Thank you Ingvar

I hardly know where to start with this update. This last two weeks there have been travels, trials and hours spent bouncing experimentally on display beds and considering the pros and cons of decorative light fixtures. Family arrived and then left, the weather brightened then returned to clouds and a whole lot of stuff has been put into boxes. I suppose I should start with tales of a Swedish institution that we have all gotten lost in at some time and left wondering why we needed that miniature Persian rug and two different kinds of cheese-graters.
I am talking of course of IKEA.

As previously mentioned, we are in the process of moving. The new apartment is unfurnished so we have the chance to choose all of our own things to fill it with, something neither of us has had the opportunity to do before. So last week, with a mix of anticipation and wariness and a list clutched tightly in hand, we headed off to the nearest IKEA warehouse. As we found out last time, it was more or less identical to the one in Perth, except that now we know how to pronounce the names of the furniture. 5 hours later we emerged slightly dazed into the evening sunlight, heavy of furniture and light of wallet. We had got most of what was on the list, though towards the end we tended to respond to items that we needed with ‘I just don’t care right now’ and continue heaving our laden trolleys.

Soon after was the assembling day, which was happily rage free and didn’t involve any manuals or allen keys being thrown out of the window. We actually sort of enjoyed it and were rewarded with an apartment that was starting to look lived in, and a couch from which to enjoy it.

Rage free assembly

Rage free assembly

2 days later we were back at IKEA, to get all of the things that we hadn’t had the energy or time for the first time. This time we managed to keep our visit to 3 hours, and didn’t feel quite as exhausted as we headed home. We also had another assembling evening, late enough that once we’d put the bed together it was tough to resist trying it out, even without the sheets.

The second assembling time followed another event from the last week, which was partly why we were so tired by the end of the bed assemblage.

My partner’s parents had gone to Norway to see the fjords the week before last, and then for the last 2 and a half days that they were to spend in Oslo, we went up to join them. The weather was sunny and warm, and the city was completely transformed from the cold and dark Oslo we’d visited in December. Where there had been an ice-rink there is now a pond under thick green trees, with children paddling and a man making giant bubbles in the sun. Streets that had once been sparse and bare were packed with people, and restaurants that had been closed had their temporary verandahs set up in the sun.

Oslo in summer

Oslo in summer

That first day we only had time to settle in the the apartment and eat a late dinner, and plan a little bit for the next day.
When we were all ready to hit the streets the next morning, we set off for the ferry that would take us to Bygdøy, where many of the most interesting museums live. We had already been to the Viking Ship museum the last time, but it was new to my partner’s parents and neither of us regretted getting to see the beautiful ships again. They were still just as graceful and impressive, and provided great fuel for the imagination, wondering what those planks had seen and the names of those who had heaved on oars as they cruised along unknown coasts.

Detail of the Gokstad ship

Detail of the Gokstad ship

We then went to the neighbouring Folk Museum, which seemed to be a collection of ancient buildings from different eras of Norwegian history jammed together into a large park. We had seen something similar in Lillehammer during our last trip, but summer in Oslo brought out the historical re-enactors, cows, sheep, pigs and horses, as well as berries to pick on the sides of the path and green all around.

An old farm

An old farm

We wandered for a few hours, peering into farm houses from the 1600s, complete with painted and carved furniture, and the deep smell of pine resin. Entire gardens had been recreated, and everywhere we could hear the bleeting of sheep and calling of birds.
In one house we found a couple of women making traditional pancake-like bread the old way, and baking it on a stone in a large fireplace. It smelt amazing.

Traditional baking

Traditional baking

Elsewhere we found a building from the 1250s-1300s, the oldest surviving wooden building in the world. Inside it was cool and dark, and through the doors from the entrance, seemed to consist of a large hall with a little square chimney hole/sky light in the middle of the ceiling. It was simple and bare, and exactly like the halls I’ve seen in films and books, where folk gather around a central fire, hounds as their feet and smoke wreathing their faces.

A 700 year old hall

A 700 year old hall

Up on a hill we also found an 800 year old stave church, in which an older lady dressed in traditional clothes told us about the history of the building. She pointed out a pillar which is believed to be around 1000 years old, and faces carved and painted that line the ceiling, grimacing a warning those below of the hell that awaits them if they are naughty.

The stave church

The stave church

There were many other buildings and sights, including a friendly old pig, that were wonderful to explore, and I felt quite privileged to be able to walk inside ancient buildings and see life as it had been. Everywhere was history, from beautifully carved doors to children on school holiday enjoying a traditional lunch.

Children preparing for lunch

Children preparing for lunch

The next stop on Bygdøy was the Kon Tiki museum, which housed two ships built by Norwegian adventurer and archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl. There is a film about one of the ships, and how it crossed the Atlantic which I haven’t seen yet, but would like to now. Both ships were built using ancient methods and materials and it was very interesting to read about the voyages and trials and successes that were involved with them.

