Oslo and Gothenburg: A Tale of Two Natural History Museums

I’ve been to a lot of natural history museums over the years, which is odd, because they’re not necessarily the museums I gravitate to – if I have limited time in a city, I would much rather visit somewhere unique or quirky than go to the type of museum you could see anywhere. But sometimes I just end up there anyway, maybe because they have some type of rare dinosaur bones Marcus wants to see, or a really unusual (usually derpy) piece of taxidermy I can’t miss. This is basically what happened in both Oslo and Gothenburg. I’ll start with Oslo, even though it is the less interesting of the two.

Oslo’s Natural History Museum didn’t look all that enticing, but it was only a short walk away from the Munch Museum through a rather lovely botanical garden, we got in for free anyway with the Oslo Pass (otherwise 120 kr. Yikes, don’t pay that!), and they had a T-Rex (named Stan) that Marcus was keen to see. One of the museum buildings (the geology one) appears to be closed for construction, but we only really cared about the animal building anyway. Stan is in the first gallery when you walk in, just past a staircase lined with one of the most disgusting giant crabs I’ve ever seen (I’ll spare you a photo, but its legs were legit six feet long).


The rest of the museum was fairly standard natural history fare, but someone really went to a lot of effort with the tableaux, right down to carefully painting in white bird shit on all the rocks in the scenes featuring birds. There were also buttons you could press throughout to hear the calls of the birds on display, and in general this section felt quite modern compared to what you normally get in a natural history museum, marred only by all the bratty bratty children running amok and fighting each other right in the middle of the museum. I get that Scandinavians are laid-back parents, but c’mon, at least teach your children how to behave in a damn museum. This wasn’t even in a special kids’ section, it was the main gallery, with glass all around. If you’re just visiting Oslo, this museum is not worth a special trip unless you REALLY like natural history, and even then, definitely don’t go if you have to pay full price. 2.5/5.


So we’ll leave the Oslo Natural History Museum, and head to Gothenburg’s Naturhistoriska, which is pretty much the archetype of the old fashioned museum. Gothenburg was about fifteen degrees colder than Oslo, rainy, and unbelievably windy, so getting to Naturhistoriska was already a much less pleasant experience than getting to the museum in Oslo, plus we had to walk up a big-ass hill to actually reach the museum. However, I was the one that wanted to go see it, for a very special piece of taxidermy that I’ll get to in a minute, so I sucked it up. At least Gothenburg’s natural history museum is free, albeit with an air of must and neglect.


Nothing in here was in English, but I don’t think that really matters when you’re just looking at dead animals. And wow, what a lot of dead animals! I like taxidermy a lot more than most people (and definitely way more than most vegetarians do), but the sheer volume in here made even me feel slightly ill, especially when we got to the bird section, where there must have been thousands of dead birds. I mean, this stuff was clearly Victorian (or even older, since it was established in 1833), as you can probably tell from the absolutely terrible (delightful) quality of much of the taxidermy, but a hell of a lot of animals had to die to make it. Also, the cases don’t look like they’ve been updated since 1833, though they clearly must have been since the museum has only been in its present location since 1923.


And now we come to the whole reason I had to see this museum – the blue whale, or Malm Whale, to give it its proper name. This is clearly the star attraction, as there are signs pointing to it throughout the museum, and it has its own hall (the Whale Hall). The juvenile whale was beached outside Gothenburg in 1865, and some fisherman basically tortured the poor thing for two days until it finally died. The carcass was sold to August Malm, the curator at the museum, who decided to preserve it and display it. He even tried to take it on tour, but that was less successful, and it ended up back in the museum. It is the only preserved blue whale in the world (thankfully), and if that isn’t interesting enough, it was built with a seating area inside, which was originally just generally open to the public until a couple was caught having sex inside in the 1930s. It still apparently opens on special occasions such as Walpurgis Night or Christmas, when Santa sits inside, which really must be something to see. I felt awful for this poor whale, but I can’t deny that it is probably the coolest piece of taxidermy I’ve ever seen – the skin is held together with rivets for god’s sake – and as grisly as it is, I would jump at the chance to go inside.


As you might expect, Malm Whale was definitely the highlight, but there were a hell of a lot more dead animals to get through, of varying degrees of quality. I did enjoy the Nessie equivalent of Gothenburg, especially as I assume nothing had to die to create her. I had to skip the rather extensive arthropod section (I literally had to shield my eyes when I walked through. Coincidentally, I had just had a nightmare about giant lobsters the night before, and they actually had one in this museum. My crustacean phobia is no joke), and mammals and birds were both far too extensive, though there were certainly plenty of characterful specimens (how sassy is that monkey? Love him!).


This museum is definitely not for the faint-hearted (I feel like I say that a lot), but the Malm Whale manages to be both depressing and awesome, and for me made it worth the trip (I still 100% want to go inside if I get the chance). It is free, so this one is worth checking out I think, if, of course, you can take the sight of thousands of dead animals, many of them now endangered. I really would be hard-pressed to name a more old school museum than this, right down to the smells, and I definitely think there’s something to be said for the experience of walking through something this Victorian-feeling (though Victorians would definitely not have put up with the children turning cartwheels(!) through the museum, inches from a glass case. I mean, really?!) – until it got to the point of dead animal overload, I was really enjoying myself. 3.5/5.

