Scandinavia, Day 6: Oslo

Travel by Adam on 2009-02-23 01:33

When I arrived in Denmark, I thought to myself: now this is the northlands. Steadily falling snow, a fine white powder icing every surface, pine trees, a deep chill in the air.

Today, as my flight today broke through the clouds above Norway, I realized I was wrong before. A true winter wonderland had unfolded before me: snow a meter deep on every surface; dense stands of pine trees half-buried in snowdrifts; a rugged landscape of mountains, hills, lakes, rivers, and fjords; and blowing snowstorms (”whiteouts”). Now this is the northlands.

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Oslo

The entire country of Norway looks like one giant ski resort. If you live in Oslo and your work happened to be downhill from your home, you could probably snowboard to work. I’m not kidding.

At midday, the clouds cleared and the sun shone down with full intensity. “Full intensity” this close to the arctic circle is pretty weak due to the earth’s tilt about its axis: at noon, the sun was pretty close to the horizon. I broke out my sunglasses for the first time on this trip. The Norweigens walking by squinted with confusion at the sky, trying to puzzle out what the hell was going on with this bright shiny thing up there. I saw three other people with sunglasses the entire day, and two of them looked like out-of-towners.

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Oslo is a much more varied city than Copenhagen. More racial diversity, more architectural diversity, different styles of clothing, hair, etc. By comparison, Copenhagen’s residents are relatively monocultural, at least judging from their personal appearances. In fact, Copenhagen in general seems Disneyland-esque: neat, clean, orderly, and homogeneous. Oslo has more grit, like you’d expect from a city. I can’t say which is better, but the contrast is worth noting.

Norwegians also seem more likely to look fierce. In my four days in Copenhagen, I don’t think I saw anyone who even looked like they listened to metal. In my four hours in Oslo, I saw several people who looked like they were in a metal band. It makes sense now that many of my favorite black metal bands are from Norway; I’ve never heard of any metal bands at all from Denmark.

I had about four hours to kill after deplaning but before boarding the cross-country train, so I used the time to check out the city, and also to visit the viking ship museum.

What, you thought I would be tired of viking crap by now? Yeah, me too. Turns out: no.

Viking Ships

The ships on display in Oslo’s museum blow the ones in Roskilde out of the water.

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The ships in Oslo were excavated from burial mounds. This means a few things. First, there were tons of grave goods (even aside from everything the graverobbers took). Second, the ships had all their pieces - oars, masts, steering boards - instead of just the hulls. Third, that some of the bones of the interred vikings were intact, which means all sorts of interesting studies including DNA analysis. And last but most important: the ships were buried in clay, so the wood was perfectly preserved.

Clay isolates the wood from oxygen. No oxygen, no wood-eating critters. As a result, the wood doesn’t rot. These ships are in incredible condition - they look completely seaworthy. Every detail is visible on the many carved adornments.

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One ship, the crown jewel of the collection, took my breath away. It seems to perfectly combine form and function - it’s at once both a piece of art, and a utilitarian tool. The curl on the stern and prow, and then the bas relief carvings of woven viking serpents traveling down the keel, are simply stunning.

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This ship is also notable in that the ship burial was for a woman. (Two women, if you count the bones of a younger one found within - probably a slave girl, sacrificed for her mistress.) Viking women were very rarely given noble burials, so to have the most magnificent ship ever discovered be a burial for a queen makes it that much more remarkable.

Artifacts

Looking over the collection of artifacts, I was amazed to discover that the vikings covered everything with woven serpents. Carts, bedposts, tent poles, combs - no object was too ordinary to carry their cultural message.

I also noted upon this small piece, which has a symbol of three interlocking triangles:

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(The picture doesn’t show it that well, but it is clearly visible in person.) I had a shirt with this symbol on it at one point - the seller had claimed it was a viking symbol, but I could find nothing about it online. I eventually got rid of it, assuming it was made-up. It woulds seem the symbol comes from this artifact.

Wrapup

I’m writing this on the train to Gol, watch the beautifully desolate Norwegian landscape flow by. The next few days will find me traversing the very sparsely-populated center of the Scandinavian peninsula, working my way gradually forward by train, with the goal of reaching the coast by week’s end.

Expenses: $402. $150 flight, $30 express train from the airport to Oslo city center, $8 museum entry, $54 train from Oslo to Gol, $70 food, $90 hotel (the Eingaard in Gol, which so far has turned out to be one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in).

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