John and Cynthia go to Oslo

A description of a great week abroad, due to the IETF conference

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This article copyright (c) 1999 by Cynthia Virtue.

Thursday, July 8, 1999

We finally left for the train into the airport.  It was very odd to leave in the mid-afternoon; usually flights I take tend to be in the morning, or red-eyes.  Maybe now that I'm living on the East Coast, I'll have to get used to a new type of pattern.  We arrived at the airport without incident and were finally loaded on.  It was a 777 with lcd screens in the seatbacks.  The first thing that was shown (and was available continuously) was a map showing the projected route of the airplane, which cycled between a close view (say, about 100 mile radius,) a world-view, and a data page showing time at origin, time at destination, remaining time of flight, groundspeed, altitude, and outside temperature.  Our cruising altitude was 39,000 ft and most of the time it was -61F outside.  They didn't charge extra for the headsets, and we had 12 channels of programming & movies to choose from.  Hoorah for the LCDs!

Friday, July 9th:

Neither John nor I were able to sleep much on the leg to London (7 hrs in-air time), although we did get brief catnaps.  We arrived in London about 6:30 am local time, found a snack, and went to the connecting terminal.  Arrived in Oslo at 10:30 local time (2 hrs in-air, and London is 1 hr behind Oslo.)

Baggage and customs was pretty much non-existent, except for getting passports stamped.  I have six entry stamps in my passport now.  Such a traveler.

Got to Oslo and the hotel with no trouble; there's a very smooth & fast express train from the new airport which is about 30 miles Southeast of town.  The countryside is very pretty; small farms, lots of rolling hills, and most of the houses are red and white.

After we got settled in our hotel room, we wandered around the local area.  There are two shopping malls, the main train station, and the start of the big commerce boulevard very close by. So far, the odd things to notice about Norway are: beds are rounded at the foot -- no corners on the mattresses.  The bath here is sensible, like in Germany; you choose the temperature of water that you want on a dial, and it comes out that way.  No tedious mixing.  The tub also has no overflow drain; there is instead a drain on the floor of the bathroom just in case. And the bathroom floor is heated.  Luxury!  You can open the window, even high up in the hotel.  We're only on the 7th floor, so that we can use the wireless modem for John's laptop computer,but it is easy to go higher and look out over the city.

The guidebook says that eating out is expensive, and they are right. But probably not much more expensive than around Windsor (UK) which was also fairly pricey.  We just have to get used to the idea that a meal which probably would be $7 in the US is more like $14 here.

By this point we were getting spacey from being up for 25 or more hours without sleep, so we went back to the hotel and ordered dinner from room service.  We tried to watch TV to keep our brains going, but even though several of the programs are in english, we were falling asleep as we sat, so we gave up about 9pm, and fell asleep in broad daylight.  This whole sleep pattern was a lot more trying than on my trips to England.  I think it would have been easier if we had arrived in the evening, around the time that we should go to sleep in the new time zone.

Saturday, July 10

We woke up around 11am, having missed the free breakfast at the hotel, but feeling much refreshed.  Went to the "OsloCity" shopping mall to find food, and found a Danish cafeteria/diner style place called "The ugly duckling."  Or, rather, we finally figured out what it was called, later that day.  I think what we ended up ordering was technically breakfast, but it was tasty.  John's plate included the best liverwurst I've ever tasted.  (We had ordered based on pictures on the wall, so were not entirely in the dark.)  Mine had a lot of smoked salmon and some very tasty potato salad.  Along with it they served us good white bread and a type of oat bread that was about 75% oats and 25% other fiber things.  It was like very unsuccessful macrobiotic cooking, and we only tasted it.

We then decided to set out to see the city, guided by our Fodor's guidebook, which seems to be two years out of date.  However, it has been serving well.  The city is smaller than we thought; although our feet got very sore, chair-creatures that we are, the walking didn't take long and there were interesting things to see all along the way. Identifying street signs took a bit of effort; they are on the corners of the buildings.  However, at the intersection where we started, there is a lot of construction and so there are *no* street signs.  We didn't get much lost, though.

