Scandinavia Day Eight: Museum of Natural History & the Munch Museum

We devoted much of today to touring some of the other top attractions in Oslo, namely the Museum of Natural History (University of Oslo) which included the Botanisk museum, Geologisk museum, and Zoologisk museum.  We spent much of the morning exploring at leisure the many exhibits on display here.  Located at Tøyen in the east of Oslo city centre, the garden is not only popular for recreation, but a scientific collection in itself.  It was the first time the munchkins had explored a natural history museum of this calibre so they had many questions … Are the animals real?  How did they do that?  What do they make the eyes with?

The Botanical Garden, founded in 1814, belongs to the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo.  Through research, education, and conservation the garden seeks to increase public awareness of the importance of plant diversity and contains approximately 7500 species.  The greenhouses were built in 1868 and 1876;  the Palmehuset contains the Evolution Room, Mediterranean Room and Desert Room while the Victoriahuset was specially constructed for the giant waterlily of the Amazonas, and also contains many other tropical plants.  The munchkins and I were particularly intrigued by the Cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) … it was great to be able to show them where chocolate comes from … we were fascinated to learn that the flowers are borne directly on the trunk.

In the afternoon, we walked over to the Munch Museum.  Edvard Munch’s art is the most significant Norwegian contribution to the history of art, and he is the only Norwegian artist who has exercised a decisive influence on European art trends, above all as a pioneer of Expressionism in Germany and the Nordic countries.  When he died in January 1944, he had unconditionally bequeathed all his remaining works to the City of Oslo.  The Munch Museum opened in 1963 and was built to house this unique collection of approximately 1100 paintings, 4500 drawings and 18 000 prints. The selection is changed regularly but major works are always on display.

Inspired by a recent theft (and subsequent recovery) of Munch’s infamous Scream painting, we did a little letterboxing here … and were successful finding our first letterbox in Europe. We then made our way back to the city center where we enjoyed a delicious kebab dinner at Dennis Grill.

Oslo was once referred to as Tigerstaden (City of Tigers) by the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson around 1870. This name has over the years achieved an almost official status, to the extent the 1000 year jubilee was celebrated by a row of tiger sculptures around the City Hall. The only one known to still stand is found in front of the railway station.

Thereafter, we had a few hours to spare before we departed by train to Trondheim.  We thereby did a little shopping.  In a magazine shop, we were scrutinized by the shopkeeper who I presume wasn’t fond of children.  She watched over them like an eagle and harped on them each time they leafed through a magazine of interest.  It was quite uncomfortable … I would’ve liked to just walk out … but I discovered a great children’s book here that chronicled much of our stay in Oslo, Karsten og Petra Hilser På Kongen.  I had to buy it!  As I write this now… I discover it is a series … I must find a retailer!

Scandinavia Day Seven: Viking Ships & Vigelandsparken

We got an early start and took a bus to Bygdøy a peninsula on the western side of Oslo where many of the most popular museums are located.  Armed with the 48-Hr Oslo Pass, we toured the most popular of museums in Oslo.

Viking Ship Museum

The Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset) presents great Viking ship discoveries from Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune as well as other finds from Viking tombs around the Oslo Fjord. These ships were found in three large burial mounds where they had been buried to serve as vessels for their rich owners’ final journey to the realm of the dead, Valhalla.

The Osberg ship, built around 820 AD was used as a burial ship for a powerful woman and her maid-servant in 834 AD. The ship is constructed of oak timbers and is 21.5m long and 5m wide.  The ship was fully manned with a crew of 32 men, including the helmsman and the lookout.  In a burial chamber in the ship, the dead women were laid out in a ready-made bed.  Their ship also contained a fantastic collection of burial gifts for use in the life hereafter; e.g. three elaborate sledges, a wagon, five carved animal heads, five beds and the skeletons of 12 horses.

