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.