The first destination was the Historic Museum, which is near the palace. It is a beautiful building which was designed for the museum by some very art-nouveau architect.  Lots of lovely swoopy brass all over, painted gilded ceilings, and chandeliers with the H and M initials worked into the design.  It had many interesting exhibits that change, and an extensive exhibit of norwegian coinage from the 800s through today.  It includes a few examples of a 10 NKr bill that had a typo in the name of Norway! "Nogres" instead of "Norges."   I imagine heads rolled over that one!

It also had a display about "addictive substances" and the social and ritual uses.  Most fascinating was 'betel' which turns your teeth dark brown, but apparently is actually good for you -- among other things, it kills intestinal parasites.  Unfortunately, it is being supplanted tobacco use, which doesn't do anything for you but is Western, and therefore attractive.

After that, we walked past the palace, and down to the information office at the waterfront, where we learned how to say 'thank you' from one of the guide ladies (it sounds like toosen takk,) and also found out some info about the city and the museums to supplement the guidebook.

There are a lot of babies in prams around; I don't know whether they are tourist families or local.  I haven't seen one stroller, however. John says he's heard the theory that if you can't carry your baby, a pram is better because that way they can see you and be reassured. And it may be that mothers of young children feel OK bringing them out in public because the anti-breastfeeding efforts of the formula manufacturers have not caught on here like they have in the US, so the moms feel comfortable and are not abused in public for feeding their babies.

Next: the castle and the fortress on the bank of the fjord.  Most of the museums and buildings around town close early by our standards -- 3pm or 4pm, so we got to the castle about .5 hr before closing, and were thus allowed in for free.  Although it has been regularly updated, the castle still retains a lot of medieval flavor in the room dimensions and window enclosures.

After that, we wandered around the fortress area, which is open all the time, and I gave John a briefing in how to operate my SLR camera. We then walked back to a park alongside a canal near the hotel where we watched folks swimming and we snacked on some things we bought at a small grocery store. After a while, we went back to our room and collapsed in order to rest our feet.  Finally motivated ourselves to go out hunting for a good restaurant, which we found after a long search.  A lot of the restaurants that aren't in shopping centers are bars and didn't look that approachable.  One of them offered "whale beef" for an entree, which I had ethical problems thinking about.  I remember the Chronicles of Narnia when Eustace finds out he's been eating a *talking* beast when being guested by the giants.  Ayiee! I suppose maybe I'd eat it, if I were starving and there was nothing else, but until that transpires, I'll forbear.

Most of the shopkeepers (even in non-tourist shops) speak English quite well, and all have been indulgent of our non-norse-speakingness.

We were quite tired by this point, so settled down to watch a movie on TV.  When it finished at midnight, the sky was still pale blue in the north, getting to darker mid-blue toward the south.  At precise north, the horizon was yellow-orange, just like the sky is often about 0.5 hr or so after sunset.  But this was 2 hours after sunset.  It stayed this color at least until 2am, when I awoke to steal the blankets back from John.

Sunday, July 11

We managed to get up at 8am and to the breakfast in the hotel by 9:30. It was very crowded and we resolved to get their earlier tomorrow. What with the schedule for John to register with the conference, we decided not to go wandering in the medieval ruins quarter of the city ("the Gamlebyn") but instead we hung out in the room like slugs, reading "Tommy og Tigern" known to the US as "Calvin and Hobbes."

After John went off to do IETF things, I walked around town in the hopes that something would be open.  Most stores are closed on Sundays, but some of the touristy ones on Karl Johan's Gate (street) are open, as is the Oslo Sweater Shop.  Beautiful stuff there, (except for the Trolls, which are close to being the ugliest thing I've ever seen) but there are some other stores I want to check out before starting to buy anything.  They'll be open tomorrow.  One is a norse-arts store, another is an embroidery store, and I also found a fancy indian sari store.  Presumably I can find a sari store in Philly.... but it would be fun to look.

After John's functions are done tonight (around 7) we may go to the medieval quarter.  It's only about a mile or two from here, and since most of it is ruins in parks, they don't close.

The museums that look to be the most interesting are just across the water and we hope to get to them on Friday -- the Folk museum and the Viking ship museum.

There's also the Vigelund Sculpture Park which looks interesting (huge, massive people statues,) on the other side of the city, and a couple of other small museums and old churches.