The Gokstad ship was built around 890 AD and was used as a burial ship for a chieftain around 900 AD.  The ship is about 23m long and about 5m wide; fully equipped with 32 shields on each side, painted alternately in gold and black.  In the burial chamber lay the body of a man in his 40s.

Grave robbers had long since plundered the grave; no weapons were found among the burial gifts, but the finds included a game board with game pieces, a harness fitting of iron, lead and gilded bronze, kitchen utensils, six beds, one tent, a sledge and three small boats.  Also buried in the grave were 12 horses, 6 dogs, and a peacock.

Kon-Tiki Museum

The Kon-Tiki Museum showcases the legendary expeditions of Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002).  Thor gained worldwide fame when he crossed the Pacific Ocean on the Kon-Tiki in 1947. He followed this up with spectacular expeditions on the reed boats Ra and Tigris.  His recreations of prehistoric voyages showed that early man had mastered sailing before the saddle and wheel were invented. His reputation as a scientist was consolidated through his archaeological excavations on the fabled, mysterious Easter Island.  Here, the munchkins and I were intrigued by the expedition journals of Thor and his wife, Liv.

Maritime & Fram Museums

We also explored the Norwegian Maritime Museum and the Fram Museum.  The Fram Museum houses the world’s most famous polar ship and about the men, like Roald Amundsen, who made these expeditions possible.

Norsk Folke Museum

Lastly, we explored the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History or Norsk Folkemuseum.  We had been most looking forward to this one as we have volunteered as living history interpreters in the past.  However, much like Skansen in Stockholm, there was only one due to the fact that it was off-season.  MeiLi became very disappointed in this .. many of the historic buildings were also closed .. and we became a little gloomy.  We thereby missed the stave church … but it likely would’ve been closed as well.  The nice thing about travel in the off-season, however, is we had the entire place to ourselves.  There were no lines … no one stepping in front of our cameras … no crowds whatsoever.

Rather than take the bus again, we boarded a small boat or water taxi and returned to mainland Oslo.  Craving fish & chips, we selected Amunsen Bryggeri & Spiseri … a local brewery and pub for dinner.  We did a little shopping … and then boarded the bus once again for Frogner Park.


Frognerparken is a public park located in the borough of Frogner in Oslo, Norway. The park contains the world famous Vigeland Sculpture Park (Vigelandsparken) designed by Gustav Vigeland as well as various bridges, fountains and a well known picnic area, popular in the summer for sunbathing, games, and relaxation. The sculpture park was my favorite tourist attraction in Scandinavia.  I was previously unfamiliar with Vigeland’s work and I now count him among my all-time favorite.

We wandered about the park, taking many photographs and enjoying the incredible artistry of Vigeland’s work.  MeiLi also enjoyed playing an interactive iPhone game, Den Hemmelige Parken. We weren’t able to visit the museum in his honor, however, but vowed to return.

We thereby returned to our hotel and crashed … it had been a long day.


Scandinavia Day Six: Gamle Stan

We awoke at a leisurely pace this morning.  We had reservations on the afternoon train to Oslo, so our morning was relatively open.  We discussed our options over frøkost and all agreed we wanted to return to Gamla stan (The Old Town) to explore the ancient part of the city more thoroughly.  This time, however, we opted to use city transportation rather than to walk.

A street performer who caught our attention as the kids recently learned to play a simple song in this same way.  They each put a few kroner in his case to show their appreciation of his musical skills.  

Until 1980, this old part of Stockholm was officially Staden mellan broarna (The Town between the Bridges). Gamla stan consists primarily of the island Stadsholmen.  The town dates back to the 13th century, and consists of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic architecture. As I mentioned previously, North German architecture has had a strong influence in the Old Town’s construction and iconic buildings surround the square Stortorget
A medieval waste pipe, called a trumba.
 Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, less than a metre wide, is the narrowest alley in the city.

