all about OSLO

Oslo was definitely not on my list of places to see this summer. Given that one of my mom’s best friends is Norwegian, I figured I’d get to Norway eventually – and I’d never heard enough about any of the Scandinavian countries to make me think they were worth prioritizing over others in central, southern, and eastern Europe. (I am generally a fan of places that are warm and sunny.) Nonetheless, just over a week ago when I was searching for airfare to about 20 other European cities, I entered Oslo – and it turned out to be by far the cheapest airfare for this weekend. A group of six of us decided to take advantage of the low rate and go.

Now, normally when I travel I do quite extensive research and preparation. At my most ambitious, I will try to learn some of the language, make a Google map on which I’ve plotted everything I want to see or do, and read at least one travel book’s coverage of the place. I had neither the time nor the resources to do any of that before heading to Oslo, but thanks to the founder of World at Play who now lives in Oslo, I had a suggested three-day itinerary. Another girl got the Rick Steves guide to Norway, and we all contributed to a Google doc of ideas of things to do. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever gone to another country with so little idea of what to expect once I got there!

The trip began for me around 3:40 on Saturday morning. Three of the six of us were on a 7 a.m. flight from Amsterdam, so we met up with a colleague’s friend who was taking a cab to the Amsterdam airport from the Hague. The horizon stayed a lovely shade of pink for the duration of the drive, and we arrived at Schipol around 5:30. In stark contrast to my previous flight on which I’d had two massive checked bags and a carry on, it was lovely to go through the check-in and security process with only a duffel bag. Our flight to Oslo wasn’t full at all; I ended up having the whole row to myself, so I was able to get in a decent nap over the course of the 100-minute flight.

The main Oslo airport is lovely – lots of wood, lots of light, lots of modern-looking lighting and furniture in the cafes. We were also surprised to find a 7-Eleven, which are everywhere in Oslo! Navigating through the airport and into the city was almost too easy – we were able to hop on a train about 30 minutes after landing and enjoyed a 40-minute trip through the Norwegian countryside on the way in to the city. Navigation was even easier once we arrived at the central station; our hotel was located on one of the main streets which runs into the train station, so we only had about a 10-minute walk. We passed all sorts of clothing shops, many of which were playing music into the street so that we had a soundtrack as we walked.

Our hotel (one of the nicest I’ve stayed at in Europe, and a Best Western!) was across from a lovely park with several large fountains and many trees. We grabbed a second round of breakfast from a bakery down the block and then settled down in the grass by a fountain to wait for the next round of arrivals. It was a clear, sunny day and about 78 degrees – such a welcome change from Den Haag! – and there couldn’t have been a better way to pass the time. We watched kids playing in and around the fountain and enjoyed surveying the fashionable Norwegians who passed by. (Rolled up shorts and pants seem to be the fashion trend for men in Oslo.) There was also some sort of protest about Iran starting up across the street, so we had quite a bit to observe while we waited. Here’s a pic of our view from under the trees:

Kelsey arrived around 12:30, and since the remaining two members of the group weren’t due for another couple of hours, we ventured the few blocks south to the harbor, which is yet another lovely area with fountains and statues. The water is a beautiful blue, and lots of sailboats wait to carry visitors around the fjord. We walked up some steps to the nearby hilltop park overlooking the water and took some pictures. Lots of Norwegians were lounging in the sun and drinking beer. We got directions to the nearest grocery store and walked over to pick up some food for a picnic.

Our remaining group members arrived right on time, and the six of us sat down again in the park in front of the hotel to eat the varieties of bread and cheese we’d bought. From there, we set off back to the harbor for a look at the Nobel Peace Center, which is right on the water. On the ground floor, we looked at two photojournalism exhibits about Afghanistan: one highlighting the role of women in Afghan society, and one profiling a unit of U.S. marines. The pictures of the women were both inspiring and depressing; the take-home message was that women are still extremely oppressed in Afghanistan despite some significant improvements in recent years.

On the next floor up, we learned about this year’s three Nobel Peace Price recipients (all women!). I was particularly inspired by the profile of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia. I spent about 10 minutes listening to her acceptance speech, and I need to see if I can track down a copy of it – she had absolutely amazing things to say about the roles of women and education in promoting a more peaceful world.

The last part of the exhibit was really cool: they provided pieces of paper and pencils and asked visitors to write down what they felt were the important ingredients for peace. You then attached your paper to this long spiral and watched it spin its way down to a barrel one floor down. I went to take a look at some of the others after writing my own. They were in all sorts of languages. To me, the most touching said (in Spanish) “make sure every child has enough to eat.”

