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Oslo, Norway

June 12  continued ...

We made our way to the train station and rode the rails to Oslo ... with a quick stop in Kongsvinger, home to some of Terry’s maternal ancestors.

We hadn’t been able to secure a reservation at any of the hotels or hostels we had contacted in Oslo. Everything seemed to be booked solid with a shipping industry convention.

Speaking with the train conductor about selecting one of the towns prior to reaching Oslo, he convinced us to continue to Oslo, try there for perhaps a cancellation and then, if need be, train out further towards Stavanger or Bergen.

We followed his advice and with backpacks on we hustled from hotel to hotel, then separated and doubled our search efforts for an hour. At the Rica Hotel Terry was able to find a room outside of town ... "the last room" they said.

It was late and we grabbed it, even at it’s exorbitant price, then took the forty minute train ride out to Drammen. Even as late as it was when we crossed the bridge from the train station to town, it was light and workers were still fixing the bridge surface.



June 13

A full and busy day. We took the train back to Oslo and secured reservations on an overnight train to Bergen. With our night’s accommodation secured (as secured as in transit can be) we turned our attention to a city walk.

When we think of Norway, we think of fjords, so it seems proper that its capital, Oslo, stands proudly at the head of a 100 km long fjord. Many of its half million citizens are descended from Viking stock and proudly so. Outside the train station a bigger than life bronze tiger honours the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Oslo, nicknamed "Tiger Town". Day or night, someone seems to be around the tiger, resting in its shadow, using it as a meeting place or for tourist photo ops.

Oslo’s grand boulevard, Karl Johans Gate, leads away from the train station and its first few blocks are under watchful camera eyes. Here Oslo’s drug addicts and prostitutes gather unmolested by the many police on foot, car and horseback which hover in the vicinity making it comfortable for residents and tourist to commute. Three blocks up we looked to our left and saw one of the Thon Hotels we had contacted. It was a good opportunity to see if they had any rooms available for Friday night. They had a room for Friday night but none for Saturday. We booked and asked them to put us on a waiting list in case a room became available for Saturday.

We have been most fortunate to have many of our city walks accompanied by music, but a military band was a little over the top. We marched in step with their music for a few blocks until we reached the crest of the hill ... not a steep hill ... a mound really. In one direction we could still see the train station, while in the other the palace stood on another hill at the end of Karl Johan Gate. Perhaps intentionally the parliament buildings were built on the hill where we stood in clear view of the royal residence.

Parliament was in session and a demonstration was taking place on the lawns in front. Most of Norway’s electricity is generated by hydro, and most generating stations are in western Norway. As power is cheaper closer to the source some large Oslo area consumers are moving manufacturing facilities, which means job relocation. This demonstration was an attempt to pressure politicians to consider a uniform nationwide electricity rate. A lady demonstrator told us that there would be speeches and it was hoped that some of the politicians would come from parliament to address the gathered crowd, "if they have the balls."

Beyond the parliament lawns is a park. Trees, gardens and benches frame the large rectangle pool with it’s fountain in the centre and bronze statues at the ends. We have noticed with pleasure that Norway’s people use their parks. We walked passed the National Theatre and City Hall, stopping to see some of the points of interest Rick Steves’ points out in his guide book, and down to the wharf where we took a boat across the harbour to see some of Norway’s historical sea crafts. Oslo is a city of ships. The harbour is full of boats of every size from canoes to city-sized cruise ships.

During the Viking age (800-1050) Norsemen were lords of the sea. They were excellent shipwrights and sailors. Their dual bowed ships were fast and well built for long voyages enabling them to travel to the British Isles and over the Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland and North America. They also sailed down the coast of Europe to the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Caspian Sea and into the rivers of Russia. Plunder and conquest were not the only reasons Vikings took to the sea (although they were feared greatly for their abilities to rape and conquer).

Trade and new lands to settle were also on their agenda and some Vikings became farmers. Furs, bird down, walrus ivory and iron from Norwegian mountains were highly prized commodities.

The Vikings had a class society and kept slaves (taken from raids). It was also their custom to bury the dead in boats. 

On these burial boats they would build a burial chamber which looked much like a wooden tent. They believed in an afterlife, so within the boat they placed everything one might need on an extended journey which would end with settling in a new land: food, drink, horses and dogs, useful objects like iron cauldrons, weapons, saddles, halters, gold, silver, cloth, clothing and tools. The ships and artefacts (the most valuable items having already been taken by grave robbers) we saw today were preserved because they had been finished with coats of tar (as all Viking ships were), buried in blue clay and then coved with rocks, dirt and sod.

Of the three main boats on display, at the Viking Ship Museum, one was for a chieftain, one for a man of position, and the most impressive, with its beautiful carved bow which curled at the top, for a lady and her servant. The latter boat is believed to have been built for ceremonial purposes and not for transport on the seas because, although large (about 15 metres

long and 6 metres wide), it is of lighter construction and shallow. Most impressive.

One of Norway’s most famous sea crafts is the Kon-Tiki. Today we saw the real thing. It was on this 16 metre long, 8 metre wide balsa log raft that Thor Heyerdahl and his crew of five men crossed 8500 kilometres of Pacific Ocean to show that it would have been possible for the peoples of South American to reach Polynesia hundreds of years ago.

It took them 101 days of heaving waves, hot sun, wind, rain and enormous will power with no land in sight and only the ocean’s current and a square sail to push and pull them to their destination.

Heyerdahl, a scientist, adventurer and environmentalist, wrote a book with the same name as the raft, "Kon-Tiki". We had both read the book in school and with today as a reminder of the good read it was, plan to read it again after our return home.

In the same building as the Kon-Tiki is Heyerdahl’s reed boat, the Ra II, which he sailed from Morocco in 1970 with eight men from eight nations and reached Barbados in the Caribbean 57 days later. On this expedition he demonstrated that Old World sailors could have influenced the pre-Colombian civilisations of Central America.

Not in the museum but still very much part of Heyerdahl’s world presence is the reed boat, Tigris, in which he crossed the Indian Ocean from Asia to Africa in 1978. It proved that there could have been contact between Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley thousands of years ago. The Tigris was burnt in April 1978 in protest against the sales of arms to developing nations.

Neighbouring the site of Kon-Tiki is another ship’s museum - the Fram. Breaking ice, literally, the Fram set new shipping records for venturing farther north in the Arctic and farther south in the Antarctic than any other ship before it. In the Arctic expedition the Fram and her crew were locked within an ice flow for three years. We were able to walk her decks and go below peering into the tiny rooms in which the crew slept and worked, and the mess hall where they ate and worked, the kitchen and the hold. The building around her held museum displays of Fram artefacts.

As we walked towards the water for our return trip across the harbour, we were a little surprised to see an inuksuk. The plaque on the base read, " This inuksuk was presented to Norway by Canada in 2005, as a gift of friendship celebrating Norway’s centennial and the close ties between our two countries. The inuksuk is a traditional navigational aid used by the Inuit of Canada’s north. The sculptor of this piece, Joseph Suqslak, is a resident of Gjoa Haven in Nunavut, Canada where Roald Amundsen wintered aboard the "Gjoa" prior to completing the first transit of Canada’s Northwest Passage in 1905." The message was then translated into Norwegian.

We spent some time in the railway station, having a super great salad from the salad bar in a ICA grocery store (yum, was it good!), followed by people watching until we are able to board the train and nestle down in our sleeping compartment.


click here to continue to June 14  and Bergen, Norway  ...


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