Another RyanAir flight out of Stansted meant another early morning alarm in order to get there in time. A week prior, I had gone to Copenhagen to visit my grad school friend who lived there. I have another grad school friend, who was Norwegian, who was next on my travel to-see list, but it turned out to be cheaper to do round-trip from London to Copenhagen, and then round-trip from London to Oslo than it was to combine the two trips into one longer one. I'll never understand how the airline industry works but whatever. So there I was, blurry-eyed but ready to head over to Norway. My friend lived in Ålesund, which is north of Oslo on the western coast of the country. We had agreed to meet in Ålesund on a Monday, and I flew out on Saturday to give myself a day in Oslo first.
I was especially excited to visit because my ancestors came from Norway, and my home state of Minnesota is obsessed with Scandinavia in general, The English and Irish went to New England, the Italians went to New York, the Poles are in Chicago. The Scandinavians went to Minnesota. Our (American) football team is called the Vikings, Half of everyone in the state has a Scandinavian last name (mine is Swedish), many of our small towns have Scandinavian horses and gift shops strewn about, etc. In addition, my ancestors came from eight European countries. At this point, I had been to the other seven (Sweden, England, Ireland, Germany, France, Poland, and Switzerland) but Norway had evaded me. Finally, I was about to "come home" for the eighth and final time. I just had to get through the scary plane ride first (not because it was actually scary, I'm just scared of flying so any and all flights freak me out).
I left a sunny London only to land in a cloudy Oslo (though even in the clouds, the inlets sure were pretty to fly over!). There is a public bus that runs from the airport to the city (luckily, with a stop very near to my hostel). It is relatively cheap in comparison to the train option (NOK 20 compared with NOK 160, or about $2.40/$19), but it only comes once an hour. And, of course, I arrived at the terminal about five minutes after a bus had left. So I plopped down on the floor, leaned against the wall, and listened to a podcast while watching travelers amble by. Finally, the next bus rolled up. I paid the driver, put my small carry-on roller bag on the rack, and sat down.
The airport is a bit of a trek, but it runs through beautiful scenery of hills, pine trees, and farms that reminded me quite a bit of Minnesota (gee, I wonder why the Scandinavians went there, eh?). And, happily, once we got to the city, the bus stopped only a few blocks from my hostel. I hopped off the bus and onto a picturesque street. To get to the hostel itself, I had to walk through a grassy area (not a park per se, just...a lot of grass next to the sidewalk) in order to get there. As I walked into the entrance of Anker Apartment, I was pleasantly surprised. The lobby was really nice, and quite large. It seemed much more like a hotel than a hostel. But alas, this was where the pleasantness ended.
I approached the desk in order to check in, whereupon I learned that not only did I have to pay for bedding (an extra $7!) but I also had to pay to use the hostel's eating utensils. What the actual?? I then went upstairs to my room, only to discover that there were nowhere near enough outlets for the 16 beds. I also had a really rude bed mate, but at least I can't blame that on the hostel. Except I hated this hostel, so I'm going to anyways. I've never had to pay to use a kitchen before, and this being Norway, it wasn't exactly cheap.
Speaking of the expense that is involved when visiting Norway, once I had made my bed with the $7 sheets, I went back downstairs to the small grocery store that was attached to the hostel. I bought six rolls, a small container of butter, and a small package of ham...and it cost $18. I then brought them back upstairs, put the butter and ham into one of the three fridges in the (huge) communal kitchen, and brought the rolls into my room. I then grabbed my purse and headed out - dinner could wait, I had exploring to do!
The hostel was located in the Grünerløkka neighborhood, which is a charming area. I am a sucker for...I guess what can be called "normal" European architecture. You know, the buildings that could be anywhere on the continent. I just love, love, love them. So I was happy to stroll the neighborhood, podcasts in my ear, for awhile. I especially appreciated the beauty of this building that was quite close to the hostel - just look at that mural and those colors! The area has lots of cafes and trendy bars, for those who can afford the sticker shock of the country. I'll stick with my ham and butter sandwiches, thank you very much.
Soon, I stumbled across the most lovely of city parks. The Akerselva River ran through the park, and it was lovely to stroll alongside it. It was also early November, so the leaves were nearly full-color. It was really beautiful, and a great place to watch local families enjoy their afternoons. I couldn't find a name for the park, but it's next to the Christiana Mini-Golf Club (I LOVE that there is a mini-golf club! #PuttPuttForLife). Unfortunately, I did not partake in any miniature golf. It's just a nice landmark for you fine folks to be able to find the park.
After I crossed the bridge over the river, I noticed that the architecture was no longer of the generic-European mold. Now it was still clearly European, but of a sharper, more northern style. This was a fascinating aspect of Oslo. Each neighborhood has a different, and very distinct, architectural style. And it would change as quickly as a short bridge over a small city park. I've never been anywhere else like it.
