Sunday, August 14, 2005

Oslo

I am not sure what it is about Oslo, but I loved it from the moment we arrived. Maybe it was the fresh-smelling air, the many green spaces, the prominence of art in the city. Whatever, I had a good feeling about the city. We docked right next to Akershus Castle and fortress. Our ship is so large we towered over the hill on which the fortress sits. Oslo is on a fiord and past some buildings, in another inlet you could see another ship (perhaps the Queen Mary II) which looked almost like an office building with smoke stacks.

Onto buses for our tour. Oslo, in area is one of the 10 largest cities in the world and with a population of only .5 million that means there is a lot of open space. It was originally called Christiania and became Oslo in 1925. It was founded in 1040. After a fire in 1624 the town was rebuilt. All streets had to be wide and perpendicular and no wood structures were allowed. Akershus castle is about 700 years old. During the Second World War it housed the Nazi headquarters. Now there is a Resistance Museum on the grounds. Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian fascist politician at the time who collaborated with the enemy forces. His name has become synonymous with traitor.

We drove through the city and then up the hills to the Holmenkollen ski jump. The view from the site is beautiful – right down to the fiord. I can not imagine going to the top of the ski jump, much less skiing down it. There was not much to do at the jump and I feel we spent too much time there. Nearby was an old church built of wood. Many homes in the area are built of wood, some with sod roofs. In Norway there is a law granting free access to all uncultivated land. You can even camp on private property provided you are no closer than 150 meters from a house. There is a series of wooden huts without electricity (“hitte”). You can pay for a key and stay in any of the huts.

Our next stop was the Viking Ship Museum in Bygdøy I learned that Vikings raided and pillaged over a very large area, through the Mediterranean to Italy where they attacked Pisa thinking it was Rome. The Rus, Vikings from Sweden, went to Russia down to the Black Sea. Other Vikings went to Iceland, Greenland and across to North America. Some settled in areas such as Normandy (Norsemen). The Vikings were not one nation but were differenet nomads from Northern Europe – Angles, Saxons, Jutes. The majority were farmers. Only some went seafaring. If they had devoted more time to conquering and less to looting, they might have ruled a large part of Europe. On my return home, I picked up a book, which I first saw at the museum: Historical Atlas of the Viking World. It is an easy read and gives a good idea of Viking life. There are several photographs of objects we saw in the museum.

In the museum are several Viking longboats, or drakkars (dragon ships), as well as other relics from Viking times. One ship was found in 1903 near Osbork. It was a Viking queen’s funeral ship and was found in a burial mound. It has been 90% pieced together. It would have carried 30 oarsmen, who would row when the winds were not strong enough, and is 70’ by 16’. The ship was built some time around 820 and was used as a burial ship in 840. There is some elaborate carving on the wood of the bow. There is a myth that Vikings had helmets with horns. This does not seem to have been borne out by the artifacts and drawings I saw in any of the museums in Scandinavia.

From the Viking Ship Museum we went to Vigeland Park in Frogner Park. Vigeland was born in 1869. His father was a wood carver. Vigeland could not afford to study art. At the age of 20 he showed his sketches and drawings to a sculptor and was invited to work in is studio. Later he won a scholarship and studied abroad. He made several visits to Rodin’s studio, which influenced his work. When he came back to Norway, he won a commission to redo Trondheim Cathedral, but after a period of time he wanted to work in a more modern style. The city of Oslo (then Kristiana) lent him a studio. When it had to be demolished to make way for a new building, he made a deal with the city. He would bequeath all his work to the city in return for which he got a large place to live and work. His masterpiece is the Vigeland Park, completely designed by him, and including over 200 sculptures, wrought iron gates. It is a breathtakingly beautiful place – green, serene and awesome. The sculptures, all naked, deal with every aspect, age and emotion of human existence. It would take a long time to really look at them all and appreciate them. I took over 100 photographs in the park, hoping to look at greater length later as we only had about an hour in the park. I would gladly go back and spend days just sitting, walking and stopping and appreciating. The breadth and depth of his work is astounding.

On the way back to the ship we were let off near the city hall, a short walk back to the ship. It is here that the Nobel Prize for Peace is presented each year. The medallion that is given was designed by Vigeland. June and I went in. Walking up to the doors, on either side of the driveway in a covered walkway are lovely wood relief sculptures of Norse legends. It is obvious that Norwegians appreciate art. We did not take a tour of the building, but did look in the main hall with its huge murals. The area around City Hall, as in many port cities, used to be seedy and run down. Now it is beautiful. Large sculptures can be found on the large plaza near the water. We walked back to the ship which looked bizarrely huge parked beside the fortress – like some oversized object placed in a Lilliputian world.

We went for lunch in the buffet restaurant on the 14th floor of the ship and looked down on the fortress. Then for about three hours, the ship sailed through Oslo fiord. I loved the scenery, especially on the less settled side of the fiord.

We went to afternoon tea – a bit odd to be served a British tradition with waiters in vests or cummerbunds in stars and stripes fabric. However, sitting at a window table, we could watch the lovely scenery as we sailed past. I (a bit late) discovered that you could walk around the whole ship on deck 7 with a little detour up to deck 8. I did a few rounds, enjoying the scenery as I walked.

Dinner (again formal) was very American. The waiters, once again wore their stars and stripes and red, white and blue balloons floated above each table. We had to have our bags packed by 10:00, so we went back to our room to be ready.

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