The ends of the earth; I’ll go to them for a great story, hell I’ll physically head there to be round on by penguins, but Norwegians are something else entirely.

With their proximity to the North Pole, extreme weather know-how, fearless sense of adventure and a background in whaling, it is no co-incidence that many of the world’s great polar explorers hail from Norway.

Roald Amundsen, of course, was the first man to pierce a flag in the South Pole ice, either Leonard Kristensen or Carsten Borchgrevink were the first to step foot on the Antarctic mainland and Fridtjof Nansen tested a remarkable theory about shipping to the North Pole trapped in ice.

So as a two-time veteran iceberg and icefloe reporter, I could not help but seek out (read: avoid) Norway’s polar treats.

Meet Fram.

Now spending its old age resting in an Oslo museum, this 100 plus year old wooden ship is not so much an icebreaker, but an ice-survivor.

From 1893 to ‘96, Fridtjof Nansen used the specially designed Fram to drift with the Arctic ice-sheet in the hope it would eventually pass over the North Pole. At that time, no human had managed to be that far north before.

Fram’s time in the crushing ice remains one of the straight up, most insane maritime mission ever mounted, mainly because so much of it involved involuntary movement.

The ship went where the ice wanted to go. So, so to did its deliberately stranded men in the Arctic winter darkness and the summer’s blinding light.

The ship went as high in latitude as 84 degrees north, while Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen later tried to sledge it to the pole. The duo managed to just pass 86 degrees. No pole, but it was an incredible feat.

It is not today’s look, but here’s 100 year old polar expedition wear Norwegian style.

The early polar explorers borrowed from Norway’s indigenous Sami culture and used bear, deer and seal skins if they wanted to survive the harsh polar conditions.

Here’s a close encounter with a fake polar bear in a Fram Museum “fright walk” for the kiddies.

It worked a treat on a whimpering eight year old behind me and ensured my time in the deliberately small pathway was short as she pushed me back into the wider museum.

This is what she needed..

It is the monkey mascot from a 1925 attempt by Roald Amundsen and five others to fly over the North Pole in two planes.

The attempt failed with mechanical failure at 87°43′ N, but Amundsen later managed to drop a Norwegian flag over the pole from an airship suitably called “Norge.”

Time for a penguin break..

There are, of course, no penguins naturally living north of the equator. So here are some sub-Antarctic gentoos looking adorable in the Bergen Aquarium.

They don’t have the biggest living space, but apart from one case of over plucking they seemed happy enough.

I visited the aquarium an hour off feeding time so the gentoos looked at people expectantly and unsuccessfully for fish.

The gentoos all have harmless coloured clips on their flipper-like wings to individually identify them.

The Bergen cold was no problem as they swam routinely around the small pool with a rocky island “rookery.”

I could have stayed for the penguin dinner, but I had my own to go to..

I also had to press on north beyond the Arctic Circle to Tromsø which is sprucing up for the summer after a long, dark, snowbound winter.

Teams are out hosing off the dirty remnants of winter from Tromsø’s roofs, walls and roads.

A dare you to find a cleaner town at the moment.

Roald Amundsen’s name, face and impressive eyebrows are everywhere. There are historical street signs, numerous statues and busts about town and a Polar Museum with a dedicated section to the man who beat Robert Falcon Scott.

At 69.6667 degrees N, Tromsø is a true polar gateway. It is where Amundsen was last seen in 1928 as he flew off on a rescue mission on the “Latham 47” to save other polar explorers.

His body, and those of his fellow would be rescuers, were never found.

Parts of the plane were later discovered floating in the water with modifications. It is presumed that some onboard survived for sometime until the bulk of the plane sank in the icy waters.

There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to find the Latham’s wreckage. The last attempt was in 2009 by the Norwegian Navy.

It is not all Amundsen around here.

Here is a tribute to Helmer Hanssen. The talented dog driver was part of the successful Amundsen South Pole team. He was ahead nearing the pole, but stopped to ensure that Amundsen truly was the first person at 90 degrees south.

It is a good, interesting walk around the Polar Museum, that is if you don’t mind animal skins.

By skins, I mean baby harp seals and tiny polar bear cubs. Still, museums are about history and that is what used to be done in these parts.

There is a beautiful Tromsø day outside and I’d better get out in it.

It is now light 24 hours a day and the start of the midnight sun is just a few days away. One of the perks of being near one of the poles.




Post a comment
  1. May 15, 2012

    Damn you Karen! Lovely pics and wonderful stories,
    but the name Polarfart Tromsøysund……just caused the death of another keyboard.
    Beer all over the place. 🙂

  2. Peter #
    May 15, 2012


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