Oh, man, we loved (LOVED) Norway. I am excited to share a little bit of it with you. Our first taste of Norway was the city of Oslo, so I will start there.
On Wednesday, June 18, we took the Crown Seaways Copenhagen-to-Oslo overnight ferry, and cruised into the Oslo fjord the next morning at about around 9:30.
We caught a cab to Saga Hotel on Eilert Sundts Gate. It is a lovely hotel, with very nice employees. We had missed the laundry pickup (and were at the point in vacation where you have genuinely run out of clean clothes if all you've brought is a carry-on) and they let me use their own washer down in the basement. It was kind of an adventure. I got lost downstairs and ended up popping up inside the restaurant instead of the hotel lobby. Some nice busboys asked me if I worked there, and then helped me find my way back. :)
I should mention that I get lost easily. I have no inate sense of direction whatsoever. I am so thankful I am not an ant or one of those swallows.
We would stay at the Saga again in a second. The location is residential and quiet.
After we got settled in, we went for a walk.
Pretend the blue dots are us. :) We walked southeast from the hotel along Uranienborgveien and then Karl Johans Gate toward Slottsparken (the Palace Park), Det Kongelige Slott (the Royal Palace), Nationaltheatret (The National Theatre), and Oslo Rådhus (Oslo City Hall).
We were catching an HMK bus tour of Oslo close to City Hall at 12:45, so we were heading in that general direction.
The neighborhoods were so charming. We did not have a lot of time in Oslo (two nights and one full day), and we obviously did not see all of it, but we were so impressed with what we did see. It was very clean and very warm feeling, with lots of trees and green spaces. We would like to go back some time and explore more.
(To me, Copenhagen felt very lively and youthful, while Oslo felt more staid and very peaceful. I might have a different impression if I saw more and stayed longer in both cities.)
I felt very drawn to Oslo.
When I look at the map now, I can see where we were walking, but at the time I was just following Bob. So I was so surprised when we got to Slottsparken! Suddenly, a gorgeous park in the middle of the city. (Less sudden if you are looking at a map and know where you are, I imagine.)
I was even more surprised to come to the Palace! Suddenly!
This, the Royal Palace, is King Harald and Queen Sonja's primary residence. (Norway also owns a bunch of residences that they use, and they own several private estates.)
King Harald has been king since 1991. The first king of Norway was also a Harald (Harald Fairhair) who united a bunch of kingships into one realm in about 885.
But! You will perhaps be surprised to hear that the modern nation of Norway has only existed independently since 1905. I know I was surprised. Before that, Norway was in a union (a constitutional monarchy) with Sweden. And before that, it was briefly its own nation, but before that it was in a union (an absolute monarchy) with Denmark.
- 885: Harold Fairhair unites kingships into one realm of Norway
- 1380: Norway and Denmark merged under single monarch, but Norway comes under Danish control
- 1814: Union with Denmark is dissolved after the Napoleonic War, so Norway is an independent nation for a little bit, and makes its own constitution. But then Norway has to enter a union with Sweden, as an independent nation, but with a shared king and joint foreign policy.
- 1905: Norway gets to be its own nation and choose its own monarch again. It chooses King Haakon VII.
This King Haakon VII was the present King Harald's grandpa. (The present King Harald succeeded his dad, King Olav V.)
Got all that? :)
Here is the National Theatre, which is surrounded by statues of many of Norway's great playwrights.
Claire is peeking out from behind a statue of Gunnar Sønsteby, who is the most highly decorated citizen in Norway. His nickname was "The Chin," and he was a resistance fighter during WWII. His escapades make Jason Bourne look like a cowardly and unadventurous individual. Sønsteby was very high on the Gestapo's list of most-wanted men, and operated under 30 or 40 different names and disguises. They never caught him, and he died in 2012 at the age of 94.
He was also the first non-American awarded the United States Special Operations Command Medal.
Below is a statue of the playwright Henrik Ibsen. I went through a brief Ibsen phase (it lasted one weekend) in college and read A Doll's House and Hedda Gabbler. (But I don't think I have read Peer Gynt.)
Here is Oslo City Hall. This is where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held. You know my feelings about this kind of architecture (functionalism schmunktionalism), but the City Hall was named Oslo's "Structure of the Century" in 2005, and so who am I to argue?
We had a nice bite of lunch at a cafe across from City Hall, and then it was time to get on our bus tour.
I use recommendations from Trip Advisor to plan most of our trips, but I had found this particular tour just Googling "Oslo tours" or similar, and was a little nervous that it wouldn't be good. But it was very good, and our tour guide was delightful. She was Czech and we really enjoyed chatting with her. She and her husband had lived in Oslo for four years.
It was a tour that included all the major and "must see" attractions in Oslo, which was perfect for us since we were only there one full day.
We got great seats on the top decker of the bus, right in front.
Our first stop was the Viking Ship Museum. I was so thankful we got to see this, because we hadn't had time to see the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, which is a half-day trip out of Copenhagen.
This first ship is the Oseberg. It was found in a burial mound at Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in 1903.
