Winters are long in Norway, and during the winter the days are short. For every magical 11:30 pm sunset in the summer their is a dreadful 10 am sun rise, if you are lucky. It can be bitterly cold, of course, and the mountains and the fjords make overland travel difficult. Before the Norwegians became master tunnel builders, they set sail, and did they ever. With so much times on their hands during the winter, there was plenty of time to dream up new destinations to discover and how to get there.
The Vikings are more than a mediocre football team. While they never made it as far as Minnesota despite the hoaxical efforts of a central Minnesota farmer, they did make it to the African Coast and the Mediterranean, and across the Atlantic to Newfoundland, half a millennium before Columbus, in glorified canoes. These journeys were not for the faint of heart, or the cold-sensitive. There was no shelter from the wind and waves, and only a bit of dried cod to eat. Maybe Vikings fans deserve to be called Vikings and we can name the team something else.
The most amazing thing about these ships are their age, centuries older than anything the United States. It shows how young the United States really is. While we save buildings from the 1800′s as monuments, the Norwegians uncover ships from burial mounds and tear down and reconstruct churches from the 1200′s, like this one at the Norwegian Folk Museum.
With North America, Europe, and the west coast of Africa down, the poles were still to go. The Fram, the first ship to go both as far north and as far south as possible, is on display near the Viking Ship Museum. Compared to the relatively small and flimsy Viking Ships, the Fram is a hulking mass. Compared to the tortuous conditions and years long journey’s it endured, it is a miracle that it survived all three polar voyages relative unscathed.
Having now conquered the poles, all that was left was to conquer history itself, and that was left to Thor Heyerdahl of Kon Tiki fame. While the anthropological evidence is not there, he did definitevely prove that it is possible to cross just about any ocean with a well constructed reed raft. His rafts the Ra and the Kon Tiki seem luxurious.
With the seas conquered and the advent of the automobile age, it was time to tame the interior, and tunnels were the answer. While we won’t be visiting the world’s longest road tunnel, there are several that are several kilometers long in and around Oslo. There is no longer a need to go over the mountains or around the water. Now they just go under both.
For centuries, the best way to get around was by skis, including these from the seventh century.
While skiing still serves a practical purpose, it also serves the less practical purpose of going down a a giant ramp at 70 miles per hour to launch yourself a fifth of a mile through the sky. I suppose, compared to sailing the high seas and discovering the poles, everything else seems boring.