In the footsteps of Nansen, Amundsen, and Thor Heyerdahl
06/25/2008 - 06/30/2008 58 °F
I boarded the morning ferry for the 2 1/2 hour trip back to Helsinki, where I would catch a flight to Oslo, Norway for the last leg of my trip. I left my bags in the ship's luggage room, where I met Monica. Monica is a student in Estonia, on her way to Finland for the summer to pick strawberries. We chatted over a ship's breakfast of herring and powdered eggs, which tasted suspiciously like modeling clay! Monica told me that Finland is known for its summer strawberry crop, and every year young people from all over Europe head to Finland to make extra money helping to bring in the harvest. It is not an easy job, she informed me. There is a lot of stooping involved, and you have to examine every berry by hand to determine if it is ready to be picked or not! I wished Monica the best of luck with the strawberries and her studies!
Back in Helsinki, the famous statue of the Three Blacksmiths. Legend holds that if a virgin walks by, they will strike the anvil.
I was continually amazed by the train system in Eurpoe. Although the Oslo airport is something like 30 miles outside of the city, you can take an express Flytoget train from there directly to the city center every 20 minutes. It was incredibly easy. I ended up at the Oslo central train station, within close walking distance of P Hotel, where I stayed.
According to Lonely Planet, oil discovered in the North Sea in the 1960's transformed Norway from one of Europe's poorest countries into one of its wealthiest. The Norwegian government has used the money to foster one of the most extensive social welfare systems in history, with government-sponsored health care, schools, and even university education. Needy immigrants even get pocket money in jail! The result, however, has not been entirely positive. Oslo felt a bit gritty around the central train station, and it was the first place on my trip that I really worried about being pickpocketed. The permissive attitude of the government has attracted many addicts and others down on their luck from the countryside, and a good number of beggars could be seen in the tourist areas. Despite these initial drawbacks, however, I never had any problems with crime, and Oslo really grew on me during my stay.
I began by exploring the city on foot, always the best way to get a feel for a new place. I visited Oslo City, a modern shopping center near the train station.
Karl Johans Gate is the main pedestrian walking street downtown, running in a straight line from the train station to the royal palace.
The Norwegian parliament building.
The Grand Hotel, where Nobel Peace Prize winners stay.
The Grand Cafe at the Grand Hotel, frequented by Oslo's creative and intellectual elite. The playwright Henrik Ibsen came in every day at 1:00pm. The artist Edvard Munch ("The Scream") also spent a lot of time here.
See the play Singin' in the Rain - presented in Norwegian!
The Oslo Hard Rock. No, I didn't buy a shirt!
This is the University of Oslo.
Walking from the university to the royal palace I met Ashish. Ashish is a student from India, currently studying molecular biology in Stockholm. He was in Oslo to do some work at the university before returning to Stockholm.
Ashish took this picture of me in front of the royal palace. The royal family stands on the second floor balcony every May 17th to watch the marching bands and costumed flag wavers parade the length of Karl Johans Gate celebrating Norway's Independence Day.
We walked around the grounds of the palace waiting for the tour to start.
Here I am with one of the royal palace guards.
Ashish said that he would like to travel to New York one day to see the city. He also told me that he loves the Spiderman movies! He had to leave before the palace tour started, so we said goodbye. Great meeting you Ashish, and good luck!
The royal palace underwent a very costly renovation a few years ago. To quell public criticism for the amount of money spent, the royal family opened the palace up to public tours. The interior of the palace is beautiful, although no pictures are allowed. An interesting highlight of the tour were the guest quarters. I was very surprised to learn that the week before they had hosted the president of Vietnam!
This is Oslo's City Hall.
Inside City Hall, the Nobel Peace Prize is presented in this room every December 10th.
Akershus Castle, overlooking Oslo harbor, dates from the year 1300.
Inside Akershus is the Norwegian Resistance Museum, featuring displays of artifacts from when Norway was occupied by the Nazis during WWII.
