Recently we spent the weekend in Oslo which is a 1 hour 45 minute flight from London, although it feels a world away. This was our first foray into the Schengen Area and is unlikely to be our last. I’m no romantic but I can confirm love at first sight is possible with places. Oslo impressed me from the onset and I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with the clean, quiet and stunningly beautiful city. Cheese factor was high there!
In all seriousness though, Richard and I both felt like there was a lot to like about Oslo. We were warned that it is very expensive there which turned out to be generally true. If you keep an eye out though, you can find good deals for accommodation. Our hotel, The Comfort Grand Central, was reasonably priced and nice. It had high ceilings with a mildly industrial feel about it. The room was sparsely furnished in a sleek and totally Scandinavian way. Our taste in interior design leans towards the simplistic functionality of Scandinavia that often comes with a splash of something unusual so this place suited us well. In our room the quirky piece was a funky mirror.
I previously wrote about how clean and quiet Geneva was, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that Oslo is on a whole new level of clean and quiet! It’s less dusty than Geneva with even cleaner streets. The quietness is in part due to the much smaller population; Olso only has 618,000 people! The other factor would be use of electric trams throughout the city and a fair number of hybrid/fully electric vehicles on the road. Even the buses, which were not electric, were very quiet; sounding like a slightly large Prius.
The northern hemisphere is well into autumn now and it was evident in Oslo with brilliant shades of yellow and orange everywhere. During our second day the sky was bright blue and cloudless which made the autumn colours pop with the vibrancy of spring. New Zealand has a wonderful array of ever-green trees which means that we don’t see autumn quite so vividly. It felt like a movie when we were walking around on a carpet of amber with yellow confetti falling on us. I’ve never felt fonder of autumn!
In order to enjoy as much scenery as possible, we went to Palace Park. This is the garden surrounding King Oscar’s palace. In the early 1800’s there were 2000 trees planted in the area although many have since died or been removed. Most of the trees in the park today were part of the original set of planted trees which is pretty cool. There are a couple of small lakes filled with ducks making it an idyllic and peaceful area to walk in. We were cold but content.
During our first afternoon in Oslo, we made our way to Oslo harbour. The winds chilled us with unexpected efficiency making me very much regret leaving my gloves at the hotel. It’s a great harbour space however, with water features, plenty of statues and even an old castle. We walked past Akershus Castle and Fortress which was partly functional with a bona fide horse paddock. You can’t reach over to pet the horses though so I satisfied myself with taking a photo with a sculpture of one instead.
That Saturday night was the RWC game between the All Black’s and Springboks so we attempted to find an Irish pub which apparently was playing the game. This pub turned out to be a bit of a phantom and we were unable to find a place so we returned to the hotel room and tensely followed online commentary. Satisfied with the win, we were able to seek dinner. Despite a small population, the night life in central Oslo is bustling. We were unable to get a table at the restaurant we originally went to so decided to try the tapas restaurant next door. Schiller’s Tapas turned out to be an excellent choice! The menu was written in a combination of Norwegian and Spanish so we didn’t understand much at all. Using our powers of deduction and some help from Google translate we were able to order an indulgent dinner which included scampi (which I’m told were delicious), Iberico steak and meatballs. We intended to go for a walk and admire the city at night but it was raining when we finished dinner so it was a quick stop at a convenient store for water before going back to the hotel. We both slept incredibly well that night from a combination of a long day and the quiet darkness Oslo offered. Richard woke up before me and said I was stirring a lot less than I usually would in the early morning which I take as a sign of a great rest.
Sunday dawned spectacularly with clear blue skies and only the merest wisp of clouds in the sky. Our accommodation included breakfast that we thoroughly enjoyed. Traditionally the food in Norway tends to be cold for breakfast and lunch. This means cold meats, cheese and bread. Due to the chilly environment there is a prevalence of pickles and other preserved foods that are also served cold. The breakfast on offer included plenty of these foods, and slices of cucumber and tomato. It also had a great cereal bar where you can fill you bowl with a combination of grains, nuts, dried fruit and seeds before dousing it in either milk or yoghurt. They had these chewy coconut cubes which were so delicious!
Across the road from our hotel room is the opera building which is a fantastic example of Scandinavian architecture. It’s free to walk along the sides of the building and around to the very top at any time. It was another chilly day and the sea breeze added significant wind chill factor, but it was still great fun. We liked it so much we returned in the evening to get photos of it at sunset. There happened to be a show on as well so it was beautifully lit up inside.
