I’ve always been a bit obsessed with Vikings – ruthless, bearded men, running around, killing anything in their path, and violently raiding England and other neighboring countries.
While the Viking peoples originated from across the region that we now know as Scandinavia and the Nordic countries – if you want to get some Viking action first hand then Oslo, the capital of Norway, is the place to start.
The people of Norway are justifiably proud of their Viking history – it was a period of time when their ancestors explored, conquered, and governed key parts of the known world at that time.
The Viking age lasted from around 790AD until 1066AD so it is kind of surreal to be able to visit the Viking Ship Museum and stand within touching distance of three actual Viking ships (dating from around 900AD) that had been excavated from burial mounds found along the Oslo fjord. Buried as vessels for their owners’final journey to the realm of the dead, the ships and the artifacts they contained provide a fascinating glimpse into Viking society and culture.
As well as the ships, the museum’s collection includes around 1.5 million artifacts that continue to inform research into this important period of history – helping us understand the lives of the Viking peoples, the farmers, the traders, and warriors. Their reach and the influence that they had across Europe is staggering.
The Viking age may have ended, but modern day Norway is still an impressive place to visit and Oslo, which translates as ‘Field of the Gods’is one of the oldest of the ancient Viking cities.
It is a dramatic and impressive landscape. The city is nestled within the folds of the fjord, surrounded by islands and forest-clad hills.
I recently had four days there which was a great opportunity to get a feel for the rhythm and pace of the city. Catching trams across town, swimming in the local pool, hanging out in cool cafes (where they take their coffee very seriously), sitting in the sun and enjoying incredible seafood, and simply bobbing along on ferries across the fjord.
I was impressed by Oslo. The city has a strong sense of confidence, a sense of purpose, and of knowing its place in the world. Resource-rich, Norway’s strong economy obviously helps –they are building iconic buildings and investing in the capital’s infrastructure, as well as delivering its citizens an enviably high standard of living.
Highlights included the stunning Opera House – a gleaming modern temple of Italian marble and a dramatic oak interior; the Vigeland Sculpture Park – an extraordinary showcase of the work of eccentric sculptor Gustav Vigeland; the Museum of Modern Art perched on the end of the bustling Aker Brygge marina precinct; and Tøyenbadet pool – a beautiful modern swimming facility pool where everyone enjoys a sauna after their swim.
As you would expect, they do good seafood in Oslo – I had some great meals, including Onda restaurant where you can sit outside to soak up the sun; and Lofoten with its stunning views across the fjord.
This is a city with its eye firmly on the future. This is a people confident that they know how to do things well.
I get the sense that the Norwegians wouldn’t think twice about reconquering the world. With their penchant for beards and obsession with quality design, fresh food, and great coffee, I for one would not be complaining.
An Australian writer living in London, Gareth loves travel and fashion and is obsessed with water polo. You can follow Gareth on Twitter @gtvlondon