At the Norwegian Folk Museum: The Last “Quirky” Museum Blog

In finishing up my series of blogs on “quirky” museums, I happened upon two more collections that caught my attention during my travels, both contained within the open-air Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo.

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The first collection contained an assortment of wine bottles – shelf after shelf of neatly-organized, color-coordinated, nicely-labeled bottles of wine. A history of The Wine Monopoly of 1922 was presented, which was a government-owned company, and the only Norwegian alcoholic beverage retailer allowed to sell drinks with an alcohol content of higher than 4.7%.

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The second collection was in the Norwegian Pharmacy Museum, which displayed shelf after shelf of apothecary-related items, and covered the history of pharmacies in Norway from 1595 to the 20th century.

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I actually also saw a similar museum, the German Pharmacy Museum, located in the Castle of Heidelberg, which had over 20,000 objects celebrating the 2,000 year-old history of the pharmacy and medicinal sciences. All quite, quite fascinating!

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I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed discovering quirky museums during my travels. I mean, after all, where else would I have…

…learned that Baltic Amber, the “Gold of the North,” is petrified resin and sap from deciduous trees, that grew in Northern Europe over 30 to 90 million years ago…

…experienced “the souls of church bells,” where some believe that church bells have souls that are transmitted through their materials…and I believe through their sounds…

…realized that shoes are more than just footwear to protect our feet – they are social indicators, telling of taste, style, prestige, personality, and that “shoes have the power, the vanity, and the magic“…

…researched that coats of arms were used for visual identification, could signify heraldic achievement, or were designed to convey feelings of power and strength…and discovered that the dragon is a symbol for “a valiant defender of treasure“…

…found out about the “facts and history of porcelain in Riga, Latvia,” including that porcelain is made by heating raw materials in a kiln with extremely hot temperatures between 2,192 and 2,552 F…

…been brought back to my childhood while looking at all kinds of games and dolls and stuffed animals and toys, including the art form of paper dolls, as “I remembered playing with those toys“…

…seen three decades-old Latvian fire engines, and thought about fire safety, including the “stop, drop and roll” technique…

…calculated approximately 704 gallons of liquid contained in thousands upon thousands of mini bottles, and had the attitude of “a half-full bottle“…

And where else would I have seen on display over 250 color varieties of amber; a few dozen of the 500 church bells in all of Estonia; 330 pairs of shoes and boots; coats of arms that were 100’s of years old; 6,000 pieces of porcelain; paper dolls dating back to the 1880’s up till the 1970’s; a Latvian fire station build around 1911; and 12,500 mini bottles, but all in quirky museums?

In defining the word “quirky” some synonyms are “original, individual, unusual, eccentric, peculiar, and idiosyncratic.” I really thought that each and every one of these museums was also fascinating, educational, interesting, unique, and truly a lot of fun!

I recommend all these, and any other quirky museums you might encounter in your travels! In fact, if you have any you have visited that you would like to share, feel free to write a comment about them.

Sweet (and Quirky) Travels!

All photos by Debby (except German Pharmacy Museum postcard photo)

Coats of Arms in Latvia and Estonia: A Valiant Defender of Treasure

On the battlefields of medieval times, when Knights in Europe were heavily clothed in metal suits of armour and closed helmets, some sort of quick visual identification was needed during battle. As a matter of survival, the Knights needed to wear marks or symbols on the arms of their armour. Some of these symbols were also embroidered on the arms of the Knight’s surcoats, long and flowing garments that were worn over their armour. Hence, “coats of arms.”

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Historically, some form of coats of arms used for military purposes can be dated back to early man, including Greek and African warriors. These people painted their wooden shields with symbols of their heritage.

But the coats of arms of the medieval times of Europe developed into more than just a military ID badge. They grew to represent many things, and just like the number on your Driver’s License, they became unique to each person, or to a family, or even to an entire region. These emblems, used by several social classes, could signify heraldic achievement, or were designed to convey feelings of power and strength.

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To see the grandeur of these insignias today, after having survived for hundreds of years, is quite extraordinary. I happened upon two unique collections of coats of arms in a couple of churches in Europe. These “quirky” museums were in the St. Peter’s Church of Riga, Latvia and the Tallinn Dome Church of Tallinn, Estonia.

