Today I arrived in Oslo, the capital of Norway, a country once known for its fierce Viking warriors, but today recognized for its wealth and socialist political system. Norway has become one of the wealthiest countries in Europe due to its rich natural resources, including offshore oil and natural gas. While the citizens of Norway have lower unemployment rates and higher salaries than the average European, they also have higher income tax, money that is then redistributed through government services. Oslo was recently determined to be the most expensive city in the world to visit, and prices for food and hotels are much higher than what we would pay in the United States. For example, dinner at our hotel buffet costs about $70.
The Norwegians’ love of the sea dates back to the Vikings, whose sailors were known for their superior shipbuilding and exceptional navigational skills. Viking sailors used the position of the stars and sun to navigate, and traveled as far as the Middle East by river, and to Greenland and Canada by sea. It is thought that the Vikings beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas, reaching the Canadian coast as early as 1000 A.D.
While we are only spending one day in Oslo, we did have an important stop to make. The Fram Museum houses a boat (The Fram) built by a Norwegian scientist, Fridtjof Nansen, in an attempt to reach the North Pole. Early explorers and whalers in the Arctic faced perilous conditions, as the ice in the Arctic ocean would sometimes freeze around their boats, crushing the wooden frame and leaving the sailors stranded. Some were lucky enough to be picked up by other ships passing by, but others would have to spend the winter stranded in the Arctic, left with only whatever food or shelter they could scrap from their splintered ship. Many early expeditions suffered fatalities, and at times entire crews died waiting for winter to pass and the ice to melt. Winters in the arctic are not only extremely cold, but dark, as the sun does not rise above the horizon for over 3 months, a phenomenon known as the Polar Night. It also would have been difficult for stranded sailors to find food, as there are few mammals that can survive at such high latitude. Early Inuit (Eskimo) cultures had to rely heavily on local seal populations for meat, fur, and animal skins.
Understanding the challenges faced by early explorers, the Fram was designed to withstand the tremendous pressure put on a ship trapped by freezing ice. Instead of using the traditional sloped design on the bottom of the ship, this boat was built with a rounded bottom. This made it hard for the ship to get stuck in frozen ice; instead, the ship would be pushed upward and sit on top of the ice, just as a round marble would pop out from between your fingers if you squeeze it too hard. While this design made it easier to travel through frozen seas, it was not a very stable boat in large ocean swells. The men and dogs aboard the ship could easily be tossed from side to side when sailing the boat in the open ocean.