Norwegian Wet

It was a short trip to Oslo. It began and ended in sunshine, a Viking tease. In between I learned that the Norwegian capital was enduring a Bergen summer, maybe temporarily. Bergen, where I’d learned from a previous visit it rains 331 days of the year, and drizzles or snows on the others, but as they said in Bergen at the time, you’d never have seen such stupendous waterfalls without the rain. Bergen, as I learned this time, the capital of rainwear fashion, where people buy masses of matching and clashing rainwear depending on the fashion statement streaming down from the heavens. And it seems to be a good marketing move. It makes me want to return.

Back to Oslo. Yes, it rained, but I was mainly inside at a conference. So that was fine, and it stimulated good contacts. You don’t stand outside long in the rain, unless you’re Norwegian in Bergen rainwear, and then it doesn’t matter. Ok, the truth. The rain fell nearly vertically, so an umbrella was ok, till someone took mine, and I only got wet up to the knees, on my last day (free) when I confined myself to museum after museum. I had to wring out my shoes and socks as well after that.

But the museums were most enlightening and throughly enjoyable. I’ll only mention the three with boats – it’s good to go to museums, the equivalent of which you won’t usually find at home. The Viking ship museum – the size of the vessels was impressive, even if these may have been more ceremonial vessels used for burials, but they were the same size as those the Vikings sailed across the seas to England, Ireland, Greenland and North America. It was quite amazing to imagine hundreds or thousands of these vessels each carrying maybe 40 or 50 or more Vikings, plus their food for days or weeks, and then landing on some unsuspecting coast to replenish supplies, or plunder and pillage, or do whatever they felt like doing. It made me wonder how many Vikings there were in those days.

The Kon-Tiki museum – with Ra II and the Kon-Tiki – illustrates ancient voyages through the endeavours of Thor Heyerdahl. Amazing to see actually how small both vessels were. The reed boat, Ra II, built by South American native experts, made it from Morocco to the Caribbean, and Kon-Tiki, the balsa wood raft, travelled 101 days from South America to Polynesia. I remember seeing the original documentary film as a child – it made a lasting impression on me then.

The third boat museum, saved for last, the Fram museum. This was the boat that Amundsen sailed to Antarctica in 1911, or was it the Fram that Nansen sailed across the Arctic polar icecap over 3 years from 1893 to 1896? I had forgotten Nansen, he of the passports, had accomplished this incredible scientific journey through the icecap to prove that the Arctic was an ocean and that the ice flowed, slowly, with the currents. Even more incredible was the attempt by Nansen and a colleague to leave the vessel in the ice and strike out for the North Pole in the Arctic summer of 1895. They didn’t quite make it, and had to winter on Franz-Josef Land, before arriving back in Norway in August 1896, followed a week later by the Fram after it was freed from the ice. I think it was Fram II in the museum, and it looked so sound and solid, with its piano and gramophone. Music was necessary for long voyages: the Vikings and Thor Heyerdahl and his crew must have made their own too.

Oslo was wet, appropriately for the boats. And despite the rain, the Oslo outdoor music festival, Norwegian Wood, was in full swing.

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