Sunday 11th September, Bogstad Camping, Oslo, Norway
Time flies when you’re having fun! Another three days have slipped past since I last posted an entry. We drove the three hundred or so kilometres from Ellos in Sweden to Oslo on Friday – a straightforward drive in glorious sunshine along motorway most of the way through increasingly spectacular scenery including a couple of bridge crossings across spectacular gorges, arriving mid-afternoon at the campsite. Bogstad Camping is huge – about 40 acres, and is only 9kms from the centre of the city. It’s not the nicest site we’ve stayed at – well equipped and laid out, but at the end of the season looking a bit tired. And as it’s close to the city, there are a number of old caravans apparently occupied by migrant workers – a cheap accommodation solution for them, and a continuous income stream for the site, but it lends a less homely, holiday-making atmosphere to the site. It’s also unfenced, which doesn’t aid security, so we’ve used our locks in earnest for the first time on our travels.
The good news is that we woke to a beautiful day again on Saturday. Frances sorted out public transport day passes for the family, made us our packed lunch, and we all set off on the bus into town. It was pretty straightforward – but had there been any complications, our tie-wearing bus driver spoke fluent English and was happy to help – that’s the bus drive on the No 32 bus from Bogstad to central Oslo – much like the bus driver on the No 6 from Peckham to Piccadilly Circus (I’m guessing at that route!) who I’m sure would be able to help out Norwegian, German or French visitors to London fluently in their own languages!
We arrived in the centre of town with an itinerary suggested by our great friend PSB from Sydney, whose mother (I think?) was Norwegian. PSB told us that he spent all his summers at the family summer house in Friedrikstad which we’d driven past en route to Oslo. We walked to the ferry terminal and found that it was ‘public transport day’, a concours d’delegance of Oslo’s historic buses and trams which, most importantly, involved giving us each a delicious free pastry. Then we hopped on the ferry to Bygdoy, across the Oslo Fjord to visit its several fabulous museums. Our first visit was to the maritime museum which enabled us to buy a pass to enter all the main museums over 48 hours…and free public transport (pity we hadn’t been told at the campsite). We watched a real evocative film presentation showcasing Norway’s maritime history and culture and spectacular scenery – a great scene setter for our stay here. We whizzed around the museum’s displays, then bolted over the road to the Kon Tikki museum, celebrating the voyages and adventures of Norway’s heroic Thor Heyerdahl on his balsa raft Kon Tikki on which he crossed the Pacific to Easter Island in the early fifties, and then his later trans-Atlantic voyages on the papyrus rafts Ra I and Ra II. I read the Kon Tikki book as a teenager – it was fascinating to see the actual rafts on which he travelled and to learn more about this incredible adventurer.
From Kon Tikki, we popped in to the Viking museum – we’re now thorough experts on Viking ship-building! The collection of four Viking ships on display were extracted from Viking burial mounds in which they and important dignitaries and their slaves, animals and all the equipment and food they would need to ensure their comfort in the afterlife were interred over 1,000 years ago. Their condition was incredible thanks to preservation in mud and gave real insight into the sophistication of the Viking’s skills as boat, cart and sledge builders, and the artistry and mechanical skill which was applied to their work.
And then to the Norsk Folk museum – a large acreage preserved as farmland displaying an enormous collection of farm houses and buildings from all over Norway and from the earliest animal skin covered wigwams and more sophisticated mud and grass coverings, through early timber dwellings, right up to the beginnings of modern living in the fifties. It was like stepping into a time-capsule. In several of the huts, Norwegians were demonstrating life as it was lived – in one, baking a sweetened flat bread (eggs, butter, flour, sugar, baked flat on a hotplate over hot coals; in another, brewing strong black coffee in the dimly lit parlour (delicious); in another, proudly showing off her newly acquired electrical kitchen appliances (cooker, fridge, mixer) and reading liberating women’s magazines from 1952. Such a fascinating insight into the tough but rich culture of Norway.