Sun PM: we did get to the medieval ruin park.  There is Olav's monastery and a church.  Ruin is the correct term -- only about 3' of the original buildings/foundations are above ground.  Enough to see the layout, and there is a sign for each one showing the extant foundation with a projection of the building above it.  The cloister of the monastery is the most clear still-existing structure.  Along one wall is the foundation that used to be the main hall of the monastery, and there the medieval rough and random fieldstone is visible up to about 5' high.  Above that is old irregular brick that carries on the arches of the cloister (to about 7 feet high) and above that, the modern wall of what seems to be condos or something built on the old foundation.

We had considered walking about another mile to the petroglyph site (carvings in the rock some 5,000 years old; there was one of these rocks with carvings at the museum) but we decided that we were tired and hungry, so headed back to the hotel...straight into the sun, well above the horizon at 8:30pm.  Dinner at the hotel was very tasty.  I had reindeer which tastes rather like venison.  Picture very good beef with a 'rich' backtaste, like the complex taste of liver but without the bitterness.  We finished dinner at about 10:30; still light enough to see quite well outside; the sun had just set.

Monday, July 12

Did get to breakfast earlier than yesterday, which was a good thing, because gossip in the elevator later in the day revealed that the hotel had run out of breakfast food at some point.  Considering that they know their room status, you'd think they'd know how much to order.  I tried many odd foods at breakfast, one of which was the soft brown cheese "gjetøst" that is a national product.  It must be an acquired taste; even to my broad-minded mouth it tasted a good deal more like milk gone bad than any other cheese I've ever had, even in very small amounts.  Perhaps it was the brand.

John went off to his sessions at about 9 and I left about 10am to wander around looking at stores.  The museums are all closed today, so shopping was really the only pastime.  One of the things I did was return to the medieval ruins; there is a shop there called "a medieval boutique" which had a book in the window that we saw yesterday, called "The medieval town in Oslo."  It is very good; written by norse  archeologists, showing the development of the town since 1000 and the foundations that can still be found, and where they lie in the modern cityscape.  Also photos and drawings of artifacts found, and other useful info for the fanatic.

I spent a while sitting on a bench near one of the extant foundations, reading it "in situ."  Apparently the irregular brick at the cloister that I described earlier is not a later fix, but possibly part of the original structure.  The building is now church offices, the book says.  In the early middle ages (1200 or so) the town was fairly extensive, and civilized; the "streets" were walkways that had been paved with smooth boards, like a floor.  Under these ran gutters of wicker to carry away water and effluvia.  The book's ISBN is 82-91455-01-5 (english edition)

After coming back from that end of town, I priced a whole bunch of stuff (plenty of time to buy, later) and wandered around looking at things, pretty much nonstop until 5pm.  At that point I felt like the little mermaid -- every step was as if on knives, so I came back to the hotel.  John went out to dinner with his e-calendering IETF working group, and I stayed in, ordered room service, and watched movies.

Reflections: How do they make sundials around here?  The sun traverses 3/4 of the horizon -- must look odd.

I wish that John's free day were sooner; it's on  Friday.  We have yet to get to the most interesting museums -- mostly due to not realizing that they would be best, so we did the history museum and the castle on Saturday.

Tuesday July 13

Was very sleepy, so didn't go to breakfast and instead slept late.  I plan a lazy day, perhaps hemming a dress that is too long, and tonight there is the conference social, over at the Maritime museum (and the Kon-tiki and Fram ship museums.)

Some other reflections: there are about the usual number of women who haven't cut their hair short, and some of these can be seen in the two-braids style, which you rarely seen on grown women in the US.  Sometimes with ribbon braided in.  I saw one woman who had folded the braids up a couple of times so that they hung between her ears and her shoulders, and had used scrunchies or elastics to bind them together.

The electronics company Ericsson sponsored an evening for the IETF attendees & families, and so off we went to that after the sessions were done for the day.  We walked from the hotel down to the docks in front of the city hall.  It was interesting to note the evolutionary progression from cheap, cheezy stores near the train station to fancier, more finely made goods closer to the city hall and the palace.  Some of the things sold by pushcart vendors seem to be the same the world over -- rough things made of brass from India, various totemic symbols in potmetal on leather thong necklaces (peace symbols, flowers, etc.) silver rings that cost the vendors about 30 cents each being sold for $5 (I saw some advertised in a trade magazine once -- 30 cents may be well above the price, but I didn't remember to memorize it at the time.)

