I flew to Hamburg, Germany and got the train to Oslo by way of Denmark. A lovely Dutch couple shared my compartment—we had a nice visit. When we got to Denmark, the whole train was put on a ferry. We spent several hours on this very nice ferry, eating open-faced sandwiches and drinking tea. When we reached land, the train rolled out of the ferry and we continued on our way to Oslo.
My first excursion, the next morning, was to Vigeland Park (or Frognerparken) via streetcar. I was studying my map when a young man got on, who was looking for a seat. I moved my map and myself over a bit and invited him to sit down. It turned out he was going to Vigeland Park, too, so we got off together and enjoyed the Vigeland statues!
These statues are unique. They are very true to life, warts and all! I thought the energy and movement in them made them outstanding! There are many, many and we enjoyed each one as we walked all around the park viewing many of the 200 sculptures, all made by Gustav Vigeland, mostly between 1939 and 1949.
One interesting thing was that every so often, there would be some especially tall and very blond ‘Vikings’ that looked different than most of the people in Oslo, and different from my smaller relatives, too! They really stood out in a crowd!
My Lebanese friend and I agreed to meet the next day to visit the Viking ships and other museums. We took a boat across the bay, first to have lunch at an outdoor restaurant with perfect weather. The menu was in Norwegian and English, and each entrée was numbered. I ordered ‘number four,’ while my companion ordered ‘number two.’ I read the English under his entrée and asked him if he realized that he was ordering horsemeat. His eyes got very big as he repeated, “Horsemeat?” The waitress offered, “It’s very good!” The Lebanese immediately said that he would change to ‘number four;’ as the waitress walked away, he said to me, “In Lebanon if anybody tried to sell horsemeat or donkey, they would go straight to jail!” The Norwegians got used to eating horsemeat during World War II, and developed a taste for it, so they continue to relish it. This young man was visiting his sister who had married a Norwegian man that was sent to Lebanon some years earlier as part of a UN Peacekeeping Force. He was here with his mother.
After lunch we looked at the Kon Tiki Museum. Thor Heyerdahl constructed a raft from reeds attempting to demonstrate that people could have reached Rapa Nui (Easter Island) from South America, a feat that he duplicated. Also on display was the Ra II, a raft that he used to cross the Atlantic in 1970.
The three Viking ships, on display in the Viking Museum, are awesome. They were built in the 9th century of oak and were used for burial for their chiefs.
A Norwegian Folk Museum contains about 150 buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries that have been gathered from all around Norway and reconstructed in this outdoor museum. Since my forbears came from Norway, I especially enjoyed this history. There was a stave church from Gol that was reassembled here. What a beautiful work of wood, built in 1200!
Other interesting buildings that I visited included the Parliament building (Stortinget), the Radhus with its beautiful murals, and the National Palace. The Palace made me smile as it is so ‘plain Jane’—typical of the Norwegian mindset. In my (Minnesota Norwegian farm) upbringing, ostentation was shunned as unforgivable. This is the least decorated palace that I have ever seen. It really looks like any other government building—hardly fit for a king—unless it’s a Norwegian king!
Bergen is really a beautiful city with its colorful wooden houses, born of the Hanseatic League, a powerful commercial enterprise with its headquarters in Lubeck, Germany. I took a tour of part of the compound that was where the people lived who came from Lubeck to work here in the ‘hinterlands.’ I was told they got extra pay for putting in their time here, in such an undesirable place to be! They were attracted by the fishing industry in Bergen. This successful, rich company operated from the 14th to the 18th centuries.
More Edvard Munch! In this museum we were treated to a piano recital of Edvard Grieg music—Norway’s most prominent composer. Speaking of Edvard Grieg, I later visited his summer home outside of Bergen where he did much of his composing. It was a most pleasant house in a wonderful setting—I can see how it would have inspired him!
I took a cable car to a great overlook point to see Bergen laid out in front of me. Then I visited the 12th century Mariakirken with its elaborate pulpit that was donated by the Hanseatic League in 1676.
There was a poster on the wall of my guest house describing an outing that one could take to attend a ‘mock’ wedding at a 9th century church, followed by a visit to a farm outside of Bergen where they would serve rommergrot (Norwegian cream pudding), lefse, and other goodies that were treats for me as a child, growing up in a Norwegian farming community. Well, that sounded terrific, so I joined a group gathered at the central plaza and got on a bus driven by a farmer (in traditional clothes) with his wife (also in traditional clothes) describing how they had bought this bus and converted their farm into a tourist destination. We did stop by the 9th century church for some Grieg songs. I learned that most of the tourists were from Minnesota and Michigan, USA, where there are large numbers of people with Norwegian forbears, and that they all looked like my relatives!
From the church we went on to their farm where we were welcomed by a man playing the Hardanger fiddle, which has four strings that are played, with four more underneath them for resonance. My father was a self-taught fiddler and my sister and I often chorded on the piano to accompany him as he played. One number that he played was called, “The Swedish Waltz.” Imagine my surprise when this fiddler launched into this very same number! I hadn’t realized that the roots of my second-generation father’s fiddling were in Norway!
The proprietess greeted us as we were seated in their much enlarged dining room, and explained some of the customs of rural Norwegians in the last century. Some local young people demonstrated traditional dances. Then women from the neighborhood filed in with steaming bowls of rommergrot (my favorite food in all the world), waited while a prayer was said, and then served the food. What a feast!
From Bergen, I boarded a fast hydrofoil to Stavanger, a city on the southern coast of Norway, which used to have many sardine canneries before the fish stocks became depleted by the 1960s. Luckily that’s about the time that oil was discovered in the North Sea, so Stavanger now is the ‘Oil Capital of Norway.’
From Stavanger I got the train to Kristiansand, another southern Norway town.
I was surprised at the familiarity I found in Norway, relating to my family’s Norwegian roots. The appearance of the people, the music, the food and the low-key, un-ostentatious displays were like home to me!