Oslo: The Munch Museum (Munchmuseet)

After my positive experience at the British Museum’s Munch exhibition, where I realised that, yes, I am a fan of Munch, I was very keen to see the Munch Museum in Oslo. Unfortunately, the Munch Museum is currently in the process of moving to a new location, so only a small portion of the collection is open to the public. As you may have seen from previous posts, this seemed to be the case with a lot of the museums in Oslo, which are being moved/combined/etc, to create what looks like will be a more centralised museum district, so it was probably poor planning on our part, but to be honest, there were so many museums to see that it didn’t have a major impact on our trip, except in the case of the Munch Museum (and the Ibsen Museum, which was totally closed).

Even though the museum is currently only hosting one temporary exhibition called EXIT! (which runs until 8th September), with none of the permanent galleries open, it still costs 120 kr to get in (£12), though it was fortunately included with the Oslo Pass. I’m not going to lie, I was EXTREMELY annoyed by their airport style security, especially given how little was actually in the museum. As I learned at the exhibition, they have had problems with theft in the past, so I certainly understand not letting in large bags, but you basically couldn’t bring in anything of any significant size (only bags smaller than a sheet of A4). My purse was quite small (for me, since I tend to have big-ass purses), so I thought I was ok, and waited in the lengthy queue for security only to realise when I got to the front that you couldn’t bring in umbrellas or water either, both of which I had in my bag, so I had to get out of line, go downstairs to put my bag in the lockers, come back up, and wait in line all over again. So annoying, especially because the woman at the admissions desk told Marcus he would have to put his backpack in a locker, but didn’t mention anything about the other prohibited items. I thought the British Museum’s security was strict, but they don’t really care what you bring in as long as it’s not a suitcase or a weapon. This was just excessive – what do they think I’m going to do with my tiny travel umbrella?


Anyway, once we were finally granted access to the inner sanctum and started reading all the articles in the exhibition, the high security did make a little more sense, but it seems like they were trying to make up for their earlier laxity by being overzealous now. They’ve had a few paintings stolen over the years, including their copy of The Scream, which was eventually recovered, but not before it suffered water damage. The building originally had I guess sort of slatted walls, so anyone could just reach under and grab something. They tried to combat that by getting a guard dog, as seen above, but he bit a visitor who wasn’t trying to steal anything so that put an end to that, and I suppose they eventually settled on the current system, laborious though it is. Also they have a lot of guards in the gallery who keep an uncomfortably close eye on visitors.


We got stuck behind a large tour group, and obviously they all wanted a picture with The Scream, which was in the second room of the exhibition, so whilst we were waiting for our turn, we wandered around and looked at some of Munch’s other paintings. There was a lot of information about how the museum was started, but not so much about Munch himself, so it was good I got the background from the British Museum exhibition. The paintings also didn’t have a whole lot of information about them, just a small label to the side of each one, though everything was in English. I didn’t like how one whole wall of the gallery was taken up with souvenirs they sell in the shop – if you have a massive collection, why are you charging me £12 to look at souvenirs?!


We finally got our obligatory Scream photo (as you can see at the start), and wandered off into the final large gallery, which contained guidebooks from all of the museum’s exhibitions over the years. These would have probably been interesting if we could have looked through them, but the covers didn’t particularly do anything for me (accidental Scream pose below, but really that’s just one of my standard museuming poses).


There was a small room in the back that contained some of Munch’s woodblock prints (so great), and another room with a few of his murals in, and those were cool, but that was it (I even went looking for more, but aside from a film room downstairs, that really was it). The shop and cafe area was nearly the size of the exhibition, so it’s clear where their priorities currently lie!


Even though there were a few great pieces on display here, if this was my introduction to Munch outside The Scream, I don’t think this would have won me over the way the British Museum’s exhibition did. I get that they can’t have a full display whilst they’re in the process of moving, and I am glad I got to see something, but I don’t think they should be charging 120 kr for this, and I think they should make it clearer before you pay admission that this is all you get to see, because the main page of their website certainly didn’t make me realise that this was all that was on display. I’m still totally a Munch fan, but I am not a fan of this museum in its current state (and I know I keep saying that, but seriously why would all your major museums be under construction at the same time?! Get it together, Oslo). 2/5.


Oslo: Nobel Peace Center


After my fairly terrible experience with the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo wasn’t exactly high on my list. But it was right by the port where we kept walking in the evenings to get soft eis (also where they’re building a new museum complex, as you can probably see from the construction all around), it was open until 6, and we got in for free with our Oslo Pass (120 kr otherwise), so I just went with it.


As far as I can tell, the Peace Center seems to be home to a number of temporary exhibitions. The one in the ground floor at the time of our visit was “Klimalab,” which runs until January 2020, and is all about climate change. As you can probably see, it looked quite engaging and interactive, at least compared to the things at the Nobel Museum, and my hopes were high.


Even though some of the activities were definitely more orientated towards children (as was the content of the exhibit as a whole), I did enjoy walking through the giant bower bird nest pretending to be a bower bird (I do like blue things. Woo me with all the blue things. Also waffles), tasting the microgreens (spicy), and taking a pledge from the wall to reduce my food waste (there were also pledges to reduce emissions, among other things, but I probably already blew that by flying to Norway (also probably TMI, but my personal emissions are pretty high. I’m a gassy lady. I can’t help it.)). I can’t say it offered me any new insight into climate change, but it was fun.


