Oslo – Quiet & Contemporary

I’m sure you’ve heard that Norway is expensive. Well, after spending £500 there in just three days, I can confirm that is, indeed, very true. However, there are plenty of free things to do in the capital of Norway.

My first impression of Norway was very positive. We got off the plane to a beautifully clean and efficient airport, which led us to an incredibly quiet and comfortable train ride and the most spotless and empty train station I’ve ever encountered. Yeah, Norway’s cleanliness is impressive.

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We stopped at a 7 Eleven on the way to checking into our accommodation, just to grab a snack and drinks… which introduced us to the sky-high prices of things in Norway. See, I had heard that it’s expensive and whatnot, but our flights to Oslo from London Luton, round trip for two came to a whopping total of £36 altogether. Yep, we got our flights for just £18 each. Our apartment was £80 per night, which I didn’t think was too bad really. But we get to this little corner shop and wham! Here we go, £4 for a bottle of water.

So we got two paninis and two drinks and it was just under £20. I mean, they were great  as far as corner-store-bought paninis go, but when you lived in a city where you can get a skewer of meat for $2.50 (miss you, Halifax)… coughing up that much money for a panini hurts your heart a bit.

Nevertheless, I loved Oslo. I’m not sure what it’s like in the summertime, but in February, it was the quietest city I’ve ever been to. There were hardly any people around at all – my favourite kind of place.

Our apartment was a lovely little one bedroom place with the tiniest stove, oven, and dishwasher I’ve ever seen. Which was all we needed for our weekend away, so it was great. It was located just next to the Royal Palace, just a four minute walk from the train station.

We wandered over to check out the park/Royal Palace just as the sun was starting to set.

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Little back story of the statue shown above… It dates back to 1875, and depicts King Karl Johan, who was actually born in France as Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the son of a lawyer.

Our guide the next day told us that when Sweden needed a new crown prince in 1810, a number of Swedes decided to offer the position to one of Napoleon’s marshals. Essentially, they said, ‘Hey Napoleon, we need a king. You know anyone?’ and Napoleon said, ‘Sure, I know a guy’ and sent them Jean. Or Karl. Whatever.

So, he was elected the crown prince of Sweden in 1810, then King of Sweden and Norway in 1818 when the two nations were united. It was he who decided a royal residence should be built in Oslo, although the Royal Palace was not completed until after his death. The equestrian statue overlooks the street named in his honour, when Norway was ruled by a Swedish king. From France.

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Heading down to the waterfront with the beautiful sunset ahead was a very good start to the trip. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen such pretty colours in the sky, but they always put a smile on my face and remind me to slow down and appreciate what’s around me.

So we stumbled upon this artificial tree (sounds lame, I know. When you picture Norway you don’t exactly envision fake trees). It constantly changed colours and was a bit mesmerizing combined with the picturesque sky as a backdrop.

We stood here for a little while, watching the sunset before continuing our meander through Aker Brygge, a former shipyard turned pedestrian area packed with restaurants, shops and apartments. Along the waterfront here there are tonnes of new, modern looking buildings with a few old shipyard buildings scattered throughout. This was the busiest area we went to, and even then, I wouldn’t refer to it as busy.

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We walked past these little floating saunas, which I had read about before our trip; people love to jump into the fjord and warm back up in the sauna. After seeing the partially frozen over canal by the tree, I can’t imagine enjoying such an activity. But there were quite a few people who seemed to be loving it.

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We carried on up the hill to the Akershus Festrung; AKA the fortress. It’s free to walk around here, but there is a fee to enter the museum, which was closed when we got there in the evening anyway. There’s a nice view of Aker Brygge from the fortress walls.

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And here’s the fortress on a foggy day from the marina… 20200207_120545-PANO

We headed back down to Aker Brygge to check out the traditional Norwegian restaurant, Rorbua Aker Brygge. It’s a cozy place with plenty of dishes to choose from – we went with the game stew, and the Taste of Norway – skewers with deer, beef, reindeer, and whale.

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This was my first time ever trying whale, and although I didn’t really know what to expect, I wasn’t really expecting it to be the way it was… I guess, in my head I had thought it would be a bit chewy, fatty, probably fishy… but instead, it was more like a meatball. A soft, non-seafood-y tasting meat. Oddly enough, it tastes more like its land-dwelling cousins rather than its neighbouring fishy friends. But then again, it is a mammal, so why did I expect seafood?

Anywho, it was all pretty tasty and came to about £85 for the two mains and two beers for us.

We went for another wander the next morning, after cooking breakfast at the apartment, through Karl Johan’s Gate, the main street and shopping area in Oslo. This area is home to the National Theatre, Spikersuppa Ice Skating Rink, and Norwegian Parliament. We strolled past shops to the Oslo Cathedral, then headed to the Viking Biking shop.

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Spikersuppa outdoor skating rink
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Parliament Building
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Oslo Domkirke – Oslo Cathedral, 17th Century church

With the Oslo Pass, you get a 30% discount off of Viking Biking tours, so we thought, why not? and signed ourselves up for a three hour guided bike tour of the city. Our guide was Costa Rican, and took us around to the marina at Aker Brygge, then City Hall, the Royal Palace, through the streets pointing out the wooden houses which survived the massive fire in the 1600s, to Vigeland Sculpture Park, then to a cafe to warm up with some delicious cinnamon buns and pastries, then back down to the waterfront, and back to the shop.

