Along the fjords (July 2012).

The capital of Norway, Oslo is an important hub for its country not only in terms of politics, but also in culture and economy, the latter particularly in maritime trade. It is the largest city in Norway with around 670,000 people living in the city center, and it is continuing to grow rapidly due to its high-birth rate and immigration. Without a doubt, Oslo is a powerhouse in Scandinavia, and it is showing the world just what it’s made of.

Oslo was our second stop during our week-long cruise through the Baltic Sea, following Copenhagen. We disembarked from the ship and spent a half-day exploring the Norwegian capital. Our cruise ship was docked right next to the Akershus Castle (also known as “fortress”), which had been built back in the late 13th century. It has served multiple uses: as protection from foreign attacks, a residential palace for the royal family, and even as a prison. Today, it serves as a museum that documents its long, perilous history.

Akershus Castle.

From what our tour guide told us, the Akershus Castle has never been completely taken over by foreign invaders, e.g. Swedish, Germans, throughout its nearly eight centuries. That fact surprised me, but I could also see how in almost-pristine condition the fortress was as our coach drove past it. We did not stop to visit, as we had other places to see on our three-and-a-half-hour tour in Oslo.

Our coach took us on a panoramic tour of the city center. We did not get off to explore on-foot, but we got glimpses of the many buildings there, including the historic Royal Palace and the Opera House. As it goes with any panoramic tour, we just stayed on the bus and snapped photos of each landmark as quickly as possible before moving on to the next site. Photo quality might not be up-to-par (especially in a moving vehicle), but we can say we saw the landmarks with our own eyes!

Behind the Royal Palace.
Opera House.

We made a huge turn-around and headed all the way around to the other side of the city. Oslo is situated on the southern tip of Norway, and even more so with various peninsulas and narrow inlets (famously-known as “fjords”) that make it an intricate map of waterways to get from one place to the other.

Reaching the quieter, residential neighborhood of Bygdøy, we descended from our coach for visits to the museums in the area. As Bygdøy is a peninsula of the city, its abundance of surrounding water highlighted Oslo’s notable maritime history, which we saw first-hand at the two museums we checked out. We first went to the Fram Museum, which is dedicated to the country’s polar exploration history: its architecture is remarkable, a collection of crisp, triangular roofs that heavily contrasted with the ancient, but well-preserved wooden vessel inside.

The Fram ship was used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for several intrepid expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions. It’s considered a pioneering example of marine engineering, as it was constructed in a way to withstand the pressure of freezing ice that would’ve otherwise sunk any ship daring to venture to such extremes of the Earth. In essence, the Fram was built to “float” on ice sheets, which would transport it through the Arctic and Antarctic with relative ease, all the while minimizing damage to its structure. While I might not be an engineer, I did find it fascinating how such a ship was invented to assist in increased knowledge of Earth.

Fram Museum.
Boats inside.

Just next door to the Fram Museum was the Norwegian Maritime Museum. We headed over there afterwards to learn about Norway’s general maritime history. Several of the country’s historic ships were housed inside, and we were even able to walk through one of them! Although the quarters were cramped and we had to file one-by-one through some of its passages, it was a neat, secondhand experience seeing how it must’ve been as a sailor in the early 20th century. Considering that the previous knowledge I had about Norwegian history was restricted to Vikings (which is generalized throughout Scandinavia, anyway), learning a little more about the country’s more-recent maritime history was a pleasant surprise!

We concluded our tour with a brief, scenic boat ride through the fjords. As Norway is the most-famous for its picturesque inlets, we couldn’t leave the country without having a glimpse of them. It was a calm ride, with the sun shining and a slight breeze as we cruised through numerous, small islands that dotted the waters. Our tour guide also pointed out a few, cottage-like houses, some of which are holiday houses for Norwegians in the summer. Some were even listed for sale, and we were told some sold for over 1 million krone (over $112,000 USD)! While it might not be expensive for some people, considering that such houses are literally cabins, it’s quite a lot.

Houses along the fjords.
“She Lies” statue.

After the scenic fjord ride, we docked near our cruise ship where we finished the tour for the day. It was a short visit mostly concentrated on museums (which aren’t my thing), and we didn’t really see much of the city center. I found my introduction to Norway underwhelming, but I’m told that there’s so much more to it than just Oslo. Since then, I’ve heard of Bergen and Tromsø, and perhaps one day I’ll have the interest to return to Norway and see more of the country.

More adventures coming soon!


— Rebecca

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