The exhibition upstairs was much more serious in nature, and was called “The Body as a Battlefield”. It runs until November and is based on the work of Nobel Peace Laureates Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, who both work to combat sexual violence (Murad is herself a survivor of sexual violence, after being kidnapped by ISIS). Even though you were allowed to take pictures here, I didn’t feel it was quite appropriate, for obvious reasons. This was a very difficult exhibition to look at, but certainly an important one, though I’m sure it would be triggering for some people. In addition to talking about the work of Mukwege (who is a Congolese surgeon who reconstructs the bodies of women who have suffered horrific sexual abuse) and Murad, it also had stories from people who have been subjected to all kinds of sexual atrocities, which is why it was such hard reading at times. It was definitely worth seeing, horrible as it is to think that this sort of thing still happens every day all over the world.


After that intense exhibition, we somewhat gratefully headed into the permanent gallery featuring every Nobel Peace Prize winner since the prize was first awarded in 1901. The camera doesn’t quite capture it, but it was a very cool looking room, with loads of small lights and a tablet for each winner that you could scroll through to learn more about them. There were plenty of people I’d never heard of, but also famous names, like a few US presidents (though thankfully, still no Trump).


The final gallery contained a cute video explaining how the Nobel Peace Prize works. I’d never understood why the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, but all the others are in Stockholm. Apparently this is simply because Alfred Nobel specified this in his will. All the other prizes are awarded by Swedish institutions, but Nobel specifically wanted the Peace Prize to be awarded by the Norwegian national assembly – no one really knows why, as Norway and Sweden shared a government at the time of his death, but it may have been because Norway had a reputation as a more peaceful country, and an arbiter of disputes. Also, the medal itself was designed by Gustav Vigeland, who you may remember from the Vigeland Sculpture Park, so it may well be the coolest looking medal of the Nobel Prizes (if the baby fighter sculpture is anything to go by). Apparently there is also going to be an interactive storybook about Nobel in the museum at some point, but it wasn’t working yet at the time of our visit.


Whilst this wasn’t amazing or anything, and I definitely would have been annoyed if I’d paid 120 kr to get in, it was undoubtedly better than the one in Stockholm. At least the exhibitions were about important issues, and there were interactive parts that held my interest better than anything in Stockholm’s equivalent. It also helped that it was about 100x less crowded, probably because you had to pay to get in (you normally have to pay for the one in Stockholm too, but we went on an evening when it was free). And the shop had a lot of fair tradey stuff in it, if that’s your bag (and Nobel-themed t-shirts too, though my interest in those is limited). Not worth 120 kr, but if you’ve got an Oslo Pass anyway, it’s worth dropping in to see some of the temporary exhibitions, particularly the one on sexual violence. 2.5/5.



Oslo: Vigeland Sculpture Park and the Museum of Oslo

Located inside Oslo’s Frogner Park, Vigeland Sculpture Park contains over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, ranging from the mundane (father and child playing) to the truly bizarre (man fending off attacking babies, my personal favourite piece, as seen above). It is free to visit, and is located a short tram ride away from the centre of Oslo. It is also apparently open 24/7, but I dunno if I’d want to go there at night. Some of those babies were creepy enough in broad daylight.


There is actually a Vigeland Museum near the sculpture park where you can learn more about Vigeland’s life, and though I was certainly intrigued after seeing the sculptures, we ultimately decided to give it a miss in favour of some other museums. There isn’t really any information about the sculptures within the park itself, but after doing virtually no research about Vigeland and his life, I think I can still reasonably conclude just from looking at the sculpture park that he was fascinated by the human form, particularly the male human form. There are a lot of penises (penii?) on show.


I guess there isn’t really much to do here other than walk around and look at all the sculptures, but because they are so hella weird, it is well worth the effort. It is apparently Oslo’s top tourist attraction, and it was fairly busy even in the morning, so it might be wise to get here early if you want to be able to take photos without having to dodge all the people trying to imitate the people in the sculptures (which they do admittedly invite, as you can see I’m guilty of doing it too). 4/5.

Because there isn’t a lot to really say about the sculptures without learning more about Vigeland himself (I’ve got a lot of Oslo posts to churn out, so that’s not going to happen right now), other than that they are pleasingly odd (I do hope the woman above is hugging a pangolin rather than some sort of crustacean, but it was hard to tell. I would happily hug a pangolin, but would run screaming in extreme terror from any kind of giant crustacean. I have nightmares about that sort of thing), I am going to talk about the Museum of Oslo as well, as it is also located in Frogner Park (it’s a big park).


Admission to the Museum of Oslo is 90 kr (£9), but it was included in the Oslo Pass. I don’t think I would have paid to see it otherwise, since it was fairly small compared to other city museums I’ve been to, but we were pretty much the only visitors, which was nice after the noise of the park (the cafe was fairly busy though, probably because it was such an attractive building).

