Norwegian Heritage in Oslo

I headed for the peninsula of Bygdøy in the Oslofjord this morning to visit two highly-recommended museums. First up was the Fram Museum detailing the heroic Arctic expeditions of Norwegian explorers beginning in the 1890s.

The Fram (forward in Norwegian) was directed by Fridtjof Nansen who planned to freeze Fram into the Arctic ice sheet and float with it over the North Pole in 1893. The ship was built to be unusually wide, shallow and smooth so the ice would push the ship up to float on top rather than crush it.

The exhibits were extremely interesting and I was surprised you could actually board the ship. On deck, the museum provided an immersive experience with projected videos and sound giving you the impression you were sailing through a fierce Arctic storm. It was enough to make you seasick.

As you descended below deck, cabin and crew areas were furnished as they were during the three-year expedition. The ship was stocked and insulated enough for Nansen and the crew to survive five years on board. If the Arctic storms, polar bears or ice didn’t kill them, boredom might have done them in.

Although it did not achieve the objective of reaching the North Pole due to ice flow, the expedition made major geographical and scientific discoveries. A large measure of the success was due to Nansen wisely adopting local Inuit and Sami expertise rather than ill-suited European techniques.

Finally back in Oslo, Nansen was hailed a hero by large crowds and officially received by King Oscar. The expedition swelled the pride of the nation. Norway would gain independence a few years later in 1905.

After departing the Fram Museum, I walked through an evidently wealthy neighborhood. Norway, a country of five million people, is one of the richest in the world, primarily through its careful management of extensive offshore oil reserves and other natural resources.

Norway puts its oil revenues into the Government Pension Fund, the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. It’s estimated there’s $250k for every man, woman and child in this country.

The standard of living in Norway is thus extremely high and prices in Oslo reflect it. The detached homes I passed were large by European standards with private yards and even garages (probably for their electric cars).

Remember the Super Bowl commercial last year when Will Ferrell took aim at Norway for selling more EVs per capita than the US?

After surveying the success of modern Norway, I finally arrived at my second destination of the day. The Folk Museum housed 150 historical buildings assembled here from all over the country for preservation.

You could wander through timber-framed homes from Norway’s distant past and representative buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries.

I was most impressed with the awe-inspiring Gol Stave Church which was dated from 1157 to 1216. These wooden Christian churches were once common in northwestern Europe during medieval times. Due to the material and harsh conditions, few survived but this one was thankfully preserved for me to admire today.

The Vikings were master woodworkers and shipbuilders. As they converted to Christianity, that heritage was expressed in the elaborate design of stave churches. There were even scowling wooden gargoyles guarding the outside. I kept reminding myself that this church was more than 800 years old.

Although you couldn’t go inside, you could peer into the dark interior. The massive, load-bearing pine posts were called stafr in Old Norse which evolved into stav in modern Norwegian, giving the churches their name.

Overall, I was pleased with the perspectives on Norwegian heritage I explored today. Both of these museums were highly-recommended and definitely worth the ride out to Bygdøy.

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Thanks for coming along on the trip. If you have questions or suggestions, tweet @JasonRMatheson. Missed an entry? Click here.

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I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.

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Jason R. Matheson

Jason R. Matheson

I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.

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