Lesson one on how to stick out like a sore thumb
10.08.2009 - 10.08.2009
After a satisfying sleep, I awoke in Oslo ready to take on the day. We dressed and headed down to the hotel restaurant for our complementary breakfast, one of those things my family has learned to look for whenever we travel.
Expecting the standard continental fare of muffins, fruit juice, and cold cereal, we were presently surprised to be greeted by a veritable smorgasbord. Because I’m a bit of a tech geek who’s pumped about the image and list capabilities of this blog, here’s what was on my plate:
- cheese: brie, blue, and Jarlsberg (Norwegian cheese, similar to Swiss)
- paté of some poor unidentified animal
- Wasa crispbread (great for the cheese and paté)
- dried fruit: apples, raisins, dates
- pork: mini sausages and bacon
- pickled herring with whole peppercorns! (I’ve got to remember to recommend this to Uncle Jerry – it’s a simple touch, but a really neat flavour)
- red peppers (for colour)
- multigrain bread with most of the grains still in it – each slice could have fed about three men (if the Niles family remembers the “buns” at the Fortresse of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, they’re not too far off)
They also had ice-cold milk, juices, English tea, great strong coffee, eggs, potatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, tasty yoghurt, and a sandwich bar. Plus pickled beets that even got the Zrymiak seal of approval from Mom. And if that wasn’t enough, they had tasty homemade-style peanut butter – a very good sign for my next four months.
In other words, it was the single greatest breakfast I’ve had in recent memory. It was made especially satisfying by our struggle to find good cheap food the night before. After eating our fill and then some, we packed up our tourist bag and headed out on the town for our tour of the city!
I’ve been naturally curious for a long time, and I tend to soak up all the information I can learn about a new city like a sponge. However, for your sake, I’ll try to be brief when writing about our adventures in Oslo – you can comment if you’d like more information or I’d be more than happy to tell you all about it when I get back to Canada!
We trotted down to the Olso City Hall to purchase our Oslo Pass – a rather clever arrangement that allows us unlimited public transport (ferry, tram, bus, subway, and train) and free admission to all of Oslo’s remarkably cool museums. Pass in hand, we boarded the ferry and scooted across the Olsofjorden. Our destination: Bygdøy.
The former island of Bygdøy (they filled in the channel on the other side) is the old upper-class neighbourhood of Oslo, featuring acres of parkland and the Kings’ Royal Stables. While the
houses were nice, we were more interested in a quartet of attractions on the island.
Our first stop was the Norsk Folkemuseum, a “splendid collection of buildings preserved from the Middle Ages onwards”.
Mom and Dad have had these Ikea chairs since before I was born – we didn’t realize they were cultural treasures! (this exhibit showcased the evolution of the Sami or Laplanders to modern lifestyles.)
Sveeedish fyoorniture aside, we really enjoyed trotting around the park, peeking into the preserved wooden farmhouses from the 16th and 17th century. Because they had more than enough timber to go around in Norway, their farmhouses were substantially larger than the early dwellings found in Hubbard and Eston, SK. Another neat note: they put the houses on pilings with completely flat horizontal members to eliminate almost all vermin from the house (most animals can’t climb upside-down).
The sod roofing was also a nice touch.
The highlight was a fully-intact stave (wooden log) church dating from the 1200s – it was absolutely spectacular inside, but like most old churches, didn’t photograph well. I did get a great shot on the outside though:
Next, we were off to the Vikingskiphuset, a building with only THREE exhibits. You wonder why anyone would even bother to go there?
I’ll tell you why.
Three beautifully-preserved 1,000-year-old Viking burial ships.
In a word, they were spectacular. Buried alongside the Viking lords were various shields, regal garments, hand-carved sleighs, and ornaments.
Oh, and in case you can’t tell from the pictures, these ships are over 20 metres long – they were incredible.
In the picture above, you can see that the rudder (or “steer board”) is on the right – or in nautical terms, it’s on the starboard. Thus it was from the Vikings that we got the word starboard, and also a few days of the week (Thor’s day, anyone?).
ACROSS THE SEA FOR SCIENCE!
After this exhilarating exposure to giant thousand-year-old ships, we boarded a bus and headed for a different part of Bygdøy. We had two more ship museums to visit.
Our next stop only had TWO exhibits. A Norwegian by the name of Thor Heyerdahl wanted to prove that South Americans could have populated Polynesia. So naturally, he built a balsa-wood raft and set sail from Peru. After 101 days, he crash-landed on a small atoll in the Pacific, proving his first theory correct at great risk to his own life.
The ship was dubbed the Kon-Tiki, and looking at it, it’s absolutely remarkable how anyone would submit to the mercy of the open water in something little more seaworthy than the floating docks at Clear Lake.
And if this wasn’t enough, in 1970 Heyerdahl decided he to prove that Moroccans could have beat Columbus to the New World. This time, he built his boat out of that great shipbuilding material: papyrus.
That’s right, it was reeds bounded together by leather and more reeds.
Don’t forget, this guy is a Norwegian HERO. So no making fun. Okay? Good.
THE LAST BOAT – THOUGH IT’S THE COOL-EST, I PROMISE
Finally, we headed across the street to the Frammuseet. Believe it or not, the entire building only held ONE SHIP.
But as it was the Fram, the ship which carried Roald Amundsen to the South Pole (he was the first to set foot there), we forgave the museum-constructors for this shocking lack of presentation material.