Almost everything in the ground floor level of the museum was translated into English, but almost nothing upstairs was – it’s like the translator ran out of steam halfway through. My favourite part of the museum was downstairs anyway, and was the display on Oslo in the 1970s. Why the 1970s? I don’t know, but it had that great toilet poster shown above (sadly not available in the gift shop), and a selection of wigs for dressing up (clothing too, but that was all child sized). They were also playing disco music, so you could boogie down in front of the projector screen with the other dancers (I forced Marcus to do the hustle with me against his will, but I don’t really know how to do the hustle, so we basically just bumped butts).


The rest of the downstairs section of the museum contained the history of Oslo (or Christiania as it was called until 1925) from roughly the Viking age to the early 20th century, with a skeleton and a few mildly interactive bits, including a hopscotch grid drawn out on the floor. The upstairs part looked a bit more fun, but unfortunately almost nothing here was in English. As far as I can tell, this contained the history of Oslo (properly Oslo) from the 20th century onward, with information about each of its districts, and quotes from people who lived in each one.

The upstairs also had a whole room full of creepy puppets that I think were from some children’s TV show, and you know I love a creepy puppet. I wish I could have actually learned something about them, but this section was only in Norwegian.

The final gallery of the museum contained a few mock-ups of kitchens through the ages, and then a temporary exhibition on pets, which again, had nothing in English, though I did enjoy the comfy stools scattered throughout, coated in very soft faux (I hope) fur. Overall, the museum was pleasant enough, and I enjoyed trying on the wigs (my head did itch afterwards, but no sign of lice yet, so I think it’s fine), but the lack of English in some of the galleries meant I didn’t get as much out of it as I perhaps could have. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way for this one – I suspect the Vigeland Museum might be the better bet if you’re in the Sculpture Park anyway, but as I haven’t been, I can’t say for sure. 2.5/5.

Oslo: The Viking Ship Museum and the Historical Museum

The other museum on Museum Peninsula (properly called Bygdøy) that was keeping me from my much-needed dinner was the Viking Ship Museum (actually, there are even more museums on the peninsula, including the Maritime Museum, but three ship museums was probably enough for one day). To be honest, I wasn’t that bothered about seeing the Viking Ship Museum, having already seen Vikingeskibsmuseet in Roskilde, and not being super interested in the Vikings at the best of times, and certainly not when I was tired, hangry, and pissed off about missing lefse, but Marcus wanted to see it, and I thought we might as well go when we were already on Museum Peninsula rather than having to make a special trip back.


Admission to the museum is 100 kr (or free with the Oslo Pass), and includes a ticket to the Historical Museum that is valid for 48 hours (confusingly, both the Viking Ship Museum and the Historical Museum are run by the Cultural History Museum, which is apparently not the same thing as the Norwegian Cultural History Museum, aka the Folkemuseum). Like almost every museum in Oslo, the Viking Ship Museum will eventually be moving to a new site, but that isn’t happening until 2025, and the museum is still fully open at its current site. It looks like the new museum will try to give a comprehensive history of the Viking Age, whilst the current museum is pretty much just about the ships. And despite the singular in the name, it is ships plural – three of them.


I was so past being done at this point that I basically walked around all the ships, and then sat down whilst Marcus took photos (as seen above). Other than the ships, the museum had some Viking artefacts in it, and it looked nicely laid out and labelled in English, albeit not terribly interactive. Although the ships here are in a much better state of preservation than the ones in Roskilde, Roskilde’s Vikingeskibsmuseet was definitely more fun, what with the dressing up and ship rides on offer. Since I only gave Roskilde 2.5/5, the Viking Ship Museum will have to be 2/5.


We also went (on a different day, thankfully!) to the Historical Museum, which is (you guessed it!) currently undergoing renovations (as you might be able to tell from the false façade stuck on the front), so only a small portion is currently open to the public. This included a temporary exhibition called “Collapse: Human Beings in an Unpredictable World,” a gallery on the Sami, and another on the Vikings, called VIKINGR.  From its name, I assumed “Collapse” would be mainly about climate change and ecological collapse, and there was some of that, but it seemed more like a general ethnographic exhibit, with a lot of artefacts from Oceania.


The Sami gallery was interesting, but fairly similar to what we’d seen at the Folkemuseum. At least everything here had an English translation, unlike the other ethnographic gallery about the native peoples of the Americas. However, I could see this sort of thing any time at the British Museum, so I wasn’t all that put out by not being able to read it.


Finally, there was VIKINGR, which was clearly redone relatively recently, and had a rather spartan feel, with loads of plain glass cases stuck in the middle of a somewhat bare room. The Cultural History Museum is known for having the only intact Viking helmet in the world, as seen above, which I guess is cool, but it’s just a helmet much like other helmets I’ve seen. The rest of the exhibition mainly consisted of swords and jewellery, with a skull or two thrown in. Eventually, this collection will be moved over to the new Viking Age Museum along with the Viking ships, which is perhaps why they didn’t appear to have spent much money doing up the space it’s in now.


In conjunction with VIKINGR, there was a small display of contemporary art inspired by the Vikings, primarily using the theme of migration (not so much the raping and pillaging). This was probably the most enjoyable part of the museum for me – I really liked all those silhouetted heads (sil-you-ette, as Bert the chimney sweep would say), which you were encouraged to move back and forth by their wooden dowels. There was also a collage, and the mysterious upside-down “Visas and Green Cards” neon sign (there was definitely more of an explanation on the label, but I can’t remember what it was).


