Cities / Towns Visited: 43
Countries Visited: 13
Steps Taken Today: 12,535
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,523,004
As today was to be our only full day in Oslo, we awoke early and headed out to try and get as much done as possible in the short amount of time we had, thus after a brisk walk we arrived at the dock to catch the ferry for the short trip over to the area of the city where three of the most interesting museums reside. Today was to be a particularly maritime based day of adventure. Having fallen so much in love with viking ships and the civilisation who created them, it will be unsurprising to hear that our first destination for the day would be the Viking Ship Museum. Now, unlike the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, who’s ships were found sunk in the fjords, the ones on display in Oslo were all discover buried on land. This may seem odd until you discover that they used to bury their nobles in old ships along with anything they believed they would require in the afterlife, like everyday items and weapons, as well as more morbid additions, like sacrificed animals and even sacrificed servants.
As we walked in the door and purchased our ticket, the first thing that hit me was how incredibly preserved these vessels are for ships which are more than a millenia old. It is at this point that it becomes obvious how much better earth is at preservation, as opposed to water. The ships had to be pieced back together much like their sunken cousins, however the main difference is that they had almost every piece of these ones in salvageable condition. They truly are remarkable to behold, their skill fully crafted curves, and their sheer colossal size. The museum houses three of these giants, alongside a treasure trove of other items discovered at the burial site, and a key source of evidence in regards to the lives of the viking people. From a couple of intricately carved wooden sleighs, along with smaller items like buckets, leather shoes, and even the remnants of fabrics. Most of the burials had been pillaged throughout history, thus despite the likelihood that there was probably weapons and jewellery buried alongside the nobility, there was very little of it found.
It was surprising to learn that one of the burial ships housed two well bred women (an assumption made due to their seemingly good state of health both physical and dental, which show they ate well and did not have signs of having had partaken in hard labour work). This is particularly odd as this method of burial was almost solely reserved for chieftains as they are highly expensive in regards to labour and materials. And doubly so as their ship was the one on which they found the three sleighs and a number of other items which would have been valuable back in their day.
Finally it was time to bid farewell to these wooden beauties of the past and move on to some ships from a little closer to present day. Stopping briefly at the cafe outside for a quick hotdog and ice cream for lunch, we moved on to the Fram Polar Ship Museum. If I thought the viking ships were large, I was about to be thoroughly surprised. This museum, made up of two large triangular buildings, houses two massive ships from the late 1800’s. We started off in the smaller building with the ship Gjøa, a stunning ship with a fascinating history. This vessel made history by being the boat which ferried Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his crew through the North West Passage; the dangerous route between the north of the European continent and Russia, and the Arctic ice floe, which had claimed the lives of several previous explorers. Around the ship are a number of taxidermy animals, including a number of polar bears. You are even allowed to step aboard the deck of this death defying ship, which brings out the little kid in all of us.
The second building houses the ship which lends its name to the museum; Fram. This hulking ship, which you can also climb aboard, was built especially to achieve a feat they never thought it would be able to; to be frozen in the Arctic ice floe without being crushed. ‘Why do it?’ you may ask, we’ll although it a seems obvious to us all now, this was how the explorer Fridtjof Nansen managed to prove the theory of meteorologist Henrik Mohn, that the arctic ice moves as a mass, thus proving that there is no land under the arctic ice cap, but instead it is simply a shrinking and expanding perpetual floe of ice. He was of course hoping to also reach the north pole on this ice driven journey, but to no avail. This would of course be enough to make this ship noteworthy, but it’s story does not end with this incredible discovery. Some time after this Roald Amundsen took this ship and his crew to Antarctica, where they, in somewhat of a race, beat Robert Scott to the south pole. The story of Amundsen was truly fascinating. A man who was not only the first man to make it through the North West passage and to the South pole, but also the first man to pass over the North Pole, which he achieved by use of a plane after his successful southern mission. Sadly he lost his life not long after this when the plane he was piloting on a rescue mission of some lost sailors, crashed into the ocean.
His was a story of trials and tribulations, a story of learning to live off the land in harsh conditions from the native Inuits, and a man who set himself up to succeed through perpetual education and pre-empting every possible error and danger. For these reasons he succeeded with minimal losses to human life, and also managed to return from the south pole with a few dogs still in tow. Quick funny story, firstly he tricked his crew into the trip by not telling anyone he was heading for the south pole as they would not have approved his use of the ship for this purpose, they thought he was going to the north pole, but told them once they has already launched the boat; and also most people end up with animal casualties after such a long maritime journey as that from Europe to the Antarctic, but by the time they arrived they actually had more dogs than they’d left with.
Now when we compare his success to Scott’s failure, it is easy to see why Scott, all of his animals, and the majority of his crew, including himself lost their lives. Scott simply hadn’t put the time and effort into learning the best way to survive the harsh conditions. Where Amundsen had learnt from the Inuit that dogs were the best way to traverse the icy tundra, Scott instead took two motorised sleds, which failed almost immediately, along with a number of Icelandic horses, which struggled with the conditions and they ended up having to kill for food, and he only took a small number of dogs. On the other had Amundsen took some 50 dogs, a small number of horses, and no motorised scooters. Furthermore Scott only made one outpost on his journey, which left the him and his few remaining men grossly under supplied and protected on their return from reaching the pole some days after the Norwegians. Amundsen however set up outposts at regular intervals. Scott was cocky about his journey, confident he’d beat them, however he chose a worse place to begin his journey, whereas Amundsen was calculated in his decisions and realistic about the danger, and also selected a closer and more advantageous starting position. A spectacular win for humble planning and generally expecting the worst.
