In this final installment, we walk about eight miles down the fjord to Svartskog, in search of Roald Amundsens hjem.
Notes on walking the city of Oslo, part four
The path from Ljabru led to a long beach at Hvervenbukta, and marked the boundary between Oslo kommune and Oppegård commune. There one found a small kiosk, a restaurant, and more of the same attractive unsmiling young women, resting on elbows, warm uncovered breasts pressed against cool weathered granite, living copies of the Gustav Vigeland sculptures in Frogner. From here I chased the slowly falling sun in its arc over the fjord. I needed to get to Svartskog while the bright summer light illuminated the glass of Amundsen’s home. ‘Great men must live in great houses, Leon,’ Amundsen had remarked in The Last Place on Earth, when his brother questioned the rising building costs. The paved trail climbed up from Hvervenbukta and around a small inlet. There began a roadside walk of some dozen kilometers to Svartskog and back.
This narrow road, winding along a pretty series of sandy pine seascapes cut into a granite slope, was called Ingierstrandveien. Many homes, roofed with grass or crooked black slate, had managed, just above the waterline, to construct small areas of patio or dock space in or around the folds of granite outcrop. There were a few more public ‘beaches,’ really only occasional gaps in the pine or level patches of granite. There folk could jump into the water or sunbathe. I passed one called ‘Bestemorstrande,’ the grandmother’s beach.
It was a long walk on a warm day. I ate my lunch and drank all of my water as I walked. Halfway to Svartskog—or about where I thought was halfway—I met an old Norwegian, out to check his mail. I asked if I was on the right course. He looked at my map and told me—if I understood correctly—that when I reached Bekkenstein I was to stay straight, to not stay on the main road. A half hour later, just at Bekkenstein, there was the fork in the road. There was also a sign, on the main road (the first such sign on the entire walk) pointing to “Roald Amundsens hjem.”
The sign led me along the main road, which branched upwards and to the left, away from the fjord. Before long I stopped to reconsider the map, as well as the old man’s words. I turned around and returned to the fork. I was about to lose the sun. Quickly, I threw in my lot with the old local’s directions, and stayed on the straight road. This soon morphed into a dirt road, then a private road, then into someone’s backyard. I was about to turn around again and, in the U.S., I would have, since I was now trespassing.
But this was a country where one’s right to walk anywhere was still nominally protected. As I thought this, I looked down the hill and through the trees. Hard on the fjord, its decorative wood trim unmistakable, was the home of one of the greatest explorers in history. It had been left just as it was when he flew north in 1928 to rescue the Italian airshipman Nobile lost in the Arctic, and met his own death instead.
At the bottom of the hill, a straight path led along the fjord to Amundsen’s front yard. There, one gained a tree-shaded view forty kilometers north toward the center of busy Oslo. Here, Captain Amundsen had silence and solitude and a glass study on the second floor where, on clear summer days, like this one, he would have enjoyed a view of the fjord lasting nearly twenty hours, from first light to dusk.
I stayed only a short while. Workmen were making repairs to the very front steps I had walked all the way from Ljabru to photograph. The sun had made its slow northern arc and at this mid-afternoon moment was beating directly on the fjord-facing home. As I took a few photographs, the workmen suddenly removed the tarp and left. I got the image of the steps I had come for.
As I walked back up the hill from Amundsen’s home, through the several private yards that led to the dirt road that led back to the long return walk along Ingierstrandveien, I could not shake the feeling that Amundsen himself was walking with me. Or that he had put it in the minds of those workmen that it was time to wrap up and go home. He had made me work hard for those photographs, and that is what I would have expected of him. When I reached Ingierstrandveien, I was on my own again. I felt Amundsen leave me, felt sure that a paved road would not have interested him all that much.
It took almost two hours to return to Ljan and the regional train station there. I skipped a return all the way to Ljabru. I was tired; not yet old but no longer young. But my sore feet felt lighter, as they did for the rest of the summer.