I would not have paid to see this museum in its current, much downgraded state (the building is clearly huge and gorgeous, but only a fraction of it is currently being utilised due to the renovations), but it was free with the Oslo Pass and included with the Viking Ship Museum ticket, and it helped us to escape a torrential downpour (and had lockers to put our bags in, since we were headed to the bus station immediately after. Yes, bus. The train lines to Gothenburg were all down, so we had the fun of a four hour bus ride there instead. Not ideal for someone who gets motion sickness as badly as I do, since all I could do was stare out the window trying not to puke. In retrospect, we probably should have researched this trip better). 1.5/5 in its current state. By the way, please don’t think this is the end of Oslo – I’m skipping around a bit because both these museums had a Viking theme, so it made sense to combine them – there’s still lots more to come!

Oslo: Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History)

I was already kind of museumed out for the day after leaving the Kon-Tiki Museum, even though I enjoyed that and the Fram Museum (especially the Fram Museum), so too bad for me there was more on Museum Peninsula (properly called Bygdøy) to see that we wouldn’t have time for any other day (well, we probably could have squeezed it in, I just couldn’t be bothered to go back to Bygdøy). One of these things was Norsk Folkemuseum, an open air museum. You could definitely walk from the maritime museum area to this part of the peninsula (and they both have their own ports, if you take the boat over from the centre of town), but at this point in the day, the bus felt like the only sensible option. Of course, the bus took us promptly to a bus depot where we had to change buses and head back in the other direction, but it was still better than walking.


The Folkemuseum costs 160 kr (about £16), but like everything else in Oslo, is free with the Oslo Pass. A word of warning: if you think you might like to partake of any of the food for sale inside, either bring cash or buy tickets in the shop when you arrive. One of the reasons I wanted to go here is because they make lefse (pancakes made with a potato dough) in the traditional manner, over an open fire, and I very much wanted to eat some (lefse are super hard to find anywhere else in Oslo, because I suspect they’re the kind of thing people just make at home. I had one when visiting the Norway section of EPCOT as a kid, and it has always stuck with me. (The Norway village in general was the best part of the little international zone. I loved that ride with the trolls, which I suspect they’ve gotten rid of at some point in the last 20+ years.) I’ve made them myself a couple times, and they’re pretty good, but I wanted to try an authentic Norwegian one whilst I was here). Unfortunately for me, we realised when we got inside that they only took cash payments or tickets, and since Norway is pretty much a cashless society everywhere else, we had never bothered to withdraw any and hadn’t seen any signs about the lefse when we came in. If I hadn’t been so tired, I would have gone back to the shop and bought a ticket, but it was really far away, and I was exhausted, so I didn’t get the lefse (which looked delicious). Don’t be like me, is what I’m saying.


(I told you there’d be more photos of me pretending to poop. Bonus of Marcus pretending to poop as well.) Other than the fact that Skansen did accept card payments for food (and had ice cream stands out front), the Folkemuseum felt very much like Skansen, Stockholm’s open air museum (Skansen is the world’s first open air museum, so I suppose everything else is an imitation). It was big, full of traditional Scandi buildings, many of which weren’t actually open to the public (you could look, you just couldn’t go inside), including a Sami village, and had a museum inside in addition to the open air stuff. However, unlike Skansen, it had very few animals (or at least, very few animals that we could find. We could definitely smell animal poop, but we only found some rabbits and chickens. Not really on the same level as moose and bears), and limited food options inside the park (actually none whatsoever unless you had cash or pre-paid tickets, which made for a very cranky Jessica, as you can probably tell from my face in front of the stave church at the start of the post).


Even though I was rapidly losing the will to live at this point in the day, we headed straight for the museum in the main square. This was a big museum. I totally skipped the section on religious art (even though I quite like Scandinavian religious art, because it is dark and creepy and has lots of demons in it) which still left folk costumes, traditional art, and weaponry. Only some of the labels had been translated into English, so it wasn’t too much to read, but even this was more than I was willing to skim over at this point, so I basically just walked around and looked at things. I did like the section on Nordic jumpers, but why are they all so expensive to buy?! I am not paying £300 for a jumper.


Back outside, we walked through a village of craftspeople, where you could actually buy the wares (but I didn’t go inside most of the buildings, because I was tired and assumed the wares would be expensive) and finally those chickens, ducks, and a barn full of rabbits, which were the only animals in sight. Apparently the animals are only outside at certain times, and most of the barns are kept closed off the rest of the time. There are also various activities you can take part in at certain times of day (animal handling, folk dancing, etc), but because we visited so late in the afternoon, most of those had finished (except the lefse making, but you know what happened there).

Because I was clearly being a pill, we decided to skip a lot of stuff and just head straight for the old stave church, built around 1200, which was meant to be the highlight. It was indeed pretty cool, as you can probably see, and just about worth the effort (including a hill climb) of getting there. A woman was just finishing a tour in English as we came in, so we got to hear a few interesting bits about certain details in the church as well, like some runes carved into one of the walls (a holdover from Viking times). She also recommended that we go see the apartment building that had rooms decorated to look like they would have in different periods in history, which we had somehow managed to pass on our first circle of the Folkemuseum, and even though I was totally exhausted, I thought we should probably go see it, since it’s not like I’ll be coming back again (I would go back to Oslo, but not to the Folkemuseum, unless it was just to get lefse).


