Moin moin meine Lieben!
My Scandinavian adventure began with Norway’s capital city, Oslo. I lugged my suitcase (I’ll master the art of packing lightly another time. I tried, honest. Snow boots take up a lot of room!) on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn from my flat to the airport, and was about to head to check-in when I heard a familiar voice call my name. I turned around and there was a friend of mine, Maxim, who is the younger brother of Victor, who I was in 6th Form with at school. They live an hour or so from Hamburg, in Schleswig-Holstein, and it was a wonderful surprise to see him! Fortunately for him he was heading down to warmer climes, namely Spain, while I had my heavy winter coat and scarf on and was headed northwards.
I tweeted that the Scandinavians were easy to spot waiting at the gate at the airport, and I stick by it- they’re sleek, smart and very chic. And mostly blonde. As the rest of my trip also proved, their English is excellent, it’s really quite embarrassing for everyone else.
Norwegian Air call themselves one of the youngest and greenest fleets in Europe, but for a relative youngster in the airline sense, I have never known such geriatric boarding, if you will, and this particular group of passengers certainly takes the cake on that one. They may be beautiful but they’re not fast movers.
The passengers on board were an eclectic mix, and it never gets any less disconcerting when the woman one seat away from you crosses herself and prays repeatedly before and during take-off, approach and landing. The same woman also tried to make a call during the flight (thank you iPhone for creating a screen so large that you can spy on your fellow passengers), but I’m assuming she didn’t get through to ‘Mama’.
At this point I wrote in the notes on my iPad ‘Scandinavians are TALL,’ so that deserves a mention here.
It took little over an hour to reach Oslo, and it didn’t stop raining from the moment I touched down on Friday afternoon until I left on Sunday morning. I know I’m British and therefore rain is practically in my blood, but when you’re trying to see a new city it really puts a dampener on things.
Getting to the city centre from the airport could not have been easier, as Flytoget offers a 19 minute express train service to the central station.
All you need to do is buy a ticket (Norway uses NOK, the Norwegian Krone) at an orange machine once you’ve collected your bag, you can’t miss the machines, when I say orange I mean ORANGE, and head down to the platform, it’s that simple!
I was staying at Citybox Oslo in Prinsens gate, which is just off the square outside the central station in the Christiania district, so in terms of location I would definitely recommend it. It was a staff-less hotel (really, you even check in at a machine), and when they say ‘box’, they really mean it. My room was small but perfectly formed with a gorgeous little bathroom with a heated floor (which I have decided is the way forward), and having only opened last year, the hotel/hostel is still in beautiful condition.
When I ventured outside I noticed that Citybox is situated right next to a sex shop. Read into that what you will, but I took it as a potential reason for the low prices I managed to find!
Prinsens gate itself is home to many little coffee shops, interior design boutiques, and the closer you get to the yellow-brick parliament with its rounded front and arched windows (Stortinget) and the Royal Palace (Slottet), you find designer stores including the Italian label Bottega Veneta.
I managed to find the tourist information centre, which is located very centrally right by the parliamentary building, and just behind the imposing dark red City Hall (Rådhus).
It’s located in Fridtjof Nansens plass but is moving closer to the station later this year. They offer a 20% student discount on the Oslo Pass (which gives you free public transport and entry into some museums/attractions for 24, 48 or 72 hours) at the centre with a valid ISIC card. The man who helped me there was Norwegian but spoke English with a very strong Welsh accent, which was quite surreal!
One of the brilliant things about exploring a new place is you never really know what’s behind the next corner, and walking round the front of the Rådhus, I spotted Akershus Fortress (Akershus Festning) overlooking the water.
Akershus Festning is quite eerie, and a guard is always on patrol by the main castle, which is a very interesting building clearly displaying different styles of build and colour of materials used in rebuilds and redesigns over the years.
From its walls you can see right across the North Sea. This is certainly one of the most attractive aspects of Oslo; you’re never far away from water, which makes it quite a peaceful place to be.
