Blessed with great weather and long hours of sunshine, I was spending a lot of time outdoors in Oslo, traipsing around the fantastic Vigeland Park and climbing the roofs of the modern Opera House.
On a particularly pleasant day, I headed to the harbor by City Hall and boarded a ferry that sails through Oslofjorden, affording great views of the city and the harbor, to Bygdøy, a peaceful and well-off residential area that houses half a dozen museums and attractions, including Oscarshall (a summer pleasure palace built by King Oscar I and Queen Josephine of Sweden and Norway in 1852) and the Norwegian Folk Museum (Norsk Folkemuseum).
A 15-minute walk from the dock, past delightful houses on quiet streets, brought me to the entrance of the Folkemuseum, the world’s second-oldest open-air museum, created in 1894, three years after the one in Stockholm, Sweden. More than 150 buildings have been transported from all over Norway to create both urban and rural areas that represent life across all social strata in Norway since 1500.
I began in the Old Town. In 1624, a massive conflagration completely destroyed the town of Oslo. King Christian IV decreed that a new town be built. This new development, named Christiania, was laid out with wide streets that met at right angles to attenuate the spread of fire. Buildings were to be made of stone or brick, rather than wood, but for those who couldn’t afford the more expensive materials, half-timbered houses were allowed. The museum’s Old Town features some of those buildings from Christiania as well as its suburbs. Here, I entered the lovely courtyard with its quaint kiosk (topped by a clock tower, spire, and owl weathervane), surrounded by small trees, benches, and significant three- and four-story buildings.
Radiating from this central square, cobblestone streets lead to, for instance, the grand Collett Town House (home for more than a century of the Colletts, who operated the largest lumber export business in the city) and the brick town house from Dronningensgate 15, where I spied the clever use of anchoring irons on the façade. Used to keep the beams of each floor fastened to the wall, these take on a more decorative flair to show when the house was built and by whom, each iron a separate character: AO 1714 TESGMMD (anno 1714, Tøger Eriksen Grøn and his wife, Margrethe Mogensdatter).
I admired the old yellow and green bank, the post office, and the two-pump Standard Oil (ESSO) gas station from the 1920s. Many of the buildings are open for exploration, including the grocery store and delicatessen from 1900; an 1865 tenement building, with seven of the nine apartments exhibiting typical interiors and possessions of the occupants from the 19th and 20th centuries; the Pharmacy Museum, with its wood counters and cabinets stocked with old medicine jars that trace the development of apothecaries from 1595 to the early 20th century; and a warehouse from 1850 that now houses pottery, silversmith, and weaving workshops.
I moved on to the Countryside section, with farms and buildings from different parts of rural Norway. I began at the pink parsonage from 1752, with its steeply pitched roof and trio of chimneys. This section is filled with homes with sod roofs (to moderate both hot and cold weather) and rusting milestone markers. Wood storehouses with impressive carvings stand elevated on posts held together with large foundation beams and with broad slabs atop the posts to keep rodents away. At one of these structures, a young woman was preparing fresh-baked traditional Norwegian bread, lefse, a delicious, thick flatbread made from potatoes, milk or cream, and flour, cooked on a griddle and served with butter. The process is interesting and simple, and the sample is a delicious snack to be savored.
After wandering around the museum for a few hours, I arrived at my final and favorite sight: the beautiful stavkirke, built in 1212 in the town of Gol. Of the estimated 1,100 stave churches that used to be in Norway, only 28 remain. And that’s a shame, because these medieval churches built solely of wood (basically pine) are architecturally unique, but subject to fire and ferocious weather. The pleasant woman dressed in traditional Norwegian garb spent some time with me, explaining the church and its role in the country’s society, before I explored it on my own. This gorgeous structure boasts tiers of slanted scaly roofs, a rounded apse, gables with crosses, and rich carvings of dragons and plants. Inside, amid the masterful woodwork in the nave and upper galleries, I found inscriptions and carvings of animal figures, humans, and geometric symbols from the Middle Ages, including one that translates as “Kiss me, because I struggle,” where a saint’s figure once hung, before the Reformation removed the Catholic elements. A Last Supper scene painted on the wall of the chancel behind the altar dates from 1652.
By the time I left the enchanting Norsk Folkemuseum, I had gained insight into both Oslo and parts of the country where I would not, unfortunately, be visiting on this trip. And it came with a pleasant boat ride and a tasty treat. So, if you want a Norwegian museum experience yet still enjoy the great outdoors, this should be your destination.
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