As soon as the Oslo-bound train pulled out of Bergen’s station, it was difficult to settle down.
I couldn’t work out whether the views were more jaw-dropping out of the right or the left side of the train, so I spent the first hour of the journey caroming down the aisle between seats, working hard to keep my swaying elbows out of people’s skulls until, I told myself (just so I would sit still for a while), the better side was the right. I mean left. Or right? The old cliche about journey and destination rang true for the next six hours.
Trying to take good pictures of the passing, dazzling landscape is futile — between the foreground blur, the dirt and glare on the windows, and the hamming pine trees and fence posts that pop up to bomb every photo, it’s a lost cause. But here, for what it’s worth, are a few attempts.
Few train journeys in the world have you wishing there would be more stops.
We pulled in to Oslo in the early afternoon, locked our bags in the train station lockers, and talked about what to do with our five or so hours in the capital city before heading for the airport for our flight to Iceland. After walking around deliberately aimlessly for a short while to ‘take in the vibe’ (something we do in every city we visit), we jumped on a bus and made for the Norsk Folkemuseum, another outdoor museum spanning several acres and many buildings — the first of its kind in the world. The buildings are units from as far back as the Middle Ages, and others that showcase agrarian life in the past two centuries. Most of them are real (not replicas), transported here: barns, farmhouses, single-room school buildings.
On display in one of the exhibit halls — I love this — is an assortment of articles of everyday Norwegian life in bygone eras. A museum dedicated not to the Van Goghs, the Michaelangelos, royalty, or the Rockefellers of the world, but rather to ordinary people living their ordinary lives owning their ordinary things. In this, the museum has hit on something quite extraordinary.
The centerpiece of the outdoor museum is a restored 12th Century stave church. If one must visit old churches (and I suppose in Europe, one must), then these old wooden shelters are a refreshing break from the sprawling cathedrals and their grand stained glass in cities south of here. Unlike the behemoth basilicas we’d been visiting till now, these churches have almost nothing to do with architectural prowess. The fascination, I think, with these old stave churches is how much they leave to the imagination. There are no pietas or inscribed mausoleums or dedicated recesses or etched plaques depicting this or that. There’s only a sense of mystery, a thought cast back in time to the Vikings, who, after an adolescence of ship-building followed by some immense voyage or other of dominant Viking arse-kickery in a far-flung corner of the earth, would return to these cold dark buildings for a moment of quietude, to reflect and pray and take communion.
With that in mind, it was time for us to continue our own immense voyage, to that other place where trolls and Vikings once coexisted (I know this because the Christmas tree ornaments and fridge magnets tell me so). It was time for us to visit the land of ice and fire.