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Both of these collections displayed coats of arms that were actually used as epitaphs, a way to preserve the memory of the deceased. The Latvian collection had wooden epitaph coats of arms from the 18th century, with quite colorful baroque and rococo-style wood carvings. The Estonian collection had some very large coats of arms that were eight and a half feet in length, the oldest dating back to 1586. These were painted with heraldic colors, decorated with lush and luxurious ornamentation, and accented with leaf gold and silver, the combination of which resulted in a mother-of-pearl-like glitter.

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Because the coats of arms were decorated with various pictures, I did a bit of research to find out some of their meanings. For example, birds: an eagle may represent a person of noble nature, or one who is high-spirited; a peacock, beauty, power and knowledge; and a dove, loving constancy and peace. Animals: a lion can symbolize courage; a dragon, a valiant defender of treasure; and a bear, strength, cunning and ferocity in the protection of one’s kindred. Flowers: a rose can characterize hope and joy; a primrose brings good tidings; and a carnation, admiration.

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And then certain objects also have significance. Antlers stand for strength and fortitude; a castle for safety; and musical pipes, festivity and rejoicing. A wavy line denotes the sea or water; an indented line is for fire; and an engrailed line, for the earth or land. Even the colors have meaning: gold, generosity; blue, truth and loyalty; and silver, peace and sincerity.

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If I could design my own coat of arms, I think it should at least contain a yellow sunflower, which to me represents bright sunshine, the outdoors, strength and happiness.

Sweet Travels!

General historical information about coats of arms from wikipedia

and from

Meaning of pictures on coats of arms from Fleur-de-lis Designs

Latvian and Estonian information from the church’s brochures:

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Latvian Fire Fighting Museum: Stop, Drop and Roll

Curious about fire engines and fire hoses and fire alarm devices? Interested in fire fighting services and fire fighting equipment and techniques? Want to learn about some causes of fires, or educate yourself on fire safety? Want to know about the history of fire fighting? And how about all this when you travel to the country of Latvia?

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Then next time you are in Riga, please visit The Latvian Fire Fighting Museum. Located in a fire station built around 1911, using an Art Nouveau architectural style, this “quirky” museum presents history and objects of fire fighting in Latvia. From 1912 to 1944, a unit of the Riga City Fire Fighters Division used the building where the museum is currently located. And today, the State Fire and Rescue Service of Latvia still occupies part of the building.

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The museum presents the fascinating history of Latvian fire fighting, from 1864 to 1940, as well as more recent history of Latvia’s State Fire and Rescue Service. The museum demonstrates fire techniques used, including hand pumps and steam pumps and engine pumps. For viewing are some cool-looking fire engines from the “Chevrolet-Sux” 1930’s production line. Fire fighters’ helmets, tools, uniforms, fire alarm devices, hoses, nozzles, awards, medals, photographs, documents, flags and other objects are exhibited, as well as data about some causes of fires and the resulting damage.

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Unfortunately, when I went to visit this museum, just like my attempt to visit The Mini Bottle Gallery in Oslo, Norway, Riga’s Fire Fighting Museum was closed. (I really must plan some things better when I travel.) But, at least I was able to see the architectural style of the building, three cool-looking decades-old fire engines through the windows, and what looks to be some type of pump (probably the hand-type) displayed on the outside of the museum.

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Per the State Fire and Rescue Service’s website, I must say that I like this about the museum: “The Latvian Fire Fighting Museum has an important role in the education of the young generation in the area of health and life protection. In the exhibition children can adopt basic knowledge about the fire safety regulations, on behavior in case of a fire, and how to protect themselves and others in extreme situations.”

As a child, I certainly remember learning how to “stop, drop and roll…”

Sweet (and safe) Travels!

Facts, history and quotes complements of the “State Fire and Rescue Services of Latvia” website.

Mini Bottle Gallery in Oslo: A Half-Full Bottle

Continuing on with my series of blogs on “quirky” museums, there is one such museum that was unfortunately closed on the day I went to visit. I wish I had researched their open times better when planning my trip to the Baltic Sea. Alas, I will need to travel there again someday, but at least I was able to get pictures through the windows, and their website contains a wealth of information about them.

The Mini Bottle Gallery in Oslo, Norway has a collection of 53,000 mini bottles. You know, like those little bottles of alcohol that you might purchase on an airplane. The Gallery’s website states that “of the museum’s 53,000 bottles in total, 12,500 are displayed in over 50 unique installations. And 40,500 small bottles are strictly monitored in the bottle vault.”