The farmer, Knut Rom, had dug into a big burial mound on his property, and suspected he'd found a ship. He decided to go visit Gabriel Gustafson (I call him "Gabe"), who was from the University's Collection of National Antiquities in Oslo. Because of the wild weather, they had to wait until the following summer to excavate the ship. The excavation was a big deal, and so many people showed up to watch that they had to build a fence to keep them away, because Gabe was getting bugged by all the spectators while he was trying to work.
The excavation only took three months, but it took twenty-one years to restore the ship and all its finds.
More than ninety percent of the Oseberg ship is its original (oak) timber. It is exquisite. It was built in Norway in around 820, and was the final burial place for two presumably wealthy women. They were buried with gifts: clothes, combs, shoes, ships equipment, kitchen equipment, farm equipment, sledges, a wagon, tents, and some animal heads.
Thank goodness for the Panorama setting on iPhones. :)
The Viking Age display at the museum included grave goods, like this sledge. (This is when Bob embarrassed Claire by singing "So He's a Bit of a Fixer-Upper" from Frozen.)
Below is the Gokstad ship. It was built during the reign of our friend King Harald Fairhair. The wood it is made of was felled around 890 AD, which was the height of Viking expansion in Dublin, Ireland and York, England. It was found in 1879. Two teenage farm boys were bored and started digging in a burial mound on their farm in Sandar, Sandefjord, Vestfold.
Can you imagine? "Mom! Mom! We found a Viking ship!" (I imagine Phineas and Ferb, but Norwegian.) You can read more about the Gokstad ship here.
The third ship at the museum, the Tune, is not intact. Before it was found, the burial mound it was in had been opened and partially excavated, so oxygen got in and started to decompose the ship. It was found in 1867 (on a farm...Norwegian farms are exciting places to be, it turns out), and despite its shape is still the third-best preserved Viking ship in the world. You can read more about the Tune here.
Our next stop was the Fram Museum, where we learned about the Norwegian Polar explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, and Roald Amundsen (the first man to reach the South Pole, and the greatest polar explorer ever). Those guys were NUTS. I mean that respectfully--they were inspiringly brave and courageous and tenacious and tough (I even bought a postcard of Amundsen, to remind me to be brave and courageous and tenacious and tough)--but the stuff they did was completely insane.
For example (this is one teeny example), in 1911 Amundsen crossed Antarctica (over frozen glaciers and snow-packed mountain passes) in temperatures so cold it broke his compasses and froze his sled dogs to death.
Roald Dahl was named after Amundsen.
The Fram ship, used in Artic and Antartic expeditions by all three explorers between 1893 and 1912, is so huge that I couldn't get a good shot of it. You can go inside it and walk around, and if your imagination is good, it feels like it is moving.
Our next stop, right next to the Fram Museum, was the Kon-Tiki museum. The Kon-Tiki museum celebrates another brave (and nutters) Norwegian explorer named Thor Heyerdahl. I remember hearing about him when I was a kid. He crossed the Pacific Ocean (5,000 miles) in 1947 on his handmade raft, named the Kon-Tiki. He was trying to show that Polynesia's fauna could have reached the island from the east (South America) rather than from the west (Asia).
Although scientists still believe that Polynesia was originally settled from west to east, there are some indications that South Americans may have made it to Polynesia, perhaps as traders. (South American sweet potatoes are a dietary staple in Polynesia, for instance.) So Thor was at least partially correct.
The Norwegian documentary Kon-Tiki (directed by Thor himself) won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 1951. (The award went to Olle Nordemar, the film's editor.)
I think it's funny that I am from Los Angeles, and the first time I have seen an Oscar statue in real life is in Norway.
Next up on our tour was The Vigeland Sculpture Park. It is actually called Frogner Park (Frognerparken), and the Vigeland sculptures (Vigelandsanlegget) are an installation in the park, but everybody calls it Vigeland Park, and the tram stop is called Vigelandsparken. The park gets over one million visitors a year.
The park contains 212 sculptures of people in bronze, granite, and wrought iron. Gustav Vigeland created them all between 1924 and 1943, when he died. He modeled all the sculptures in full size plaster casts, and craftsmen carved the stone and cast the bronze.
Vigeland chose not to clothe the people, so that they would remain timeless.
The final stop in our bus tour was Holmenkollen, which is the world's most modern ski jump. The jump tower is about 196 feet above the ground.
Do you see it there, on the hill?
Really, do you see a pattern here? CRAZY ADVENTURERS. I mean, NUTTERS. You could not pay me to ski jump.
But oh, I bet it is the most glorious feeling in the universe.
Our bus took us back to downtown Oslo, where we did a bit of shopping and looking around before dinner.
I had made us reservations at Statholderens Mat & Vinkjeller. I kind of wish I had taken a few photos inside, but it was very nice and I did not wish to embarrass my loved ones with my photo taking. :)
Bob had the elk. I don't remember what the rest of us ate, but it was all delicious, and the service was outstanding. (You can see a 360 tour of where we ate here. When we were there, there were smaller tables set up, and the wine rack wasn't there.)
Our full day in Oslo was wonderful. The next day, we went to the Norwegian Folk Museum, and I will post about that later. :)