After a delightful lunch at a quaint little Italian restaurant, we made our way back to the hotel to get our things and proceed on by taxi to the train station.  We boarded promptly and enjoyed the scenic tour through the Swedish countryside en route to Norway.  We arrived late in the evening so immediately found a taxi and proceeded to our hotel, checking in shortly before midnight.  While this would normally feel a little unnerving so late, the northern latitude afforded us plenty of light and discounting how we felt phyically (it had been a long day, after all) it felt like it was only 7 or 8 in the evening.  

Scandinavia Day Five: The Vasa and Skansen

We again enjoyed a delightful buffet for frøkost.  Upon asking for assistance of the receptionist, we proceeded to 7-11 (which are as common as Starbucks) where we purchased tickets for public transportation.  Though we were versed on the New York subway – navigating one in a foreign language added to the difficulty and we had a few moments of stress.

Fortunately, the people were very helpful and everyone speaks English.  With the help of a policeman, we made our way out of T-Centralen subway station to a local tram or trolley.  We made it in short time to our destination – Djurgården, though one stop farther than necessary so we backed tracked on foot.

We spent the morning at the Vasa Museum, a glamorous but unseaworthy warship – top-heavy with an extra cannon deck, she sank 20 minutes into her maiden voyage when a breeze caught her sails and blew her over.  After over 300 years at the bottom of Stockholm’s harbor, she rose again from the deep with the help of marine archaeologists.

We were all impressed with the Vasa – particularly in the 500 wooden statues draping the ship and once painted in bright colors.  We wandered through the various exhibits, took a guided tour in English, watched a video (focused on efforts to raise her) and thereafter the kids took part in a couple of crafts fro Barne – painting with a feather and ink (Buddy) and metal stamping (MeiLi).

After the Vasa, we walked back to where we’d originally gotten off the tram for lunch.  We selected a charming, open-air café where we enjoyed a salad and sandwiches.  Just as we were finishing, MeiLi realized that she had forgotten her purse at the Vasa … a habit that is quickly becoming an undesirable holiday tradition (she’s done it twice before).

Upon recovering MeiLi’s purse, we walked across the street to Skansen. Founded in 1891, it is Europe’s original open-air, living history museum.  The park encompasses more than 150 historic buildings (homes, churches, shops and schoolhouses) transplanted from all corners of Sweden.  Another part of the park is a zoo – with an emphasis on Scandinavian animals.

While observing the bears, we almost lost Buddy – giving us quite the scare!  He’d gone one way and us the other … we didn’t realize it until we’d walked some distance.  As he’d been walking in the opposite direction, it took us a good 5-10 minutes to find him.  He was in tears, of course, and as a result made a more concerned effort to hold my hand when it was busy and crowded.

My favorite part of Skansen was the living history.  Unfortunately, as it is still early in the season, many of the buildings were not open and there were few interpreters dressed in period attire.  I was most intrigued, however, by the Oktorp farmhouse.  I’d hoped to interact some with the interpreter (one of only two I saw today) but Buddy twice touched the artifacts and I thereby no longer felt comfortable.

The Sami camp was also fascinating. When we first arrived, there was a crowd of people surrounding the tent or tepee.  No one was really talking but several were laughing uncomfortably after they had peaked inside.  They would then jab one another and encourage their family member or friend to go in as well.  Finally they departed and it was our turn.  When I peaked in, I discovered the reason for their discomfort.  There was an interpreter dressed in Sami clothing inside the tent with a nice warm fire.

We were invited into the house and unlike the previous crowd, took him up on his kind offer.  We sat upon reindeer hides atop thin sticks that had been piled upon the ground for bedding.  It was surprisingly comfortable.  I very much enjoyed our brief visit.  As nomadic people, the Sami followed the reindeer herds.  They’d build multiple tent like structures throughout the reindeer’s range and live in them temporarily.  He informed us that it takes about 1-2 weeks to build one but that it will last for many years.  Today, Sami people live in modern housing and use the tent only on occasion when tagging reindeer.