Unfortunately, it was underwhelming. I probably would have liked it well enough if I’d been in a better mood, but it was a lot of steps and almost all the rooms were behind glass with very few things labelled. I did like the references to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in the 1880s room, as it was meant to be based on Nora’s home, but it was basically just your standard Victorian parlour (I would have also liked to visit the Ibsen Museum, but it was closed for renovations during our visit).

I was SO READY TO LEAVE after this, but I did make an exception for the small Sami Museum. My absolute favourite Eurovision song this year was Norway’s, which featured a Sami guy doing kulning in the middle of it, which is a sort of traditional herding call that sounds a bit like yodelling and mimics the sounds of the animals being herded, so I was totally interested to learn more about the Sami. Aren’t their traditional costumes fabulous?

After that though, I had really, really had enough, so we beat a hasty retreat, though sadly we still had one more museum ahead of us before we could go get dinner (the food options on Museum Peninsula are not great. Pretty much just gross looking museum cafes. Lots of hotdogs). Much like Skansen, I think I probably would have had a better time if I’d been less tired and had some food inside me (I really must stop going to open air museums at the end of the day), though I would have been annoyed by the lack of warning that I couldn’t buy lefse without a ticket regardless. Also there needed to be more animals, or at least the ones they have shouldn’t have been hidden away – it was a nice day outside! I’ll still score it slightly higher than Skansen though, because more of the buildings were open, and the museums were better. 2.5/5 for the Folkemuseum.

Oslo: The Kon-Tiki Museum

After visiting the fabulous Fram Museum (“the best museum in Norway”), obviously anything else was going to struggle to compete, particularly another maritime-themed museum, but as the Kon-Tiki Museum was right next door, we headed there next anyway. The museum costs 120 kr to enter, but is free with the Oslo Pass – considering the Fram Museum cost the same and was at least three times the size, I think it’s probably only worth going with an Oslo Pass or combined ticket.


I was vaguely familiar with the story of Kon-Tiki, but I think it might be more well-known to older people who would have seen the film and lived through the whole tiki bar craze of the ’50s and ’60s. Basically, Thor Heyerdahl was a Norwegian explorer who had spent time studying the peoples of South America and Polynesia, and believed that Polynesians were originally South Americans who had journeyed across the Pacific Ocean by raft. To prove that this was possible, he built a raft from balsa and bamboo, and in 1947 sailed it from Peru to French Polynesia with a crew of five other men, which took 97 days. Although his theories about Polynesians being descended from South Americans were not entirely accurate, it was still an epic voyage, and did accurately reflect their sea-faring capabilities. Also, not to be shallow, but Thor Heyerdahl was kind of cute, so there’s that (I didn’t think I had a Scandi-fetish, but maybe I sort of do).


The Kon-Tiki Museum houses the Kon-Tiki boat, as you might expect, and also Ra II, made of papyrus, which was used for one of Heyerdahl’s Ancient Egypt themed voyages (for someone who was reputedly afraid of the sea, he sure made a lot of anthropological sea voyages after Kon-Tiki). But in order to try to live up to the glorious standard of interactivity set by the Fram Museum, it also had some slightly more interactive bits, which I’ll get to momentarily.


When we walked in, we were greeted by not only by the Kon-Tiki, but also by a giant replica moai, a tribute to Heyerdahl’s fascination with Easter Island. There were panels on the walls containing more information about the inspiration behind the Kon-Tiki voyage, and the voyage itself (everything in the museum had an English translation). Apparently he was advised not to do it because seasoned sailors suspected that the boat would simply fall apart, estimating that the ropes that held it together would last no more than two weeks once exposed to water. Fortunately, this was incorrect, but Heyerdahl and co. still had a moment of panic at the two-week mark when the ropes starting making funny noises, before realising that the ropes had simply worn grooves into the wood, which prevented them from snapping.

After learning all about the Kon-Tiki, we proceeded down a ramp into the bowels of the museum, home to the “aquarium” and “caves” we were promised on the brochure. The aquarium wasn’t real – it was just a glass case made to look like it was full of water, and contained some fake sharks and things (much better than a real aquarium actually, as I didn’t have to feel bad for the fish), and the caves obviously weren’t real caves, but they were fun to walk through, and even contained a few slightly scary surprises. They led into a room full of Polynesian artefacts acquired by Thor Heyerdahl over the years, which is apparently one of the world’s largest collections of Polynesian art. A word of warning – the caves do take you back into the main bit of the museum when you exit, so make sure you see everything on the lower level first before you go through. There was also a film room showing Kon-Tiki, the 1950 movie about Heyerdahl’s experience, but we had a lot to do that day so we gave that one a miss.

We exited the caves into Heyerdahl’s library (complete with a wax figure of Thor himself. Norway seems to excel at the making of waxworks – slightly disappointing, if, like me, you prefer badly done ones, but I have to admit they were impressive), and a room of facts about his life. He seemed like an interesting guy, sort of a David Attenborough-esque figure. During his Ra expeditions, where he sailed across the Atlantic from Morocco to the Caribbean, he encountered a disturbing amount of pollution in the ocean, which led to his involvement with environmental causes. He worked with the UN on some of his voyages, so tried to have crews made up of members from each continent (save Antarctica, obviously), and burned another ship, named the Tigris, in protest against continued war across Africa. He died in 2002 at the age of 87.


