Frozen. That’s how I felt recently, it snowed for two days.
What better time to look back on one of my family’s best trips to Disney movie land: Norway. Not cold seekers, we visited in the summer.
Because we chose to travel by cruise ship, our visit was brief, but thanks to introductions to the Holland America ship, Nieuw Statendam, our guide Rick Steves, and advance planning, we had a great introduction to troll country. , deep fjords and Grieg.
Our ship left the port of Amsterdam late on a Sunday afternoon. First stop: Oslo, the country’s capital. We sailed into the Oslo Fjord and moored opposite one of Oslo’s top attractions, Akershus Castle and Fortress.
There were three of us – Jack, our daughter Zoe and me. We skipped the group excursions – I often need more time to take notes and take pictures.
The fortress, with its massive stone walls and castle with spires, is said to have inspired Elsa and Anna’s home in the Disney movie. The movie version is over the top – the real thing is much more off-putting, with less graceful spiers.
As interesting as that sounds, we had about six hours to see the things that interested us the most. We checked the route of the Hop-on-Hop-off bus which was waiting at the platform, enjoying the city tour while getting off at our chosen spots.
No. 1 was the Norsk Folkemuseum. We planned to have a great time here. On the 35 acres, more than 100 buildings from different parts of the country were moved and reassembled. We listened to folk music and tapped our feet with colorfully dressed dancers and watched costumed artisans demonstrate various skills.
Many of the old log buildings have turf roofs, green with growing grass. Vegetable gardens grow near several of the old farmhouses.
My favorite building had to be Gol Stave Church, built in 1212. Moved from Hallingdal to Oslo in 1898, it has been painstakingly rebuilt – about a third of the current building dates from the 13th century. Christianized in the 12th century, the stave church architecture incorporates older Norwegian symbols, such as dragons on the roof tops.
An exhibition building on the grounds houses permanent and temporary exhibits. Among the most attractive are Folk Arts: From the Middle Ages to the 1900s and Folk Clothing: Festive and Work Wear. The jewelry collection is exceptional, including the elaborately crafted silver buttons and brooches.
A short bus hop took us to the Viking Ship Museum. The main attractions are three excavated Viking ships: the Oseburg, built around 820 AD, the Gokstad, 890 AD, and the Tune, built around 910 AD We hear of Viking funerals with drifting and burning boats, but these were buried with grave goods.
Currently, this museum is closed, scheduled to reopen as part of a new complex in 2025 or 2026. There is construction going on around the building, as the artifacts are considered too fragile to be moved. I’m so glad it’s still open when we were there in the summer of 2019. The ships are beautiful and amazingly rebuilt with over 90% original wood.
Our third stop was Oslo City Hall, an impressive building where the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place. It is a mystery why Alfred Nobel stipulated in his will that the Peace Prize would be awarded in Oslo rather than in Stockholm, where the other prizes are awarded.
The main room where the Peace Prize is awarded is huge. The walls are decorated with huge socialist realist murals depicting history, art, culture and industry. We had to wait in line to take a free guided tour.
If we had taken along our guide Rick Steves, his detailed descriptions could have provided a self-guided experience. Advice to travelers: cut out the pages of the guide and take only those you need for the day. Chances are that by the time you visit this destination again, you’ll probably need a more up-to-date book anyway.
Have we seen all the sights in Oslo? Not far – but we felt we had made good use of our time and seen the things we were most interested in.
Our next port was Kristiansand, a city of about 90,000 people. Again we chose to explore on our own. We walk along the pier to a canal lined with boats and colorful houses. One of the highlights of the area was the large fish market filled with marine delicacies and tanks of live fish and shellfish.
On our way into town we passed one of the most elegant McDonald’s I have ever seen. It is housed in a former bank built in 1897.
Kristiansand Cathedral is one of the largest in Norway. After touring the interior, we enjoyed the large public spaces around the church. Numerous benches provided places for people-watching; an open-air market featured beautiful fruits, vegetables, and handicrafts; and a spacious green welcoming families enjoying the fresh air and blowing giant bubbles.
The cathedral sits on the edge of the oldest part of town, with structures dating back to the 17th century. This area survived a devastating fire in 1892 and includes one of the largest collections of low-rise wooden houses in Northern Europe.
In Eidfjord, our next port, we stopped at a tourist center on the wharf and signed up for a bus trip to Voringsfossen, Norway’s best-known waterfall with several cascades dropping over 500 feet into the water. innermost end of the Hardanger Fjord.
It’s hard to say which we enjoyed more – the land or sea portion of our seven-day cruise. Our trip was fantastic.
Cruising has taken a big hit during COVID, but cruise ships have made a number of adaptations to make travel safer.
If you’re willing to venture out, I couldn’t give Holland America a higher endorsement. The cruise line is offering incredible deals by the end of the month; this not only applies to bookings for this year, but also for 2023 and 2024. Check with your preferred travel advisor for details.
Travel is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.