21 April 2011

Oslo: Bygdoy and Akershus

 Well, after a streak of almost 2 weeks of excellent health, I woke up terribly ill this morning. It had seemed too good to last and so this 'attack' didn't come as a surprise. Despite no deviation from my normal diet, my digestive and immune systems decided to jointly go on strike overnight. Wonderful. Thanks body, I appreciate it. On the plus side, being unable to leave my bed all day/maintain anything other than a sitting position meant that I got loads of work done. I have one last essay to write for my OSINT class on nuclear proliferation, which means that I've been reading tons of technical articles. I will probably end up dreaming of uranium-235 and fuel cascades tonight.

Just wanted to clear up something first: Yes, I did participate in a traditional Scottish jam session in Edinburgh. It happened. And no, I did not consume half a bottle of whiskey before participating. I felt in a particularly courageous mood and decided that I didn't have anything to lose.

 Day 2: Bygdoy
Wednesday dawned bright and early with the sun providing a welcome sight after the horrific weather of the previous day. One of the perks of the Haraldsheim hostel was that breakfast was included in the price, an offer that I intended to take full advantage of after seeing the ridiculous prices of food the day before. Breakfast is a much different affair in Norway than it is in the UK or US. In the UK, breakfast can consist of hot dishes such as the 'full English' (toast, sausage, black pudding, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes), beans on toast, toad in the hole or the more typical cereal, oatmeal, etc. In Norway, cold dishes are the norm. Cereal and granola were on offer, but this seemed to be more for the benefit of the foreign tourists than actual Norwegians. The typical Norwegian breakfast seems to consist of open faced sandwiches and hard boiled eggs. This meant that there was a huge tray of bread and platters of sliced meat and cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, fish chunks (fish is typically consumed at every meal), tuna salad, sliced beets, pickled eggs, etc. I'll be honest - it was something of a strange concept to consider eating a sandwich for breakfast and I stuck with the cereal. Fish for breakfast? No thanks.

This hill was one of the smaller ones. The hoto does not do it justice.
Because I am an exercise freak in training, I kitted up for a run around the surrounding area, hoping that I didn't end up so lost as to require a search and rescue team to retrieve me. It was so nice to run outside of a major city. Not so pleasant was tackling the massive hills surrounding the hostel. I've been spoiled these past few months in that London is a relatively flat city. Oslo is most definitely not. These hills were so steep that I would have been slightly taxed for breath merely walking up them, let alone running. Although I spent most of my runs wondering if I was going to have a heart attack (I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I muscled up those beastly inclines), it was exhilarating to get such a workout while on vacation.

Afterward, I took the tram to the city center where I bought a 72-hour Oslo Pass from the tourist center. I highly recommend that anyone visiting Oslo buy the Oslo Pass. Available for 24-, 48-, and 72-hour durations, the pass not only provides you free entry to most of the city's museums and tourist attractions (which would otherwise set you back a pretty penny), but free transportation on the train, tram, bus, and metro networks. It also gives discounts to some restaurants and clubs. All for a very decent price. It really was a bargain and I am glad that I got it.

My first destination was to island of Bygdoy, which required taking the ferry from Aker Brygge. Bygdoy is the summer island of the royal family and home to some of the more interesting museums that Oslo has to offer: the Norse Folk Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Fram Polar Ship Museum, and the Norwegian Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, since most of the museums closed at 4pm (some even earlier), I was only able to make it to three. Guess I will have to get to the rest on my next visit! :)

First stop was the Norse Folk Museum. An open-air museum founded in the 1890s, it is similar to the Greenfield Village created by Henry Ford in Michigan. Essentially, the Norse Folk Museum is a collection of authentic buildings representing Norway's history. These buildings were dismantled at their original locations and rebuilt on Bygdoy. While the majority of the collection consists of farm buildings, which are interesting at first but get quite repetitive to see after a while, it does boast a few gems. The most notable is the Gol Stave Church from the 13th century.
Gol Stave Church

Detailing on the door of the church
After leaving the Folk Museum, I headed up the street past the luxurious mansions that dominate the island and made my way to the Viking Ship Museum. I'll freely admit that this is one of the main reasons why I chose to visit Norway. I love me some viking history. The Viking Ship Museum is home to three viking ships excavated between 1860 and 1905 from burial mounds around Norway. 2 of the ships, the Oseberg and Gokstad, are in excellent states of preservation considering that they are over 1000 years old. The third, the Tune ship, is just as fascinating but has suffered from the ravages of time. Since no description that I could provide would do these marvels adequate justice, I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
The Oseberg Ship
The Oseberg ship - not looking too bad for 1000+ years
Intricate detailing on one of the sleds found with the Oseberg ship - burial vessel of a Viking queen
Detailing from the Oserberg ship

The Gokstad ship
My final stop was to the Kon-Tiki Museum. In the late 40s, Norwegian social scientist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from South America to Polynesia on a reed raft to prove that such a journey could have been possible by early civilizations. He hoped to show that South Americans may have been the first settlers of the Polynesian islands. The journey took 101 days, but was ultimately successful. The exhibition displayed artifacts from the Kon-Tiki expedition as well as the later Ra II expedition. Fascinating.

Day 3: Akershus Fortress
More modern sections of Akershus Fortress
Thursday started the same as Wednesday: breakfast followed by a run. After showering, I rode the tram to the city center and walked to Akershus Fortress near Aker Brygge. Akershus Fortress was built in the late 13th century as a way to protect Oslo against invaders. It has been successfully in this endeavor - the Fortress has never been captured and only surrendered to the Nazis in 1940 after the Norwegian government fled the capital.

Memorial to the 45 men executed by the Nazis at Akershus Fortress
As a fortress, it wasn't all that impressive. The castle building itself was closed to visitors, which was a bit disappointing. However, the Akershus complex is home to two other museums - the Norwegian Resistance Museum and the Armed Forces Museum - both of which proved interesting. The Norwegian Resistance Museum was the more informative of the two, detailing the history of the formidable resistance movement that developed in Norway following its occupation by the Nazis in 1940. Most poignant to me was the story of the Norwegian teachers' union. When ordered by the Nazis to abandon the existing school curriculum and promote one filled with Nazi ideology, the teachers almost unanimously refused to do so. Parents kept their children from attending school and the teachers refused to teach. In the end, most were sent to a work camp in the arctic territories of Siberia, where they remained until authorized by the exiled legitimate Norwegian government to sign an agreement with the Nazis. US and UK history textbooks typically display the Norwegians as an occupied people who were liberated by the Allies during World War II, but this seriously underestimates the role played the civil resistance movement. The Norwegian people, as a whole, did not passively accept resistance and risked their lives on a daily basis in showing their disapproval of the Nazis.

The 'My Buddy' car - the latest fuel-efficiency craze sweeping Europe
In the afternoon, I traveled to the National Gallery with the intention of seeing Edvard Munch's The Scream. Alas, the galleries were closed for a change in exhibition. :(
Video of the Day: "Downstream" by Shira Kammen (In actuality, only the 1st tune is 'Downstream'. The 2nd tune is 'Oso Do Ar' and the 3rd is 'Borrela d'Aragon')

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