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At approximately 1.7 ounces of liquid per mini bottle (at least that is what you are served on an airplane), that would be a total of 90,100 ounces of something to drink in these bottles in this gallery. That is equivalent to 11,263 cups or 704 gallons! (The accountant in me had to figure this out.) Now that’s a lot of bottles, and a lot of liquid! And, I’m pretty sure that drinking from any of these bottles is not allowed.

It was all these bottles that I really wanted to see the day I tried to go to the museum. But, in peeking through the windows, I at least got a taste of what was displayed inside. (Pun intended.)

From their website in doing my research for this blog, I found out though that the gallery is much more than just a museum. They have the facilities to host a variety of parties and celebrations, business lunches and conferences, and other events. They have two bars and four function rooms, including “The Liqueur Room,” “The Banqueting Hall,” “The Beer Hall,” and “The Mini Bar.”

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The gallery can even help you out with finding entertainment for your soiree, such as clowns or comedians, and even DJ’s and live bands and dancing. And it looks like they even assist with the invitations, and serve all kinds of tasty-looking food.

Christian Ringnes Jr., also known as “The Mini Bottle King,” is the founder of this gallery/museum/fun place. When he was 7 years old, Christian’s father gave him a “half-empty” bottle as a gift. (For positivity, I’d rather say a “half-full” bottle.) It was then that Christian began collecting the miniature bottles that would someday become the center of his fine establishment.

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Christian’s great-great-grandfather also influenced his interest in bottles, as he was the one who founded the honored Ringnes Brewery in 1877, which is now part of the Danish brewing giant Carlsberg.

The next time I get to Oslo, I will really need to pick a day when this gallery is open to the public, which is the weekends. Or, if I had known, I could have booked a private viewing. Or perhaps, I could someday hold an event there, as it sounds quite fun. (Not sure, though, how many of my friends would travel all the way to Oslo just for a party…)

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I have several questions about this place that I would ask during my future visit. Is there only alcohol in all those bottles, or is there some other kind of beverage? Does Oslo have earthquakes, and if so, are all the bottles somehow secured down? And, why are most of the bottles in the Mini Bottle Gallery in a strictly monitored vault?

Sweet Travels!

Please read my other “quirky” museum blogs:
The Toy Museum in Helsinki, Finland
“The Shoe Museum” in Stockholm, Sweden
The Riga Porcelain Museum

Facts and History of Porcelain in Riga, Latvia

Located in the heart of Riga, Latvia’s city-center is one of the most elegant “quirky” museums that I have walked into during my travels. With more than 6000 faience (earthenware decorated with opaque colored glazes) and porcelain articles, The Riga Porcelain Museum is a definite must-see if you are ever in this city.

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This museum contains the largest collection of local industrially manufactured porcelain, with objects dating back to the mid-19th century through the end of the 20th century. Displayed are a mix of some pieces that have been mass-produced, while others are one-of-a-kind works of art.

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The porcelain in the museum originates from the Riga Porcelain Factory, which is a combined effort of the two oldest porcelain factories in Riga. The oldest and largest of these dates back to 1841, and was founded by a Russian entrepreneur Sidor Kuznetsov. The second factory was founded in 1886 by German entrepreneur Jacob Jessen. For almost 80 years, these two factories worked side-by-side until 1963 when they were united to be the renamed Riga Porcelain Factory.

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The main components of porcelain are white clay, kaolin, quartz and feldspar, although there are other materials that can be used. Porcelain is made by heating these raw materials in a kiln to temperatures between 2,192 F and 2,552 F. (Now that’s hot!)

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Porcelain can informally be referred to as “china” because it is believed that China was the birth place of porcelain making. Dating back to the Shang Dynasty about 1600 BCE (now that’s old!), the first proto porcelain wares existed. High firing glazed ceramic wares were developed by the Eastern Han Dynasty about 100-200 BCE. And “porcelain manufactured during the Tang Dynasty period (618-906) were exported to the Islamic world where it was highly prized.”

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During my wandering around the various rooms of the museum, I saw objects from glorious vases to figurines of people and animals. There were many items that you would find in kitchens and dining areas, such as dishes and bowls; tea cups and saucers; tea, sugar (a dream – pun intended) and coffee pitchers; and entire dinner sets. All this and more in so many various sizes, shapes, colors, designs, patterns, styles, paintings, and motifs.

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I truly loved this museum’s beauty! I think I will bring out my fine china to use for dinner tonight…

Sweet Travels!

Facts and history about porcelain courtesy of the Riga Porcelain Museum and Wikipedia.