a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘oslo’

a country for beginners ;)

I’m sitting in the Oslo airport waiting for a British Airways flight to London.  I don’t know yet that this will be one of my most memorable trips to Will and Kate’s hometown.  I’m still drinking a wildly expensive beer and trying to figure out how I feel about Norway.

I had a nice time in Norway.  And even a few small adventures.  Some of the photos are stunning.  There were some lovely moments but my overall feeling is that I am a bit underwhelmed.  As usual, I must analyze this!

What I realized part way through my Norwegian odyssey is that Norway was a bit too easy and familiar for me.  I’d grown up close to the tundra.  I see a protected part of the Pacific Ocean every morning when I wake up from my living room window.  If I walk a couple of blocks outside I can gaze on snow-capped mountains.

looks like norway...

looks like norway…

It’s tough when you live in one of the world’s most beautiful cities – and have grown up in and traversed one of the most physically spectacular countries in the world.  Norway is in that league!  I realized I needed to look at it from a new perspective, not my own, but some random foreign tourist – who had never seen a moose within spitting distance,  who couldn’t wander outside and stick a foot in the Pacific Ocean just for kicks, who didn’t regard the forest as something you lived in…

So… Norway is one of the cleanest, greenest, most spectacular places on the planet.  Norwegians will not hug you or declare themselves your friend after ten minutes of conversation but they are polite and helpful – and, if you meet them once they have a bit of drink in them, very friendly 🙂

cities don't get better than this

cities don’t get better than this

Practically everyone speaks English.  Most places tourists go have great signage.  Not even Oslo is a metropolis so it’s easy to get around, even if you are lost for a short while.  They really seem to have it together and it’s a wonderfully hospitable place where you don’t have to worry about crime or vaccinations.

If you haven’t travelled much and want something foreign – but easy – go to Norway!

If you have travelled a lot and want to maximize your travel dollars in Norway, this is what I would recommend.  Consider the National Day – it will add some local colour to your trip and you will be in shoulder season so costs might be a bit reduced.  The real season is from June to August, though, so research what you want to see as it may not be operational in May or September, even though the weather will be fine.

the infamous scream

the infamous scream

If you want to see “The Scream” or Norway’s maritime history, spend a couple of days in Oslo.  If you just want to see the fjords, fly into Bergen and do some day trips.  If you want to see – and experience – the Arctic, pick up the Hurtigruten ship in Trondheim and sail to Kirkenes.  Take some trains.  The journeys are spectacular and it seems to be one of the most wallet-friendly experiences in Norway.

Most importantly, embrace your inner Norwegian.  Talk to the locals.  Quit worrying about how much everything costs.  And revel in participating in a society that gets so many things right and is a role model for the world.  Sure, wondering if you will get to the airport through the political demonstrations, breathing a sigh of relief when you discover the Khmer Rouge are NOT in the village killing random people or wondering if that hippo you are having a Mexican standoff with is going to charge you make for much better travel stories…

But if you are a beginner, Norway is for you.   Peace Out.  In the home of the Nobel Prize, it has extra layers of meaning 🙂

perhaps all the ice and darkness makes people crazy? ;)

My final two days in Norway were polar opposites.  I realized I should have done more research and booked the morning flight back to Oslo instead of making sure I had plenty of time to get to the airport – and that there might be something interesting to do in Kirkenes.

I never travel on ships so hadn’t realized I would get kicked off early in the morning and wouldn’t just be able to store my luggage and wander around town.  You can buy an airport bus transfer from the ship so that seemed the most sensible route to take.

I did read a really good novel (Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter) and wrote some of the material for this blog but Kirkenes airport is a really boring place to spend a day.

http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Ruins-Novel-Jess-Walter/dp/0061928178

It did make me extra excited to be back in Oslo!  It was pretty late but I caught the penultimate train from the airport to Oslo S (the main train station in the center of town).  It really is the way to go.  Much faster than a taxi at a fraction of the price.  It appeared you might be able to save even more by going on-line and pre-booking your ticket.

It was a bit of a walk to the new hotel but very do-able.  And I was greeted by fireworks!  That always makes one feel special 🙂  This time I stayed at the Grims Grenka, a more typical choice for me.  It’s a chic, modern boutique hotel with a trendy bar and restaurant attached (Madu).  There is also a rooftop deck bar!  It was pretty chilly and not too interesting but at least I saw it 🙂

http://www.firsthotels.no/Vare-Hotell/Hotell-i-Norge/Oslo/First-Hotel-GrimsGrenka/

I think it takes a bit of time to get Norwegians to warm up to strangers so you are not likely to make a lot of new friends on a quick visit.  But there are definitely some interesting Norwegians out there.

I hadn’t planned on making a big day of it – and was enjoying sleeping in a proper bed again – so got a late start.  I would recommend starting earlier but my whirlwind tour of Oslo was a lot of fun.

As already noted, individual tourist attractions are priced quite steeply.  I think the goal is to con tourists into buying a city pass 🙂  If you aren’t up for five museums in one day, it is questionable whether it is a great deal.  You should certainly do the math before signing up.