I was a little bit disappointed as I thought we were going to be stopping at the Opera House, and we cycled very, very slowly through a lot of it. But it was nice to have a guide tell us some interesting facts and get out and about in the city.

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The tour took us to City Hall (Rådhuset), where our guide told us it was voted both the best and worst looking building in the same year. It may seem pretty plain at first, but once inside, you’ll find the largest oil painting in Europe. This is also where the Nobel Peace Prize is handed out every year in December.

Every hour you can hear the 49 bells playing a different tune, everything from classical to recent pop songs.

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We stopped at Vigeland Sculpture park, the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland, where our guide told us that it consists of 212 sculptures over an 850-metre axis. This is a very unique park, in that it shows naked human figures in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and situations… We were told it explores human life and form at its purest.

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At first glance, I thought, ‘This is a bit creepy, sad maybe… just downright weird.’ But after she explained it to us a bit, and I spent some time taking in the sculptures, I started to understand. The monolith depicts the struggle of life; with everyone fighting to make it to the top, with the youngest people at the top and the older ones supporting them.

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Then when you get to the bridge, you see varying situations and emotions… from a man fighting with four babies to a toddler having a tantrum.

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At least these strange sculptures you can sorta make sense of… unlike those weird giant babies with barcodes for faces in Prague.

After our biking, we headed up to Frognersteren, where the famous Korketrekkeren is. It was a bit later in the afternoon, around 3:30 or so, but we thought it’d be great to get a couple runs in. We arrived at the sled rental place and were warned that the conditions weren’t great; there was a fair amount of ice on the track and it was quite foggy as well, and hadn’t snowed in a little while.

Nevertheless, we were there, we had to give it a go.

And my, what fun we had!

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The first 100m of the track was pure ice. There are no brakes, no steering, just you on a sled with some reins to hang onto and your feet to use for pathetic attempts at braking. Little bit scary for that first stretch, but exhilarating and just a load of fun the rest of the time. Luckily we basically had the track to ourselves, only spotting another 3 or 4 people our whole time there. The best part? The subway is right at the end of the track to take you right back up to the top of the track to start again.

It’s also this subway which takes you to Oslo Vinterpark – the ski hill. So you’ll spot not only sledders with their sleds on the subway, but all sorts of skiers and snowboarders with their gear…

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The sled rental place closed at 6 so we sadly had to give up our childish fun earlier than we would’ve liked. But it was a fantastic way to spend my birthday; a bit more exciting than the sledding parties I used to have as a kid on my birthday!

We went to Den Glade Gris for supper that evening; another traditional Norwegian place. We both ordered the daily chef’s special, but I had the pork knuckle and he chose the pork neck. It started with smoked whale, which I have to say was better than the version of whale I had the night before.

The pork knuckle was just a ridiculous amount of meat, most of which went to my boyfriend’s plate since I just couldn’t eat that much food. Then for dessert, white chocolate with espresso and bacon. It was all quite delicious and I highly recommend if you ever find yourself in Oslo.

On Saturday, we had booked a fjord cruise which left at 10:30am, and was packed. This was the one and only place where we saw a big crowd, and certainly the only place people were bumping into one another. But I mean, we were on a boat, there’s only so much space. It was all good.

It was a bit chilly, but they have a bar with hot drinks for purchase and there’s plenty of blankets free to borrow for the sail. I was a bit underwhelmed with the cruise, however. I would have to say (maybe unconsciously biased) that Nova Scotia’s coasts are just as pretty, if not prettier. But Oslo Fjord is not one of those super majestic ones you see in travel magazines or on social media – next time, I’ll be Bergen bound.

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It was a bit foggy when we were out on the water as well, but I personally think it would’ve been just as good to go on the ferry to Bygdoy. And the ferries are included on the public transport tickets.

We did go by Oslo’s first airport (the red building pictured below), for seaplanes only, as well as Heggholmen Lighthouse, established in 1872.

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Bygdoy is the museum area, with the first three as soon as you step off the boat – the Fram Museum, Norwegian Maritime Museum, and the Kon Tiki Museum. We had the Oslo Pass which gave us free entry into all these museums, so we ended up checking them all out just because we had the pass. Otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have bothered with them since I’m not a huge museum person.

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As soon as we stepped off the boat, I noticed a formation of rocks near the edge of the water… I thought, wow, that looks like an Inukshuk. Weird. Then we walked toward the Fram Museum, closer to the rocks, and I thought, that is an Inukshuk! What the hell?

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Confused, but strapped for time, I shook the puzzling mystery off and headed to the first museum, the Fram – Museum of Polar Exploration. Inside the Fram Museum are two huge ships. One, the Fram, the other, the Gjoa. We started to make our way through the exhibit, reading all about the Gjoa’s story and the journey to be the first ship to sail through the entire Northwest Passage. About halfway around the exhibit, I noticed an enclosed glass case with a Mountie uniform inside. Again, I thought, what the hell??

