A Norwegian adventure from west to east
Enjoy a virtual vacation from your very own armchair
Right about now, I am sure that many of you are dreaming of escape. Perhaps you are imagining a much-needed vacation to a lush tropical beach or an ancient city that carries layers of lives lived, or even better, to the majestic country of your ancestors: Norway.
Although traveling is my passion, my home is in New York City, a hotspot for coronavirus cases, so I wouldn’t dare set foot on a plane anytime soon. Therefore, I have been looking for alternatives that would provide a taste of faraway magical places by exploring the museums and landscapes of Norway.
While the country’s borders are closed to non-residents, Norway has several museums that provide an excellent visual experience and highlight the country’s culture. Virtual encounters are no substitute for original artifacts or the sense of place each institution offers, but they are a way to share a wealth of information with a large audience in a cost-effective manner.
The Norwegian Glacier Museum
Focusing on Norway’s unique terrain, the Norwegian Glacier Museum at Fjærland, a city on a branch of the Sognefjord, immerses you in nature. Get to know your surroundings by exploring the evocative Fjærland video under “Activities” on the museum’s website [english.bre.museum.no/about-fjrland].
You can enjoy the cloud play in the never-ending sky, as the majestic mountains and rivers pass by. Those of the literary persuasion can visit the Book Town on the same page, so named because the town of fewer than 300 boasts 10 used bookstores.
The museum opened in 1991 and also serves as a visitor’s center for the Jostedalsbreen National Park [jostedalsbreen.org/english], featuring its famous glacier, the largest in Europe. Its unique design, by Norwegian Pritzker Award winning architect Sverre Fehn, echoes the shape of the surrounding mountains that were formed by shifting glaciers.
Its main exhibit was redesigned at the end of 2016. Some highlights include a 30,000-year-old Siberian mammoth tusk, experiments to explore how glaciers affect the environment, and a section on how fjords were created.
For the more scientifically minded, the “Photos of Glaciers” section of the “Education” menu [english.bre.museum.no/photos-of-glaciers] offers informative charts and graphs, as well as compelling comparative photos of the shrinking glaciers—perhaps more effective than a lecture to show the dangers of climate change.
After taking in the virtual exhibits, head out to the glacier itself. Under “Education” on the website, visit “Jostedalsbreen National Park” and get a sense for the compelling beauty of the rugged glacier walk.
A visit is incomplete without an Ice Concert. A voice blends with the hum of an ice horn and taps on an ice drum, reminiscent of the Balinese gamelan. You can find a video in the “Premises Hire” section under the “Museum” tab [english.bre.museum.no/premises-hire].
For a change of pace not far from the glacier, visit the idyllic home, studio, and farm in Jølster of one of Norway’s most beloved artists, Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928), considered by many to be on par with Edvard Munch. Even the town’s name has been changed from Sandalstrand, to Astruptunet to honor him.
Astrup was such an important artist that there is an entire website devoted to him, where you can explore his life and work [nikolai-astrup.no/en]—and everything has been localized into English. It has an entire section devoted to his home in Jølster.
Although Astrup left his mountain home to study in Kristiania (Oslo) and Europe, he eventually returned to Norway, not far from where he grew up, staying from 1914 to 1928. Not only did he create his art there, he also cultivated the land and experimented with botany crossbreeding and grafting plants and shaping them into all kinds of figures.
Opened in 1986, the main home is preserved to reflect how it was when the Astrup family lived there. Many of Astrup’s original works are available to see. Nicolai was not the only artist in the family; his wife, Engel Marie, became a well-known textile artist, and her pieces are also on display.
Astrup created his own visual language, but as art historian Frances Carey noted, “… he was not just a topographical artist. He was trying to capture moods and sensations.” This juxtaposition of outer and inner landscape is the focus of a video that juxtaposes his creative work against the background of Jølster [vimeo.com/153920385].
Enjoy Astrup’s “Spring Night in June” color woodcut on paper from 1909, on Page 16. His subtlety of color and meticulous details of the patchwork garden inspired by the surroundings are transformative and have a Japanese feel, melding Astrup’s human world with the natural world seamlessly. One day, if you travel there, you can hunt for the real-life location of the garden.