If you want to hit Bygdoy, the Oslo Pass is good value.  You will need to see at least three museums to really make it worthwhile but there are five worthy of consideration all close to each other and none really require a long visit.  You will also get the ferry ride (stunning on a blue sky day) and a discount at Celcius Kafe, which I discovered on the first visit and was going to check out anyway.

looking for the south pole?

looking for the south pole?

So, to the crazy Norwegians… if you follow my route, you will hit the Fram Museum, the Maritime Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum (I wasn’t planning on hitting so many so just caught the end of the film at the Kon-Tiki useum – plan your schedule to be there by noon).

transport to the south pacific?

transport to the south pacific?

http://www.frammuseum.no/

http://www.marmuseum.no/

http://www.kon-tiki.no/

The adventures of Roland Edmundsen and Thor will blow your mind.  Not too many people decide they should be the first to check out the South Pole (he did plan on being first at the North Pole but some American beat him to it).  You get to see the ship, pretend you are living in the ice at the Antarctic and see all the meticulous preparation that went into making it a success.  Apparently Norwegians also ski with sled dogs – how they beat the Brits this time 🙂

The Kon-Tiki voyage seems even more insane.  Why not sail across the Pacific on a raft made of reeds?  That doesn’t seem hjgh risk, does it?  Especially when you are afraid of water and don’t know how to swim… but they made it!  Again, the details of the adventure are fascinating.

And your next visit to a Tiki bar will be more meaningful 🙂  It was especially cool for me as I HAVE been on a reed boat – Lake Titicaca is mentioned in the museum’s exhibits.  For those unfamiliar with the quest, the goal was to prove a boat made of plant material, rather than wood, was capable of a transcontinental voyage and the South Pacific may have been populated by people from the Inca empire.

To get full value from your pass, finish the day by checking out the real Viking ship at the Viking Ship Museum (also some of the best souvenirs) and the Folk Art and Open Air Museum.  It’s the perfect place to finish as it has the most to see so, depending on how fast you have scurried through everything else, you can linger here a little.

http://www.khm.uio.no/english/visit-us/viking-ship-museum/

http://www.khm.uio.no/english/visit-us/viking-ship-museum/

stave church

stave church

And get some exercise walking to the top of the hill to see the Stave Church.  There are also lots of other interesting old buildings that have been transplanted to the museum to provide a view of Norway a century away or more.  The Norwegians are famous for their folk costumes and handicrafts.  I hadn’t appreciated that there was so much variety.  It’s a bit like Scottish tartans; almost every village seems to have its own take on the national costume.

If you go this year, you will also get to see a great exhibit on the history of Norway and why 1814 matters so much.  Apparently it’s Napoleon’s fault.  He really tried to mess around with Europe.  As usual, the British were fighting with the French and flinging their imperial might around.  So Norway got a chance to break away from Denmark to establish its own constitution, only to have the efforts foiled soon after, as it exchanged a Danish monarch for a Swedish one.

It did manage to break away from absolute monarchy though – and eventually became an independent state in 1905.  I did find it amusing though to see how the monarchy kept sticking around, elected by the people.  Electing a king?  It didn’t seem there was a choice of candidates…

I should note some tips re: directions.  I don’t think Oslo gets a ton of tourists.  The directions I got from hotel staff were vague and not very helpful.  If you are staying at Grims Grenka, do turn right and head for the water.  When you get there though, ignore the signs and don’t assume (as I was told) that the ferry will be obvious.  You will need to turn right and walk through a few other boating options until you see the right sign.  I did manage to identify ALL the ship options that dock in Oslo and got some extra exercise 😉

It is not too far to walk between the Fram Museum and Viking Ship Museum but there will be no signs to guide you.  I think normal tourists don’t do this… I did end up on a local bus, taking me even farther off-route… and saw some lovely residential houses.  It’s a gorgeous neighborhood so, if you have the time, it’s nice to walk.  And there are frequent bus stops… so, be smarter than me and start reading the detailed local maps sooner so your walk will be more focused!

Of course, you can also follow my lead and ask a local for directions J  Definitely follow the signs back to the ferry!  And, if you just miss it (as I did), plop yourself down on the deck and sip a beverage while watching all the sea traffic in the harbour.

Once you’ve used your pass to get a deal on dinner at Celsius Kafe, listen for Irish music across the street.  I think it’s called the Dubliner.  Just listen for the music…  If you are lucky, you will also get to see a great authentic Irish band, which will put a smile on your face.

And possibly you will finally get into several conversations with locals.  The Irish music seems to bring out a gregarious side I hadn’t expected.  You might even have some Norwegian guy seem to feel he can sustain a relationship with you just based on the fact that he loves the Montreal Canadiens – and you are Canadian…

Apparently you have to stay up late – and listen to Irish folk music… but not all Norwegians are reserved… the trip ended on a high note!

 

kids on a rope :)

There is a short list now of places that I absolutely MUST see and it’s one of those wonderfully pleasant dilemmas each year deciding which destination (maybe two if times are flush) will be knocked off the list.

I have had some wonderful adventures by visiting a place at a special moment in its history so I decided to finally see the fjords since 2014 would be Norway’s 200th anniversary.  And I would start in Oslo on May 17th to see the National Day up close and personal.