I asked DH to take a photo of us – meaning I wanted him to take a picture of the kids and I inside the tent with the ‘Sami man’ as we came to refer to him.  DH took a few pictures and I assumed that all was well.  It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized the Sami man was not in the photos, with the exception of his lower legs.  I was very bummed.  As a former interpreter … I loved the dialogue we had exchanged.  Unfortunately, my memory will have to suffice.

Scandinavia Day Four: Copenhagen to Stockholm by Train

On our way down for breakfast at 6:30, we asked the receptionist for assistance deciphering our train tickets and reservations.  He indicated we should be there at 7 despite a departure time of 8:37.  We thereby returned quickly to our room for our luggage and had to forgo the breakfast buffet by which we had become so entranced.  We hurried to the train station and upon activating our Euro-Rail passes learned we were in fact quite early .. we learned our lesson and vowed not to make the same mistake again.   As an added penalty, we were forced to eat breakfast at McDonalds … and not surprisingly, they did not have a breakfast menu.  We thereby ate 1957 Burgers.  Hmmm

We made it to the correct platform (Spår) with the kind assistance of a DSB employee, Nicolai.  We were very thankful for his guidance as just minutes before we were to depart, they changed the platform … I’m not sure we would have been aware.  He was very friendly and even allowed the kids to wear his cap, though he wouldn’t allow me to take his photograph.  Sorry ladies …  

The train ride through the Swedish countryside was delightful – enabling us to take in so much. We arrived in Stockholm in the early afternoon and we promptly took a taxi to our hotel – Courtyard Marriott @ Fridhelmsplan.  Soon after we were settled in our room – a little smaller than our room in Copenhagen but meticulously clean, in fact it was a new hotel – we walked quite a distance along the water (Riddarfjärden) to Gamle Stan, Stockholm’s old town.

This historic island is charming, photogenic and full of antique shops and cafes.  Until the 1600s, all of Stockholm fit on Gamle Stan.  In time, German culture influenced art, architecture and even the language, turning Old Norse into modern Swedish.

We walked through the quaint narrow streets, made a few small purchases and coincidentally stumbled upon something taking place at the Royal Palace that may have been the changing of the guard, though the tourist literature indicated that this was to take place at an earlier time of the day, so we are not certain.

We opted to eat dinner here as well and selected Trotzig – a very nice, fine dining atmosphere.  Finally!  A meal worth the kroner!!

Scandinavia Day Three: Hans Christian Andersen and Tivoli

Not yet adjusted to the 9 hour time difference we all awoke early and had to wait just over an hour before we could go downstairs for frøkost (our breakfast buffet – an elaborate assortment of cheeses, breads and pastries, sliced meats, pickled herring, fresh fruit, waffles, pancakes, sausages, bacon and eggs.  We took our time to assure we had eaten our fill – in hopes of avoiding the need for lunch a few hours later.

At 9:00 a.m., we boarded a tour boat to take in the sites of the city of Copenhagen via the canal.  From the boat, we saw the infamous Little Mermaid sculpture as well as numerous buildings of distinctive architecture.  The canal tour also took us through Christianshavn.

We completed one circuit and then disembarked at Nyhavn, walking the remaining distance to Amalienborg to see the Queen’s palace.  As she was not presently in residence, the Danish flag was not flown.  We opted to not take part in the guided tour nor stay to see the changing of the guard.  Instead, we made our way back through Størget – stopping at the Lego store, of course.  We also managed to stumble upon the Hans Christian Andersen statue .. delight as I had wanted to see it and for some reason was under the impression that it was some distance from the main tourist area.

We then crossed the street and entered Tivoli – the inspiration, I understand, for Disneyland.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the kids more delighted and engaged in the rides – they had so much fun; finishing a ride and running back to the queue to go again … and again.

As evening lingered on, we opted to get some dinner.  This resulted in a bit of discussion – but we ended up choosing _______ .  The service was poor and the food was mediocre.  After two disappointing meals, I became adamant about making better choices.