Our route over the last few days has taken us south to the Norwegian coast, up to Oslo, and then east, back into Sweden.
Thursday saw us heading generally south from our previous night’s stop at Høydalsmo. Just a few miles down the road we came across an open air museum (the West Telemark Museum) with another stave church and “possibly” the oldest secular wooden building in the world:
The particularly old building is the taller of the storehouses in the photo above. It’s built using a technique that hasn’t been in use since the Black Death (1349 in Sweden), has a runic carving on it that’s been dated to around 1300, and is constructed of timbers that were cut shortly after 1167.
A bit further on, we came to the small town of Dalen. The lake here forms one end of the Telemark Canal (so we could look at a jetty – not very canal-like!).
The Dalen Hotel, built of wood and opened in 1894, looked quite impressive – the design was apparently inspired by stave churches and the vikings.
Lots of royalty stayed here back in the day (Norwegian, Belgian, German, British…..).
A random odd occurrence as we wandered through town: is it normal in Norway for the Red Cross to rock up and water the hanging baskets?
We’re finding some really nice overnight spots:
At lunchtime on Friday, Mark went for a bit of a wander and announced on his return that there was a bust of Aung San Suu Kyi nearby. We have no idea why it’s in that particular spot, though the immediate question that sprung to my mind wasn’t that but rather “I wonder if she’s cross-eyed in real life”.
Saturday brought grotty weather, so we decided to stop at a large supermarket for our measly shopping needs and have a mooch around for some evidence to answer Millie’s question about how much more expensive food is in Norway than the UK….
The first question, of course, was how do we know we’re comparing like with like? A loaf of bread for £3.48 and a small bag of salad for £2.85 do seem expensive…. but perhaps they’re superior to anything you can buy in the UK?
… but maybe we should be looking for known brands where we can look up the UK price?
Some examples: Del Monte peach halves for £2.88 (the same tin is £1.00 at Tesco), Options hot chocolate for £9.22 (£4.00 at Tesco) and Millie’s favourite Swedish Glace (by another name but clearly the same product) for £6.54 (£2.50 at Tesco).
So overall, things are coming out around 2.5 times the UK price. The other thing to take into account is that the supermarkets here aren’t full of special offers in the same way that they are in the UK – so whereas at home you can stock up on non-perishables when they’re on offer, you can’t do that to the same extent in Sweden.
Here’s what we actually bought….
Mark’s bread is from the Coop in Scandinavia’s Xtra range, which does seem quite cheap. His loaf was about 83p, for example. There are apparently 220 products in the range, though as that’s spread throughout the whole supermarket (including cleaning products etc) the choice in any one aisle is slim. If you want breakfast cereal, it’ll be corn flakes. In chocolate, there’s milk or dark….. (68p for a 100g bar in Sweden, and perfectly edible). As you can see above, there’s no Xtra milk to be had. The one Mark bought (the cheapest available) is about twice the UK price.
We did quite a lot of travelling on Saturday afternoon, not just because the weather was awful but also because we’d concocted a cunning plan to arrive in Oslo first thing on Sunday morning when traffic would hopefully be quite light. We found a place to spend the night a very short distance (15 minutes or so) up the motorway, which worked well.
In Oslo, there seem to be two main options. There’s a marina at £27.50 for 24 hours that’s close enough to town for you to easily cycle in or there’s free parking further out of town at the ski jump, from where you’d have a 35-40 ish minute train journey into town.
Initially, the free parking caught our eye, but when we factored in the cost of public transport, the difference came to under £20 for our planned two day trip – so we went with the marina for the location, electricity, and filling/emptying facilities.
We got a spot on the front row. Mark soon lowered the tone by hanging his hand-washed undies out to dry!
With SOK safely parked up, we headed straight out in the direction of Bygdøy, a green leafy peninsula on which posh houses, embassies, and some of the museums we wanted to visit are located. First up was the Kon Tiki museum (£20.28 each for a combined ticket for Kon Tiki and the Fram museum next door).
The museum told the story of Thor Heyerdahl and his various expeditions. Having spent a year in Polynesia as a postgraduate student, he’d come up with the theory that the early Polynesians had travelled west from South America not east from Asia as per the prevailing wisdom at the time. His 1947 Kon Tiki expedition, in which a crew of six travelled the 8,000 km from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days on a 14m by 5.5m balsa raft, just to show that it could have been done, was an early example of experimental marine archaeology.
I really liked the cute little duty roster, hand-carved by Heyerdahl himself (well, I guess they had 101 days on their hands…..):
We were surprised to learn that two heroes of the Norwegian resistance took part in the Kon Tiki expedition, in both cases as radio operators (having gained plenty of experience of operating a radio in, shall we say, sub-optimal conditions during the war). Knut Haugland we’d already come across at Rjuken as he was part of the group that sabotaged the heavy water plant there. Torstein Raaby spent ten months in hiding at Alta in the north of Norway (which we visited on our last Scandinavian trip), reporting back on German warship movements (including, most importantly, the Tirpitz) using a radio surrepticiously connected to a German antenna!
The museum also contains the Ra II reed boat in which Heyerdahl sailed from Morocco to Barbados in 1970, together with lots of information about Heyerdahl’s research on Easter Island, the Galapagos etc.
