Chasing Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki Raft

Today (August 7, 2017) marks the 70th anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl’s amazing 4300-mile, 101-day sailing of a balsa wood raft named Kon-Tiki from Peru to an island near Tahiti. And I got to see Kon-Tiki in Oslo recently.

Heyerdahl was a Norwegian anthropologist. He and his wife spent a year living on the island of Fatu Hiva in the South Pacific. They noticed that the ocean waves always struck the eastern shore of the island, which got them wondering if the original inhabitants had settled from the east, not the western lands that were closer. After 11 years of getting no support for his theory, Thor decided the best way was to prove it was possible that prehistoric South Americans could have colonized the Polynesian islands by drifting on ocean currents.

Kon-Tiki raft, Oslo

And the Kon-Tiki raft was born.

Using balsa wood and other indigenous materials from the Peruvian coast, Heyerdahl and a five-person crew built a 40-square foot raft and named it after a “mythical white chieftain.” Not surprisingly, the trip was rather eventful as they survived many storms, sharks, whales, and ambling men overboard. After leaving Peru on April 28, on August 7, 1947 they smashed into a reef on Raroia, an atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago that makes up part of French Polynesia. They had made it!

Heyerdahl went on to write a bestselling book about the expedition, which I eagerly read as a budding marine biologist in my youth. He also produced a documentary film that won an Academy Award. These widely publicized his theory and the adventure, which led to further exploits including sailing a reed raft named Ra from Morocco to Barbados. Ra was also in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.

Kon-Tiki, Oslo

It was thrilling for me to see in person both Ra and Kon-Tiki given they played a role in my youth inspiring me to marine biology. As for Heyerdahl’s theory that the Pacific islands were settled by drifting South Americans, that idea has never really gained favor. More recent studies relying on DNA and genome identification show clearly that the dominant genetic make up is Polynesian, meaning that the prevalent idea that Heyerdahl was trying to disprove is probably the right one after all.

David J. Kent is an avid traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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A Visit to the Bergen Aquarium

On the far west coast of Norway is the city of Bergen, home of the Akvariet i Bergen, the Bergen Aquarium. The aquarium is surprisingly good, and definitely worth the visit.

Most people arrive in Bergen at the end of a long train line extending through the mountains and fjords from Oslo, but you can also arrive by ship or its well-traveled airport. After arrival you’ll want to take the funicular up Mount Floyen for a bird’s eye view.

Bergen, Norway

Though seemingly small, Bergen actually is a fair sized city of over 275,000 people, so you might want to take a taxi or bike out to the end of the Nordnes peninsula, though it is walkable on a nice day. Your first site upon entering the aquarium is an open air seal show and some of the nicest Gentoo penguins you’re ever going to meet.

The aquarium has the usual array of tropical fish and seaside habitats. What makes it unique is its displays of North Sea and coldwater species. I was particularly drawn to the wolffish, whose huge teeth and massive jaws are perfect for its normal diet of hardshell molluscs (whelks,  cockles), sea clams, crustaceans, and echinoderms (like starfish and sea urchins). Wolffish also carry a natural antifreeze to keep their flood flowing in their frigid environment.

Bergen, Norway Aqarium

At less than 30-feet long, Bergen has the shortest underwater tunnel I’ve ever seen in a public aquarium. A quick glimpse at the handful of sharks, rays, and tropicals and you’re done. They make up for it by having an extensive collection of Nile crocodiles, caiman, and iguanas.

While I admit my expectations were low, I found the Bergen Aquarium to far exceed what I had anticipated. The aquarium was considered the largest and most modern aquarium in northern Europe when it opened in 1960. That may or may not still be true depending on what you count as northern Europe, but this is certainly the most northern aquarium I’ve visited (followed closely behind by the Stockholm Aquarium, which I saw on the same trip).

Either way, the Bergen Aquarium is worth seeing. I recommend doing what I did and take the scenic train/boat/train from Oslo through the mountains and fjords.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Science Traveling – Waterfalls (videos)

I love waterfalls, and it seems that during my recent science traveling excursions to Norway, Canada, and Connecticut I saw a lot of waterfalls. So for this edition I thought I would show you some video of a few great falls. Be sure to turn on the volume for your monitor to hear the impressive roar of the water.

Kent Falls: Not surprisingly, these namesake falls are in Kent State Park in Kent, CT. This was a stop coming back from Quebec in early July.

Montmorency Falls: Just above Quebec City is a wonderful surprise. These falls are one and half times the height of Niagara. I wrote more about Montmorency in this previous post.

Kjosfossen Falls: Back in May when we traveled to three Scandinavian countries I saw some amazing waterfalls. This one jumps out at you when traveling the railway through the mountains towards the fjords in central Norway.