The final room of the museum contained the Ra II (the one to successfully make the crossing. He had to abandon the original Ra only 100 miles before reaching the Caribbean islands) and information about his later voyages. The shop had some cool tiki merchandise, if you’re into that kind of thing (I am, and am looking for a replacement for my tiki glass with a butt that I accidentally broke, but no butts were to be had, sadly), but at sky-high Norwegian prices, which are only to be expected, I guess.

I was definitely interested to learn more about Heyerdahl’s life, and I loved the cave part of the museum, but in terms of getting your money’s worth, the Fram Museum delivers so much more. However, since we didn’t actually pay to get in (well, we did, but as part of the Oslo Pass), I thought it was still a reasonable museum, and definitely one to see if you want to warm yourself up after visiting the Fram (or just, you know, going outside in Norway for most of the year) by reading about warmer climes. 3/5.

Oslo, Norway: The Fram Museum


As I mentioned in my last post (and as those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen), I recently spent a week in Oslo and Gothenburg and visited a LOT of museums. I’m jumping right in with “the best museum in Norway” (according to the banner outside the museum) – the Fram Museum. The Fram is a polar exploration ship that was used on three different late 19th century/early 20th century voyages (including the one where Roald Amundsen famously beat Scott to the South Pole (and then Scott died)), and you all know I love me some polar exploration, so this was probably the museum I was most excited about seeing.


And the initial approach certainly didn’t disappoint. Oslo has its own version of Stockholm’s “Museum Island” as I call it, with the Fram Museum and many others located on their own little strip of land that is technically a peninsula called Bygdøy, but we took a boat to get there, so it kind of felt like an island. You can also get there by bus, but I’ve taken both and recommend the boat, even though you might have to wait a little while for it to fill up (I got crammed in the back of the bus on seats that could really only accommodate three adults, but were holding four, and I felt pretty ill by the end of it). You get a great view of the harbour and all the cool triangular museum buildings lining it, including not only the Fram, but the Kon-Tiki Museum (coming next week) and the Maritime Museum as well.


We did some calculations before coming to Oslo, and worked out that it would be a better deal to just buy the (very expensive) Oslo Pass for the duration of our stay, as it includes free admission to every museum in the city as well as free public transport (they sell it at most museums and in theory in hotels, though ours didn’t have any 72 hour ones). Of course, this meant that we ended up visiting more museums than we might have otherwise just to get our money’s worth, but we definitely saved money in the end, and got to skip queues in some locations. Otherwise admission is 120 kr, which is about £12 (frankly a bargain by Norwegian standards, especially considering all you get), and they do various combined passes with the neighbouring museums. The museum actually includes two polar exploration ships, the Fram and the Gjøa, which are housed in separate buildings and joined by means of an underground tunnel. As you can see, I got off to a very good start by getting my picture with two Norwegian greats of polar exploration: Amundsen, and Fridtjof Nansen.


We were encouraged to watch an introductory video in the Gjøa building, so we headed there first and found we had some time to kill before the next showing, so I got to pet this very soft musk ox (don’t know if I was actually supposed to touch it, but there were no signs saying not to, so I did), and learn a bit about the Gjøa, which I had never heard of before (I am already sick of inserting all those o’s with the line through them). This was the first ship to be sailed through the entire Northwest Passage by Amundsen and his crew of six, in 1903-1906. Considering the fate of most polar expeditions (ship sinks, everyone slowly dies of starvation) it is not only impressive that Amundsen managed to complete this, but also that he brought the ship back intact! I know Amundsen gets a lot of flak from the British for pipping Scott to the South Pole, but this museum (unsurprisingly) made him seem like a pretty alright guy. He was sensible enough to befriend the Inuit and learn from their survival techniques, including the use of huskies, and even more importantly, he loved American pancakes, which became a recurring theme in the museum (he first tried them after completing the Northwest Passage and sledging hundreds of miles to the nearest telegraph office in Alaska so he could tell the world what he’d done, and he thought they were the most delicious thing ever, so they were served on all his subsequent voyages. See what I mean? He was a sensible man).


This is skipping ahead chronologically quite a bit, but my favourite thing in here was this stuffed orangutan carried by a member of Amundsen’s N24/N25 team (an attempt to fly to the North Pole in 1925). One of the planes broke down, so they were instructed to ditch anything unnecessary so they could all fit into the other plane, but this guy smuggled his lucky monkey back hidden in his jacket. (Even better, they sold replicas in the gift shop, so I took my very own stuffed ape home with me. His name is Dr. Fridtjof Nansen.) And how cute is that smiley Inuit guy (third from left)? His picture appeared a couple of times, and he made me smile too. Anyway, we did watch the video eventually, and it was pretty informative, though all the information was contained within the museum, so you could skip it if you’d prefer to read about it. I did like the headphones with personal language selection controls built into each seat.