The nicer jewelry stores sell more solid versions of the traditional women's brooch called "sølje."  The tourist areas sell silver-colored ones made of filigree for about $30 (give or take) with gold-washed spangles.  The fancy ones have more and larger spangles, and sometimes gems, and are not filigree.  These brooches are worn on all types of traditional dress; women wear at least one and more often at least two; a small one, maybe an inch and a half across, at the neck of the blouse and a larger one below it a bit.  They are annular, and there are eight or ten dished spangles that are suspended from wire bits that project outward from the plane of the main brooch.  These spangles are roughly the size and proportions of a contact lens, although they can be a bit larger.  The concave side faces out, so they flash as the person moves.

I watched a program today about the Sami (formerly called Lapps) and the women in traditional dress all wore at least one brooch, even when dressed for working, and for parties, they wore upwards of seven. Some of these are as large across as a teacup saucer, all with many spangles, so the effect over the dark blue and red traditional dress was quite astonishing.  The men have a special coat-clasp that also has spangles, but fewer than the women's outfits.

But I digress: the party.
We arrived at the wharf and were herded into groups to get on the sightseeing boats.  They were much as you'd expect; partially roofed benches open to the sky.  The trip was about 20 minutes; we got a good view of the castle and the city.  At the pier on the other side of the fjord they had a troupe of traditional dancers, who were mostly doing circle dances, but I was glad to get a chance to look at the outfits close up.  The guide says that many women and men, even today, will spend the two to three thousand dollars for a traditional outfit (entirely hand embroidered, and the production of them is regulated by a department of the government) because you can wear it to any formal occasion for the rest of your life.  I suppose it's rather like getting a tailcoat here in the US -- a little old fashioned, but always proper and in style for big occasions.  The weddings we saw at the castle had many guests in "bunad," (that's the term for the outfit) although the bride wore a modern white wedding dress and veil.

Eriksson had arranged for the Fram museum and the Kon-Tiki museum to be open until 9; the party proper was held at the Maritime Museum. They are all together at the end of a small spur of land.  The Fram was one of the earliest successful boats to get very close to the north pole; it is specially built so that the ice will lift it up as it crunches in, rather than pinning it in ice and then squeezing it. Squoozed boats were what had happened previous to the Fram.  At any rate, it had a very successful run, and spent several years locked in the ice.  This had been planned for, so the voyage was a success, and they collected a lot of data.  Later the Fram was sailed to Antarctica and was the boat of the first fellow to reach the South Pole, Amundson, who made it there before the english guy who finally died about 15 miles from his base camp.   The boat is in a big A-frame building, with the exhibits on perimeter walkways, and the center filled by the Fram itself.  You can go inside it as well, which we did.

The Kon-tiki museum has the eponymous boat, and also the RA II, both boats built mid-this-century by Thor Heyerdahl to prove that you could cross the oceans on primitive technology.  They are small.  The RA II was the most interesting, due to the bundles of reeds; the K-t is just a fancy raft.  There is also an Easter Island head, other polynesian statues, some zoological specimens (such as a flying fish, which was nifty) and so forth.

Unfortunately, by the time we had had dinner, they were closing the upper levels of the Maritime Museum, but they were running a sort of surround-projection film about Norway.  Lots of flyovers of remote fishing villages, historical footage, etc.  Very, very pretty country.  Most of the houses in those villages are either white or red, or both.  One of the most interesting things they showed were big racks for drying cod -- like huge pasta drying racks (or laundry drying racks) about 30 feet high, and maybe 50 long. They are A-framed, and one guy stands on the long rungs while the other one throws fish up to him.  They've been tied together so the fellow on top just loops the fish over the rung, and they hang there until dry.  There are ranks on ranks of these on the outskirts of the villages.

Dinner was most tasty, and supported the guidebook's theory that in Norway, vegetables are something that happen to someone else.  (This is my own wording and I'm very proud of it.)