It’s definitely a worthwhile endeavour.  I think I saw every school child in Norway!  But it may have just been all the children in Oslo.

That is the focus of the day.  There is a children’s parade to the palace where they are greeted by the king and queen of Norway.  I think I saw them waving on the balcony but I was just floating with the experience so I am sure better preparation would have allowed a closer royal sighting.  But I think monarchies in the 21st century are dumb so…

following the locals :)

following the locals 🙂

I was excited to manage to score a good spot for the parade despite not even being clear on where the parade route was.  The hotel staff were vague (I gather no one bothers unless they know kids in the parade).  The tradition is to dress up in traditional costumes so I just followed a group looking as though they had stepped from 19th century Norway out of the hotel until I saw a big crowd, where I parted company with the people in fancy dress in case they were going somewhere the bouncers were checking for embroidery instead of designer threads.

I managed to get a great view of the parade and sported the sunburn for a couple of days to prove it.  (Do recommend a hat if you watch the parade!)  It goes on for a long time.  I can understand Norwegians shunning it after a few years.  But there are lots of small children.  While not every child is in traditional

wave that flag!

wave that flag!

dress, almost everyone looks festive.

It’s a very cool experience as children are inherently entertaining.  But what is also really heartwarming about 21st century Oslo is the inclusiveness of the society.

Sunday is the day to go to the National Gallery.  It’s free!  Free and Norway are not concepts you normally put together … but on Sunday you can see The Scream, antique furniture and thought provoking modern art all for free!

Combined with the parade, it offered some insight into Norwegian culture (the history is still a bit murky – plan is to clear that upon my return to Oslo).  One of the museums proclaimed Norway the “peace nation”.  And this is where you can score a Nobel Peace Prize.

I love nations with a smart agenda.  I had envisioned Norway as one of those countries that was beyond post-modern – a country of the future.  It has not disappointed.  The museums were interesting and provocative (a big emphasis on human rights and free speech) but what was most gratifying to see was the diversity of children included in the National Day parade.

The whole world was represented.  Not only different skin tones but different facial features.  Some wore traditional Norwegian dress, which really warmed my heart.  I think immigration is a total force for good.  But, if you change countries, you should be madly in love with a foreign national or madly in love with what that foreign country represents.  Some countries posit better concepts than others. If you like your own culture, stay put.  Immigration works when people come to a new place for the right reasons.

I haven’t met enough people yet to have a solid prognosis on 21st century Norway.  But I have never seen such a variety of foreign faces in a European country.  And everyone was included – a handicap did not exclude you.  You just had someone pushing your wheelchair.

a rope of the world :)

a rope of the world 🙂

The small children were attached to a rope to deter wandering.  But the diversity of the rope gave one hope for the 21st century.  As does the fresh air.  Go Norway!  I think there is much the rest of the world can learn from these reformed Vikings 😉

 

the land that climate change forgot ;)

I may get better at posting in the moment but I did write this then… and it won`t be relevant again until next May 🙂

Blue, green and clean!  That’s my second impression of Norway.  My first is that I likely should have arrived with a drinking plan 😉  It’s the first time arrivals spills you into a giant duty-free liquor store.  I gather you can stock up until you hit customs.  I’ve been in Sweden so know the pain of ordering a beer but the plan isn’t to sit in my room and drink alone so I’ll just have to cope with sticker shock.

clean green oslo

fresh air personified 🙂

There are a lot more clouds than in Paris but the sun is trying to poke through – and it’s beautiful with all the moody clouds and hints of blue sky.

It is the most expensive taxi ride of my life but hauling my luggage around after shopping in Paris is unpleasant.  Taking a taxi is the “Paris shoe shopping tax.” 🙂  I would definitely recommend packing lighter and do the necessary research to take the airport train to Sentraal Station.

The hotel is delightful – and my best deal so far in Oslo!  I am staying at the Hotel Bristol, one of the Oslo grande dames.  Lots of history, over the top décor and inventive cocktails in the Bristol Grill Bar.  I am drinking a “How I Met Your Mother”.  It’s almost worth the money just watching the production of making it.  Bourbon, maple syrup, chocolate bitters – and cinnamon smoke! (the most fun part to watch)

http://www.thonhotels.com/hotels/countrys/norway/oslo/thon-hotel-bristol1/

I haven’t explored much of the city yet but there are some beautiful historical buildings, mostly repurposed.  It’s a gorgeous day so some nice photos.  I will eventually learn more about what I have photographed 🙂

norwegian blue skies

pretty government 😉

Tomorrow is Norway’s National Day, when Norway got its own constitution in 1814.  Yes, it is the 200th anniversary!

So tomorrow should be exciting – and I should learn something about Norwegian history I can share.  Maybe even why they kick ass at the Winter Olympics despite a population under five million 😉

The weather eventually turned on me but there were many glorious days filled with fluffy clouds, blue skies and the freshest air I’ve breathed in a very long time.  Norway can’t escape the bad habits of the rest of the planet – but it’s a great place to indulge in fantasies that we are not actually destroying the planet in real time…

 

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