We made our way back to the ferry, the kids really making full use of their scooters (we brought them instead of their bikes) and from there back to the centre of Oslo. We walked up to the imposing Akershus Fortress which we whistled around just before it closed. And then on to the Opera House, in marked contrast to the historic buildings we’d spent the day visiting with its ultra-modern angular form clad in striking, sparkling-white marble with sloping roofs across and around which you can walk. And then finally we clambered aboard the bus home to Bogstad, weary but very satisfied with the day’s adventures.
This morning, Sunday, we were greeted by heavy rain and low cloud. After an abortive attempt to find a hardware store to buy parts to effect a couple of necessary repairs (everything was closed as it was Sunday), we packed ourselves into the car to head up to the Homenkollen ski jump which looms over Oslo. Sadly the visibility was down to about 20 feet, and the lift to the top of the ski jump was closed due to a lightning strike a couple of weeks ago. But the ski museum was fascinating (skis over 1,000 years old – older even than the skis I learned to ski on!) – and the ski jump and downhill simulator was a hair-raising ten minutes. While there we met a father and his 11 year old son who were up the mountain for the son’s mountain bike race – he and thousands of others. The father was from New Mexico, but has lived in Oslo for many years. We chatted to them for ten minutes about life in Oslo – so clearly an outdoor life, with mountain biking and sailing in the summer and skiing (cross country or downhill) in the winter – the son was saying that he skis three times a week after school under floodlights! School sounded pretty good too – starting at 8.30, finished by 2.30, and no school on Saturdays!
In the afternoon, we drove into the city to the Edvard Munch museum. Again, a fascinating dramatised film gave us an overview of the complicated life of Munch and explained some of the inner turmoil that he expressed so vividly on canvas. Some of the canvases on display were vast, with many smaller versions of the same paintings or details from it which he must have worked and re-worked in search of perfection. We hunted for The Scream, his most famous work, but without success. As we left, Frances bravely approached one of the security guards, a giant of a man who bore a striking resemblance to Jaws from the Bond films – “where’s the Scream” she asked – and, again in excellent English, he replied “Please don’t scream, but the Scream isn’t here!” and then told us where to find it, in the National Gallery. So, we hopped on the metro, raced to the city centre again, flew through the gallery and found it in the Munch room, along with some of his most impressive and moving paintings. Few artists that I’ve seen are able to convey emotion in quite the way that Munch does – his painting of the death of his sister was extraordinary.
And so back to Bogstad. So many things we haven’t seen (the Nobel Peace Museum, the Fram museum about Amundsen, who beat Scott to the South Pole, the sculpture park), but nevertheless a great couple of days.
It would be wrong not to comment on the recent bombing and mass shooting in Norway. I forget the name of the perpetrator, but it’s hard to forget the impact, or his claimed rationale. He talked after the event of the issue of immigration in Norway. Oslo, for all its obvious wealth, culture, healthy lifestyle and love of and use of its beautiful natural environment, does feel like a city that hasn’t yet grown accustomed to or come to grips with a multi-cultural society. Ethnic groups might be smaller and fewer in number than in other European cities, but seem to be more visible, and almost isolated within the city. We haven’t talked to people about it, and not being able to read the newspapers or watch television we haven’t been exposed to recent local commentary about the impact of the terrible events, so it’s hard to say what the impact has been. But as I write this on the anniversary of 9/11, it seems clear to me that much needs to be done to build harmony and understanding here and in other communities around the world with increasingly diverse populations. It certainly won’t be achieved with bombs and guns.
And so on to Flam in the morning – a long and what promises to be spectacular drive even if the weather doesn’t promise much. I’ve just looked at the map – as we approach Flam we’ll be going through the Laerdals Tunnels – I don’t have access to the internet now so can’t investigate further, but it looks like an enormously long tunnel – should be interesting!