Our Oslo experience was shorter than anticipated – Kay and I had food poisoning for two days and were housebound. Sometimes the body insists on resting. But before that happened, we had fun.
One of the pleasures of having my niece, Carly, along was that she has experience traveling in Scandinavia, and could recommend places to see and things to do. She was particularly taken with the Oslo Opera House. It is designed to look like an iceberg, quite appropriate in this northern climate.
So our first night in Oslo, we went to the Opera, or rather, the Oslo Jazz Festival held at the Opera House. The festival opened with a concert with Ketil Bjørnstad, who explained things only in Norwegian, but music transcends language. Still, it was clear we were missing something, as the audience laughed often, and uproariously at times. Some of the vocal pieces were sung in English. I enjoyed all of it. Afterwards, we walked on the roof.
Yes, the Opera House’s slowly rising roof-line is intended to be walked upon. Carly recalled climbing it in March with snow and ice on it. We were much luckier at this time of year. It was more of a ramp, well-lit in the dark. (It was finally late enough that we experienced darkness at night.) The view of the city across the water and in the stillness was peaceful. We stayed longer than I thought we would.
Walking through the city, you see a mix of modern and old buildings, somewhat jumbled together. The Opera House is located about a block from the Oslo Central Train Station. I love that they added the new station to the old building, and remodeled it to house restaurants and shops. We ate there at a Scandinavian restaurant prior to the jazz performance. The duck was fantastic.
The square around the station was lively and fun. Police on horseback rode through the square and talked with the people enjoying their leisure time. Some of the sculptures stumped me – what on earth did the artist mean? On the other hand, I enjoyed the sculpture of Thor’s hammer and the stories of Thor I heard over the next several days.
Oslo is very proud of its maritime history, and it has several museums covering the topic: the Viking Ship Museum, the Norwegian Maritime Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, and the Fram Polar Ship Museum. All of these are easy to access using the Hop-on Hop-off Oslo bus. Of these, we only had time to see the Viking Ship Museum.
Here we saw the three Viking ships I had read about before starting this journey, the Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune ships. I had learned that a “Viking” was not a nationality or tribe, but an occupation. The fjord boat trip we took showed just how little land there is in Norway along the coasts for farming. The Norwegians fished and farmed what they could, but at other times, they had to look outward, to the sea. So these farmers joined raids of other lands. And the best place to find gold and silver were churches and monasteries, starting in 793. Since the Norwegians were not yet Christianized, they did not have the same ethical boundaries as others about raiding churches.
The other use of Viking boats was to search elsewhere for a place to settle as the population outstripped the land for farming. These expeditions to find unpopulated lands gave the sea-farers the Faeroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.
I recommend reading about the Vikings prior to visiting the Viking Ship Museum, as it’s hard to get the rich context just from the museum.
These buildings were often highly decorated with carvings and cut-outs. A granary could be quite beautiful. And we could walk into many of the buildings to see period furnishings.
Even the building placement was as authentically as possible. For example, most farms were settled on hillsides. So houses and buildings like food storage and granaries were in a row above the farm buildings. The run-off from the farm buildings fertilized the garden at a lower level yet.
They also offered demonstrations (folk dancing, lefse making and baking, farming practices, wool carding and spinning, and funeral rites) that provided a rich experience of Norwegian life in the 1700-1800’s. I highly recommend it.
At the end of our stay in Olso, we all parted ways; Carly went home. Kay went back to London, and I traveled to my last stop to see a friend in the southern part of the Netherlands. The Scandinavian part of my journey was over.
For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:
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