It has been quite a journey around Scandinavia so far. And throughout the last 10 days we had been chaperoned all the way. Basically we had been herded around like cattle from place to place though we can’t complain since these places would take a lot longer to get to if we had traveled independently. You have to remember this was the 1990s…
Coming into Oslo, we decided that we shall not join in the optional tours. Time to save some money and put our grey matter to us! Now you have to be reminded that at the time we were in Norway, there was little if not nothing available on the web. Back in the day the internet was truly a sharing and academic based network. And since Norway did not have a tourism office in our little red dot, we did not have the pleasure of getting any information or brochures to study…by the way the DK and Lonely planet guides of the world were also still in its infancy too!
So off we went!
After bidding farewell to the rest of the tour members, we began our own little walk. To be honest we weren’t sure where to go and it was quite a coincidence that we stumbled upon the Nobel institute. Milling about and looking at the plaque that adorned the main entrance, a man walked out greeted our morning. He explained that he worked in the institute and would be most delighted to give us a little tour. Wow. What a stroke of luck! Since we were invited, we could not turn it down.
We are sure you know what the Nobel prize is about. Alfred Nobel, whom the prize is named after was an inventor. His most famous invention was dynamite and he made a fortune not only from this but also a slew of patents most related to weaponry. Lambasted as the “merchant of death”, Alfred decided to bequeath most of his entire estate and established the prizes to be awarded to eminent individual(s) in various fields of science, eventually extending to the art and economics. While it wasn’t called the Peace prize, it was nevertheless an original category established by Alfred for those that endeavor to reduce friction between nations. Some said that these prizes were created perhaps to soften his image as a merchant of war?
Now the Peace price is awarded by this institute in Norway while the others (e.g Chemistry, Physics etc) are awarded in Sweden. Why? Because at that time Norway was still in a union with Sweden.
You might recall that many a famous person were awarded the prize. And nowhere can you pose with all of them than in front of the photos in the gallery. We were surprised that it was a rather modest stage from which an address would be conducted for the award of the prize. But it was all rather interesting to have sat there and imagine being members of the audience as the awardee is given the prize.
A beautiful public garden
We took a local bus and then made our way to the Frogner park. This public park is adorned with new age art pieces from Gustav Vigeland. There are said to be 212 of them in bronze and granite. The ones we are seeing depicts the human form in various poses. Did you see the angry boy behind Suan? Do you know why he is so irate – Sinnataggen as they say in Norwegian?
Take time like Suan posing in front of the Frogner park monolith. This ~18m high steele has 121 figures carved out of a single slab of granite. You might struggle to see the mass of tangled bodies depicted on it. According to literature it symbolizes the human desire to understand the divine and spiritual. Oh yes that sound about right, since humans have been coming up with religions since the dawn of history…
As its most visited park, there were naturally lots of tourists, including us. Being a public park free to be accessed in this sprawling 80 acres you will see an awful lot of naked people. Sculpted ones – no, not the ones that are muscle toned. But as in carved and set in stone so to speak. So you need to be open minded and a little less of a prude. Enjoy it!
As we walked back to take the bus to the next destination, we saw our tour coach with tour mates who had taken the Trafalgar optional tour. Well, they paid for the escorted tour… which we came here for free…
The Viking chronicles
Next, we visited the Viking museum, dedicated to the history and achievements of the Viking people. The Vikings refer to a group of people that came from Scandinavia and they could be Norwegian, Swedish or Danish. In any case, the Vikings left behind quite a lot – including long boats that was preserved as it was submerged in peat and thus perfectly conditioned. A lot of their remains had been found not just in Scandinavia, but also in Canada (Nova Scotia for example) and definitely Iceland. It was even claimed that they sailed all the way to Florida or the Caribbean sea!
This one that we examined was probably built and buried around 850 AD for a woman of noble rank. Though nothing of value (in the sense of treasure) was recovered, the ship was so well preserved that it was near intact when re-assembled. Measuring 22m long and 5m across, the museum folks told us it was probably rowed by 30 men. Imagine the sight of this long boat from the coast – by folks in England or France during the 800s. What it signaled usually was pillaging and violence…
We spent some time in the museum and then continued on with our exploration – this time heading to the fortress of Akershus, located at the water-front of the city.
Whenever it was built, the fortress has stood the test of time and that of countless sieges. Hence it had an excellent resume where it came to its functional use. Whoever controlled Akershus ruled Norway it was said. And for centuries the Swedes and Danes tried. And were unsuccessful except through political wrangling did they managed to gain control over the fortification and unite Norway with them.
Still being a military area means that one cannot come and go as one pleased. In fact the opening hours are restricted and the fortress grounds closed from 9pm. We did not enter the crypt where some of Norway’s royals are buried, but we did see the King’s guard patrolling and manning a sentry box. Suan had a challenging time walking on the cobbled stones, so wear comfortable shoes. The city view is wonderful though, as it overlooks the harbor. Come here, it’s also free…
Oslo is a Cosmopolitan city and also the largest city in Norway. In fact, a large segment of the country’s population lives in the city. When we finished with the fortress, we headed back to town and stopped by the local fish market by the waterfront. Norway like the other Nordic countries has high standards of living, but it also has a high cost of living. Back in the day a ‘Chinese’ lunch cost 100 krone per person (S$24 at that time). And it wasn’t exactly a luxurious meal either.
But being away from home brings about cravings… you know, having salmon and trout every day for almost two weeks can get to you. These countries would be nice to visit, but to live there… Joining our tour mates in the evening, we headed out for dinner. Oh yeah, salmon again!
We are sure some of you have visited Oslo. And that it would have changed a whole lot we are sure. Would you tell us what else we should return for?
We were in Oslo in early July of 1996
Continuing onto Sweden (here) yet again, we end our Norwegian stories.