world and couldn’t get away. Even the detailed photo below doesn’t begin to show the work that went into making this painting. The surface has been repeatedly scraped and scratched, then washed over with a fine glaze. Clearly, Wyeth was expressing the depths of feeling that were raging under this placid exterior.


It was a good reminder for us of why we need to keep going out to look at actual paintings. A photo just can’t convey the three dimensional reality of an original piece.

All in all, this is a fine art museum. There’s a nice variety of art, it’s all approachable, the crowds were manageable on the day we went, and it’s a decent size, so we weren’t overwhelmed at the end of the visit. If nothing else, for a few hours we left the crushing reality of the outside world and entered into other people’s reality for a little while. I’m happy to say that we were glad to be back – those “good old days” weren’t necessarily as good as people would like to think.

Nasjonal Musset for Kunst

Musikkfest Oslo

On the first Saturday in June, Oslo welcomes summer with hundreds of musicians on almost 40 outdoor stages, pulsating  the atmosphere all over town. All sorts of genres are represented: rock, country, pop, electronica, jazz, hip hop, world music, choirs (even Norwegian folk music, they say — but we haven’t heard any of that). The Norwegians declare it National Music Day; the local version is Musikkfest Oslo. Bands play in streets, parks, stages and squares, from noon to midnight, all over town.

It’s all for free – we don’t know who pays the musicians, but we assume it’s a government function of some sort. If this is Socialism, I say:Yes says Clay

There’s an open air bar in the block behind us, so we don’t have to leave the apartment to hear music. Unfortunately this venue leans more towards Euro/techno pop that’s not our favorite. After today, we may develop a taste for it. (We have definitely developed a taste for the pizza and beer they have there. Spicy sausage and an IPA – yum!) And hey, if you don’t like the music, you can always start your own band.

Clay playing instrument (002a)

Yes, Austinites, this is June 3rd, and we’re wearing jackets. Some of the locals are in short sleeved shirts, a few are in shorts — but hey, it’s less than 100º, so we’re bundling up. On the other hand, it takes a lot to discourage us from getting an ice cream cone.

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Musikkfest Oslo

Early Observations about Olso, Norway


First impressions of Oslo have been great.  Perhaps it has something to do with delirium from jag lag or the wine?  Regardless, adjusting to Oslo has been quick.  The first night here I slept 13 hrs. straight through and 11.5 hours for Clay!  Wow!  Never done that on an overseas trip before.  Our AirBnb apartment is just what we had hoped for when we booked it months ago.  It is in a great location and has a separate bedroom, kitchen, bathroom (with washing machine), living room/dining room, and a nice entry way.  AirBnb rocks!


I am so glad people had warned us about prices in Norway.  They were correct!  We were prepared for it by planning to spend less by only eating out once a day.  Lunch is the cheapest meal (daily specials) so we have made that our main meal of the day.   Curious to me is why the grocery store prices in our neighborhood “cheap” grocery stores is about what you find at Whole Foods.  We were actually happy about this when you compare it to eating out.

Wine prices didn’t surprise us too much because we were in Sweden last year, and know about state monopoly prices.  You can only buy wine at the state stores; however, we found wines we were familiar with, and the prices looked like Whole Food’s wine department prices.  Where is Trader Joe’s when you need them?

Beer is the strangest of all.  You can buy beer at only 2 types of stores.  Beer can be bought at local grocery stores, but only beer with less than 4.5% alcohol.  An IPA will run you about $4.00 per beer so consider our surprise to pay $24.00 for a 6 pack of beer.  Think we will be drinking wine here.

The state monopoly stores sells beer with alcohol greater than 4.5%.   Apparently drinking is a problem here with such long cold winters, so the government is trying to control drinking by only allowing purchase at state stores. Maybe they should switch over to coffee, like the people of Seattle.


Oslo folks are friendly and English widely spoken.  Good thing because our Norwegian is almost zero.  There is a surprising diversity of people here, and I would assume because of the new immigrants.  Lots of ethnic restaurants in our neighborhood and we approve!

One of the things we have observed is –  like Stockholm, you see Oslo men everywhere pushing baby carriages.  I absolutely love this!   Both parents receive time off from work.  Parental leave – how civilized.

men with babies



Early Observations about Olso, Norway

The Naked Tourists

Maggie and I are off on our next big trip: we had so much fun in Sweden last August, we decided to beat the Texas heat and spend this summer in Scandinavia. We’re actually not going back to  Sweden on this trip, but not for any reason other than it’s a big world and we’ve seen so little of it, we don’t want to repeat ourselves. This year’s itinerary is a tour around the Baltic Sea: Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, finishing up in Denmark, then back to Austin.

We didn’t plan this trip as thoroughly as we usually do. By the time we wound up putting on two weeks here, an extra few days there, we had a total of 99 days that we’d be gone – completely forgetting about the 90 day limit for foreigners to stay in the Schengen region. Surely that wouldn’t apply to us! Who would not want a few more days of Clay and Maggie! But no! A little checking revealed that it depends on what country you’re leaving from – the farther south you go, the less they care. A stern warning from the Dutch customs agent on our arrival, confirmed by a quick  email to the Danish embassy in New York, was enough to chastise us. Feeling like stupid Americans, we are having to change our return date to the 28th of August, our 90th day.

One way that we did repeat ourselves was to have our luggage lost in Amsterdam. For the third time in a row of changing planes in Amsterdam, our luggage remained at the airport while we flew on to our destination. In this modern age, everything is recorded and tracked on computers, so the woman at the lost luggage counter in Oslo could tell us exactly where our bags were; she just couldn’t tell us exactly when we would get them — that requires human intervention. At this point we’re still waiting for the baggage delivery human to intervene. We’ve been wearing these clothes since Tuesday and now it’s Thursday afternoon, so we are anxiously anticipating his arrival.

Well, it’s a beautiful day – warm and not a cloud in the sky, so we’re going to head out a little and explore our neighborhood, while keeping a close ear to the phone for the luggage delivery guy. More stories and pictures to come!

As you can see, the luggage delivery guy eventually did show up.

The Naked Tourists