Christiania – Scandinavian Travel

After a mild custom-house visitation, not a word being said about passports, we stept ashore in Christiania, Norway, and were piloted by a fellow-passenger to the hotel, where an old friend awaited me. He who had walked with me in the colonnades of Karnak, among the sands of Kam-Ombos, and under the palms of Philae, was there to resume our old companionship on the bleak fields of Norway and on the shores of the Arctic Sea. We at once set about preparing for the journey. First, to the banker’s, who supplied me with a sufficient quantity of small money for the post-stations on the road to Trondjem; then to a seller of “carrioles,” of whom we procured three, at $36 apiece, to be resold to him for $24, at the expiration of two months; and then to supply our-selves with maps, posting-book, hammer, nails, rope, gimlets, and other necessary helps in case of a breakdown. The carriole (“carry-all,” because it only carries one) is the national Norwegian vehicle, and deserves special mention. It resembles a reindeer-pulk, mounted on a pair of wheels, with long, flat, flexible ash shafts, and no springs. The seat, much like the stern of a canoe, and rather narrow for a traveler of large basis, slopes down into a trough for the feet, with a dashboard in front. Your single valise is strapped on a flat board behind, upon which your postillion sits. The whole machine resembles an American sulky in appearance, except that it is springless, and nearly the whole weight is forward of the axle. We also purchased simple and strong harness, which easily accommodates itself to any horse.

Christiania furnishes a remarkable example of the progress which Norway has made under a free Constitution. In its signs of growth and improvement, the city reminds one of an American town. Its population has risen to 40,000, and tho inferior to Gottenburg in its commerce, it is only surpassed by Stockholm in size.* From the little nucleus of the old town, near the watcr, branch off handsome new streets, where you often come suddenly from stately three-story blocks upon the rough rock and meadow land. The broad “Carl-Johansgade,” leading directly to the imposing white front of the Royal Palace, upon an eminence in the rear of the city, is worthy of any European capital. On the old market square is a very handsome market hall of brick, in semi-Byzantine style. The Norwegian Constitution is in almost all respects as free as that of any American State, and it is cheering to see what material well-being and solid progress have followed its adoption.

The environs of Christiania are remarkably beautiful. From the quiet basin of the fjord, which vanishes between blue, interlocking islands to the southward, the land rises gradually on all sides, speckled with smiling country-seats and farm-houses, which trench less and less on the dark evergreen forests as they recede, until the latter keep their old dominion and sweep in unbroken lines to the summits of the mountains on either hand. The ancient citadel of Aggershus, perched upon a rock, commands the approach to the city, fine old linden trees rising above its white walls and tiled roofs; beyond, over the trees of the palace park, in which stand the new museum and university, towers the long palace-front, behind which commences a range of villas and gardens, stretching westward around a deep bight of the fjord, until they reach the new palace of Oscar-hall, on a peninsula facing the city. As we floated over the glassy water, in a skiff, on the afternoon following our arrival, watching the scattered sun-gleams move across the lovely panorama, we found it difficult to believe that we were in the latitude of Greenland. The dark, rich green of the foliage, the balmy odors which filled the air, the deep blue of the distant hills and islands, and the soft, warm colors of the houses, all belonged to the south. Only the air, fresh without being cold, elastic, and exciting, but a delicious opiate, was wholly northern, and when I took a swim under the castle walls, I found that the water was northern, too. It was the height of summer, and the showers of roses in the gardens, the strawberries and cherries in the market, show that the summer’s best gifts are still enjoyed here.