Impressions of Oslo

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Impressions of Oslo

During November 2010 I was in the fortunate position to accompany my husband on a business trip to Oslo, Norway for a week. During November Oslo is not exactly a good time for a tourist but for a perpetual traveller, any time is a good time.

We flew via Frankfurt, arriving at a temperature of 14°C, quite manageable, but 1:35 hours later we landed in Oslo, quite a different story at 1°C, with a thin layer of fresh snow everywhere and a row of 14 snow mobiles scurrying like ants all over the runway. Gardermoen International Airport is a small, modern structure consisting of mainly light wood and glass and clean lines, one of the design features Scandinavian countries are renowned for.

The quickest, albeit not the cheapest way to travel from the airport to the Oslo city centre, approximately 46 kilometres from the airport, is the speed train or Flytoget. There are two main stations in Oslo, the Central Station and the National Theatre and from either of these the public transport system branches out all over Oslo by way of the Jernbane (Normal Train / Railway), T-Bane (Tunnelbane / Metro), Trikk (Tramway), Hovedbusslinjer & Buss (Main & City bus services) or the Ferger (Ferries). Thus, similar to most other European cities an extensive public transport system.

We stayed at the Gabelhus (Clarion Collection / Comfort Hotels) situated in Skillebekk, approximately 2km from the National Theatre. Skillebekk and the hotel are described in the Eyewitness Travel guide on Norway as ‘The ivy covered Gabelhus is located in an exclusive residential area with beautiful townhouses (3-story apartment type buildings) embassies, high-class restaurants and cafés all within walking distance. Thoroughly renovated in 2004, it is now a stylish and charming 114 room boutique hotel that combines modern Scandinavian design with traditional architectural features.’

We had a rather spacious and comfortable corner room with door and balcony overlooking a quiet street and big bathroom (shower in bath) overlooking a courtyard. The room rate included:

  • Full breakfast
  • All day tea / coffee station
  • Waffles between 15-18:00 every day
  • A light dinner between 18-21:00 (Note: We found it to be much more substantial than expected but subsequently discovered it was basically the same every evening and since we stayed for 8 nights, it became a bit monotonous)
  • Free internet access
  • Access to sauna / steam room

It is often said that Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in Europe and after having sandwiches and coffee / juice on our first day in Oslo we experienced just that. Once again, as is often the case in Europe, I noticed beautiful bakeries with tasty wholesome and fresh items on offer every day. On this note I have to mention that the majority of Norwegians are in very good shape and some of the locals told us that most lead a very simple life, mostly eating healthy, fresh and wholesome food and lead quite active lifestyles. Oslo is a rather small city and nature is literally on their doorstep, with Oslo surrounded by water (Oslofjorden) and mountains. Thus in summer they enjoy activities on the water and hiking in the forests surrounding Oslo and in winter they enjoy skiing and other winter activities.

They enjoy a lot of fish, mostly herring and salmon, together with a wide variety of cheese and vegetables and fruit. We have seen very little in terms of red meat; their meat and fish is usually cured and they do enjoy sushi. Although one spots the usual suspect such as McDonalds and Burger King, the Norwegians does not seem to be very fond of fast food.

Together with the above the air is clean, the water from the tap perfectly fine to drink, smoking is prohibited in all public places (other than special smoking rooms) and they have very strict laws on alcohol and zero tolerance on drinking and driving. All wine and spirits are only sold in special state monopoly outlets which are very few and far between (I saw 2 outlets for the duration of our stay). Furthermore, the city of Oslo gets a thumbs up for cleanliness.

On the sightseeing side, we managed to experience a variety of the well known touristy ‘things to do’.

On Sunday we decided to do the mini cruise from the Radhuset (City Hall) to Bygdoy via the new Oslo Opera house. As with many opera houses all over the world, this one is built by the water (reclaimed land), actually partly in the water. A very impressive modern structure with one side sloping into the water of the Oslofjorden.

The opera house (finished in 2007) is open to the public at no cost and it is possible to walk from the water’s edge, right up and over the roof of the opera house, affording you great views of the city and the Oslofjorden. It is interesting to note that the opera house was designed with different finishes of marble & granite to allow skaters to have rideable surfaces.

The inside has a wide open, light foyer area with light wood panelling, a truly beautiful space. On the spur of the moment we acquired two tickets for Händel’s Messiah for Sunday evening. Turned out to be a worthwhile performance presented by the Norwegian Opera & Ballet with the Opera choir, the Opera orchestra accompanied by local soloists. The inside of the main hall is beautiful with great acoustics.