On top of this, Roald was I great leader to his crew, before even leaving for the journey he ensured he stocked the ship with enough gifts and special alcohol and food for everyone’s birthdays and major celebrations, like Christmas. He also fostered a positive living environment with every man being given their own cabin. Once again Scott came up lacking on inclusive leadership, instead running his ship like a military operation with clear rank system, and poorer treatment for lower officers who all had to bunk together. Please note at this point Scott made his crew up mostly of military officers, whereas Roald selected the best men for the jobs he needed. He chose multi skilled men, including men who knew how to fix every piece of equipment they took with them because he pre-empted things breaking; he had men who were in charge of feeding the crew and making good food, not just basic sustenance; a few men with some level of medical training along with a doctor; and men who knew how to look after the animals. In every way Amundsen gave himself the advantage.
With the day steaming on, we walked out of the museum thoroughly impressed by the feats of the humans of our past, and headed on to our final attraction, and the home of the most recent maritime vessels for the day; the Kontiki Museum. Now, as if we hadn’t heard enough inspiring stories for the day, we were to learn story of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian man, who, in the 1940’s, after spending time in the Pacific Islands, and noticing the waves battered the island he was on from the west side, he became convinced that the ancestors of the native people of the islands could have travelled there from South America, and not just Europe and Asia. Now naturally all of the scientists were telling him it was impossible, that there was no way they could have managed to cross the pacific ocean on the crude boats from back in those days. He refused to believe their naysaying, and having learnt about a South American legend which tells of an exiled chief building a raft out of nine balsawood tree trunks and sailing to the islands, he decided that the only way to prove them wrong was to build one and do it himself. At this point it is important to point out that he knew nothing about sailing, especially on the open ocean, in fact he actually had had a phobia of water since childhood. He travelled to South America, found some locals to help him make his raft a reality, cobbled together a ragtag crew of men who also knew little about sailing, but were equally as enthusiastic about the trip, stocked the raft with supplies, and set off to the sounds of people begging them not to, and assuring them it would cost them their lives. And after 97 days of ups and downs, and a few hairy moments, you know what happened? They made it to the Pacific Islands. If nothing else, I’m pretty sure that boat was held together by pure spite. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people always say love is the greatest motivator, but there are a special breed of people, myself and my brother included, for whom spite may just be a stronger driving force; we would make mountains move, all you have to do is tell us we couldn’t.
Of course, this incredible feat wasn’t the end of this man’s thirst for knowledge, and proving that, despite what science says, our ancestors were capable of amazing things with minimal technology. Thus we walked to the other side of the museum to see the other boat on display. After the raft, he went on to prove that the ancestors of the North African countries, like Egyptians and Moroccans, could have made it from Africa to the East coast of North America in a papyrus reed boat, and that they were capable of making one of these traditional river going boats seaworthy. With this he took the same approach: found some local artisans who knew the old techniques; built a boat to match the painted millennia old images found in Ancient Egyptian archaeological finds; picked a crew, but this time picked an international team, and setting sail to the same naysaying as his first journey. That being said this first boat ended up coming apart some way into the trip, but this was due to flaws in the building design. Thus after being rescued, he chose a new building team and tried it again. And you know what, they made it successfully across the Atlantic ocean by riding the trade winds.
One last fun fact about this man who just loves proving that our ancestors were much smarter than we give them credit for, he we even part of the team that helped unearth the bodies of the Easter Island heads, and then went on to help prove that the natives on the island would have been able to carve them and move them to the shore by walking them along land in a rocking motion.
Eventually we had to leave, mainly because the museum was closing, and off we went to catch the ferry back. As we wandered home, fretting over what to have for dinner, as if by fate, we stumbled upon the Amundsen Pub, and dropped in for a quick meal of deer bangers and mash, and a delicious piece of grilled monk fish, along with a couple of ciders. There was much conversation on all of the stories we had read about, and everything we had learnt. With a gentle buzz of alcohol we meandered home past the royal palace and through the royal gardens. After being spoilt by some of Europe’s biggest and best palaces so far, it’s hard not to smile at how small and under-adorned the royal residence of this young monarchy is; this leading family who has only ruled here for barely a century. It was almost amusing to learn that the first king and queen were selected as the monarchs from the Danish royal family, which seems strange seeing as that’s who they became independent from; but stick with what you know I guess.
As we settled into bed I took another moment to appreciate and revel in the bravery and pioneering spirit of Amundsen and Thor Heyerdahl . I also paused to reflect on those who dared to deny the possibility of the successes of our ancestors. We say they couldn’t have done these things because we can’t imagine risking that much to make it a possibility; we can’t imagine sailing off onto the ocean, with no idea of what’s on the other side or how far off land is; we can’t imagine wandering off into the unknown landscapes where death hides around every corner with no guarantees; and we can’t imagine doing it on a questionably stable vessel with no safeguards if it goes wrong. But we are missing an important fact; there is a subtle but fundamental difference between ‘they couldn’t’ and ‘we wouldnt’. The world was discovered by people who did what everyone thought they couldn’t, save for a few who just accidentally stumbled upon their discoveries; here’s looking at you Columbus. When people are convinced something is impossible, it is almost equally as impossible to convince them otherwise. Sometimes the only thing you can do is to prove them wrong. So get out there and make history, show them that you can, even though they wouldn’t.