Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oslo 4: For The Record

Other than Munch's Scream, perhaps the most photographed
item in Oslo is Vigeland's little boy en tantrum; one sees it
everywhere, like the Little Mermaid in Copehhagen or the
Manneqin Pis in Brussels; just for the record, there are three
others in the series...

The unhappy little girl

The good little girl

And the good little boy

Vicki adds:
Oslo, Norway—June 28, 2009-07-05

Munch Country, yes, Oslo was his home, and it is home to two of the four Scream paintings. We bought another 1 day card so we had another marathon 24 hours. However, the highlight was first the Munch Museum and then the National Gallery of Art. The Munch Museum has hundreds of paintings but it is especially famous because it is the Museum from which the Scream was stolen in the 90s. They have since super increased security and we had to go through the only metal detectors we have been through in all of Scandinavia. The Scream in the Munch had too much blue/green on the face—it is not my favorite. However, the gift shop was tremendous. I restrained myself to only a key chain—which will make a fine Christmas tree ornament and a bookmark. I actually had several of the items there. I was very interested in the book on Scream parodies if anyone is looking for a Christmas gift idea. The National Gallery had my Scream so I fought through the Japanese tour bus group and got up close and personal—it was tremendous. Mark had to take my picture with the inferior Scream as the National Gallery didn’t allow photos.

Photography varies with every place—very few allow flash but many allow regular photos. It is always a disappointment when no photos are allowed as there is no way to remember all the marvelous things that you are seeing. We couldn’t possibly buy a guidebook for every palace and museum even if we were wealthy, at least not without a book trailer. That brings up possibly the major flaw in our trip—sensory overload. Travel is highly intensive living even at our slow pace. At this point I can’t remember the German palaces vs the Denmark vs the Swedish—we skipped the Norwegians and the Finns have never had their own royalty thank heavens! But Mark is taking lots of pictures and hopefully his blog will help us remember most of it. I figure just organizing the pictures will take up the first five years of the nursing home. Pity our captive slide show audience.

Oslo 3

Monday, after watching various boats being lifted from the marina lot into the water, we decamped and drove northeast of town, to an RV dealer who, last Friday, had said they'd look at our troubled macerator/sewage system. It's been a vexing problem for a week. Anyhow, they declined, upon examining it-—no way to lift a vehicle this size—-but they did find us a Mercedes dealer nearby which, incredibly, put the Grey Wanderer up on a big truck lift and let me work under it, in their truck garage, for more than an hour. I am pleased to say I fixed the problem; it was a very ugly chore. A US dealer doing this-—insurance, liability, risk, greed, etc.--is unthinkable. No charge, they said, glad to be of service.

We drove back into Oslo in the afternoon to see the the Vigelandsparken. It is a large public park in Oslo that the city commissioned sculptor Gustav Vigeland to design and populate with his work, which he did from 1923 until his death in 1944. The hundreds of sculptures are all super-sized, Romantic, I guess, all contributing to the theme of humanity and human destiny. The number, extent, and scale are all fairly staggering.

Afterwards, we headed north from Oslo toward Lillehammer, and are camped for the night, with other RVs, at a roadside rest right on Lake Mjosa, Norway's largest.
Boat lift at the marina campground; sorry, no pix of the macerator, me after working 
on it, etc.