We spent about 20 minutes looking through the gift shop, which had a number of very interesting books and some creative things, like a beer coozy (sp?!) that said “keep peace cool”. We all contemplated buying shirts that said “Future Nobel Peace Prize Winner”, but at $40 a pop, we decided our money was perhaps better spent elsewhere.
Here I am in front of the Nobel Peace Center:
From there, I led the group on a 20-minute walk towards Frogner Park, home to an incredible series of sculptures and also to what seemed like every resident of Oslo. There were hundreds of people spread out on the various grassy surfaces, and many of them were cooking on makeshift, portable grills! We’ve decided to try to replicate that on the beach here in Den Haag.
Back to the sculptures: the artist, Gustav Vigeland, made some sort of deal with the city and spent a solid amount of his life making the 212 statutes that cover a fraction of this HUGE park.  One in particular has (strangely and inappropriately, in my opinion) become famous and symbolic of Oslo:
Apparently, Vigeland gave the model a piece of chocolate and then took it away. I don’t understand why such a beautiful city has become known for a statue of a little kid throwing a fit! I’m much more a fan of this one (and the many others):
Did I mention that ALL of the statues are naked?
From the park, we made our way back down to the harbor for drinks and dinner. We ended up sitting outside at a place called Beer Palace and bring over take-out pizza from Peppe’s Pizza next door. Both options were delicious, but sadly, my stomach was not as much a fan, and a couple hours later I checked off another item from my general travel bucket list: get sick abroad. I’d never thrown up outside the United States until Saturday!
Fortunately, I had what I think was a fairly mild virus, and although I stayed behind from the group hike and trip to the National Gallery on Sunday, I was able to rally and join everyone again around 5 pm the next day for a walk to the Opera House, which is an amazing piece of architecture and so cool:
This is the view of it from the boat trip we took yesterday. It was built in 2008, and you can walk all over it – we got some great pictures from the roof as well. You can also sit right on the water, and I took that opportunity to dunk my feet in the fjord, which really wasn’t that cold! It’s amazing how even that far north, the water feels about how it would feel at Virginia Beach around this time of year.
I really liked this sculpture that’s about 100 yards away from the opera house:
Apparently, it’s called “She Lie”, and it’s something about a sheep dying? I’m not sure that I see that, but I thought it was pretty cool.
After hanging around the Opera House in the early evening sun (I think we were there until about 7 pm, which in Norway looks like 2 pm), we walked north towards the Grunnerløkka area, which has a very international mix of restaurants. We’d gotten a recommendation for a Spanish tapas place, and I think it may have been the best Spanish food I’ve eaten outside Spain. (My still-recovering stomach thought it was a bit of a bold mood to eat Spanish tortilla, papas bravas, chorizo, and other typical and delicious tapas, but it was totally worth it.)
We wandered back towards our hotel around 10:30. The moon was out but was completely superflous given that the sun was still providing plenty of light. (We’re convinced it doesn’t get truly dark in Norway during the summer – it only gets dim.) We managed to catch the last inning of the Red Sox game at the very conveniently located Boston sports bar right next to our hotel. By midnight, all of us were tired and headed up to get some sleep before our last day.
Here’s our hotel:
On Monday morning, we got up and enjoyed the veritable FEAST laid out by the hotel at its breakfast buffet. They had all sorts of breads, pastries, cheeses, meats, fish, fruit, vegetables… ANYTHING you could want, and plenty of things we couldn’t identify. My stomach was perfectly willing to handle the heart-shaped waffles among the many other things!
Our last activity in Oslo was to take a two-hour cruise around the Oslo fjord. What is a fjord, you ask? We had the same question. Essentially, it’s a valley that was carved out by a glacier and subsequently filled with water. Oslo is built on one, and there are many very charming islands that form “suburbs” of the city on the mainland. We boarded this boat and cruised around with a very funny Norwegian tour guide:
The scenery was incredibly beautiful, and we all decided we needed to save up to buy a summer house on one of the islands. (They’re all painted bright colors and are the picture of tranquility.) It was really hard to imagine the fjord freezing in the winter – apparently people who stay on the island literally ice skate back and forth to the mainland!
We had just enough time to pop into a few souvenir shops before heading back to the hotel, grabbing our stuff, and heading back to the airport. We spent the rest of our time together talking about how awesome Oslo is and wondering why it is that no one in America seems to know or talk about that! It’s like people truly don’t know about it, or there’s a conspiracy to make sure it stays a secret so it doesn’t get too overwhelmed with tourists. Either way: I wouldn’t mind going back! I’d repeat the weekend in a heartbeat, stomach flu and all! I HIGHLY recommend Oslo to anyone reading this.

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