Oslo (1 – 3 April 2012)

We arrived in Oslo two hours late, due to Iceland Air waiting for a late running Seattle flight, which rather put a dent in the schedule. Still, it was nice to see blue skies again after Iceland.

Our first taste of the city confirmed why it is ranked as the most expensive city in the world, just a return train ticket from the airport in Oslo centre cost £70 for us both.

We quickly found a luggage locker, and headed to Akershus Slott (Castle) on the bay. The first castle here was built in the early 13th century as a military fortress.  This housed the Danish/Norwegian royal family for many years during summer visits.  It has never been taken by force, but was occupied by Nazi Germany when it surrendered without combat at the beginning of World War II due to the Norwegian government evacuating Oslo. It had also been used as a prison in late 18th / early 19th century.   It fell into disrepair and some of it burnt down, but is now restored and still used today for some state events and is also home to the mausoleum of the Norwegian royal family. Interestingly a portion of the castle has been replicated in the Norway pavilion in Epcot, Walt Disney World.  Walking to and from the castle we admired some of the Oslo architecture, especially the fantastic Opera building.

We then had a somewhat overpriced dinner (nice fish soup though and Greg enjoyed his salmon) at Cafe Albertine (now called Albert Bistro) and headed back to the main train station. We retrieved our luggage and tackled the metro; 25 mins on the tube and about 10 stops later we got out near to our hotel, the Holmenkollen Park Hotel Rica. Quite a nice journey really, with good views all the way as we climb upwards. We are staying on a hill overlooking Oslo, at a hotel used for the winter Olympics and next to a famous ski jump. We also have a local troll (Kollentrollet)! The hotel won the World Traveller award for best hotel in Norway last year. Unfortunately it happens to be 10mins walk from the metro stop – all steeply uphill! With the luggage this was a big of a struggle, though the slog was rewarded with a fantastic view at the top of the bay and the city.

The hotel used to be a sanatorium and the original hotel remains though it’s been sympathetically added to several times now. It’s a pretty grand place, though there don’t seem to be many guests here at present. Our room is really very comfortable, and the hotel has a small spa, so we enjoyed a short swim, hot tub and sauna before bed.

It’s another early start (by my standards) tomorrow, as it’s going to be a busy day.

We started both the next days with breakfast at the hotel, which was possibly the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever had. Freshly squeezed orange juice (from that machine where you can see the oranges), wonderful breads, cold meats and cheeses, omelettes made to order, two types of boiled egg (5 and 8 mins), three types of salmon and more!

We then walked down to the metro, and headed into town.  First stop was a famous Oslo park, Vigeland Park. When I arrived I discovered it was famous for it’s nude statues – probably more than I’ve ever seen in one place before (including the statue museums of Florence) – literally over a hundred of them!  A very extensive collection, in particular in that it covered people of all ages and shapes, and the life work of sculptor Gustav Vigeland (who also designed the Nobel peace medal).  I could easily have spent half a day here, wandering around taking it all in.  Both wonderfully eclectic and matter-of-fact at the same time.  Not quite something I can imagine in the UK, but it seems to suit Oslo and Norway.

Two aspects worthy of particular note.  First, the central monolith is not a normal statue, so much as an interesting mix of bodies.  Hard to describe – you probably have to see it. Second, just below the statues there was a fantastic exercise class taking place, for Mums. This is the first class I’ve seen which used prams as exercise equipment – for running with and stretching!

After the statues we visited the Oslo domikirke (cathedral).  It’s reasonably impressive – certainly colourful – but fairly small and didn’t take much time to wander round.  From there we hit the waterfront, and took a 1.5hr journey on an old fashioned ship round the harbour.  This provided plenty of photo opportunities and a great different perspective of the city.  The wind was cold, but the sun was out and there was a beautiful bright blue sky.  Even bluer when I used my camera’s polarising filter 🙂

From the waterfront it’s also a quick boat ride to the peninsula of museums – Bygdøy.  We started with the Fram Museum.  This tells the story of the explorer ship Fram ; which took Amundsen to the south pole (just before Scott) in 1911.  The actual ship is the centerpiece of the museum, surrounded on three levels with a wealth of information giving the historical and social context, including details on the crew, the climate that they faced, the ship itself, the scientific knowledge gained, comparisons with Scott’s expedition, etc.  The story is told  that Amundsen reached the pole first, and left two letters.  One was to the King of Norway, and the second was to Scott asking him to deliver the first. The whole museum reminds me of the S.S. Great Britain in Bristol, and this is as least as well done as with more information it’s easier to understand how impressive the undertaking was.

Two other museums were ok, but nothing special: The Kon Tiki Museum, founded by Thor Heyerdahl and the Viking Longship Museum, with some of the few remaining Viking artefacts including three longboats.  Much more impressive was the cultural museum, which took up most of the second day.  This consists of various buildings of different ages from throughout Norway, which have all been relocated from their original sites to here. Hence you can explore such a variety as – a 1200 Stave church, a 1400 storage loft, 18th and 19th century town houses, and an apartment block built in 1865.  The apartment block is especially impressive as about 8 of the flats have been furnished to represent different inhabitants; e.g. A 80s student bedsit, a 2002 Pakistani family, a 1950 cleaning lady, a 60s teenager and an architect.  In the basement is a small museum showcasing the evolution of household technology over the last century.  Often the same devices from different ages are shown in a set; such as coffee machines or toasters over the decades.

Whilst wandering around we passed two great looking toy shops.  One had the most amazing window displays, for dolls houses, Playmobile, Sylvanians, etc.  The other had a very wide range of games, especially board games (more than our local Area51).  Very little old architecture that we noticed in Oslo compared with other European capitals; though some great new stuff.

In terms of general impressions of Norway; clean, efficient, expensive.  Travel was very effective – our Oslo pass covered all the metro trips – which proved to be very reliable for us – as well as the boats (and museum entry).  In fact the smooth trains reminded us somewhat of the Japanese Shinkansen.  Food was pricey – a restaurant burger cost £20 (McDonalds looked like a burger was £10).  Other than breakfast none of the meals were particularly memorable.  Weather has been good – cold winds, but lots of bright sun and blue skies.

We had to get up very early (6am) on our last day, and managed to persuade the hotel to let us into the breakfast buffet a little early (as they were setting up), so that we could leave in time to catch our flight.  The airport was good; less than 5 min wait at security, easy self-service baggage check and free wifi.

So, we now fly to city number four… Copenhagen!

To see photos from Oslo see my photo journals.


1 thought on “Oslo (1 – 3 April 2012)

  1. Pingback: Reykjavik (March 29-31) Part3 | The 40 Project

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