Before I launch into a description of this marvelous day I want to make an acknowledgement in a picture worth a thousand words. Our German “son” Andre’ and his wife Asuka are the proud parents of 11 year old daughter Helena and 4 year old son Moritz. During our time in Berlin I became especially close with the little boy. Perhaps it was because he spoke better German than me, or maybe it was my special talent making “fart” sounds with my hand to my mouth. In any case we shared a bond that is best explained in this picture.
It’s 9 days before my own bed, but who’s counting? (Spoiler alert: me.) As tempting as it is to focus on that future, today put those thoughts on hold.
When I was eleven I read “Kon-Tiki” by Thor Heyerdahl. Its 250 pages chronicled the 1947 voyage of Heyerdahl and his 5 man crew aboard a balsa log raft from Peru to Polynesia. The Norwegian adventurer sought to establish the possibility that such voyages could have populated the south seas islands. The voyage was a success, and in the process of its telling he populated the imagination of an 11 year old boy with visions of travel and adventure. 55 years later that little boy stood in Oslo, awestruck before Kon-Tiki and Heyerdahl’s later vessel, the Ra-2.
Norway has produced many of the world’s greatest navigators, adventurers, and shipwrights for more than 1,500 years. Heyerdahl was just the start for today. The Kon-Tiki Museum behind us, we walked less than 100 yards to the Fram Museum which housed not one but two of the word’s great vessels of early 20th Century polar exploration.
The smaller of the two vessels, Gjoa, measures 70 feet long by 20 feet on the beam. She was a stout ship capable of withstanding the crushing forces of the arctic ice pack. Her Norwegian captain, Roald Amundsen, and a crew of 6 were the first to successfully navigate the fabled Northwest Passage, completing the 3 year effort in 1906. They spent two winters icebound in the arctic but occupied their time engaged in serious scientific study and measurements.
The second and larger vessel, Fram, (127 feet long by 34 feet on the beam) is famed as the wood hulled sailing vessel to have sailed both the farthest north into the Arctic (86° north in 1896) and farthest south into the Antarctic (78° south in 1912).
Each of these ships have been magnificently restored and are exhibited with a wealth of information concerning polar exploration throughout the centuries.
Next, we were off to the Viking Ship Museum. The reputation of these 1st millennium Scandinavians for barbaric savagery has eclipsed their accomplishments as shipbuilders and navigators. Archeologists and Sociologists have established that Viking exploitation extended west to pre-Columbian North America, and as Far East and south as Russia and Turkey. They were as fearless sailing the oceans in their fragile appearing ships as they were in battle.
Their ships were anything but fragile. They were graceful, seaworthy, and at over 10 knots they were capable of twice the speed of the ponderous ships of “more civilized” people.
The Viking Ship Museum features 3 large excavated and restored vessels, together with smaller boats of the time. There are wonderfully preserved sledges, wagons, and carvings that cast an entirely different light on these explorers.
Finally, we drove to Oslo’s Frogner Park to see the work of another famous Norwegian “explorer”, sculptor Gustav Vigeland. He was an explorer of human relationships and emotions. Between 1924 and 1943 he sculpted in both bronze and stone 212 works which detail hundreds of human figures and are exhibited over 80 acres within the park.
The figures are mesmerizing in their depictions of human interactions.
Chief among these works is the appropriately named sculpture “Monolith”. It is a 46 foot tall single block of granite that depicts 121 seamlessly interwoven bodies… men, women, old, young, exhibiting the full spectrum of human emotion. This piece took 14 years to complete! It is surrounded by other larger than life figures arranged in tiers like spectators at an exhibition. It is no wonder that the Park attracts nearly 2 million visitors annually.
Peace Everyone. Pete