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So I skipped past a bunch of info boards, too curious about the RCMP outfit on display in some random museum in Norway to really care about the Gjoa anymore. Then I find a whole section about the ship being stationed on King William Island in Nunavut.

So the story goes, Roald Amundsen was the first to transit the Northwest Passage, in 1906. He was able to do this with a lot of very generous help from the local Inuit people at Gjoa Haven, the English name for the place in Nunavut where he docked the ship for two years while waiting to be able to make the trip through the passage. The name honours the Norwegian explorer, who called this place ‘the finest little harbour in the world’, where he was taught Arctic survival techniques including how to dress properly, hunting, fishing, and tool making.

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The Mountie uniform is part of a display about the St. Roch, an RCMP schooner which was the first vessel to complete a voyage through the Northwest Passage from west to east, and also the first vessel to make a return trip through the Northwest Passage, plus the first to navigate the passage in a single season.

The display even mentioned Halifax, NS… How strange to have a direct connection to home in Oslo! But it’s mentioned because the St. Roch was the first vessel to circumnavigate North America, from Halifax to Vancouver via the Panama Canal.

I just love stumbling on these random connections to home when I’m out traveling.

So our next stop after the Fram Museum was the Kon-Tiki Museum, telling the tale of the 1947 journey by raft from South America to the Polynesian Islands, led by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. He believed that people from South America could’ve traveled to and settled Polynesia.

He presented this theory to a group of American anthropologists in the spring of 1946, but they turned him down, with one of them saying “Sure, see how far you get yourself sailing from Peru to the South Pacific on a balsa raft!”

And so, he did. He and a small team went to Peru and built a raft of balsa wood and other materials in an indigenous style, and sailed the Pacific Ocean, proving his theory true.

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The last museum we went to was a maritime museum, which I didn’t have the energy to fully read and absorb after already visiting two museums immediately before it… So basically all I got out of it was that this is the oldest boat in Norway, dating back to 200BC.

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Bygdoy may look like an island, but it’s actually a peninsula. So, we took the cruise there, and got the bus back to the city centre. We took a walk along the Akerselva River up to Mathallen, a food court of sorts, where we got some street food and these delicious little pies for dessert.

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Mathallen is a busy spot, with plenty of options to choose from for food. It’s a lovely walk along the river too, where you’ll find waterfalls just outside of Mathallen.

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We walked back down the river to Schous Brewery, where I’d read there was a cool little microbrewery in the basement of the old brewery (Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri). I’d also read that it was a bit hard to find, so naturally, I had to find it myself. So we put it in Google maps, went in through a main gate to get around the back area of the brewery along with back entrances to multiple restaurants/take-out places, and couldn’t find it.

We decided to head back out the main gate to where the front of the brewery is, when I noticed one of those old school cellar door entrances… You know, the basically horizontal doors with a set of stairs leading to a dark, creepy gateway to Lord knows what.

So I peeked down and spotted a door open just a smidge with a sign stuck on it reading, ‘Please close doors behind you’. Excited about finding this “super hard to find entrance”, I said, ‘Oh wow, this is the coolest hidden bar entry I’ve ever seen!’ and descended the three creaky old wooden stairs. With a big, stupid grin on my face, I slowly opened the door and stuck my head inside… just to find a bustling kitchen for some sort of restaurant, then yelped and ran back up the stairs cursing, to my boyfriend pissing himself laughing at my foolishness.

I’m sure the chefs in the kitchen were nearly as shocked to see my face as I was theirs, but it’s their own fault. Somebody should’ve read the sign and actually closed the door behind them.

Anywho, feeling defeated, I thought I’d Google it just once more before giving up. So I got out my phone, then looked up to see what signs were around me, and immediately spotted this.

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Yes, I somehow managed to miss this brightly lit doorway and decided to go snooping around a random cellar door instead. Not my finest moment.

Alas, we made it. And it was well worth it once we got inside, where we found this very chilled out bartender in an underground microbrewery full of delicious beers and various board games free to play. It has a bit of a Game of Thrones vibe to it, with a cozy, quiet atmosphere.

Mind you, we paid £9 for 2/3 of a pint of beer… but that’s Norway for you. If you’re looking to save money in Oslo, my best advice is to stay sober.

Our last stop was the Opera House, climbing to the top to get the views over the city, then passing by the SALT area on our way back to our Airbnb. The Oslo Opera House is the home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, inaugurated in 2008 on the waterfront in the Bjørvika area. It was made to resemble an iceberg, with much of the building positioned in or under the sea.

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SALT is a nomadic art project, bringing together art, music, food, and saunas. We passed by this place around 9pm and found their 80-person sauna nearly full of people. Apparently in February, it is the place to be on a Saturday night.

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While food and drink are expensive, there’s a surprising amount of free things to do in Oslo. We missed out on checking out the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, and never made it to Grünerløkka, the ‘Soho of Oslo’ district. But, as always, I managed to cram a lot into just a few days, and loved every bit of my time in Oslo.

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