International Travel

Slottet (Royal Palace)

In between the sightseeing there is always time for shopping. Although Oslo is known to be expensive, I did spot some reasonably priced items of clothing in well known and lesser known fashion outlets. I have also noticed though that there is a large number of boutiques, totally unfamiliar to me and mostly at prices way above my budget. The main shopping area is between the National theatre and the Slottet (The Royal Palace) on the one side and the Stortinget (Norwegian Parliament) and the central station on the other side. The street in between is known as Karl Johans Gate, the busiest area in Oslo, lined with shops, an area used for parades or a skating rink in winter. It is in this area where I spotted a red sports top / jacket on a less 40% rail. Unfortunately it was placed there by mistake but the owner of the store honoured this and sold it at the discounted price, thus my bargain buy in Norway.

International Travel

Aker Brygge

Another popular area for shopping and restaurants is the waterfront development close to the city hall called Aker Brygge. The Aker Brygge area used to be the old ship yard. The area is being developed to consist of offices, beautiful apartments, shops and restaurants with stunning views of the Oslofjorden and the Akeshus Slott (fortress) dating from the 17th century and played quite an important role in Norwegian history during the second World War when the Norwegian army managed to keep the Germans at bay for 62 days before German forces occupied Norway on 9 April 1940. The Aker Brygge development is a fine example of blending old with new into a highly popular inner city development.

The entire city is filled with sculptures and statues around most corners, which for me is a special feature and led to many Kodak moments. It is definitely worthwhile to visit Frogner Parken, including Vigelands Parken. Other than it being a big and beautiful space, it is unique in the sense that it is filled with 212 sculptures of Gustav Vigeland, depicting humanity in all possible forms.

The park is easily accessible with public transport and is great for a day out, especially in summer, great for dogs (and I witnessed owners picking up after their dogs) and great for running. For me, being a runner, a sizable park in a foreign city is always a plus. This park compares well with other big city parks such as Hyde Park, Central Park, etc.

One specific challenge is to run and spend time outdoors in sub zero temperatures, especially being used to sunny South Africa. I had to learn quickly how to run on frozen pavements; I experienced a number of heart stopping, tap dancing moments just to stay on my feet! I also went for a run past the Bislett Stadium, a small (15 400 capacity) but highly rated stadium for winter sport (then) (figure and speed skating) as well as summer track and field meetings such as the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) Golden / Diamond League and football (now). The stadium is situated just a short distance from the city centre, easily accessible and the entire track is visible from the surrounding streets and an interesting fact: there is an indoor running track beneath the stands for warming up or indoor workouts during cold weather.

I pushed the boundaries even further by deciding to run to Holmenkollen Ski Jump from our hotel one morning, approximately 6km, mostly uphill. At some point I thought I am never going to reach it and then, a last corner and I was there. A stunning view over Oslo and the Oslofjorden in spite of the gloomy weather. The ski jump is impressive from afar and even more so up close. For me quite unthinkable that people can actually ski down it! I was rather disappointed though that it is currently closed due to construction and the rebuilding of the national arena in preparation for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships scheduled to take place at Holmenkollen from 22 February – 6 March 2011. Note that I arrived at Holmenkollen at -7°C just after 11:00 and with a 10 – 20 cm layer of snow, but this is definitely being captured in my running log as a highlight for 2010.

International Travel

Holmenkollen Ski Jump

With very few people around to ask, very little knowledge of Nordic and the people around with very little knowledge of English it took some time and travel by bus and T-Bahn back to the National Theatre and back to our hotel to enjoy a steamy hot bath. I am grateful to the woman from Chile, who, according to my understanding has been working in Oslo for the past 20 years, new very little English, but took it upon herself to personally take me from the bus to the T-Bahn.

We went back to Holmenkollen a few days later whilst it was snowing, some of the first snow of the season. We had a lovely meal at one of the restaurants overlooking the valley, the local favourite being apple tart with cream together with hot chocolate. According to the locals the winter lasts approximately a month longer in this area compared to Oslo city centre.

Wednesday was museum day and -4°C. We are not very fond of museums and limited ourselves to 3 that were rather unique to Norway. We visited the Viking ship, Kon-tiki and Folk museums, all in a area called Bygdøy & Bygdøynes, an area some 4–6 km’s from city centre, situated on a peninsula in the Oslofjorden. The Viking ship museum consists of three Viking ships all discovered in the Oslofjorden. Two of the three ships are very well preserved and it is unthinkable  how the Vikings used and survived on these ships during those times and in the extreme cold without any shelter. The ships are complimented by a variety of other items from the Viking era.