To give you an idea of the abruptness of these architectural (and thus vibe) changes, here is a picture of the "financial district" of the city. This was a mere ten minute walk past that quaint city park! I wandered through this area for maybe ten minutes before popping back into a more European center of town, because, well, modern financial districts are only so interesting.
That last paragraph should give you two understandings of Oslo -first, again, there are many architectural types, and secondly, the city is tiny. So long as you are not physically impaired, this is an incredibly easy city to walk. Save for the airport bus, I did not take public transportation once this trip. "Ah, but Laura, you always walk, even when others would probably take the subway or bus!" I can hear you saying. But no, even someone who isn't wiling to walk 40,000 steps a day like I am would walk here. It is a small, easily-traversed city - it only took me about half an hour to get from the hostel to the center of the city.
After leaving the shiny buildings of the financial district behind, I crossed the street near the main train station, climbed a set of stairs, and found myself at the base of the beautiful Oslo Cathedral. As I had been traveling all day, I arrived after it had closed to the public (4pm on Saturdays). But I was able to admire the 17th-century architecture from the outside. It was a building that was much too large to get in a single photograph, especially considering that it is surrounded by trees so I couldn't back away from it without obscuring the view with leaves. But suffice it to say, it was large and lovely.
Just past the cathedral is the "true" center of the city, with Storting, Norway's parliament, standing in the middle of a classic European-city-center. It was cloudy and I don't have a great camera, but that's what the building looks like anyways. It's not as impressive as are the UK's or Hungary's parliaments, but I still liked it. I'm always a fan of roundness.
I really liked this bit of Oslo. It was an interesting little district, complete with shopping malls, cheesy tourist restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe, and flanked by parliament on one end and the royal palace on the other. In between the two government buildings was a lovely park that had some pretty cool fountains. This particular one mesmerized me for a long time - it kept changing colors, and I watched it all the way through at least twice. I even video-called my mom so that she could see it too.
I then continued onwards, to the Royal Palace itself. As the weather was cloudy, and it was also around 7:30 in the evening, there were only a few other people milling about the giant courtyard. It looked very similar to Buckingham Palace, though without the elaborate architecture. However, unlike the heavily guarded Buckingham, you could walk right up to this building. The palace is surrounded by a nice park, so as I made my way back to the rest of the center of town through the trees rather than the boring courtyard.
At this point, I headed home. It had been a long day and darkness was starting to descend. I went up to my room to grab a couple of the rolls I had bought earlier, as well as a pen I had already decided would be my butter-spreading utensil (it was an old, shabby pen and I was not about to pay for the privilege to use a god damn butter knife). However, upon opening the fridge, I discovered that my butter and ham were frozen solid. So...that was incredibly irritating. It took about 25 minutes for the butter to warm enough to even sort of be able to spread. I was tired and real grumpy by the time I finally got back to my room. The only saving grace was that I put my butter and ham back in the other fridge offered in the kitchen, so I figured they wouldn't be frozen the next morning. I then crawled into bed and was asleep pretty fast because, again, long, busy day.
The next morning, I showered (in the admittedly quite nice bathroom - I have many complaints about Anker Apartment, the building itself is not one of them) and then went into the kitchen with two more rolls...and was met with more frozen food. So, basically, all of the fridges were freezers. Cue more waiting around for the food to be only half-covered in ice before I ate. I left the hostel in a bit of a mood, though once I got outside in the morning sun, my annoyances ebbed away. I really loved the Grünerløkka neighborhood; it's colors and architecture were lovely and even more-popping in the sun than they had been under the previous evening's gloom.
I didn't meander as much as I had the evening before, as my destination was a bit of a walk away (only 4.4 miles/7.2 km, nothing dramatic, but I knew I would meander once I hit new neighborhoods, so I didn't need to wander what I'd already seen). Though, as it was much sunnier than the day before, I couldn't resist a quick stop back in the center of town in order to admire it in the sunshine.
I then walked to the shoreline and followed it to where I was headed. This was a really lovely walk, even though clouds joined me only a few minutes after I started off. I always love water, and it being Norway the scene was also punctuated by stunning hills. Hubba hubba.
I wove in and out of the Harbor Promenade, which was yet another unique architectural section of Oslo. It seemed to be a combination of luxury apartments and businesses, all housed in ultra-modern glass buildings. At the base of each were cafes and shops. It was obvious that it was all new. After returning to the UK, I did some research and it turns out the city made a conscious effort to turn what had been one of the shabbier parts of town into somewhere nice. Well, mission accomplished!
As I arrived at the huge Kongen Marina, the clouds began to roll in again. That was all right though. tThe nice thing about the sea, forests, and hills is that they're beautiful no matter what! So what if you have to view it under darker skies? In fact, the increased clouds made for more interesting photographic opportunities than the earlier blue skies had provided, so there are silver lines for everything!