So we already learned a tonne about Norwegian polar expeditions on this floor, and then we went upstairs and learned about an ill-fated Swedish expedition. This display was made up of super text-heavy panels (and a lot of them, as you can see above), all in English (and bizarrely, exclusively in English, even though everything else in the museum had Norwegian and English captions), but I read every single one because I had never heard of this expedition before, and it was so interesting. There was this basically not very bright Swedish guy named S.A. Andree who attempted to take a hot air balloon to the North Pole, only it had to be super giant because it was carrying three men and all their supplies, and the whole thing turned into a fiasco where, unsurprisingly, everyone ended up dead. There’s a museum in Sweden dedicated solely to this exhibition that I hope to visit one day, so I won’t go into too much detail now, but learning about this pleased me very much.


The rest of this floor was dedicated to some rather funny but incredibly random cartoons loosely about polar exploration, and also what the British thought of Amundsen and his South Pole expedition (they thought secretly diverting to the South Pole when he was originally headed for the North Pole was extremely ungentlemanly (and probably would have liked to use stronger words to describe him, but they were British, so couldn’t) which is probably why he’s barely even mentioned at the polar museum in Cambridge. I definitely think there’s some sour grapes there, but frankly, Scott shouldn’t have been an idiot who went to the Antarctic with ponies, and then refused to kill and eat said ponies when they proved useless, because I seriously don’t know what he was expecting to happen), which was absolutely fascinating to read, as it’s not a perspective you get in Britain. I also think they were salty that because Amundsen used such small crews, each man got his own room, whilst on British ships, pretty much everyone but the captain had to share. You could also climb on the deck of the Gjøa, which had an outhouse on it, which is why you get another delightful photo of me pretending to poop (and it won’t be the last one either. Sorry).


After that, we headed back through the underground passageway, which is lined with information about non-Norwegian polar expeditions (and a walrus skull), to the Fram side of the museum (thankfully, so I don’t have to keep inserting those crossy o’s). The Fram was used by Amundsen, Nansen, and some guy named Otto Sverdrup (who didn’t feature that much in the museum), so the museum contained information about each of those expeditions and Nansen himself. Nansen disappointed me at the end of his life by joining a centre-right party with a creepily nationalistic name (the Fatherland League), but this was prior to WWII, so it didn’t have quite the same connotations as after Hitler, and other than that, what a guy! He was a zoologist who decided to become a badass polar explorer with a dashing moustache (Amundsen was tough, but he was not a looker), and after retiring from exploration, devoted his life to helping refugees and relieving famine, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (that museum is coming up too).


Some of this section did repeat information from the Gjøa side, but if it used to be two separate buildings, I can see why, and it was easy enough to just skip it, but there were also plenty of polar artefacts mixed in, so I think it was well worth a look. The best was yet to come, as you could actually go inside the Fram! And be met by the ship’s cook, with a big old pile of American pancakes (you can buy pancakes in the museum’s café, but disappointingly they were just sitting there in a pile, and not made to order. They might heat them up for you, but even still, I want a fresh pancake), and Nansen himself.


Even though we were being followed around by an annoying Spanish tour group who crowded my personal space, I couldn’t have loved this more. There were interactive elements, authentic smells, and actually quite good mannequins, and I was in heaven, though I think Marcus felt quite ill from the smells and the tight quarters, since he had to duck for most of the time.


Up on deck was great too, as there was a multi-sensory experience involving a giant projection of icebergs and the Northern Lights on the wall, and a bench that rocked up and down for that authentic seasickness experience. And I got to pose again with Fridtjof Nansen, who was really terribly slim. He needed more pancakes!


And this wasn’t even the end of the fun, as there was also a special attraction where you could experience changes in temperature. You pressed a button to be let into a series of doors that led to the “Arctic,” where you encountered dead frostbitten sailors, bodies frozen in the ice, and of course experienced cold (though not so cold that I wasn’t fine in a t-shirt and skirt for the time it took to walk through). I wanted to go back in, but the tour group caught up with us so I changed my mind. Much more fun alone.


And finally downstairs, in addition to the shop and café, there was another area of interactive things, probably intended for children mainly, but I of course used them all after the children cleared off. You could crawl inside an igloo, try shooting wild game (Duck Hunt style, and really really hard), and see if you were capable of pulling a polar sledge aka 150-300 kilos. This was incredibly difficult, particularly as the harness was too big for me (I was using the adult-sized one, so this wasn’t just for children) and my shoes had no grip on the bottom, but Marcus was able to pull right up to 300 kilos (I made it only to about 150, and that was after pulling myself ahead using the wall. I don’t think I could hack it in the Poles).


As you can probably tell, I couldn’t have loved this museum more. It had so much information in it (I didn’t go into a lot of detail here about Amundsen’s various expeditions, like the one by zeppelin or the attempted rescue mission where he died, because this post is already twice as long as normal, but all this was in the museum, and I’m quite sure there are plenty of books where you can learn more) and it was so, so fun. I can’t say if it is the best museum in Norway, but it was certainly the best museum I visited in Norway (so maybe I shouldn’t have blogged about it first, since it’s kind of a spoiler for everything that follows, but there were other good ones, they just weren’t quite this good). I could see how some people might find aspects of it a little cheesy, but I love cheese, and it didn’t detract from the historical bits, which were properly researched and informative (thought not without their elements of fun too, like the pancake tidbit). If you are interested in polar exploration, I can’t recommend this highly enough – I genuinely think it’s the best polar exploration museum I’ve ever been to. How cool is it that you can go on Amundsen’s actual ships?! A rare but well-deserved 5/5, stellar.