Next was the Kon-tiki museum, which depicts the planning and execution of Thor Heyerdahl and his crew with their expedition sailing across the Pacific on a balsa raft, followed by a next expedition across the Atlantic on a papyrus boat. The museum also contains archaeological finds from his expeditions to Easter Island and Peru.

Our third and final stop was the Norsk Folk museum, depicting life in Norway from 1500 to the present. The museum includes the biggest open air museum in Europe with over 150 structures including life on farms, examples of fishing villages, at the fjords and town buildings. The annual Christmas market in December held at the museum is a highlight. Unfortunately we were a week too early to experience this.

One evening we had dinner with our Norwegian business hosts at Bølgen & Moi. It was an excellent meal and although pricy, it is recommended. The restaurant is named after the well known restaurateurs Toralf Bølgen & Trond Moi and features international cuisine.

We had the opportunity to enjoy gløgg, very similar to the better known gluwein. Gløgg is a popular drink at Christmas time, a spicy sweet warm drink consisting of red wine with cinnamon, ginger & cloves. For our main course we had the catch of the day which was grilled halibut, a firm white fish with an ultra-low fat content. It is important to note that Atlantic halibut is on the endangered species list due to overfishing; only halibut from the Pacific should be on menus.

Last but not least: We experienced our first de-icing & anti-icing process before our plane departed. They use specific fluids together with heat and the hydraulic force of the spray to de-ice, therefore the removal of any existing ice plus anti-icing, thus some of the fluid remains on the surface to delay the formation of ice. Quite complicated and time is of the essence. This process is done within 15 minutes from take off.

And so….a week has flown by and we hear the announcement: Sit back, relax and enjoy your flight!

PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS
•    Clean
•    Norwegians generally polite & friendly
•    Residents of Oslo love their dogs
•    Pedestrians have right of way
•    Fresh waffles with berry compote and cream
•    Fresh bread
•    Fresh snow even if November is not the best tourist month
•    Public transport
•    No road rage
•    Most people in great shape
•    Norwegian in many ways close to Afrikaans, although pronunciation is very different
•    English is widely spoken in city, less on outskirts
•    Statues and sculptures everywhere
•    Drink water from tap
•    The thermometer in the window of our hotel room
•    Electric cars

THINGS TO BUY
•    Ski gear, wide variety
•    Norwegian chocolate
•    Norwegian knitted brands such as Dale of Norway and Oleana – one of the few remaining textile factories in Norway that both knits and sews in its own factory

TRAVEL TIPS
•    Be prepared for the weather. During our visit it got light after 8:00 and is dark by 16:00
•    The most well known highlights of Norway are fjords, midnight sun and northern lights, and if you do not plan your trip it is possible to miss all of these
•    Excursions rather expensive
•    The closest proper fjord to Oslo with high cliffs etc. is actually a few hours from Oslo, the Oslofjorden is just flat and offers much more during the summer
•    Invest in a guide book on Norway
•    Similar to most European countries obtaining local currency (traveller’s cheques, changing cash (Euro’s, US Dollars) or withdrawing local currency from auto teller / mini banks are easily accessible
•    City Bikes (Oslo Bysykkel) – Bikes available from over 100 bike stations in and around the city centre. You need an electronic smartcard to use the bikes. The bikes are available from 06:00-24:00 but the bike stations close in winter
•    Public transport. Note that the bus driver only sells single tickets and at a higher price. It is best to buy your tickets at a Narvesen or 7-Eleven or at a subway station at a discounted rate – tickets available: single, 24 hour, 7 days, 30 days or Oslo Pass

COST
At time of travel the exchange rate was on average
NOK 1 (Norwegian Kroner) = R1.20 (South African Rand) = €0.12 (Euro)

NOK per person
Flytoget / speed train (airport to city centre) 170
Bus (airport to city centre) 140
Train (airport to city centre) 110
Single T-bane / trikk / bus trip (ticket valid for 1 hour) 26
24 hour pass (unlimited travel on T-bane / trikk / bus 70
Hotel (per room) based on BAR rates (best available rate) 1 000 – 1 850
Cup of coffee 35
Waffle with berries and cream 25
Sandwich 60
Ceasar salad 160
Main course (at upmarket restaurant) 260
Mini cruise (Oslofjorden) 170
Vikingship museum 60
Kon-tiki museum 60
Folk museum 75
Norway in a nutshell (round trip from Oslo to Fram, Aurlandsfjord & Nærøyfjord, Gudvangen, Bergen – 24 hours with combination of train, bus and boat) 2 635

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