I liked Oslo. I can’t quite put my finger on why I liked it, but I liked it just as strongly as I disliked Stockholm. Go figure….
Part of the pleasure I took in Oslo was tied to the fact that the ship docked within one minute’s walk from the old fort/castle. I don’t have any literature to bolster my memory, so I’m riffing here when I say I believe it was originally built at the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th centuries. It was substantially remodeled at the beginning of the Thirty Year War at the start of the 17th century.
It’s a lovely structure, with huge, gray medieval blocks of stone serving as the base, and smaller, golden colored bricks from the Scandinavian Renaissance completing the climb to small, but fairy-tale like towers.
Housed within the walls of the castle is the “Resistance Museum,” a very nicely put together exhibit that focuses on Norway’s fierce resistance to the Nazi occupation. I had forgotten that the word “Quisling” owes its origin to the disgusting Norwegian politician who welcomed the Nazis and was disowned by his countrymen.
The museum opens with a nice homage to Norwegian Jews who fought in the resistance. Throughout the exhibit, it reminds visitors that Norway’s Jews died at Nazi hands.
The museum makes it clear that it is a point of pride that the Norwegians sided against the anti-Christian, totalitarian ideology that wanted to subjugate the world and kill Jews. It is inexplicable to me that now, throughout the Scandinavian world — and particularly in Norway — it is a point of pride that they side WITH an anti-Christian totalitarian ideology that wants to subjugate the world and kill the Jews.
Norway, after all, is fierce in its condemnation of democratic, pluralist Israel, and slavish in its devotion to the Nazi-like Palestinian cause. Norwegians seem oblivious to the fact that not only do the Palestinians espouse Nazi goals, they enthusiastically threw themselves in with the Nazis during WWII and have never backed away from them allegiance.
From the Resistance Museum, we wandered through the city, heading to the art museum, which houses one of the original Munch “Scream” paintings. (We skipped the Munch museum, because it’s being remodeled, while the main museum has a seizable exhibition.). Along the way, we visited the City Hall, which, once again, I can’t date. It drives me bonkers that I don’t know the dates of the things we saw, but the rest of the family was moving so quickly, I never had a chance to stop and study the details of what we so.
In many ways, the town/city hall has that muscular look of Soviet architecture, so I think it was probably built in the 1920s or thereabouts. On the outside, it’s a rather forbidding brick structure. On the inside, though, you find yourself in a light, airy, spacious chamber covered with brilliant murals and mosaics. It’s a very attractive space.
As for the Munch exhibit, I wish we hadn’t wasted our time. Aside from the Scream, which had the virtue of familiarity, nothing Munch did appealed to me. In his early years, his art was derivative, with a little Seurat (spelling?) here, a little Picasso there, a bit of Gauguin for a change, followed by a dollop of Manet — none of it done very well. Munch then settled into his own style of drab colors and uninspiring graphics. Had it not been for the Scream’s fitting so well into the 20th century zeitgeist, I doubt many would have found him memorable.
After the museum, we headed back to the waterfront and took a short, lovely ferry ride to the Viking ship museum. It houses three Viking ships recovered from burial mounds. Two are in good condition, with the third in fairly good condition. They are, in a word, amazing. For one thing, they’re incredibly elegant, with their high, curved prows, and their swelling bellies. They are a beautiful combination of design and functionality. They also have that intricate Viking carving, with twining animals and Gods winding their way up the prow, and ferocious animal heads decorating posts and sledges.
The Viking ships are also surprisingly small — surprisingly, I say, because the hearty Vikings who traveled in them covered remarkable distances on such an unfriendly sea. They went as far south as the Mediterranean and as far northwest as Nova Scotia. Along the way, they terrorized and settled parts of England, France, Greenland, and all points in between.
So here’s a little factoid: At the Resistance Museum, we learned that the Nazis sent around 400,000 troops to Norway because Hitler believed that the inevitable Allied invasion of Europe would take place there. In fact, as we all know, the D-Day invasion took place on the beaches of Normandy — which owe their name to the Norseman who settled there so many centuries before. Hitler was right that Norse shores would be the landing point; he just picked the wrong Norse shores.
After admiring the Viking ships, we went to the nearby folk museum, which is an open air museum in which they’ve assembled buildings from all over Norway. My only regret is that we had too little time there, since we arrived only 90 minutes before it closed.
Ninety-minutes simply wasn’t enough time to see all the buildings and living history exhibitions. We saw weaving, a farm kitchen from 1959, a “stave church” from the 12th century, a tenement from early 20th century Oslo, a bakery from the 1700s — and only scratched the surface. I could have spent hours there. Not only was it fascinating, it was so very beautiful, as the grounds were covered with idyllic green pastures, log cabins with grass growing on the roof, half-timbered buildings, and brick mansions.
When the museum closed, we headed to the Vigesland park. Vigesland was a man who spent around 40 years in the middle of the 20th century creating dozens of granite sculptures for a single park. The sculptures are meant to show people in motion and people relating to each other — parents and children, men and women, old and young. The park itself is beautiful, because it is terraced, green, and spacious, with flowers blooming everywhere.
As for the sculptures . . . well, they weren’t my cup of tea. They’re crudely done and I found them unappealing. The kids were “creeped out by them,” especially the fact that all the figures are nude. They found it off putting to see a naked father frolic with his equally naked children. I think growing up in an era of high-profile pedophile cases made this seem very inappropriate to them.
What totally revolted me was the centerpiece — a tall column of writhing, entwined bodies of all ages, all presumably dead. It’s supposed to show the cycle of life. To me, however, it looked like nothing more than a photo of the bodies at Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen — all ages, all sexes, all nude, all tangled together.
The park ended the day’s sightseeing and it was a slightly sour note. Having said that, though, I still found the tourist part of Oslo appealing. Incidentally, Vigesland is in a less touristy part, and we saw innumerable Muslims and Africans there. Not a critical mass, by any means, but still enough to hint that the immigrants aren’t in the city centers but are, instead, in the outskirts of these major Scandinavian towns.
As for the natives, they were good-looking, friendly, and almost all spoke incredibly good English. Surprisingly, they spoke with American accents. Usually when one travels, those who speak English do so with a British accent. In Oslo, though, they sounded almost American. Their effortless bilingualism was very impressive.
And those are my Oslo impressions. We’re now heading north to Bergen. The sea is calm and the sky is clear. Although it’s already 10 pm now, the sun is still well above the horizon. We’ve been told that tomorrow, as has been the case since our vacation started, it’s going to be HOT. I still can’t believe that, after two summers of steaming not vacations (the Mediterranean and Japan), my hopes for a cool northern sojourn have been dashed by a heat wave.