Mark read some of Heyerdahl’s books in his youth, but he’s decided that he’ll have to repurchase and reread them when we get home….. (we may have to send hunters out to trawl the charity shop bookshelves of Britain!).
The name of the Fram museum next door was somewhat misleading – we knew that the Fram was in there and expected some information about Amundsen, but in actual fact, it’s a large museum all about polar exploration. There are two main halls, each containing a ship and galleries around the sides with lots of detailed information on a wide range of expeditions, and not just Norwegain ones – Franklin’s doomed expedition in search of the Northwest Passage was covered in depth, as was the Swede Andrée’s ill-fated balloon expedition to the North Pole. The Amundsen / Scott race to the South Pole got extensive coverage, as, of course, did the various expeditions involving the two ships in the museum.
The Fram (whose voyages included Nansen’s 1893-1896 Arctic expedition and Amundsen’s 1910-1912 South Pole expedition):
The cabins were, um, cosy:
The second ship in the museum is the Gjøa, in which Amundsen completed the first transit of the Northwest Passage in 1906:
The one big polar story I could think of that didn’t get a mention in the Fram Museum was that of Shackleton. Maybe they could build a third (smaller!) exhibition hall and borrow the James Caird from Dulwich College?
We’d originally intended to visit the nearby Viking Ship Museum as well on Sunday, but we’d spent far too long in the Kon Tiki and Fram Museums, so left the vikings for Monday morning in the end. It’s a good thing that we did, as we spent much longer in the museum in the end than Tripadvisor had suggested might be needed…..
The Viking Ship Museum is based around four ships, but of those, two really stand out (the Gokstad Ship and the Oseberg Ship). Of the others, the Tune Ship is in very poor condition and of the Borre Ship, only the nails survive (not the wood).
The Gokstad and Oseberg ships were both used as normal ships for a number of years before being used in ship burials (in which the ship would be buried with a wooden burial chamber placed on deck, lots of grave goods placed with the body, and the whole thing covered with a large earth mound). Both mounds were plundered back in the viking age and any jewellery or weapons that were there stolen – but luckily the thieves left plenty of other good stuff behind.
The Gokstad Ship was built around 890AD and used in the burial of a man in his 40s, who was killed in battle, sometime around 900AD.
The ship is 24 metres long by 5 metres wide and had places for 32 oarsmen. Its very sturdy construction suggests that it was an ocean going vessel. The information in the museum said that it could have reached Iceland, for example.
They omitted to mention the Odin’s Raven, a 2/3 replica of the Gokstad Ship, that was sailed from Trondheim to Peel on the Isle of Man in 1979 and can nowadays be seen at the House of Manannan museum there…..
Now the Gokstad Ship is, I grant you, impressive, but for me the show was well and truly stolen by the Oseberg Ship. If you had to draw a stereotypical viking ship, this would be it:
The figurehead is a snake (and there’s a coiled snake’s tail at the other end of the ship). The museum had made a handy replica of the snake’s so we could see it clearly:
When it was found in 1903, the ship had been somewhat squashed by the weight of the burial mound. It’s been put back together, but 90% of the wood on display is original.
It’s stunningly decorated:
Although it’s a similar overall size to the Gokstad ship – 22 metres long and 5 metres wide – the design and construction of the Oseberg Ship (for example, lower sides) imply that this one wasn’t meant for long ocean voyages.
The Oseberg ship burial contained two women, both around 153cm tall. One was in her 50s and had broken a collarbone in the weeks before her death. The other was 70-80 years old and suffered from osteoporosis and advanced cancer.
Lots of grave goods from the Oseberg Ship are on display in the museum, including an intricately carved cart:
Three sleighs (used – the sleigh runners are worn):
Some amazing animal heads (four were on display), which could be attached to, say, a ship or a building:
We both agreed that the Viking Ship Museum was, if we had to choose (it was difficult!) the best of the three museums we visited in Oslo. It isn’t a big museum but the stuff on display inside is incredible.
That left us Monday afternoon the explore central Oslo. It’s much much smaller than I’d imagined:
The Royal Palace:
Next to the palace was a statue of Queen Maud. When Norway gained independence in 1905, they needed to rustle up some royals of their own. The decision was made to invite the second son of the Danish King to become King of Norway. He agreed and became Haakon VII of Norway. His wife, Maud, was British – the youngest daughter of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (one hopes that her mother had taught her Danish in childhood….).
We hung around to watch the changing of the guard. It was, as Mark put it, a deeply underwhelming experience!
They seemed to be lacking in presence somehow….
Mark asked why they’d turned up in trackie bottoms:
This part was odd. At the point of changing this particular guard, four of them seemed to form a mumbling huddle for a couple of minutes of so before three of them marched off. “what are they doing?” asked Mark, “taking the lunch order?”.
The inside of the cathedral:
There’s a new National Museum opening in Oslo in 2020 and a new Viking Museum next to the Viking Ships in around 2024, so I guess we’ll schedule our next trip to Oslo for after their opening….
We left Oslo on Tuesday morning, our 48 hours up, and had another travelling day, crossing the border back into Sweden. The weather looked like it might now be picking up a bit, having been pretty grey during our time in Oslo (though thankfully all the heavy rain arrived in the evenings when we were safely back in SOK; there was also a brief downpour whilst we were in the Viking Boat Museum but it’d stopped by the time we came out). We’re hoping that summer’s going to return for our remaining time in Sweden!