1,000 Days in the Ice

Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen was a pioneer of polar exploration.

Out in the cold fjord, on a spit of rocky land just a short ferry ride from the city center, Oslo has created a kind of national cemetery for famous ships. It's a Norwegian thing—what other country would build public crypts around its most beloved boats and enshrine them for the ages? Out here on the Bygdøy Peninsula, visitors can spend days rambling through splendid museums that house ancient Viking longships, 19th-century fishing vessels, even Thor Heyerdahl's famed balsa wood raft, the Kon-Tiki.

But the most striking of Oslo's nautical temples is a pointy glass-and-metal structure that rises from the waterline in the shape of an enormous letter A. Inside, basking in the filtered light, sleeps a sturdy wooden schooner, built in 1892, called the Fram.

Fram (which means "forward") is perhaps the most famous ship in Norway's long seafaring history, and an icon of polar exploration. Nothing about this fat-bellied ark would begin to suggest the grueling odysseys it has endured. The story of the Fram is a modern Norse saga, a story of unimaginable hardship and intelligent striving that is closely tied to Norwegian national identity. The boat itself is an engineering marvel—its reinforced hull having withstood three years gripped by Arctic ice. True to its assertive, full-frontal name, Fram bored farther into the frozen latitudes than any vessel had before.

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