When we left Sweden, we couldn’t find a cheap and convenient way to get to Oslo. We ended up taking a ferry from Stromstad to Sandeford and from there we took a train to Oslo. When we got to Oslo, we checked in to our Airbnb which was a room in a nice house in a nice area outside the city. The house was next door to a grocery store so we picked up some food, made dinner, and went to bed. The first full day in Oslo was a rainy day so we decided to make it a rest day. We caught up on some blog posts and pictures and make food in the kitchen.
We weren’t exactly sure what to expect with Oslo. The common perception of Norway and Norwegians from the people we spoke with in Finland and Sweden was that Norway was very expensive and Norwegians thought they were better than the rest of Scandinavians. Oslo is the largest and capital city of Norway and was ranked number one in terms of quality of life among European large cities in the European Cities of the Future 2012 report by fDi magazine. A survey conducted by ECA International in 2011 placed Oslo as the second most expensive city in the world for living expenses after Tokyo. Oslo also has great hiking and outdoor activities to enjoy in both the summer and the winter and has been making a push to host the Winter Olympics.
One of my old high school classmates actually lives in Oslo with his family so I got in touch with him before we arrived and made plans to meet up with him on our second full day. We stopped by their apartment in the Kampen area just east of downtown. We caught up for a bit then went to lunch nearby and a seafood restaurant. After lunch we walked along the Karl Johans gate street with my friend and his daughter and saw the Oslo cathedral and the Royal Palace. We then walked down to the harbor where the ferries take off and walked by the Nobel Peace Prize Museum nearby. It’s a really nice area of town and further down the harbor is a newer seaside mall with modern shops, restaurants and bars. We were going hiking in the mountains and fjords of Norway after Oslo and we really didn’t bring any warm clothes. My friend suggested that we pick up some warmer clothes so we went to a couple of shops downtown but didn’t really find anything. After walking around for a bit we went back to the house, got some food, and went to bed.
The next day we went downtown again and walked around the Oslo Opera House, a really spectacular building. To me, the Opera House is a very close second to the Sydney Opera House in terms of beauty. The Opera House opened in 2008 and designed by the Snøhetta architecture firm after it won a design competition for the building. In Norway, they emphasize that Norwegian nature, e.g., forests, fjords, and the countryside, is free for everyone to walk in and on. The Opera House is meant to reflect that freedom. You are encouraged to walk on the roof of the Opera House and get some nice views of the city and the harbor. On one side you can see the fjord archipelago with small, traditional wooden summer houses painted in bright, optimistic colors. On another side you see a quick scenery over the city center. Further behind the city, you catch a glimpse of the many fairytale-like shaped hills and mountains which surround Oslo. They were also building a new National Library adjacent to the Opera House and the renderings looked pretty spectacular but the cranes and construction did take away from the experience of the Opera House a little. The interior of the Opera House is also pretty spectacular. The Opera House has a huge inner space, with stunning designs, that is open to the public. We made use of the restrooms inside and got to enjoy this aspect of the Opera House which really lets in and makes use of the natural light on a clear day.
After the Opera House, we went to one of Oslo’s other main attractions, the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The unique sculpture park is the life work of the sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) with more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and cast iron. On our way to the park, we saw that there was a junior tennis tournament going on. We watched a couple points of this massive guy taking on a pretty puny kid, but the kid was holding his own. The Sculpture Park was very busy with lots of people. We heard that the weekends get crowded and especially lately with people playing Pokemon Go. We saw a lot of sculptures along the main bridge leading up to the main Vigeland Monument in the center of the park. Most, if not all, the sculptures throughout the park are naked men, women, and children. The main sculpture is the Monolith. The Monolith Plateau is a platform in the north of the Park made of steps that houses the Monolith totem itself. 36 figure groups reside on the Monolith Plateau bringing with them the “circle of life” message that Vigeland wanted to convey. Construction of the massive Monolith monument began in 1924 when Gustav Vigeland himself modeled it out of clay in his studio in Frogner. The design process took him ten months and in the autumn of 1927 a block of granite weighing several hundred tons was delivered to the park from a stone quarry in Halden. Transferring of the figures began in 1929 and took 3 stone carvers 14 years to accomplish. On the Christmas of 1944 the public was allowed to see The Monolith and 180,000 people crowded around to get a close look at the creation. The Monolith towers 14.12 meters (46.32 ft) high and is composed of 121 human figures rising towards the sky. It was getting pretty hot so we didn’t stay in the Park that long and went to our last stop of the day.
My friend Blake recommended we see the Emmanuel Vigeland Museum. He is the brother of Gustav Vigeland that constructed the sculptures of the Vigeland Park. The museum is only open on Sundays and is located in an old church. The museum is really just a large room within the church that has a huge Dante’s inferno type mural that takes up entire walls of the room and the ceiling. Before entering the room you have to put on shoe covers, they tell you to be silent, and you have to crouch down low to enter through a tiny door. The room is very poorly lit to preserve the mural so it takes a little while for your eyes to adjust to be able to see the artwork. The mural is very beautiful but it’s a little creepy looking at this apocalyptic artwork in a large dark room with no noise. I tried to sneak a couple of photos but they didn't come out so here is a picture of what you would see of the interior. After walking around for a bit, we left and went back to the Airbnb.
On our last day in Oslo, our train wasn’t leaving until 10:20 PM so we put our bags in locker at train station then took ferry to Hovedøya island off the coast of Oslo proper. Oslo has a number of small islands off its coast in the bay. The ferries that take you to the islands are part of the Oslo public transportation and are included in the 7 day pass we bought. Hovedøya is the closest and one of the larger islands and has a nice beach and grass area. It would have been perfect for a picnic didn’t bring any food. We walked around the beach area where a lot of people were barbecuing seafood. I really wanted to get in the water but I didn’t bring a swimsuit or a towel. We made our way back to the city to meet Blake and his family who graciously offered to host us for dinner. We tried to get wine to bring to dinner but liquor store closes at 6 PM and we had to get beer at the grocery store. We ran into a similar problem in Finland which has a similar law where any beverage that has more than 5% alcohol has to be sold in a separate store that has limited hours. So if you’re planning to have some wine or something stronger, plan ahead and buy your bottles early. Blake and his family really outdid themselves because dinner was amazing. We had Norwegian salmon and cheese as an appetizer, pork and quinoa as a main course, and a delicious fresh fruit and whipped cream dessert. Dinner was almost too good because we almost didn’t make it back to catch our train but got there in time. The train was an overnighter but I didn’t get to sleep much because I got sick on the train, then had my fantasy football draft around 4 AM.
Oslo is a beautiful city and there was still a lot of city we didn’t get to see. We didn’t get to go to the Bygdøy peninsula which has the Viking and Fram Museums, among other attractions. It also would have been nice to see the other islands in the bay. However, Oslo is every bit as expensive as we feared. It’s almost 50% more of what you would pay in London which makes it tough to visit on a backpacker’s budget. As much I enjoyed Oslo, the best part of Norway was the beautiful countryside and the hikes we would take in the coming weeks.
See the full gallery of our time in Oslo here: Oslo, Norway.