Naeroyfjord Falls: As part of the “Norway in a Nutshell” tour, which involves a train, another train, a boat, a bus, and another train as you make your way from Oslo to Bergen (plus another train from Bergen back to Oslo the next day), you spend a few hours in the fjords. There are literally hundreds of waterfalls, and that is not an overstatement. One of the most spectacular is this one as you first turn into Naeroyfjord.

I’ll have more details on these in the future. For now, turn up your sound, go full screen, and enjoy the waterfalls.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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Tesla and Electric Cars in Scandinavia

More and more I see electric cars around the United States, mostly the obvious ones like the Tesla Model S and an occasional plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, plus the obvious non-plug-in hybrids like Toyota Prius. But this pales to the number of electric cars that I saw in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. One reason – access to charging stations.

Tesla car

Elon Musk has been working hard to install charging stations throughout the major driving corridors of the US. The government has not been all that helpful in that regard; in fact, because of oil and auto manufacturer lobbying (and Congress’s inability to function), our government inaction still works against the widespread distribution of electric cars. Europe has taken the opposite approach.

Electric cars in Oslo

In Copenhagen, there were a couple of charging stations right next to the famed city hall. In Stockholm, charging stations were also present, while in Oslo they have put a huge focus on electric vehicles. The photo above shows charging stations lined up and down both sides of the street. Interestingly, this particular spot was up against the old stone fortress walls made so famous in Jo Nesbo books. It shows that the old and new are compatible.

Norway EV Sales

While it was nice to see so many Tesla Model S cars, the predominant electric vehicle (EV) was actually the Nissan Leaf. According to Clean Technica, the Leaf has grabbed a huge lead in market share in Norway. The graphic above shows that Leaf sales made up 55% of the total EV sales in January 2014, almost four times the next electric car (Volkswagen’s e-Up!) and almost five times the Tesla Model S. Fully electric vehicles (EVs) dwarfed the number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in Norway (and in Denmark, where 100% of EVs were full plug-ins). Oddly enough, PHEVs were ahead of full EVs in Sweden, in part because of the popularity of Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV and the lack of availability of the Tesla Model S.

Besides the greater environmental awareness of Scandinavians compared to Americans, drivers in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway already have access to the type of electrical sockets needed for EVs. These countries also offer much better financial incentives to help drivers move away from fossil fuel based engines to more sustainable engine technology.  They have also done a better job at facilitating charging stations, most of which are free to the public.

As you’ll see in that last link, charging stations for EVs and PHEVs are starting to appear in more and more places in the US as well, which should mean faster adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles in the near future. Eventually, all our vehicles may be EVs. That would go a long way to reducing our dependence on oil-based energy and our contributions to man-made climate change.

I’ll have more science traveling updates from Scandinavia, as well as from the Everglades, Yosemite, Argentina, and the other places I’ve visited since I embarked on this new career. Stay tuned (and feel free to wander around previous posts by clicking on “Travel” in the category list below).

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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Scandinavian Surprises

The trip to Scandinavia was, in a word, awesome (a word I rarely use, I assure you). In 10 days we visited Copenhagen, Stockholm, Olso, Bergen, and points in between. I previewed the route in a previous post and I’m working my way through the first 2800 photographs for future posts, so stay tuned for details.

Each city has its own well-known attractions (e.g., Little Mermaid, Royal Palaces, The Scream, etc.) but we ran into a few surprises as well.

spiral tower

For example, in Copenhagen there was the changing of the guard we accidentally stumbled upon, not to mention the replica of Michaelangelo’s David tucked into an out-of-the-way canal-side walkway, and the big band concert and fireworks at Tivoli. There was also the cool spiral tower above, which I’ll have more on later. Oh, and then there is the Copenhagen Marathon, which blocked our route while about 10,000 runners passed in front of us.

Kungstradgarden subway station

In Stockholm there was the unfortunate surprise that we had scheduled our whole day Monday around the mistaken belief that the museums and other attractions would be open, only to find out that most are closed on Mondays. [Tip: Check the tour books before you plan your schedule.] But that was offset by the more pleasant surprises, like the really cool artwork unique to each subway station (and the station agent at Kungstradgarden that let us go down to the platform gratis to take photos like the one above).

Air and Water Gauges

In Oslo I was pleasantly surprised to find the Ra, the papyrus reed raft Thor Heyerdahl traveled in, which was tucked into the lower level of the Kon Tiki Museum. Of course, the Kon Tiki balsa wood raft he used on his first epic voyage was there too. Meanwhile, the scientist in me liked the above stone slabs on the street that gave visual gauges of air and water quality; more on that in the future too.

In Bergen, nothing can beat the impromptu “makeover/fashion show” that emptied off the train onto the platform (complete with loud dance music, TV coverage, and a catwalk).

And then there was the free beer on the Lufthansa flight from Oslo to Frankfurt. I may have a new favorite air carrier (hint to United Airlines). 🙂

Tesla car

Given the success of my Tesla book, there was one more surprise that seemed appropriate – the prevalence of Tesla Model S and other electric cars and charging stations in all three countries.