A display of captured Nazi guns. It is really intimidating!
During the occupation, the resistance hid radio sets in all manner of objects. Here is a radio receiver hidden inside a hollowed-out telephone book.
An authentic Nazi torture device! Ouch!
This is a set of dentures that a Norwegian prisoner could remove and wire up to receive radio broadcasts from the BBC!
This is a journal that a Norwegian kept while a prisoner of the Nazis. He used toilet paper and took a stick pin to poke holes in the paper in the shape of letters to record his time in captivity. Although the prisoner didn't make it through the war, his journal, so painstakingly kept, was discovered later hidden in an air vent. We are extremely lucky to have this brave inmate's words survive to this day.
A girl I saw on the city tram headed to Frogner Park.
The entrance to Frogner Park.
The Norwegian sculptor Gustov Vigeland made a deal with the city in 1921. In return for a studio and state sponsorship, he agreed to spend his life enriching Oslo with a beautiful sculpture garden. 212 Bronze and granite statues now grace the park, depicting almost 600 unique figures said to capture the joys of life. The park is absolutely gorgeous.
This statue is called the "Little Hot Head," and is one of the most famous in the park. The story goes that Vigeland gave a little boy a bar of chocolate and then took it away to get this reaction!
According to Rick Steves, six giants hold up this fountain, "symbolically toiling with the burden of life."
This is a maze built in to the walkway around the fountain. It reminds me of the popular new age labyrinths.
The centerpiece of the park, the monolith, surrounded by 36 granite groups, which continue the park's circle of life theme.
One of the interesting statues around the monolith.
The monolith contains 121 figures carved out of a single block of stone. Three stone carvers worked every day for 14 years to complete Vigeland's vision!
Some interesting characters I met hanging out at the base of the monolith.
Vigeland's Wheel of Life, with the monolith and a steeple in the background.
The kick is up...it's good!!
Leaving Frogner park it began to rain, and I stopped and asked these two nice people for directions to the train station. What fantastic people Oslo had!
A street performer I watched on Karl Johans Gate later that evening.
The next morning I picked up a ham sandwich at a convenience store near where I was staying, and met Chris. Chris was very nice and extremely helpful in helping me find the correct trams around the city for the day. When I told Chris where I was from, he said that he likes Atlanta for it's famous rap music scene. He particularly likes southern rapper Chamillionaire, who Chris says has a reputation for clean lyrics. Thanks a lot for the help, Chris!
I next went to the National Museum, and really enjoyed the Edvard Munch room, featuring his masterworks the Scream, the Sick Child, and Self-Portrait After the Spanish Influenza. Looking at the paintings you really get a sense of Norway's long, dark winters and social isolation. The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery in 1994, the day of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. It was recovered unharmed three months later. Another version of the Scream as well as Munch's Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum, also in Oslo, in 2004. Both were recovered just over two years later, although slightly damaged. Security has since been beefed up considerably at both museums. There were no cameras allowed in the gallery, but here is a link to images of Munch's magnificent work. http://www.edvard-munch.com/index1.htm
I next walked down to the Nobel Peace Center.
Of all the places I visited on my trip, the Nobel Peace Center undoubtedly pissed me off the most. I left the building very angry. I found the exhibits to be extremely political, condescending and preachy. I did find one section particularly humorous, though. Here is a picture of Nobel Laureate Al Gore balancing a stick on his nose!
I must say that the electronic Ipod-like displays were pretty cool, though.
I took a ferry from the waterfront near the Peace Center across Oslo harbor to the Bygdoy neighborhood. Bygdoy has a much more rural character than the rest of Oslo, and many of the city's residents maintain beautiful summer homes here.
From the dock in Bydoy I hiked up the hill to the Viking Ship Museum, the best display of Viking ships anywhere. The ships were used as tombs for nobility, who were buried in them with various items believed to be needed in the afterlife, including carts, sleds, jewels, etc. The ships were built in the 9th century out of oak, and were buried in blue clay, which was responsible for preserving the ships so incredibly well. Here I am in front of the Oseberg, buried in 834.