Dinner was a buffet with a choice of:

We ate our dinner sitting on the grass and looking back toward Oslo. It was about 9:30 and the sun was setting, and had that gold color...which lasted until about 10:30 when the sun really set. We wandered down to the beach, which is of the rocks-and-gravel sort. The local rock is some sort of very odd stratified stuff.  It looks like layers of shale alternating with layers of slate, each layer about 3" wide.  At the point of land, these layers are on end, so the shoreline appears striped, because the slatey bits are much darker. However, I don't think that this can be slate and shale, because slate is the metamorphic form of shale, so they couldn't be alternating. Ah, well.  Maybe I can ask at the Norse Folk museum on Friday. They might also know what the lovely paving stones are that are everywhere, and look like fancy slate of some kind.  Did I mention these?  They have a lovely grey satiny-reflective structure, that makes them look partially translucent.  They are all over the place; at the airport, in the train station, on sidewalks.

By 10pm (we had arrived on the dock at 7) we were ready to pack it in for the night, so got on the chartered buses to go back to the hotel. On the way we passed many large houses, and also the Folkmuseum, which we will be visiting on Friday.

There is a deep tunnel under the city for through traffic.  A much better solution indeed than the elevated systems that the US thought were so wonderful in the 50s.

Wednesday, July 14

We woke unexpectedly late, so I'm checking email and updating this log while I try to wake up.  It's cloudy outside and the forecast is for showers and lighting.  Aha-- there's some lightning now!  I'm trying to figure out what I want to do today while John is either in meetings or actually doing work; a lot of what I still want to see is outside. However there is a museum I could go to -- and it might be sensible to take the bus rather than walking.

I had considered going up to the famous ski jump, but maybe tomorrow. They are really proud of it, and you can see it from all over the city; it's on the large hill north of town.  At a distance, it looks like a fragment of elevated highway onramp; a curve of white reaching from the ground upwards, with one big pier to support it.  Looks a little like a kanji character, too.

Yesterday I bought lunch from a supermarket.  They do have fruit and veggies in the markets; just not at dinners, apparently.  The market had an extensive canned fish section, and a great many types of smoked salmon, but otherwise it had a selection much like you'd find in an american market.

I ended up going to the Industrial Museum -- the functional equivalent of the V&A in London, designed to showcase a wide variety of styles and practical items for the benefit of students in the applied arts. They have both old, and very modern items.  The whole top floor is modern industrial design, and a wide selection of royal outfits and other clothing.  Unfortunately, they could use a native english speaker with some of their english translations.  On a card describing the invention of the cheese plane (a norse invention of course) it relates that the inventor was frustrated with the inefficient way that people "cut the cheese."

One of the things I found most interesting was their collection of plaque belts from the 15th century.  They were all silver, and mounted on leather or fine fabric.  One of them had spangles like the ones on the brooches, and they had many annular brooches, although none with spangles per se.  I tentatively conclude that the brooches aren't merely a 19th century "traditional" style, and may have late medieval/early renaissance origins.  The museum also had a display of children's furniture, and a picture of a baby walker from a medieval illumination ("Le livre des propres choses").  They had a medieval cope that was block-printed linen, with embroidered bands.

After the museum, I walked through the rain to the palace grounds, and then took the subway back to the hotel area.  Lunch was from a fast food place in the shopping court -- a hotdog baked in puff pastry.  I read in the room until John returned from meetings, and we went to an english pub down the street.  The atmosphere was good but the food was fairly taste-free.  He's about to go back to meetings (they have a late schedule today, until 10pm.)

One of the meetings was the IETF tupperware party, where they sell things to each other.  Ok, I'm lying.  It was the IETF public key party, where they sell each other to each other.  John reports that one person didn't believe that he could grow a beard in the year since he got a new passport.  John grew that beard in a month -- guess some of these folks' hold on reality (or testosterone) is fairly thin.

I forgot to mention that there are a lot of revolving doors around town; I suppose it makes a lot of sense for the winter.  They are very large -- at least 10 feet in diameter in most cases.  In the shopping center, the middle 3' square area is glassed separately, and additional display space is sold to shops.  The one at ByPorten has a table and two chairs and a display from a local restaurant.  At lunchtime, they have two people sitting in there, having lunch.  I wonder if they have to take Bonine before going on duty?  The one at the hotel currently has fake grass and beach balls to advertise family vacations with the hotel chain.

