Nansen and Amundsen
Roald Amundsen made it into the history books (and became a national hero in Norway) when he famously beat Captain Robert F. Scott to the South Pole, which he reached, accompanied by four of his men, on 14 December 1911. He was also the first man to navigate the Northwest Passage, and the first to fly across the Arctic Ocean.
Fridtjof Nansen first made a name for himself crossing Greenland on skis, and subsequently trying to reach the North Pole on the ship Fram, although he is today remembered as much more than just a polar explorer. Also an accomplished scientist, statesman and humanitarian, Nansen used his fame, first as a political activist to put an end to Norway’s union with Sweden in 1905, and after WW1 working relentlessly to help improve the plight of refugees – an effort he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for in 1922.
Other Norwegian polar explorers
Roald Amundsen was the first explorer to have travelled to both the North and South Poles, but it was another Norwegian explorer, Børge Ousland, who was the first man to cross the Antarctic alone, some 85 years after Amundsen reached the South Pole. Erling Kagge was the first to visit both poles and reach the top of Mount Everest. While Amundsen had worn sealskin, Ousland wore Gore-Tex. And instead of determining his position with the help of a watch, calendar and sextant, Ousland made good use of GPS technology, using satellite communications. Ousland's kevlar sledge, at just six kilos, was also much lighter than Amundsen’s, and he pulled it himself (Amundsen had to use heavy, wooden sledges drawn by dogs to move his equipment and supplies.)
Places of interest
The Fram Museum in Oslo is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in polar exploration. Located on Bygdøy, a short ferry ride from Aker Brygge in Oslo, the museum houses an extensive collection of artefacts, photographs and films, although the centrepiece of the permanent exhibition is undoubtedly the Fram, the wooden ship Nansen used to explore the Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia, and on which Amundsen travelled to the South Pole. The new northern lights show is also popular. The museum also boasts the largest polar bookstore in the world, with some 220 titles, and a shop offering a wide selection of gifts. Opening hours vary throughout the year, but the museum is open daily in high season (1 June to 31 Aug) 9 am - 6 pm. Adults 80 NOK, concessions 30-50 NOK, family ticket (up to two adults and three children) 160 NOK.
Amundsen’s childhood home in Borge, near Sarpsborg, is the house where Amundsen was born, the youngest of four brothers, on 16 July 1872. His family, which owned this farm and several others in the area, lived here for generations, and this place in Borge played a significant part in Amundsen's upbringing. As a child the future polar explorer spent many a holiday here, watching the ships ply the River Glomma, already harbouring dreams of travelling to the far corners of the world. His childhood home has been preserved just like it was when Roald Amundsen lived there. There is a cafe and a souvenir shop in the barn next door, which also houses a small conference centre. Guided tours in Norwegian, English and German every weekend during the summer (May to Aug, 30 NOK per person), private tours can be arranged the rest of the year. Book via the tourist office in Fredrikstad.
Idyllically located by the Bunnefjorden, the villa Urianenborg in Svartskog, south of Oslo, is where Amundsen lived for 20 years, until 1928 (the year of his death). He planned several of his polar expeditions from here. The house, which has been a public museum since 1935, holds several mementoes from his expeditions, including the piano he had on board the Maud and the sledge he used on his way to the South Pole, as well as photos and other personal objects that give an insight into the man behind the public figure. Reference books, maps, presents bestowed on Amundsen by various contemporaries and the mandatory stuffed polar bear complete the picture. If you come in summer, combine your visit with a dip in the fjord – there are lots of pretty bathing spots in the area. Guided tours Tues-Sun from mid-May to Sep. Adults 40 NOK, concessions 20 NOK, family ticket 100 NOK.
Both Nansen and Amundsen have a gallery dedicated to their life and achievements at the Polar Museum in Tromsø, which is part of Tromsø University. Opening hours vary throughout the year, but the museum is open daily in high season (mid-June to mid-Aug) 10 am - 7 pm. Adults 50 NOK, concessions 25 NOK, family ticket 85 NOK.