There is tons more to talk about, which I’ll do in follow up posts complete with photos and videos as soon as I can sort through them.

David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page. Share with your friends using the buttons below.

 

Science Traveling in Scandinavia – The Route

By the time you read this I will be science traveling in Scandinavia. The trip will take us into three countries – Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Somehow I missed these countries during my three years living and working in Brussels, Belgium, so I’m back to fill in the gaps.

Copenhagen

After a quick plane change in Amsterdam, our first stop is Copenhagen, Denmark, home of the iconic harborside houses above. Long besieged by Vikings (at least historically), and despite having huge oil and gas reserves in the North Sea, Denmark is actually leading the way with renewable energy from wind turbines.

Little Mermaid Copenhagen

A few days of exploring Copenhagen and environs and then it’s time to hop a speed train through the Swedish countryside up to Stockholm, Sweden, where we will be obligated to hike up to the Little Mermaid statue. [Note added on 6/2/15: Yes, the Mermaid is still in Copenhagen, not Stockholm. Somehow I got the landmarks jumbled when I wrote this and scheduled it for future posting and I didn’t have access to fix it from the road. Thanks, Betsy, for catching the error.] Like Denmark, Sweden’s history has had a huge historical Viking influence.

Norwegian Fjord

Another train from Stockholm takes us to Oslo, which is the beginning and the end of our Norwegian experience. We’ll spend a couple of days checking out the environs that induced “The Scream,” Edvard Munch’s iconic painting – which are actually four paintings – and we should be able to see at least three of them. We’ll also see, you guessed it, more Viking influence. From Oslo we take a winding train/train/boat/bus/train across the Norwegian interior and through the fjords before reaching the city of Bergen on the western coast. A day later we’re back on the train to Oslo to catch the flight home (via Frankfurt, Germany).

During all of this I’ll have my laptop so that I can be writing up the experiences during the long flights and train rides. As is my usual pattern, I’ll be looking for sciencey stuff along the way (how did those fjords come to be, anyway?). Internet access will be sporadic but I’ll plan to post photos here and on Facebook whenever I get a chance.

Watch this space for more on Scandinavia.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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Scandal in Scandinavia

Next stop on the Science Traveler tour is Scandinavia with its Mermaids, Vikings, and Erotica Museums. Okay, apparently the last one is now closed so I guess we’ll have to find something else to see in Copenhagen.

Scandinavia map

And Copenhagen is indeed the first stop. Some of the details remain to be arranged, but the plan is to fly into Copenhagen and out of Oslo, with stops in Stockholm and Bergen and day trips as we can squeeze them in. The trip is still a couple of months off so plenty of time to twiddle with the particulars. One thing for certain, we’ll be traveling within the three countries by train with a Scandinavia pass, good for all trains between the major and minor cities.

Little Mermaid Copenhagen

“Copenhagen – the little mermaid statue – 2013” by Avda-berlin – Own work

 

Copenhagen (Denmark), of course, is known for its waterfront and the Little Mermaid statue based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale. From what I’ve heard, the Little Mermaid is about as impressive as the Manneken-Pis in Brussels, which is to say, not. Luckily there are other features of Copenhagen like the Stroget pedestrian street, the “alternative lifestyle” area of Christiania, the Amalienborg Palace, Tivoli, and museums.

Stockholm

Stockholm panorama

 

 

After a day side trip to Roskilde, home of Viking ships, the plan is to train to Stockholm (Sweden) and the first of two possible aquariums for the trip. Here there are more museums, the Drottningholm Palace, Gamla Stan (the old town), canals, and various other local attractions on the fourteen islands that make up the city. So what do you think – should we book a tour of the ABBA museum or not?

Oslo Opera House

Oslo Opera House

Oslo (Norway) is the next stop, again by taking the train from Stockholm across Sweden to the Norwegian capital. Oslo gives us the usual royal palace and Viking ship museum, but also the fabulous artwork in the Vigeland Sculpture Park and the ancient Akershus Fortress. There is even a Kon Tiki Museum so I can check out the famous raft by Thor Heyerdahl I read about during my marine biology days. For the writer in me I’ll check out the haunts of Norwegian crime author Jo Nesbo.

Norwegian Fjord

The highlight of highlights on the trip is likely to be Norway in a Nutshell, which is the cute tour name for a convoluted excursion from Oslo to Bergen and back. Starting out by train, we stop halfway and change to the Flam railway that climbs into the mountains of central Norway before dropping us off at the end of the massive Sognefjord, where a ferry scoots through the narrow waterways. Eventually we board a bus to climb the steep roadway back to catch the train again, then on to Bergen on the western coast. A night in the small town and an aquarium before heading back to Oslo for the flights back home.

More still to be done before the trip, plus a few shorter jaunts before then (and another one soon after), so tons of planning to do in the next few weeks. Oh, and somewhere in there I need to write the Edison book I’ve been contracted to write.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.