Oslo – In search of Roald Amundsen – Part 2 – the ‘Fram’

The next stop on my museum tour and in my hunt for Roald Amundsen was the Fram Museum.

Set right on the water on the outskirts of Oslo, the museum was built around the wonderful vessel Fram. As Amundsen is an icon of Polar exploration so is Fram. It’s not just a vessel, it’s a character in its own right!

Fram (“Forward”) was used in  both the Arctic and Antarctic regions between 1893 and 1912 by a series of Norwegian explorers including Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wistig and Roald Amundsen. It was designed and built by the Norwegian shipwright Colin Archer for Fridtjof Nansen’s 1893 Arctic expedition in which Fram was supposed to freeze into the Arctic ice sheet and float with it over the North Pole. Fram has sailed farther north (85°57’N) and farther south (78°41’S) than any other wooden ship

The entire Fram is jammed into the museum!

The entire Fram is jammed into the museum!

She is as a three masted schooner with a total length of 39 meters and width of 11 meters. The ship is both unusually wide and unusually shallow in order to better withstand the forces of pressing ice. The idea was that as the ice formed and pressed close around her she would pop out of it like a squeezed olive pip and so would ride up on the ice rather than being crushed by it.

The smell of tar, oakum and engine oil when you enter the museum is wonderful. You can wander all over the ship and see how amazingly solid she is, and how comfy she must have been.  Nansen tried to make it as comfortable as possible for his crew as they would be staying aboard, fixed in the ice, for at least one winter, perhaps two. So it is heavily insulated and the kitchen is at the heart of the ship so that both food and heat become central. There are private cabins and a saloon and there were lots of entertainments on board – including a magic lantern projector and a piano! Being on Fram gave me a foretaste of life aboard Antigua – another 40m three-masted ship headed for the Arctic with a comfy saloon (more on that in an upcoming post).

Ice level view of the prow

Ice level view of the prow

Cross-battened hull for extra protection from the ice

Cross-battened hull for extra protection from the ice

Heavily reinforced hull

Heavily reinforced hull.

Cosy private cabin

Cosy private cabins

The displays that line the walls of the museum go into great detail about each of Fram’s expeditions. There are convincing reenactment videos of Amundsen’s crew working in their Antarctic base (the Framheim – the home of the Fram), based on contemporary photographs.

Working on the sleds in the wood workshop carved out of the Antarctic snow

Working on the sleds and gear crates in the wood workshop carved out of the Antarctic snow.

There are some wonderful large scale dioramas to guide our imaginations.

Diorama of preparations on the Antarctic ice

Diorama of preparations on the Antarctic ice

Many of the original objects used by the explorers are on display.

Amundsen's personal camera

Amundsen’s personal camera

Mysterious white 'stamina' tablets. I wonder if I can get some for the Arctic trip?

Mysterious white ‘stamina’ tablets. I wonder if I can get some for the Arctic trip?

I really started to get a feel for life on Fram. I can understand why Amundsen was so anxious to have her on his voyage to the Antarctic. She wasn’t a fabulous performer in the open ocean (her broad beam and flat bottom made her wallow and drag in heavy seas) but she was a major character in the heroic age of polar exploration. The first successful attempt on the South Pole wouldn’t have been the same without her!

Oslo – In search of Roald Amundsen – Part 1 – the Viking ships

Donald & Roald

Donald & Roald

I was on the hunt for Polar Bears while I was up North, I was also on the trail of Roald Amundsen.

As you might recall from high school geography or history classes, Amundsen was the first man to reach both poles. In fact, he was the first man to reach each of the Poles independently. The South Pole in 1911 with four companions on dog sled and skis, the North Pole in 1926 aboard the Italian airship “Norge” (created and captained by Umberto Nobile). On both trips he was accompanied by his fellow explorer Oscar Wistig so technically he shares the honor. Though Wistig is mostly considered  an historical footnote (along with the first African American polar explorer Matthew Henson who accompanied Robert Peary on 7 voyages over 23 years including Peary’s now disputed first arrival at the Geographic North Pole in 1909).

Amundsen is a great hero in Norway. Which is hardly surprising for this great seafaring nation. I spent a day enjoying four great nautical museums on the outskirts of Oslo. The Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Nautical Museum and, the icing on the cake, the Fram Museum. All of them provided important clues for my understanding of Amundsen.

The Viking ship Museum was the obvious starting point and a pilgrimage in its own right. I have wanted to view the Oseberg and Gokstad ships since I first saw images of them (in National Geographic perhaps?). What incredible works of functional craftsmanship. They still provide the most revealing evidence of what viking ships were actually like. Prior to their discovery in the late 19th century, the only clues came from the oral sagas, carvings on a few extant standing stones and the Bayeux Tapestry (AD 1077?).

Vikings invading the Bayeaux Tapestry

Vikings invading the Bayeaux Tapestry

Both ships are believed to have been functional (one a luxury yacht and the other a trade ship) prior to their use as funerary vessels. They had been looted and were shattered and degraded when they were discovered in the late 1800’s but thanks to an amazing restoration effort they now seem ready to sail again.

Sightseers at the Oseberg excavation 1904

Sightseers at the Oseberg excavation 1904

Oseberg ship

Oseberg ship restored

Oseberg lines - sweet!

Oseberg lines – sweet!

The carving work is beautifully restored and preserved and both ships have a wonderful patina that comes in part from their age but primarily from their preservation in tung oil and creosote – a finish that I might pursue myself!

Gokstad ship

Gokstad ship

Prow details

Prow details

Bed head details - the women found aboard were laid to rest in ornately carved beds.

Bed head details – the women found aboard were laid to rest in ornately carved beds.

I enjoyed savouring the long and culturally layered history of the seafaring vikings. I’m from viking stock myself, as are most folk who have Britain in their ancestry, and my family name was created for a Norman lord who was one of the invaders in the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

The Norman conquest was taught in my grade school books as an invasion from France but it was actually a mingling of related folk from across the English Channel. The “Normans” were named so  because of their northern (i.e. Viking) roots. And by the time of the “conquest” the vikings had been living  amongst the ‘native’ britons for almost two centuries.

I couldn’t help but imagine the fabled viking raider of Britain and France, Ragnar Lodbrok (“hairy breeches”) moodily perched on the prow looking out to sea for new conquests.

Ragnar Lodbrok as played by the hunk Travis Fimmel on the History channel's fab series Vikings

Ragnar Lodbrok as played by the hunk Travis Fimmel on the History channel’s delicious series “Vikings”.

My favorite vessel was one of the small tenders found with the Gokstad ship. I could imagine myself at the prow of this one!

A sweet and handy little vessel.

A sweet and handy little vessel.