One of the dozens of bridge sculptures at the Vigeland


Central fountain
One of the four iron gates opening to the main terrace

The main terrace and tower

Vigelund himself

Oslo opera

Oslo 2

Our Oslo card did not expire until 3PM, so we were up and at it early Sunday, taking the subway and ferry to the Fram museum and the Kon-Tiki museum, both on Bygdoy, a peninsula sort of thing that hangs down into the fiord. Norwegians, I gather, are not always into doing easy things. The Fram is the specially-designed polar expedition ship that took Nansen to the Arctic and Roald Amundsen, famously, to the Antarctic. It was Amundsen who beat Robert Falcon Scott to the Pole by only a few days, back in the early 20th. Scott and his party died, infamously, on the return trip. (Vaughn-Williams' Antartica Symphony, from the sound-track to the 1946 feature film, is another favorite). And the Pole was only among Amundsen's adventures. He, too, died tragically, but trying to rescue other explorers. Anyhow, the Fram is there, in the Fram buildng, a really well-done exhibition, ship and all, covering all aspects of polar expeditions of the era, and giving due attention to those that failed as well as the considerable Norwegian triumphs. The Fram itself once spent three years locked in polar ice. I hope they had plenty of DVDs. Anyhow, the museum gewts three stars, according to me. (And, FWIW, the spectacularly successful Fram is only about half the size of the spectacularly unsuccessful Vasa. FWIW).
Adjacent is the Kon-Tiki museum. As I said, Norwegians don't always go in for easy things. Along with Heyerdahl's 1947 Kon-Tiki voyage, attempting to show that Polynesian culture could have come from South America, via balsa raft, there is also the Ra II, his 1970 attempt to show that South American culture (well, the Incas) might have come from Egypt, via reed raft. The balsa and reed ships are interesting, and the adventures impressive, aptly documented. It is a shame Heyerdahl did not live to show that European culture might have come from Mars or Andromeda IV. Oh well. I give the guy massive credit for being an academic who knew how to deal with mass media and get massive attention. Not to mention the fund-raising. And now a big museum, too. See below for further conjectures.
We missed the National Gallery and its Munch rooms the day before, so we hastened back across the fiord/harbor via ferry and took in more despair and angst at the Gallery. We are becoming experts on the different versions of The Scream. I grow more impressed and interested in Munch, too. You can really see the stylistic/philosophical/personal changes the guy went through. He read Nietszche and therefore has to be basically OK.
While Vicki digested lunch (our usual ham and cheese with mustard on whatever local bread intrigues us, with diet coke or local beer, respectively), I walked the main streets downtown, saw some more interesting buildings, including the Dom (lots of scaffolding and tarp, unfortunately).
Then we were back on the ferry, across the fiord, to the Viking Ship Museum and the Norse Folk Museet. You'd think we'd seen enough Viking ships and Viking paraphrenalia, and also enough Scandinavian folk stuff. But these museums were interesting and interestingly different from others we have seen. The Viking ships are the real thing, found in burial mounds with basic grave goods, obviously restored a bit but still impressive. The exhibits on Viking culture generally and on the contents of the graves were interesting too.
The Folk Museum was very similar to Skansen, in concept at least—an open air historical museum—but not as extensive and with fewer live presentations. We saw the obligatory folk music and dance performance and toured lots of historic buildings. The Folk Museet's real prize, however, is the 1280 Stave Church brought intact from the village of Gol more than a century ago. The church is all timber, very tall, no windows, but a sort of porch that wraps around, more, we thought, for buttressing the high walls than anything else. Its interior was sparse, except for some carving, and the 17th century painting behind the altar.
We bussed back to the Marina, amid crowds of Osloians who had been to the beach, on the water, etc. I was a sunny but pretty warm day, not what we expected of Oslo.
The Good Ship Fram


Vicki at the Kon-Tiki

The National Gallery; alas, no pix within

Building near Karl Johan Gate

Another pretty building

Viking ship at the Viking Ship Museet

Bow carving

Bow sculpture; Detail from Viking ship grave find: note the posture of the figure:
I conjecture that this came from India, down the Ganges, across the Bay of Bengal,
Indian Ocean, up the South Atlantic, then the North Sea, etc., in a bamboo boat,
and the Viking culture is actually Hindu in origin

Folk dancers at the Norse Folk Museum; no hurdy-gurdy

The Gol Sytave Church, very different, very impressive

Altar background


Saturday we utilized our Oslo Card and, from the marina campground, subway-ed into the central city. It was Gay Pride Day in Oslo, so we took in the festivities and then proceeded to the Norwegian Resistance Museum, in the Akershus Fortress. It was impressive. Norwegian resistance was aided largely by the Brits, whose moving in, in the spring of 1940, had occasioned the German occupation. Germany got most of its iron ore from “neutral” Sweden, which Churchill had hoped to stop; it was another Gallipoli, but with a whole civilian populace to suffer for five years. There is no reference to any of this in the museum. But the rest of the exhibition was indeed impressive, despite traffic flow problems. Norwegian resistance, sabotage, refusal to support Quisling's government, etc., was real, throughout the war, with real costs. Unlike some other occupied lands.
Next we subway-ed to the Munch Museet, to indulge Vicki's icon of the last decade or more, “The Scream.” There is of course far more to Munch. I had never grasped the connection, stylistically, with Gaugin. Think of Munch as a Gaugin who never quite left town, but who stayed to interpret late 19th /early 20th Europe, at least through his own troubled lens. The museum has security equal to Fort Knox, or a US airport—something we have not seen in several months—all due to the 2004 thefts. But it is impressive in its scope and depth. There is a 52 minute interpretive film that any art historian would be proud to claim, integrating his life, artistic development, association with other European contemporaries, etc. “The Scream” is one of the world's 10 most popular artistic images, and here one can see it in proper individual and societal contexts.
We subway-ed back to the CBD, but found the National Gallery (more Munch) closed. So we walked more of the downtown area and then took the ferry around to see the sights from the harbor. It was a long day.
Marina camping in Oslo, near Bygdoy

Oslo city hall is bigger than Stockholm's, but not as well known

The Nobel Peace Prize is given annually in Oslo, December 10th

It was Gay Pride Day in Oslo

In the Norwegian Resistance Museum

German poster: "Let's us Waffen SS and you Norse/Viking
guys team up to defeat Bolshevism"