The Oseberg from above.
The burial chamber found with the second ship on display, the Gokstad.
The Tune in the foreground with the Gokstad in the background.
An intricately carved Viking cart, said to be the only remaining one of its kind.
A beautiful Viking sled.
From there I walked across the peninsula in the rain, stopping in at a local convenience store for two soggy hot dogs. At the end of the road I found two of the highlights of my trip - the Fram Museum and the Kon Tiki Museum!
The exterior of the Fram Museum.
The Fram is 127.8 feet long and was powered by both sail and steam. The Fram was probably the strongest wooden ship ever built, and is said to be the wooden ship to have sailed farthest north and farthest south. It took Fridtjof Nansen's North Pole expedition to within a few degrees of the pole during his 1893-1896 adventure. It then took Otto Sverdrup around southern Greenland to Canada's Ellesmere Island between 1898 and 1902. In 1911, Roald Amundsen used it to land on the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica, en route to his becoming the first man to reach the South Pole. The Fram was built with a double hull and is shaped like an egg, so that it popped up out of the ice instead of being crushed by it while trapped in the polar floes for almost three years!
A bust of Roald Amundsen himself.
Here I am at the helm of the Fram! I felt truly honored literally to be able to walk in the footsteps of true modern-day Vikings Amundsen and Nansen.
A shot of Nansen's cabin. It looks like he just left (well, except for the statue of himself)....
The Fram's main salon, where countless conversations and card games must have taken place. Notice the Victrola and piano, both of which must have gotten plenty of use. To generate electricity for electric lights used on the ship, the deck could be fitted with windmills, which generated clean renewable power!
After seeing the Fram, I walked across the street to Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki museum. The first of Heyerdahl's ships on display was the Ra II, built from reeds. In 1970 he sailed it 3,000 miles from Morocco to Barbados to prove that Africans could have populated America.
I have read Heyerdahl's book Kon Tiki several times, and was incredibly excited to see the actual craft he used to sail 4,300 miles from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. He made the voyage to prove that early South Americans could have settled Polynesia. The actual Kon Tiki is a balsa wood raft, and is surprisingly small! It was amazing that it could complete such an epic voyage of discovery.
I then took the bus back over to the Norwegian Folk Museum. Even though Stockholm's Skansen was the first such park open to the public, this one is actually older, begun in 1882 as the king's private collection. These were two of the costumed guides who explained the buildings on display, brought to the site from all over Norway.
This is a stave church, built from wood in the year 1200...yes, 1200!! The trees for such a church were specially grown over the course of 30 years or more. Certain branches were periodically trimmed in order for the sap to settle in the trunk to make the wood extremely weather resistant. The angles in the roof were fashioned from the curved knees of trees, said to be the strongest part of the tree. The open air alcove outside of the church door itself is where people would store their weapons before going inside. Because of this practice, the room outside of a church sanctuary in Norway is called the weapons room to this day!
This is a farm storage warehouse, where items were stored upstairs away from winter's drifting snows.
On the boat back over to downtown Oslo, I had a great time talking with Anna (from Oslo) and Mari and Adam, who live in London. Mari, who was from Ireland originally, told me stories about when she and Adam backpacked around the world for 18 months and also when they hiked the Inca Trail for four days to reach Machu Picchu in Peru! They were in Oslo for the weekend, and were absolutely fascinating to talk to. It was fantastic meeting you!
The next morning I boarded the train in Oslo for the Norway in a Nutshell route, which takes you to the fjords of western Norway and back. The early morning trip gave me some time to catch up on my journal.
The train journey between Oslo and Bergen has been called the most picturesque in Northern Europe, and I believe it. The views from the train windows were unbelievable.
We made a quick stop in Finse, the highest point on the line. That is where I took a picture of this breathtaking scene. Notice the lodge on the left hand side.