Kon Tiki

Kon Tiki

It also lead to a discussion among ourselves about what constitutes a hero. Sure, you can have a wild plan and set forth to achieve it, heroic stuff right? It would seem from what we could see that the only difference between the fool who tried a crazy scheme and failed and the hero who achieved his dream and will perhaps get an Oscar down the line, is whether or not they survive and complete what they set out to do. Simple enough I suppose, but the more I read about Thor Heyerdahl’s exploits, the more sure I felt that a lot comes down to chance. And he was very lucky.

After a quick look at the Fram, a polar ship that was used in expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic between 1893 and 1912, I began to get a bit museumed out (shocking, I know), and after the museum had closed we caught a ferry back to the town centre. Drinks were then had on a floating bar in the harbour, and followed by a final dinner in the apartment.

On the final day we got up earlyish to pack and then set out for Frogner Park, which I had been repeatedly told to visit by the mum and which I was quite intrigued about. It turned out to be absolutely worth the visit, and something I would like to see again some day. Much of the park was taken up by a boulevard, fountain area and rising platforms that lead to the pinnacle of the park, on which stands a giant granite obelisk carved with the shapes of hundreds of human figures.

The human obelisk

The human obelisk

All around it, and around the fountain and down the boulevard are hundred of other figures, also carved from granite or cast in bronze. They were in very posture imaginable, loving, challenging, laughing, crying, talking, playing, fighting and apparently trying to survive a rain of babies.

A rain of babies?

A rain of babies?

It was an amazing collection of work and I assume must have taken the artist, Gustav Vigeland, much of his life to complete. I would say it was worth it.

Girls

Girls

After this visit we went back to the hotel and then to the train station, to the bus and then some hours later found ourselves home in Göteborg.

Shadows of women

Shadows of women

Since then we had a final bbq and then dinner, and yesterday morning bade them farewell at the airport. Now we have the task of moving to the new apartment and removing the final traces of our stay here. This morning I went on my possibly final run in the forest, which was even more beautiful than usual. The new place will have many forests, and I’ll soon learn their paths and peculiarities, but none will replace the first forest I found here.

A Jul voyage

It has been over a week since my last post, and though it concerned waiting for the oncoming festivities, there was so much more in the intervening time that I didn’t or couldn’t expect. One thing that this year has taught me is not to expect things. Don’t expect to be dreaming of living in Europe in a year, don’t expect to find your career waiting for you, don’t expect to be isolated in a new country and don’t expect inspiration to be all you need to write well.

Our Jul tree angel

I had expected to feel homesick when Jul arrived, missing the family and comfort that I’ve had every christmas of my life. Instead I felt warm, loved and well fed, as my partner and I skyped our parents, opened presents and ate a lot of food. A dose of old fashioned shmaltz in the form of It’s a Wonderful Life was like hot chocolate on a cold day, including the bit about alternate reality Mary’s cruel fate (a spinster librarian? Egad!) Tacos with homemade guacamole may not have been a traditional Jul dish, but Jul is what we make it.

And I made pepparkakor!

On the 25th we rested, and then embarked on the cooking of a christmas roast, with all the trimmings. Roast turkey, potatoes, pumpkin, cauliflower cheese, fresh baked bread and gravy, washed down with glögg and wine. It was an achievement that we managed to walk afterwards, not to mention do the dishes. And win at the BBC History Extra podcast Christmas quiz by one point and a turkey. I feel as though I ought to commit this fact to writing, as it and the score sheet may be purged from existence by a certain individual who enjoys competitiveness.
By this point we had not left the house for two days and so we decided to set out and check that the rest of the world was still there. Thankfully it was, and it included a small bar with bountiful drinks and cheerful Swedes, and comfortable couches to sink into and chat in an increasingly tipsy manner.

The next morning we awoke relatively early to catch a bus that would take us off to our short holiday. We’d decided some time before that we ought to use at least a bit of our joint holiday period to travel, preferably not too far but far enough to be away from Göteborg. We settled on Oslo, a short bus ride away and where we could use some of my partners hotel credits (I recommend ‘free’ hotel visits, gives you a lovely relaxing feeling). The bus ride took us north through small and large towns, and then dense forests and past rivers and over bridges, through a very uncheckpoint-like checkpoint and up and into the suburbs that circle the twisting Oslo fjord. My first impression of Oslo was a chill slightly stronger than we’d left and a city feeling that doesn’t exist in Göteborg. Our hotel was next to the central station, so a quick walk brought us up to our rooms, comfortable and interestingly designed and with double windows that were perfect for the refrigeration of leftovers from the previous day’s feast that we’d brought to balance out the cost of eating out in one of the most expensive cities in the world. After a snack we headed out to explore with what light there was left (it was around 2/3 by this point, so not much). Possibly because it was the 26th and most places were closed, or because that was how they roll on Thursday afternoons, the city was almost deserted. We wandered down the main street, and then followed a sign to the Akershus fortress which seemed deserted also, though a friendly soldier assured us it was open to explore.

