No sooner are we off the train, shortly after dawn, than we’re making our way across a frosty Oslo to a rendezvous with my traveling companion’s parents. They offer up a few hints on what we might do with the remainder of our time here, as well as an equally welcome breakfast. The meeting is a short one though, and before long, they’re heading to the airport and us, having picked up 24-hour Oslo Passes, to the city.
We drop our bags in the Perminalen hostel (it’s a little early to be checking in) and make it down to the nearby docks just in time to catch the first ferry of the day across the bay to a cluster of maritime museums. We’ve a plan to enact to take in as much of this city as we can, and we’re ahead of schedule. So much so that when we arrive at the Viking Ship Museum, we have to wait for the better part of half an hour until it opens. Still, we’re enjoying Oslo at what must be something close to its best – a crisp, clear, frosty morning, and the stroll to the museum takes us through some of the city’s swankiest districts.
Once the world catches up with us, we’re treated to a close-up encounter with the contents of three massive burial mounds: two ships restored to something approaching pristine condition, another that has suffered a bit of decay during its centuries in the ground, and the various grave goods that accompanied them. These are the relics of Norway’s most romanticized era, with its Viking warriors, explorers, colonizers and poets, and there can be few places where you can actually touch that time as well as you can here.
A brisk stroll takes us to the rest of the museums in this cluster. First up is the Kon-Tiki museum, which is a shrine to Thor Heyerdahl and his many voyages of discovery. Even if you already know about his exploits, this place does a fantastic job of reminding you just how impressive they were.
That said, the Kon-Tiki Museum does pale a little in comparison to the neighbouring Fram Museum, which holds the actual ship that travelled further north and further south than any before it and acts as a shrine to the era of Polar Exploration, especially two Norwegians: Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen. For all the Amundsen famously was the first to reach the south pole, it’s Nansen who comes off as the greater figure, a true pioneer, a champion of Norwegian independence and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize to boot.
Last up is the Norwegian Maritime Museum, and it suffers in particular with what has gone before it. Feeling overlarge and understuffed, it’s redeemed a little by the panoramic cinema, with its vistas of Norway’s coast, but even that doesn’t quite offer the same thrill that the Glacier Museum’s panoramic cinema did.
Back across the bay on the ferry and we’re heading for the Historical Museum and National Art Gallery, which close early today (yes, our schedule slipped a bit, but it was worth it). Dividing and conquering, I take the museum and manage to run through its exhibits in under an hour. English subtitles, normally good elsewhere, are only occasionally available, and as with other museums before it, it seems to have a fixation on Egyptians, Native Americans and Norway’s christianising era. My companion has a bit more luck – the National Gallery has a decent collection of Munch paintings, but not a huge amount of note beyond that.
The time has come at last to check into the Perminalen, and when we do, the appeal of the comfortable beds to our sleep-deprived bones is a little too strong. We give ourselves half-an-hour’s rest and the chance to change clothes, and then we’re gone again, this time to the Nobel Peace Centre. This is an up-to-date exhibit, at least up to 2008 anyhow, and features an array of multimedia features. However, technology being what it is, interaction with a constant stream of visitors over the years means that not everything works as well as it should. Still, there’s information aplenty, and enough there to inspire further research, as well as a desire to participate in some of the efforts that have received awards.
Our Oslo Passes offer both entry to the city’s museums and the use of its transportation systems, and right outside the Nobel Peace Centre is a stop on the tram line that runs to Vigeland Park. This is the last goal of the day – a park decorated with the work of a single sculptor, whose works and designs stand in monumental array, leading up to a pillar composed of hundreds of writhing bodies. The sculptures are plain in form and feature, but it’s their poses and expressions that lend them life and interest, and one can only appreciate that Vigeland did not shirk any effort when given the chance to stamp his mark upon this piece of land.
Back on the tram to the Akers Brygge shopping district, and a successful day comes to a halt. Whether through our own tiredness or the failings of the area itself, we just about manage to feed ourselves before growing weary. Amid the darkness, we retreat, find our hostel and set ourselves to sleep.