One can imagine sitting in Astrup’s garden, indulging in a rich coffee and a slice of the cafe’s specialty rhubarb cake, a plant Astrup grew and one he frequently included in his paintings and woodcuts.
Walking the grounds at Astruptunet, instead of seeing a work of art in the sterile white cube removed from its context, you can experience where the art originated: the actual trees and mountains, the unusual perspective of the huge cabbages dwarfing the small house and the relationship between the moon and the lake, through Astrup’s eyes and heart. For now, you can experience it virtually on YouTube [youtu.be/cYpWrdOub8U].
All aboard in Åndalsnes
After exploring a bit of fjord country, our route will traverse Norway from west to east to reach our final destination, Oslo, by way of the Rauma Railway, rated the No. 1 Train Trip by Lonely Planet. It departs from Åndalsnes, several hours north of Astruptunet.
On the way to Åndalsnes by car, one must descend the famed Trollstigen, a road that makes San Francisco’s Lombard Street look like a crawl. For now, enjoy the exhilarating virtual ride on “Trollstigen 911” [vimeo.com/238663318]! (I suggest motoring in a red Porsche.)
Now onward to Åndalsnes, to catch the train. From your “window seat,” brew some strong Norwegian coffee and let your mind wander, while watching an old video from Norges Statsbaner (now called Vy), entitled “The Rauma Railway: A spectacular journey” [youtu.be/i_SX4T48B4U]. To connect to Oslo, you would transfer at Dombås.
On the waterfront
In Oslo, we’ll take a special look at Norway’s maritime history. Start with the stunning Amerikalinjen Hotel, featured in the Oct. 18, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American, in the former headquarters of the Norwegian American Line.
A hidden benefit of the pandemic is that for now, Americans must enjoy one of Oslo’s most expensive hotels virtually. But when we can once again travel to Norway, a meal at Amerikalinjen, a site so integral to Norwegian America, is a must.
On the Amerikalinjen website [amerikalinjen.com/hotel-oslo-centre], click on “Our History” under the “Explore” menu to watch the wonderful grainy historical footage of the Norwegian-American emigrant experience, interspersed with color images of parallel scenes of New York and Oslo, linking the American spirit to the Norwegian one.
Other links outline several related subjects, where you can immerse yourself in the stories behind the “Sooty angels,” “Little Norway,” and the “The Christmas Ship.” Imagine taking a cup of coffee in the Vista Heritage Room, as you pretend you are waiting for your ship’s departure to cross the Atlantic.
Maritime Museums at Bygdøy, Oslo
There is no better way to learn about Norway’s development than through its maritime history. Several museums related to this topic are nestled together along the shores of Oslo harbor on the Bygdøy peninsula. The best way to arrive virtually is with world travel guru, Rick Steves, as he takes you on a quick journey with an overview of Norway’s maritime exploits, from the Viking Ship Museum to the polar ship Fram to Kon-Tiki, in his video, “Oslo, Norway: Maritime History in Bygdøy” [youtu.be/gVWd_ejQpas].
Be sure to visit the neighboring Norsk Maritime Museum. Established in 1914, it has an extensive collection and archive. Join the new excavation project in the virtual exhibit B8A on the museum’s website [marmuseum.no/en/b8a-ship-remains-from-oslo-harbour] to see what historical treasures lie beneath Oslo’s Renaissance Harbor. The digital exhibit includes 3D models of ships, shipwrecks, and harbor structures of eras past.
Normally, such a day should end in a seafood restaurant hugging Oslo’s historic harbor. At Fisketorget in Pipervika, fishermen continue to deliver their fresh wares, as they have for 150 years. You can see them at work in this clip [vimeo.com/58737853] of shrimp fishers in Oslo.
Many of us can’t wait to get back on the road, train, ship, or plane—wanderlust is a Norwegian malady! In the meantime, these museum websites and tourism videos can serve as dynamic virtual travel brochures. Take a gander and dream of your next trip to Norway. And enjoy the journey along the way!
This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.