With my last visit to the capital of Norway being a fleeting one and over 25 years prior, I remembered very little about it.
That time had been as part of an interrail trip that took in Scandinavia & Eastern Europe staying in youth hostels & sleeping on trains.
This time it was to be Airbnb and retracing some steps with Mrs Wilbur……..
We soon got over waking up in our disappointing accommodation by enjoying a lovely if pricey breakfast (a recurring theme of our trip) beside the cathedral.
The going under foot was on the edge of being treacherous, so after our omelette and upon discovering that the domkirke was shut until 4pm, we walked purposely down to the waterfront and Oslo’s amazing opera house.
Designed to resemble the tip of an iceberg or a ship depending on who’s opinion you read, the glass facade shimmered in the winter sunlight whilst the interior hall impressed with its flowing curves made of oak, incandescent cubes made of glass bricks and fabulous views across the harbour.
Back outside into the cold, we tentatively slid up the marble & white granite roof for a great view, being put to shame by some local runners who tore up and down the sloping path seemingly without the slightest thought of any possible slips.
It was now time for our museum fest. I had worked out that we needed to do three museums to be up on the deal with our Oslo Pass (395 NOK for 24 hours of city transport and a host of attractions), but with the museums closing at 4pm time was tight to fit three in.
The museums are situated on a promontory called Bygdøy, which can be reached by ferry or bus. We took the bus on account of our pass covering the cost unlike the ferry, with our first port of call being the folklore museum. As this was an outdoor museum, it actually closed at 3pm.
It was excellent with homes, schools, shops and the like from yesteryear, many transported plank by plank from the likes of Finmark & Stavanger.
The highlight was undoubtedly the stave church. It looked like it had come straight out of the crooked nursery rhyme of old (there was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile, he found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile; he bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse, and they all lived together in a little crooked house).
The wooden structure with its many roofs was unlike any building that I had seen before. Part Lutheran church, part Chinese pagoda, its bare interior just added to my fascination as I imagined it full of amply dressed worshippers.
After a visit lasting an hour of so, we hot-footed it the short distance to the Viking Ship Museum. The amazing museum houses three Viking ships recovered from ship graveyards. Gokstad (recovered 1879) Oseberg (1903) & Tune (1867) are the names of the vessels, all discovered inside funereal mounds in rural settings.
As well as viewing the well preserved ships, there are lots of artefacts on display and there is also an excellent film show telling the story of the lives of Vikings beamed every fifteen minutes onto the white walls that surround Tune. You can catch some of it by clicking VIKING.
It was now 15.30 and touch and go whether we would make another museum before closing. We soon caught a bus heading for three museums located adjacent to each other – The Kon-Tiki, which features the balsa wood raft of that name which was sailed from Peru to Polynesia in 1947 by Thor Heyerdahl, The Norwegian Maritime Museum and the Fram, which was the one we had chosen to try and visit.
We made it with ten minutes to spare and were very glad we did. The museum features two iconic polar expedition ships – the Gjøa & the Fram.
Gjøa was the ship (a largely wooden Hardanger sloop) that Roald Amundsen first led on an expedition between 1903-06 to navigate the Northwest passage above the Canadian mainland. This was the first time it had been managed and made Amundsen a national hero.
You are also able to go part way down into Gjøa to see its inner workings.
His reputation grew much further when he was the first to lead an expedition to the South Pole, this time on the polar ship Fram.
Initially the goal had been to be the first to reach the North Pole, but when Amundsen heard in 1909 whilst en route that Robert Peary & Frederick Cook had both claimed to have already reached it, plans were changed and the Fram headed southwards instead.
The expedition lasted from 1910 to 1912 and was to be a famous race with Robert Falcon Scott’s British team, that was to end in tragedy for Scott and his men.
Amundsen and his four companions reached the Pole on 11th December 1911, a month before Scott’s five man team reached it to find a Norwegian flag already flying.
As well as the ships themselves, there are plenty of of exhibits related to all the polar expeditions including those made by aeroplane and airship. There is also a film theatre showing the stories of the great Norwegian explorers including Otto Sverdrup, Fridtjof Nansen & Adolf Lindstrøm as well of course Amundsen.
That was it for museums for this visit with the others saved for next time. We may well have opted to go to the art gallery to see Edvard Munch’s famous work The Scream, but this was being restored for the two days of our visit.
We bussed back to the city centre to venture inside the cathedral and meet up with a Norwegian friend of mine who I had not seen for twenty years.
Coming next – Trondheim & train to the Arctic Circle