I followed the marina as I made my way to Bygdøy, a beautiful peninsula in Oslo. Even though it is still in Oslo's limits - indeed, not even on the edge of the city! - you would never think you were in the capital city of a country. As I crossed onto the peninsula, it was farmland with red barns and many, many long-haired sheep. As I continued, the pastures turned into neighborhoods nestled into the greenery that was pervasive on Bygdøy. I admired the Scandinavian architecture of the homes, though I tend to enjoy all European architecture (except for old Soviet-era block buildings, but does anyone like those?) so I can't claim that I liked them more than any other country's houses.
My destination was the Vikings Ship Museum, which was a decent walk down the peninsula (but because it was such a lovely autumn day, I didn't mind the exercise!). As I approached the museum, I walked by the Norwegian Folk Museum, which is an open-air museum. As a history fanatic, I was so upset that I didn't have the time to stop in there. I absolutely adore open-air museums, and considering the family and state connection, I am more interested in Norway's then any of the others I have visited. But alas, I had to choose between one or the other and, well, I can't exactly say no to a museum about the Vikings. (f you're interested and have the time, an adult admission for the folk museum is 120KR, or about $14.50).
From the exterior, the Viking Ship Museum isn't tremendously impressive. I entered the plain white building and bought a ticket (100KR, $12). It's not a large museum, with only four rooms. It was impressive as hell though. The ships themselves are incredibly well-preserved. The Vikings buried these sea-going ships in mounds for their more important citizens. That alone is impressive - in the US, there are Native American burial mounds but I don't know of any that are remotely large enough to house a vessel of this size!
All three ships were buried in the 9th century. The best preserved one is the Oseburg ship, buried in 834, in a mound with two women. The largest is the Gokstad ship (found with a single man). The third, the Tune ship, isn't as complete as the other two, but still impressive. There were short informative placards, but mostly the rooms with the ships are for viewing. They also had a second floor in each room, in order to view the ship from above. The fourth room of the museum was full of other Vikings artifacts, such as sleds and tools. That room also housed a cool, immersive video experience. Well-worth the sacrifice of the folk museum!
After about an hour inside, I made my way back through Bygdøy towards the rest of Oslo. At this point, it was definitely looking like it was going to rain but it just made the hills and red barns (I just love that there are barns in a city) stand out amidst the gloom. It was a lovely walk back past the sheep and the marina. As I arrived back at the Harbor Promenade, however, the pregnant clouds that had been looking down at me ominously finally opened up, and I only just made it into a Starbucks in time to avoid an absolute downpour. I ordered a chai tea and sat in a corner texting with my father. My favorite part about this whole thing was that - as this was October - every other person ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte, which meant a bored 20-something barista kept calling that out in his Norwegian accent.
I was meeting family (not long lost-ancestors but my mom's cousin and her two kids who live in the Oslo suburbs. Mom's cousin married a Norwegian in the 1990s) not long afterwards, and thankfully the rain let up in time. We met outside of City Hall, which is right on the seafront. After greetings and hugs were had, we headed inside to look at the free (free! in Norway!) public installation de jour (they change out their exhibits; when we were there it was displaying rugs from around the world).
Afterwards, we had a quick dinner and then walked to the nearby Akershus Fortress. This was one of my favorite things I did, in a city full of favorite things (seriously, I loved Oslo). Built in the late 13th century, Akershus has been a prison, a palace, a military base, and is currently being used to house the seat of the Norwegian Prime Minister (temporarily, due to still-high concerns following that horrendous terrorist attack back in 2011).
The museum (about the Norwegian Resistance during World War Two) bit of the fortress was unfortunately already closed by the time we arrived, but the grounds themselves were open until later in the evening. Akershus sits on a seaside hill and thus offers stunning views of the harbor, city, and surrounding hills. It was hard to know where to look, as both the views and the fortress itself were spectacular. It was also huge, and offered architecture from the medieval to modern periods, looking like everything from a castle to military barracks to a modern music stage. It was especially lovely with the fall colors and no crowds (as the drizzle was keeping people away).
Afterwards, I walked my family back to the metro. Before we parted ways, we went into one of those classic snack food/magazine shops found in transportation hubs the world over. They bought two types of Norwegian candy, as well as Bugles that were covered in chocolate. The candy was whatever, but I loved the Bugles. I don't actually care much for those at home, but I guess you can smother anything in chocolate and I'll be good with it! Anyways, after finishing off the junk food, we hugged farewell and I walked back to my hostel. My awful, awful hostel. I had another 4 am alarm set, so as soon as I got back I was in bed, happy with what I was able to see in the 30 hours I had in this beautiful, diverse city.