Saturday, August 4, 2007



More Norwegian history - Viking ships and Samis. We found our way to the city's ferry docks, after scouting out the route we need to take with our bags on Tuesday to get to the airport. We've made it a habit of knowing beforehand, due to one-too-many frantic rushes on a day when you can't be late.

The ferry to the Bygdoy Peninsula carries 75 passengers in seats, and it was jammed packed today. We stood for the short ride, and once again got away with caling me a senior. As my beard gets longer and whiter on these trips, It sure does save money. That, and the student ID's from Sonoma State Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. There are five excellent attractions on Bygdoy, a park amidst a rich, older home area. Not unlike what we have in the U.S., it has become a favorite place for many to spend the day.

We chose to go to the Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. I am so glad that we went to the Viking Ship Museum at this time in our trip. At the previous places where we learned about Viking shipbuilding, or about life in the era which is referred to as the Viking period, the information was exciting but not nearly as complete as it is here. The earlier materials provided us glimpses, and it stimulated our thinking well. Each new fact filled in more of the story. This museum adds another large piece, and does it with overwhelming visual clarity. It also places the other information in the larger context by an excellent use of its wall panels. The main stars of the collection are the display of three large burial ships, and hundreds of very impressive sledges,carts, cooking pots, ceremonial staffs, and other gear which accompanied the dead.

In one boat, an important older woman and her maid servant were accompanied to Valhalla with a carriage, dead horses with saddles and bridles, and even furniture. In the fourth wing of the museum, more of the materials which were in the burials is displayed. In a level above the ships, panels tell the story of the discovery and salvaging of these unique and important ships.

Seeing these huge ships, and marveling at the detail with which they carved figures and images on the bow and stern prows, one can only imagine the terror felt by those upon whose shores they landed. I was also impressed with the precision with which they crafted these sailing vessels, of oak and iron, powerful yet light enough to carry when needed. There are nine reconstructed Viking ships in the world, and we have now seen eight of them. I think I have a pretty good beginning with which to continue to pursue my research into lives of some of my ancestors from 800AD to 1066AD. The last ship is in a county museum quite a ways out of our travel path, and it will remain the elusive one.

The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History provided an enormous treasure of displayed buildings, clothing, music, customs (modeled by local enactors) from the last 300 years. The photo to the left shows me in front of a house reputed to be from my ancestral home town (Vang).

We were also treated to the dance and music of Norway's past by a couple of young people who were there to tell us about the marriage ceremonies of an earlier day. It just so happened that the resident Stave church was being used for a marriage at the time we were there.

But the Center's unique new contribution to us was the amount of information in displayed about Norway in the last 50 years. Hardly anyone thinks of recent history as worthy of including in a museum, but it's essential info in order to grasp the complete story of what we see around us as we travel through the country. We spent extra time in the areas of the open air museum where the social, political, cultural,and economic dynamics in the country from 1950 til now was described in detail. We thought of Ola, Gerd Marie, Helga, and Anna Ragnhild, and how each might have been impacted.

The Museum also had a special exhibit on the Sami population in Northern Norway. We have seen other sections of other museums devote space to the Samis, but this one far exceeded any that we had seen. The clothing was more varied, the art went beyond ivory carvings, and the video they showed was one of the best descriptions of any culture I have ever seen. A very welcome addition to it was the time it devoted to the social awakening in the country as a result of an oil drilling proposal on Sami land decades ago. The arrests of supporters, sit-ins at Parliament, and hunger stikes were all employed to bring a new consciousness to the political arena. The video contained powerful interviews with present-day Samis who continue to fight to retain their languages, their culture, and their individuality. The similarity between their committment to the struggle, and that of other indigenous peoples we have visited, was remarkable and inspiring.

Tomorrow, we travel across town to the International Culture Center and Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the Munch Museum. We're interested in the first because we hope to learn more about present day Norway, and of immigration and cultural changes in the society. All around us as we travel in the capitol, we see the faces and hear the voices of a different mix of people than in the rural areas of the country. We'd like to know more about what the country says about that. The Museum of Natural History is my always favorite place to learn about a country: its geology, archealogy, zoology, and all old living things. Finally, Edward Munch is a prolific and unique expressionist painter whose works have appeared in many other museums we've visited on this trip. We thought it would be nice to see his home collection.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: Bygdoy

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