My meeting at the Norwegian Environment Agency finished at lunchtime whilst my flight did not leave Gardermoen until 19:20, so I had a few hours on a beautiful autumn afternoon in which to enjoy Oslo. These interludes in my travels are perk of the job although experience has shown me that I need to be disciplined if I am to get the most out of a short time in a city. Set one goal, something really worth seeing, and do not be distracted. In my case, having read Thor Heyerdahl’s accounts of his voyages when younger, a visit to the Kon-Tiki museum was a must. It was actually a ‘must’ on a previous fleeting visit to Norway but on that occasion (some years ago now), the museum was closed for a private function hosted by Thor Heyerdahl himself. Second time lucky …
It is a great little museum containing both Kon-Tiki, on which Heyerdahl made his epic crossing of the Pacific in 1947, and Ra II, on which he crossed the Atlantic. They are tiny, flimsy-looking vessels, far too fragile, one would imagine, to contemplate crossing a lake, let alone a great ocean. Yet he did, and went on to make further voyages and, in the process, establish an experimental tradition in archaeology and anthropology which, though not offering conclusive proof, does at least suggest possibilities. Heyerdahl’s initial hypothesis that Polynesian islands were colonised from South America rather than from islands to the west was dismissed as fanciful at the time, yet he was able to prove that it was possible, and subsequent DNA analyses of Polynesian islanders have confirmed that some settlers had South American ancestry.
Kon-Tiki (left) and Ra II (right) at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, October 2015.
I had been contemplating using my remaining time to visit the National Gallery and pay homage to Edvard Munch’s The Scream. However, as the bus wound it’s way back through Oslo’s suburbs, I realised from my map that I was close to one other site that I had enjoyed on my previous visit and that the crisp autumn afternoon was too good to waste indoors. So I hopped off the bus and walked up a side road in search of Frogner Park, home to a collection of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943), a Norwegian artist far too little known outside his homeland.
Frogner Park contains over 200 sculptures in granite and bronze, mostly based on his studies of the human form. There are babies and old people, single figures and groups, couples in love, and groups fighting. They capture moods ranging from exuberance and anger through to contemplation and exhaustion. The park is built on a hillside and visitors gradually ascend towards the centre point of the installation, a circle of granite stairs topped by a 17 metre high column which consists of 121 tightly-packed human figures struggling to reach the stop or, in a few cases, trying to save themselves from falling. The backdrop to all these sculptures was an ultramarine sky and the trees of Frogner Park in all their autumnal glory.
And that was about all I had time to do. I walked from Frogner Park until I reached a metro station, then travelled to Central Station and then, via the Airport Express, to Gardermoen. A couple of hours later, I was boarding my KLM flight to start the journey home.
Gustav Vigoland’s monolith and granite sculptures on the surrounding plinth in Frogner Park, October 2015.
The fountain in Frogner Park, Oslo, October 2015.