We bid our ship a fond farewell in Bergen early Saturday morning and headed for Oslo by rail on what the Lonely Planet Guidebook has called “the most beautiful train trip in the world,” a claim we soon realized was no exaggeration as we made our way past fjords with dazzling blue water, glaciers where Norwegians are still skiing, waterfalls gushing down snow-clad mountains, and bucolic, picturesque villages, some of which are accessible only by this train. I had a book in my hands but seldom glanced at its pages since the show outside my window was too spectacular to ignore.
We arrived in Oslo mid-afternoon on the hottest day the city had known since 1947, so little wonder that the local citizens were out and about soaking up the sunshine after their very long and dark winter. We strolled along the waterfront where throngs were swimming in the very clean and clear waters which surround the city, something you’d never see in Wasington or NYC. Our final two days in Oslo, like the rest of our trip, were defined by blue skies and summer-like temperatures, so the Baltic weather gods were clearly smiling on us, too.
We walked around the city Saturday afternoon and evening to get our bearings, then explored it more fully on Sunday, first taking a ferry to the peninsula of Bygdoy where we spent the morning and early afternoon at two museums. The first of these was the open-air Folk Musuem, which contains an impressive collection of buildings moved here from all over the country, including a beautiful wooden stave church from 1200 A.D., the oldest structure here–and the very first acquisition in the collection–the gift of an enlightened 19th century Norwegian king who thought this would be a good way to preserve his country’s history. Farmhouses, barns and storage sheds comprise the largest number of buildings at the site, with lots of animals to delight the youngest of visitors (we know Madison and Nora would have enjoyed them). We were especially taken with the home of a prosperous farmer from the 1950s, all accurately outfitted with furnishings, appliances and color schemes from that era. In another section of the Folk Museum was a large building containing apartments from various eras of Norwegian history. Here our favorite was one from the 1960s, where the teenager’s room featured Dylan on the record player and posters of the Rolling Stones and Beatles on the wall–a flashback to our own youth. Traditional shops, like the. general store and pharmacy, were filled with goods and cures, respectively, which also illustrated historical periods. And I was delighted to see that Norway’s indigenous peoples, the Sami, were included at the museum as well, with a tipi and a storage shed constructed on the grounds and an impressive exhibit of their history and culture housed in one of several indoor pavilions.
Our second stop, after a picnic lunch in a shady part of the Folk Museum’s courtyard, was the Viking Ship Museum, just a short walk away. It contains three of the enormous vessels which sailed the seas hundreds of years ago, two of which have been faithfully re-constructed and one which is presented as it was first found when the ship was unburied. Indeed, “unburied” is the right word since all three ships, once their sailing days were over, served as burial chambers for prominent citizens, and, as is the case in many cultures, they were laid to rest with many of their valuable possessions, some of which (those not looted by grave robbers) were also unearthed and are on display in the museum. Two excellent documentaries provide further information about how these ships were constructed and where they sailed, which included ports as far away as Turkey and Newfoundland since artifacts from these distant places were also discovered with these ships. In addition to the two museums we visited, the Bygdoy peninsula also contains the Kon Tiki Museum, which contains a replica of this famous ship and documents its voyage; the Fram Museum, which focuses on Arctic exploration, and Norway’s Holocaust Museum, all of which we saved for another time.
After ferrying back to the city, we spent the rest of the afternoon on a walking tour to see such notable landmarks as the Royal Palace, where we happened upon the changing of the guard; the historic National Theater, where native son Henrik Ibsen premiered most of his plays; the new Oslo Opera, which is designed so that you can walk (as we did) from the front of the very contemporary structure up slanted ramparts which take you all the way to the rooftop, which provides a panoramic view of the city. Also included on our trek around the city were the Headquarters for the Nobel Peace Prize, the University of Oslo, the National Parliament building, the cathedral, the town hall, and the impressive walled fortress which stretches out along the coastline near the harbor. Most elusive on our list was a statue of American president Franklin Delano Roosvelt, located on a wooded hill between the fortress and the town hall. Although we finally discovered it, we didn’t find out why it was erected, though we did learn that Eleanor came to Oslo when it was dedicated.
All and all, we got a good taste of Oslo during our short time there–and quickly developed a fond taste for Hansa, the local beer, which was particularly refreshing after tromping around both the Bygdoy peninsula and the central part of the city in the unusually warm weather, logging nearly 28,000 steps (12 Fitbit miles) on Sunday alone. The beautiful weather also inspired us to spend most of our time outdoors, so the works of the city’s most famous painter, Edvard Munch (“The Scream”), will have to wait for another time; perhaps the new Munch Museum, being built near the Operahouse, will be finished by then. In the meantime, we leave Norway–and the rest of the beautiful Baltic area we visited on this trip–with a treasure trove of new memories, experiences and acquaintences we shall not soon forget.