Unfortunately, the ship was just as large as the room it was in, thus rendering a good picture impossible. However, here’s one of me taking the helm:
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the whole ship – it was built extremely strong to withstand the crushing nature of pack ice, and could be up to five years at sea without heading back to port.
BACK TO OSLO – VIGELANDSPARKEN
After our lengthy tour of the great ships of Bygdøy, we bid farewell to the former island and caught a bus to the Vigelandsparken statue park. This park is a beautiful inner-city park with a creek / pond, gardens, treed lanes, and some 212 statues by one Gustav Vigeland.
Unfortunately, Vigeland didn’t feel the need to clothe the subjects of his art. And I’m not talking artfully concealed nudity. I realize that I’m simply an uncultured colonial, but all I saw was men and women of ALL AGES an almost every position imaginable. Thus, I’m going to spare you the majority of the pictures we took – if you’re curious, you can Google the park for yourself. Luckily, there was a rather tasteful fountain in the middle of the park that featured giants hoisting a bowl of cascading water – made for a nice backdrop for Mom and Dad:
TO THE PALACE!
Thanks in a large part to some spectacular logistics by the junior Vigneron, our next mode of public transit was a TRAM! (bus meets train, only way cooler). After driving up and down some spectacular streets (see above for a poor example), we arrived at our stop near the palace. We popped into the Canadian Embassy to say hello, eh. Oddly enough, there was more security at the Embassy then at Norwegian customs (two security doors and a receptionist behind bullet-proof glass).
We’d earlier booked our spots on the two o’clock tour, and had carefully planned our day around this appointment. We were first treated to a changing of the guard ceremony. After this, one of the guards allowed Mom to take his picture:
Don’t let the feather fool you – these guys are active-duty Norwegian Army, that is a very-real assault rifle he’s carrying, and if you look closely, you can even see an earpiece in his right ear.
As there was no flash photography allowed inside the Castle, we didn’t get many pictures. Suffice it to say that the palace was extremely palatial, the ballroom was magnificent, and the gazebo-within-the-walls was stunning. Feel free to ask me about any of these anytime you want.
AKERSHUS SLOTT – A REAL LIVE CASTLE
Our final destination of the day was the Akershus fortress / castle, the 700-year-old first line of defense for the Oslo harbour. As I’ve had the privilege to visit a few maritime fortresses before (the Halifax Citadel, the Fortresse of Louisbourg, the Citadelle of Quebec), I wasn’t expecting anything earth-shattering. Added to this was the fact that I was starting to tire of touristing – we had been going non-stop the entire day, and I felt a short rest was in order.
I was extremely pleased to learn that Akershus was so much more than a fortified cannon platform. In fact, it was the royal castle of Norway for the early half of its history – the inner courtyard was the starting point for the thoroughly enjoyable audio tour:
Akershus holds both military and royal significance: the former can be seen in the three METRE brick walls surrounding the prison:
while the latter is evidenced by the fact that Akershus is also the site of the royal crypt. It was a little eerie to be in the presence of the two previous kings of the current Royal House of Norway, but it was a very unique experience nonetheless.
After a few ancient tapestries, the magnificent hall of King Olav V (once again, the photographs don’t do it justice), and a final glance at the heavy guns of the King’s Own Cannon, we headed back to our hotel room for some much deserved rest and relaxation.
…wait, how did that picture get in there!
All kidding aside, we really enjoyed trying the various kinds of Norwegian beer and liquor. The centre bottle contained Akkavit, Norway’s answer to Beckerovka. A type of stomach bitters, Akkavit comes from aqua vitae – for those of you who haven’t taken a first-year latin class, that translates back as “water of life”. This particular brand is called Linie, because every single cask is loaded onto a ship and taken south of the Equator – the brewers claim that the rocking motion of the boat extracts flavours from the casks in an unimitable way.
Makes our Canadian brewing processes seem simple in comparison, eh.
For supper, we decided to head out to Tullins Café, a small restaurant tucked away from the tourists near the Canadian Embassy (we received a hot tip from the receptionist).
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting these Hounds, they are Robert Udnesseter of Oslo and David Culham of Medicine Hat. Culham was over visiting Rob in his home in Norway before the school year starts (Oslo for Rob, Lethbridge for Culham). I played with Rob and Dad coached both of them, so it was a great reunion all around.
And just for posterity’s sake, here’s a shot of all five Hounds in the Tullins Café, Oslo, Norway:
(photo conveniently taken by the sixth in our party cousin of Rob’s who was born in Norway but grew up in Seattle – otherwise we would have had to ask our extremely shy Swedish server).
After a nasty transit mix-up on the way to the restaurant, the five men put their heads together to figure out the best way home while Mom silently chucked to herself and captured our brainstorm session:
A LONG-AWAITED REST
This time we got lucky, and managed to catch a pair of trams to a location directly outside of our hotel. After a very quick email check, we settled into bed. I once again proved that jet lag is not a factor – slept like a brick from 11 pm to 7 am. Mom and Dad haven’t been so lucky, but I’m sure they’ll be perfectly adjusted by the time they head home on Saturday.
Oh, and one last shout out to the great guide book that Mom bought – it proved indispensable on our journeys around Oslo, and is already a great souvenir of our trip. Seriously, without this thing, we couldn’t have done half the things we did today.
Well, that was a marathon post – hope you enjoyed it. We had a nearly-perfect day, and I wanted to write as much as I could for my memory as well as your enjoyment. See you tomorrow!