Walking down from Akershus Festning along the coastline, the architecture slowly becomes much more modern. Military presence is clear around the fortress & there were more people in uniform than civvies. But once you get to the bottom of Rådhusgata, you can see water again in the old harbour area of Bjørvika, and rounding the corner is one of Oslo’s newest postcard images, the Opera (Operahuset). It even allows you to walk on its roof, which affords great views across the sea, and also of Oslo itself.
Behind the Operahuset and lining the railway tracks leading up to the central station are a number of skyscrapers known as the Barcode, and looking at them it’s clear to see why.
If you’re in Oslo for shopping purposes, then I strongly suggest popping to Karl Johans gate, which runs parallel to Prinsens gate, and is the equivalent of the high street, where you can find many staples of European fashion, namely H&M, Monki, Weekday and Zara.
Having accidentally found a lot of the areas I had planned to see on Saturday, I was able to start the day in a much more leisurely way, which meant grabbing a hot chocolate and raisin pastry from Stockfleth’s, a small cafe also on Prinsens gate, for breakfast. This is one of the most endearing aspects of Oslo, it has a great coffee shop culture, and that was where most of the Norwegians, and no doubt tourists like me, could be found on the Saturday.
I then walked up Karl Johans gate until I found what I was looking for: the Royal Palace (Slottet). A great tip if you’re looking for the most beautiful, or equally unconventional, aspects of a city to visit is to have a look at Pinterest. When I pinned a photo of Oslo to my ‘places I’m going soon’ board, it was a picture of the palace at the end of a street, and there I stood at the end of Karl Johans gate, next to Stortinget, looking at the same view of that picture I pinned in early January.
Having walked up to it for a closer look, I then made my way to the bus stop to find bus 30, which takes you out directly to Museum Island. There was only one thing I wanted to see here, namely the Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskiphuset), which was absolutely worth the 20-minute bus journey from central Oslo.
There are three ships on display, two of which are beautifully restored as much as they could be, as well as artefacts found with the ships when they were excavated and the skeletons of people who were buried on them.
Having finished out in Museum Island, I caught the number 30 back to the city and then got on a tram! Tram 12 is known as the ‘sightseeing tram’ in Oslo, and takes you out into the more residential parts of the capital. I read the Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s article for the Telegraph on places to go in his home city, and the district of Grünerløkka was high on the list. With its corner shops, Irish pub and coloured buildings, I can see why he recommended it; it felt like actual Oslo, not the tourist-website image which is conveyed to travellers.
Around this time, I wrote in the notes on my phone: ‘it’s not unusual to see people walking around carrying skis and ice hockey sticks. Standard procedure.’ Sorry for the interruption, but in hindsight it’s a valid point.
Almost on the opposite end of Tram 12’s line is Vigelandsparken, a sculpture installation created by Gustav Vigeland within Frogner Park. Although the rain persisted and I had an equally persistent headache for most of my time in the Norwegian capital, it was still beautiful to see, and photos will follow when I get my camera back (it’s currently in my suitcase. In Copenhagen.)
For now you get the sign:
Due to my headache I unfortunately didn’t make it to the Munch Museum (Munchmuseet) to see The Scream, but that leaves something for my next visit! I headed back to Citybox and tried to sleep off my headache, ready for my journey to Stockholm the next day!
Getting back to the airport with the Flytoget train was as easy as ever, and once there it was equally slow boarding as it had been before. If you’re of a sensitive disposition, then you may want to avert your eyes for the next few lines, but there was also a woman who was sick by the gate while we were all boarding. Oslo wasn’t that bad!
There are some similarities between written German and Norwegian; it’s known as a North Germanic language and is said to be mutually intelligible with Swedish and Danish. Everyone speaks English there, to generalise broadly, but I always feel a little selfish if I don’t try with the local language, so for future reference, Norwegian for ‘thank you’ is ‘Takk!’ It tends to raise a smile if you use it.
Desire to learn the language: 7/10
Chances of that happening: 5/10
As I said, there’ll be more photos coming soon, whenever Star Alliance deliver my bag here…we’ll see.