One of the most popular attractions in Oslo is the open air Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History). From our visit I can tell you that it would be very easy to spend an entire day there because it is such an expansive area with so many interesting things to see. The best thing about the museum for me was how interactive it was. We entered an “old town” which had a collection of homes and shops laid out like a proper town would have been. You could go inside almost all of the buildings and see bedrooms, kitchens and even climb up to attic spaces. It was a more immersive experience than I have come to expect with museums and I found it much more effective at keeping crowds engaged.
The icing on the cake in the old town was a candy store which actually sold candy! It blended in completely with the rest of the town and only when you went inside did you see a man standing behind the counter dishing out candy into little paper bags. We got a selection of hard boiled lollies and I also tried some liquorice. It was the best liquorice I have ever had! That’s understandable given where in the world I was, but I was still surprised at the toffee-like taste and chewy but not stuck-in-your-teeth-forever texture.
Another part of the museum we found interesting was a collection of early Nordic homes. They were built from logs and propped up to protect them (and the inhabitants) from wet frosty ground. The shape was wide at the top and narrow at the bottom which made it seem crazy that they were stable enough to live in. They were clearly an early engineering win!
There were so many of the homes along with paddocks for livestock, it was easy to feel as though you had really stepped into the past.
The livestock in question was indoors due to the cooler weather. There is a special kind of smell that city folk are not used to when you walk into a barn full of animals. I’d like to say that after a couple of minutes I got used to and all was well but that would be a lie. I enjoyed seeing the animals because they were adorable, but I was also happy to high tail it out of there once we had seen them all.
The other museum we were able to visit was the Fram Polarship Museum. Its two buildings sat nestled in a cul-de-sac with two other museums so you could also make a day of that area too. The Fram museum was a lesson in early Artic exploration from the area. Two large ships built for early exploration were brought to the site and the museum buildings built around it. When I discovered this, it certainly solved the mystery of how they got the ships in there when they spanned the entire length and height of the buildings.
Just like at the Norsk Folkemuseum, we were able to go onto and inside the ship. I’ve never been a fan of boats or spending extended periods of time on the ocean so this is probably about as close as I’ll ever get to it. The doorways were narrow and everything on a slight lean to match the bowed shape of the ship. There were dining quarters and entertainment areas for the crew along with their individual rooms which still had name plates on them. It was mildly enchanting to imagine a crew living on board and setting off into the unknown for research. The reality however, was harsh as a great many travellers perished on such journeys and even for those who made it home again, the conditions were hardly idyllic. I take my hypothetical hat off to these Artic explorers.
Our last proper meal in Oslo was a pleasant casual affair at a café near our hotel. The food was good and we were satisfied after all the excitement of the museums. We indulged in dessert of the “national cake of Norway” or verdens beste. I was so glad we tried it because it’s wonderful! Some have even made claims that it is the best cake in the world. I won’t be so bold but I would highly recommend it. It’s nothing too difficult or ground breaking actually, just good ideas put together well – how Scandinavian! In brief it is a sponge topped with baked meringue and almonds. The magic is in the fact that you take two slices of the cake and sandwich them together with vanilla cream in the middle. So you have crispy meringue and almonds on the top and bottom with soft sponge and cream inside – deilig (delicious)! I’ve since resolved to attempt it at home some time. When I do, I’ll be sure to share it with you all!
Visiting a place like Oslo makes you consider what it is they are doing right to create such a wonderful place. From our all too brief stay there, something I noticed was the presence of art and sculptures everywhere. There is a lot to be said about people being happier when their surroundings are pleasant and it is something I believe Oslo does exceptionally well. We took plenty of photos with statues which were dotted around the city, not just in locations designated for art. Coupled with other factors such as less air and noise pollution, all the art installations helped create an atmosphere of cultural refinement. When you see things that please the eye, it’s hard not to feel cheerful inside!
It was with reluctance that Richard and I headed to the airport and back to London. We definitely want to return to Norway and explore more of what it has to offer. I mentioned in my previous post about our significant delay returning home from Geneva. Unfortunately we were also delayed returning from Oslo with our flight finally leaving about an hour later than planned. While the journey home was exhausting again, we both made it to work the following day and it hasn’t marred our fondness for travelling! We are both super excited for our next trip to the (hopefully) warmer city of Madrid so look out for the next post!