Friday, July 16

John reports that one of his compatriots said to him "You wouldn't eat Shamu, but you'd eat Rudolf??"  John told him about our phrase "Rudolph the Rendered Reindeer" that we came up with that day at dinner, and they quickly changed the conversation to another topic.

We went to the Folk Museum (Norsk Folkemuseet) and the Vikingskiphuset (literally, Viking Ship House - see how easy it can be to puzzle out Norse?  A moose once bit my sister....)  They were everything that we had hoped, including the hail.  Ok, we didn't hope for hail, but we got it anyway.  More on that later.

The city buses are clean with nice seats, and there is one that runs from the center of the city out to Bygdoy, for about $3, where the Fram, Kon-Tiki, Maritime, and these two other museums are, so we took the bus.  It was sunny with a few puffy clouds.  Once we crossed onto the Bygdoy peninsula, the townhomes changed to fields with horses and sheep.  We figured it must be some sort of preserve, and we were right -- there on a big red barn was the royal crest.

The Folkmuseet is a collection of structures, organized by region, spread across many acres of somewhat hilly and wooded land.  It was started about 100 years ago by a norseman with too much money.  He ended up saving a bunch of fairly old houses and churches and whatnot, which the owners or towns were planning to raze in the spirit of modernization.  The oldest building is from about 1300, and the newest is from the past century.

The most famous is the Stave Church, which is largely a reconstruction of a church from 1200, but has the original interior apse walls.  Under the several different layers of pictorial paint, you can see symbols of the old religion, which the archeologist folks believe were put there by the carpenters.  Just in case this Christian thing was wrong, Odin would be there all the time as a sort of back-up deity.

The most interesting buildings to me were those from the town of Setesdal, which is very remote and so their building techniques were mostly unchanged since the middle ages.  Certainly the house that the guide took us into was very much like those illustrated in the Medieval Oslo book I mentioned earlier.  It was very interesting to sit there and think about all that.

Picture the following for the floor plan:

A square, about 20 feet on a side.  Along one side of the square, add a narrow room, about 7 feet wide, with a door on the short side.  Divide this room in two.  You enter the outside door, and walk a few steps to the end of the room/hallway, and turn to enter the door into the main room.  The doors have a high threshold (about a foot high) and a low lintel (maybe about 5' above the ground.)  This, combined with the "airlock" system of two doors and a chamber, helps keep the heat inside.

As you stand with your back to the second door, you are facing a raised platform of stone, about 1 foot high, and 3 feet on a side.  It is flat, and a fire is burning on it.   There is a big flat rock fixed between you and the fire - as a sort of heat-shield, arranged like a headboard to the "bed" of the fire area.  There is a thick beam of wood fixed on the wall above your head, which reaches over the fire at a height of about 7'.  The chain for the kettle over the fire is suspended from this.  The smoke rises to a 1x1 foot opening in the roof, and this is nearly the only light in the room.  The walls are about 10' high and the roof rises another 7 feet above that.

In the corners on the right and left are box-beds, with storage underneath, and the bed surface at about 4' from the floor.  They are open above this level -- not the cute box beds of the GNOMES books.  Those come much later.  On the far wall is a built-in bench running the length of that side, a long table in front of it, and a moveable bench on the near side of the table.  There is a wide, 2-or-3 person chair in the middle of the wall on your right, and a small chest-high cupboard against the left wall.

The other room that isn't the hallway or the main room opens onto the main room.  This may have been additional bed space, or storage.  Along the wall with the outside door in it, is a narrow (3 ft wide) 'gallery' or shed which was used to store firewood, protected from the winter snows.  (One postcard we bought shows a car on a road, surrounded by snow-walls 20 feet high.)

About 20 people lived and slept in this building, although some of the farm hands would sleep in the barn with the cows, where it would be warmer in the winter.  And this was a very rich farm!  There are other outbuildings for storage, and there is likely a mountain house for the summer, when you take your cattle to the hills for the fresh grass and the cheesemaking.

Keen, eh?  They have a reproduction of this house not far away, where they have a fire going, and a guide making "water porridge," which is what you would have eaten most of the time.  It is made of barley flour, water, and salt.  I rather liked it, but John thought it was icky.