Ibsen statue outside the National Theater

Vicki at The Scream, at the Munch Museet

More Munch; I like

Munch also did a Starry Sky

No harbor cruise is complete without the local aircraft carrier

Saturday, June 27, 2009

To Norway, Home of Giants

Wednesday we drove across Sweden, more Wisconsin Dells, then less wheat fields than woods, then forests and rocky, and, always, lakes. It was a gentle but changing countryside. We spent the night, Wednesday, at the Swedish/Norwegian border, literally, in a picnic area and border store parking lot right next to the border stone. We celebrated our passage to Norway by watching one of my all-time favorite Errol Flynn films, The Edge of Darkness, about Norwegian resistance to the Nazis, I mean, Germans. Great music by Franz Waxman, great casting, and one of the best-ever shoot-outs, as the village priest opens automatic fire on the bad guys; not at a video store near you. It was particularly meaningful in that the next day, Thursday, we spent much of the morning getting help from very diligent and caring Norwegian customs officials about getting our “deposit” back from the Nazis, I mean, Germans. We'll watch John Cleese's classic travelogue, “To Norway: Home of Giants,” some other time. Soon.

Our second night we camped at a real campground in Bogstad, overlooking Oslo. We even put up the Grey Wanderer's awning, first time, to emphasize the fact that we are camping, not merely parking. A day of washing, repairing, attempted repairing, and enjoying the sunshine and warmth. We'll visit the Norwegian Nazi Resistance Museum this weekend.

Update: Friday we moved to a more interesting campground (the marina), closer in to Oslo.

The Norway/Sweden border stone

Gamla Uppsala

"New" Uppsala (from 13th century) from the east mound, in Gamla (old) Uppsala

Stone commemorating Pope John Paul II's having spoken here, c. 1998

The fine little Gamla Uppsala museum

Beowulf quote from a museum exhibit; they were not kinder and gentler times

Big mounds; 5th-6th century

Lesser, later mounds, still pretty old

Ex cathedral: in the 11th-12th centuries, the cathedral was in Gamla Uppsala; when the bishopric was moved to new Uppsala in the 13th century, they reduced this building to just the tower and chancel

Our campsite at Gamla Uppsala

Vicki had read that in nearby Gamla Uppsala (old Uppsala) were a cluster of burial mounds that were actually mentioned in Beowulf. We headed there, signed up for the English language tour, and found ourselves in the lone company of the two resident archaeologists, who were obviously pleased to see megalith hunters like us.

The mounds are indeed impressive, three or four very large tumuli and then a string of lesser tumuli along the rest of the ridge. It is estimated that there could have been as many as 3,000 graves in the general vicinity. All date from the late Bronze/early Iron ages, pre-Christian, about 5th or 6th centuries AD. The museum has a very interesting exhibition on the times and on the items found in excavations. Very little of the environs has been excavated, only two of the big mounds, but this will change shortly with construction of a new railroad line, providing the local archaeologists with at least 3 years of work. Rescue archeology, it is called. Anyhow, they gave us a book about Gamla Uppsala (in English), and we liked the place well enough to spend the night in the complex's nicely landscaped parking lot (along with three other Rvs).

Uppsala Cathedral

After a week in Stockholm, including the trip to Helsinki, we decided to move on, first to Uppsala, and then west toward Norway. Stockholm is a great place, a city we have been impressed by and enjoyed as much as any we have seen. But we are ready to move on.
Uppsala is about 40 miles north of Stockholm, enough separation to be a completely different place, both historically and culturally. It is, of course, Sweden's university town, but it is also its historical religious center, with the Cathedral housing the bones of St. Brigid and St. Erik, the site of royal coronations and burials, including King Gustav Vasa, and also the tombs of two major Swedish academics, the philosopher Swedenborg and the biologist Linnaeus. The cathedral itself is Gothic, very attractive inside, with many interesting and enlightened features (see illustrations).
Uppsala Cathedral, 12th-13th century


Swedenborg tomb; he's remembered chiefly for Kant's ridicule

King Gustav Vasa tomb, flanked by his two wives, only one of which can be
seen from either side, and which can't "see" each other

The kid's play-room chapel; every cathedral should have one of these

This cracked me up; I have been a fan of the Unemployed Philosophers' Guild
and their products for many years; these are their Jesus dolls (from their "Little
Thinkers" line) for sale in, you guessed it, the Cathedral gift shop

Linnaeus' tomb; he was the guy who thought up and
established biological taxonomy (phylum, genera,
species, etc.) which we all had to learn in the 10th grade

Linnaeus' garden, still maintained according to his classifications, by the
U of Uppsala