Oslo from Akershus fortress

The fortress was built in 1290 and has been in use ever since, as it grew, sprouted new buildings and oversaw the city below it, and was never overrun by an enemy (it’s surrender to Nazi Germany in WW2 technically doesn’t count as a defeat). As with most other human constructions in Norway that I’ve seen, it’s sturdy rather than towering, and very tough. We wandered around taking photos as the sun went down, bright lights lighting up the walls and paths and occasional, blank faced soldiers guarding (what they were guarding was unclear, but they seemed very definite about it).

From the fortress we headed back to the centre of town, and onwards to the tourist office, where I hoped to plan our visit the following day. This journey took us down the main street, and past a crowded ice-rink. There were people of all kinds sliding around, either looking as though they were out on a stroll, showing off to friends or barely balancing. The children were especially impressive, some of them zipping around at great speeds, others falling over only to spring up again.

Ice rink Oslo

It looked like a lot of fun was being had. Not having skates we had a go at walking on the ice without any incidents, and then continued on our journey. Having found the tourist office we went in search of food. At this point I realised that the stories about Oslo being one of the world’s most expensive cities is true, and I discovered something else. It has some of the longest waiting times for meals. The first place we tried took about 45 minutes for a cup of tea and a beer to arrive, then another half an hour for someone to say that someone would take our order soon. We decided to pre-empt their eventual attempt and ask for the bill. Which we got 20 minutes later. After which we really needed food, though unfortunately a bar that we chose as cosy and comfortable turned out not to serve food. We settled on a pizza chain, which was filling and a relief from the prospect of having more leftovers for dinner.

The next day, after a visit to the hotel gym and a delicious breakfast, we went to the tourist office and found out that is was near impossible to get a trip to a fjord in the short time that we had. The woman at the desk suggested Lillehammer as a nice place to explore and perhaps go skiing from, which suited me as I knew of family connections in the area. Armed with knowledge and plans we then went to the Historisk Museum, which was an interesting mix of detail, sewed backdrops and stunning church portals.

Detail from a church portal, showing Sigurd fighting Fafnir

According to my mum, whose bias I am not going to mention, the relative smallness of the Oslo History Museum is due to the idea of having a museum devoted to particular things, rather than everything jammed into one building. It did have a wide selection, and the Sami exhibition was very interested, if a bit rushed for us.

The Norns, possibly by a eccentric granny

Then off to the Viking Ship museum.
Though we only saw a little of Oslo in the time we were there, I would say that the Viking Ship Museum is a must see. I’d seen the Vasa when I went to Stockholm, but the authenticity and beautiful lines of the Oseberg ship as you walk in the front door are more stunning to me than the bulk and scale of the Vasa.

The Oseberg ship from behind

The Oseberg ship is the first thing you see, and is basically what you would picture as a traditional Viking ship. The front (fore?) curls up and around in a spiral, ending in a serpents head, with the other end curling in a tail. It was a pleasure boat rather than a sailer of the high seas so fairly shallow, but the smooth lines and how incredibly intact it was were breathtaking. It was also found with the remains of 2 women, thought to be 50 and 80 years old, whose identity is a mystery. It’s around 22 metres long, 2 metres shorter than the also mostly intact Gokstad which was a much more sea worthy vessel, and may have gone on distant journeys before it was eventually buried. It didn’t have the decorative carvings of the Oseberg ship, but it was long, sturdy and also amazing to see and imagine when it was in full sail, 32 shields hanging on the sides and the sea curling in it’s wake.

The Oseberg ship

The third ship, the Tune ship, was in worse condition, planks of wood from the hull giving us an idea of what it must have been like, but no signs of it’s occupant unlike the other two.
Also in the museum were some of the artifacts discovered with the ships, bedsteads, cloth, a couldron, wooden sleighs and carved animal heads whose purpose is unknown. Old preservation techniques mean many of the items are at risk of falling apart, but for now on the surface they seem as beautifully crafted as they were hundreds of years ago.
Once again seeing these remnants of history brought back to me the humanity of the past, and how much we don’t know and can’t know. In this case it was especially profound for me as the people that made carvings like those, watching the ships sailing across the seas, harvested the wheat that once filled the trough and survived in the old lands of Norway were my people.

An inscription found with the Oseberg ship, translating loosely as 'Man knows little'

In the next post I’ll describe the second day, in which I get to meet some of my people, and the colours, music and fireworks of New Years Eve when we returned.