One of the houses from the 1800s had a nifty corner-fireplace, which I hope to have a  picture of soon.  It would be a nice design for a modern house; a change from the rather dull middle-of-the-wall fireplaces that are common.

There are other areas and other hands-on displays, and artisans, including a potter, a weaver, a silversmith, and some folks cooking other things.  There is an indoor museum there that has many exhibits; I was particularly interested in the regional costume display, which was extensive.  A lot of the "traditional" costume is known to be relatively recent, borne upon a tide of regional identification in the past century, although based at least partly on some historical costumes.

It was beginning to rain as we went into the indoor museum, and by the time we'd surveyed the gift shop, there was lightning.  We sat under a portico and watched the lightning, which was spectacular.  When it and the rain seemed to be stopping, we opened our tiny umbrella and started the walk to the Viking ship museum.

Ha.  Halfway there, the rain redoubled, as did the lightning.  We walked the last half mile along the wooded road, each of us getting half-soaked.  (It was a one-person umbrella.)  When we got to the parking lot of the ship museum, we were pelted by hail the size of green peas.

The Viking ship museum is in the shape of a cross.  The entry is at the end of one of the arms, and then a small gift shop, and then one of the ships.  Two other ships are in each of the other arms, and the last is filled with artifacts that were found with the ships when they were dug up around 1900.

All three ships had been buried as part of funeral rites for important people.  They included provisions for a long journey (such as food, cooking tools, clothing and weapons) as well as jewelry, which was mostly looted centuries before they were refound.  The ships date from about 800-900 AD.  Since they were treated with tar for regular use, and later buried in deep earth berms, they are amazingly well preserved.

Some of the things that I found most fascinating were items that I would have assumed were modern, if I were handed them without context.  One was a scrap of wool plaid, similar to what we'd call buffalo plaid, in creamy white with black.  The black stripes were about 3/4 of an inch wide, and the squares of white formed thereby were about 1 1/2 inches wide.  Vikings wore plaid.  Oy.

Another was a chain.  There is a sort of modern utility-chain that is usually made out of aluminum; the links are not 0-shaped, but are more like a figure-8 that has been folded in half.  Another link is then put between the open ends of the folded-8 and folded itself. It's usually about 1/2 inch in chain-diameter.  You often see this attaching phone books to phonebooths, or bottle openers to picnic tables, or similar.  Well, the vikings had this critter, although it was on a larger scale, maybe about 1 inch in diameter.

There was a small mezzanine over the entrance and gift shop, which went into more detail on the lives of the Vikings, and Leif Ericsson's adventure to North America, including replicas of the viking artifacts found at L'Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland, and pictures of the house foundations.

The exhibit seemed to want to stress the point that the group commonly called "the Vikings" were not all bent on pillage and murder; that many ships that took sail were traders, scholars and explorers, even though the term "viking" is most closely translated as "going raiding."  (Viking isn't technically someone that you are; it's a verb or it's your occupation; you go viking.  Nonetheless, folks tend to call the Norsmen Vikings.)

We dropped a good bit of money in the gift shop, which had several interesting books and a lot of jewelry, but oddly, no "tax free for tourists" system, unlike many of the shops.

For those of you interested in jewelry: one of the major jewelry stores makes quality reproductions.  It's David Andersen's "Saga" line.  If you buy something of this line, it comes with a little catalog describing all the other pieces, and giving dates for the originals, or if it's not a close copy, telling you it's not from an original, but 'inspired by' such-and-so.

There was also a great book which I would recommend to anyone, although it is oriented towards kids: _How would you survive as a Viking?_ ISBN 0-7496-3505-3.  Many good pictures, explanations, timelines, and, astonishingly, a section entitled "How do we know" that explains sources, digs, and scholarly work in an easy-to-understand way.  (Just tried to find this at Amazon; looks like the UK ISBN is different.  USA ISBN is 0531153029 )

We took the bus back to the hotel for an early evening.  Nothing of much interest happened between then and our trip home, (aside from some great views of Norway from the airplane) so this will finish this saga.

A few websites that might be of interest.  Note that if the page is in Norse, click on the British flag, or a button that says GB (for Great Britain) or other similar icon.  This might not get you the whole site in translation, but will give you an overview, at least.
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