I changed trains in Myrdal to a private line that descends an 18% grade to Flam, on the Sognefjord. On the way we stopped to view the Kjosfossen waterfall, fed by glaciers.
According to local legend, a temptress lives behind the waterfall and tries to lure men into the falls with her song. I am not sure, but I think I actually got a shot of her....
A beautiful village on the way down to Flam.
On the train to Flam I met David and Carol, from Maryland. David's said that his great grandfather was a Norwegian merchantman who owned his own ship and travelled all around the world trading various goods while taking his wife and children on board with him. David was also involved in founding the first private avaition club in the United States in the 1960's. The club had a DC7-B aircraft that flew its members all over the U.S., Caribbean, and even Europe! The FAA had to come up with new rules for the club because of its unique status. David was proud to point out that the club's safety record was better than the commercial airlines!
I also met Carl and Gloria from Monsey, New York. Gloria is a retired teacher and Carl is retired also, currently enjoying his business working on antique watches. It was great chatting with you!
In Flam I boarded a boat to Gudvangen, through the absolutely stunning Sognefjord, the longest fjord in the world. This is me on the boat, and no, I am not standing in front of a backdrop!
The boat first went up Aurlandsfjord and stopped in the town of Aurland.
The fjord is more than a mile deep, with 3,000 foot mountains on either side!
Rowers having a good time in the beautiful afternoon sunshine.
We passed the little village of Undreal, famous for its cheese and for its church, the smallest still in use in Norway. The church seats 40 and holds services every fourth Sunday.
Although there is no regular ferry service to Undreal, you can request a stop there. To get back on the ferry, just go out to the ferry dock and turn on the blinking light. The next ferry boat will stop to pick you up!
This house (top center) has no road access. You take a boat to its dock and hike all the way up. The house is old, and is currently owned by Canadians. It was constructed by carrying materials up the hill. I was told that if you hike all the way up the hill and knock on the door, the owners will not only offer you a free beer, but will also put you up for the night! How is that for hospitality?!
Some of the locals, soaking up the sun....
A stunning four-fall glacial waterfall.
This is Naeroyfjord, the "Narrow Fjord." Our ship went right through this tiny pass to Gudvangen.
An elderly couple has lived on this small farm their entire lives. Can you imagine waking up to your own waterfall and mountains like this?
I was told that many consider the fjord even more beautiful in the winter. When the sea ice here freezes up during cold weather, ice breakers come to open the shipping lanes.
I thought that this picture looks like one of those giant jigsaw puzzles you do with the family while on vacation.
While on the boat I met Jan (in hat) and Barry, from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and Barry's mother, from New Orleans. I quickly found out that they are huge LSU football fans, and to their great credit they were very hospitable even after learning that I am an Alabama fan living in Georgia Bulldog country! Barry teaches physics at the University of Texas at Arlington, and is a very funny guy. He had terrific stories about going to high school in New Orleans, and we talked some about quantum physics and string theory, two of my interests. Barry's mother survived the flooding in New Orleans and is proudly watching her city get back on its feet. You guys were great - maybe we can get together for a ball game some time! By the way, look at Barry's shoes. He said that he has another pair just like them at home!
This is a beautiful farm I saw on the way to Voss.
There was only one problem with the bus. It arrived in Voss an hour AFTER the last train to Oslo had left! The train company had booked the whole thing, but had made a mistake, and this was the one day of the week that there was no night train! I sized up my options standing in the train station. I was stranded in Voss!! My first reaction was that I was going to be one of these people...
I could just see myself crashed out on a bench at the train station all night, playing blues on the harmonica for coins from passing tourists.... "Just had to come to Europe! (da DA da dum) Travel lust I could not quench! (da DA da dum) Now I'm stranded in Norway, and I'm sleeping on a bench! I've got the blues!! The Voss Train Station Blues!"
Ok Scott...don't panic...remain flexible...ohm...ohm...ohm....
I started off towards town, and stopped in every hotel I passed. For some reason, in this small town in the middle of Norway, every single hotel room was booked! What was going on? I eventually found out that there was an extreme sports festival in town, where people were base jumping and hang gliding off of the sheer fjord walls. The crazy extreme athletes had the town cram packed! What was I going to do? Finally one receptionist said that she had just gotten off the phone with the Hotel Jarl on the other side of town and that they had one room left if I could make it over there in time. I ran through town and made it just in time to snag the room! Relief! It was very small, but it had a bed, and it was inexpensive. I have to thank Egil at the front desk of the Hotel Jarl for saving me! Thanks Egil!
Egil let me use the hotel's computer to send a message back home to let them know where I was, which was a life saver. It turned out that he formerly worked in Louisiana and Texas in the petroleum industry before deciding to return to his native Norway. Thanks again for your help, Egil!
Once I got the room, I realized that I literally only had what was on my back. No change of clothes, no nothing! So I ran down to the grocery store which was closing in 10 minutes and bought a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a pair of cotton socks to use as washcloths!
I spent a few hours walking around Voss, and discovered something amazing. Voss, Norway is the birthplace of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne! Arrgh! Will the Fighting Irish ever leave this Crimson Tide fan alone?!? Several things in Voss carry the Rockne name.
One of the extreme athletes practicing down by the lake.
I liked this statue, near the church.
The sun came out just long enough for me to take this gorgeous picture of the lake at the other end.
The Voss welcoming committee!
The next morning I got up very early so as not to miss the train again. Breakfast at the hotel was complimentary. Sliced meat and cheese...
with pickles, beets, and three types of herring!!
I ate a (very) light breakfast and jogged to the station to make the morning train. Yay!!
The views on the way back were stunning.
A beautiful snowfield and sky.
This was a very cool snow fence - it would look great on a model train layout.
This lake was like a mirror. Unbelievable.
Back at the P Hotel, Oslo, I met Luan, who's mother is Lena, who works the front desk at the hotel. Lena told me that Luan is Albanian for "lion." That afternoon this little lion was enjoying a bun and playing with the shoe polishing machine!
Lena was absolutely terrific, and really helped me out during my stay. One evening I came downstairs and found her surrounded by a group of Russian tourists. Lena, originally from Germany, speaks no Russian, and none of the Russians spoke any English, Norwegian, or German. So the Russians made a mistake that many American tourists make when faced with similar language barriers overseas. When the Russian tourists realized that Lena could not understand them, THEY...SPOKE...LOUDER...AND...MORE...SLOWLY......IN...RUSSIAN!!! It was hysterical! I looked at Lena's ever patient face and had to laugh. When you work the front desk of a hotel, you never know what will happen next! Thanks Lena, and good luck to you and Luan!
I made it to the plane the next morning for the flight to New York, and had the good fortune of sitting next to Kelly from Tallahassee, who owns a landscape design business. She was just returning from two weeks at a yoga retreat in Bali. I knew I had met a kindred spirit when she leaned over, offered me a bag of snacks, and said, "Do you want to try some weird Japanese french fries?" We spent the rest of the flight having a great time trading funny stories of our travels. At one point I looked out of the window and realized that we were flying directly over Greenland! My regular camera was packed in my luggage, so I took some quick photos out of the plane window with my camera phone.
Two remote glaciers, merging into one. Astounding.
A large bay with many icebergs scattered across the water. So incredibly beautiful.
I snapped the pictures and then looked around the plane, not believing that many of the passengers were actually sleeping through this! I guess that happens with many people, though. If you simply focus on your destination, you often sleep through the journey. It reminded me of a quote I heard in the Nick Nolte movie, Peaceful Warrior. "It is the journey, not the destination, that brings us happiness."
I sat back down in my seat and put the camera away for one last time. Kelly, who had by then finished her Japanese treats, turned and asked me, "So, where are you going on your next trip?"
"Now that you mention it, I do have a few ideas," I answered. I slowly turned to the window, smiled at the ice cap below, and watched it stretch towards earth's distant horizon.