Date of Trip: May 2003
I went to Oslo for a weekend during a year abroad at the University of Glasgow. I was a little nervous about the trip, as it was my first solo excursion to a country where I didn’t speak the language. But I ended up being really glad I went — Norway is a very safe country, and everyone I talked to spoke English (usually quite well). Oslo is incredibly expensive — like $13 for a Big Mac meal at McDonald’s. Luckily the hostel where I stayed offered a really full breakfast in the mornings: lots of different types of breads, meats, cheeses, fruits, etc. So I ended up eating as much as I possibly could every morning, stealing a few rolls for later, and supplementing that with food from grocery stores (yogurt, nuts, etc.).
Oslo is a very clean, safe city full of parks, trees, fountains, statues…and gorgeous people (not all blond, but quite a few!). I got the sense that this is a nation of active folks who like to go skiing, jogging, snowshoeing, etc. The cost of living is high, but the standard of living is as well.
I flew from Glasgow to Oslo on Ryanair, which was incredibly cheap, but Ryanair flies to Oslo’s second airport, which is well over an hour by bus from the city. Luckily I ended up chatting on the bus with another American, who was studying at St. Andrews, to help pass the long bus ride. Once we got to Oslo we went our separate ways. I took the city’s tram/cable car system and then a public bus to my hostel, which was up on a hill in a leafy suburban area of the city. I got pretty lost (the hostel had only been a hostel for two days, so they didn’t even have a sign up — I think it used to serve as a school). Luckily I ran into some folks near my age (20’s) who were headed in my direction and spoke English. They told me that most Norwegians start learning English around third grade and continue studying it for seven years or so — no wonder they’re fluent!
The hostel was fine…ended up being moved to a single room the first night due to the presence of dozens of giggling schoolgirls in the dorm room (a former classroom). It was nice to have a single room, but I guess they hadn’t turned the heat on in that building, because it was FREEZING. The next two nights I ended up back in the dorm, where it was much warmer.
As for sightseeing, the first day was absolutely gorgeous, sunny and about 60 degrees. My first stop actually wasn’t so great; the contemporary art museum was quite small and only had two exhibits, neither of which I was interested in — glad it was free. My luck improved at Akershus fortress and castle, overlooking Oslofjord. I must say that Scotland has cooler castles, but this one was neat in a different way, made of brick with a few little turrets/towers.
Then I made my way to the harbor and snapped a photo of City Hall as I waited for the ferry to the Bygdoy Peninsula, where I saw the Norsk Folkemuseum — VERY cool. It’s an open-air museum, made up of a bunch of re-creations of traditional Norwegian buildings (farm cottages, a stave church, etc.). There was also a really cute little “old town.”
Back in downtown Oslo, I checked out the Aker Brygge area, a ritzy strip along the harborfront with lots of expensive sidewalk cafes and restaurants. I paid about $5 for two scoops of ice cream, but oh was it worth it. Then I popped into Oslo Cathedral, which actually wasn’t Catholic, and as such wasn’t anywhere near as ornate as you’d find in, say, Mediterranean countries. It did have a cool mosaic-ed ceiling, and the organist rehearsing gave us quite a nice concert.
After that I took a tram to Vigeland Park, an enormous park filled with trees, fountains and sculpted human figures in various poses — struggling, caring for each other, playing, touching each other, etc. The most famous one is an angry little boy, who I did find and snap a photo of, but I really enjoyed the Monolith and the figures around it. The Monolith is a large pole made up of human bodies all entwined and tangled up on top of each other. I spent an hour or so wandering the park and enjoying the fading sunlight before heading back to my hostel.
The next day was rainy, so I was glad I’d done the outdoorsy stuff the day before and saved two museums. I started at the Munch Museum, which I really enjoyed; I didn’t know much about Edvard Munch beforehand (though I’d seen his famous “Scream”), so I liked reading the biographical material in the museum, which was offered in both Norwegian and English. (Footnote: I especially loved a painting called “The Madonna,” which a few years later was stolen from the museum along with “Scream” and a few other paintings. Apparently the latest word is that they may have been destroyed, which breaks my heart.)
After the Munch Museum I checked out “Old Oslo,” which is the extremely ruined ruins of a monastery, church and cathedral. Would’ve been more enjoyable without the pouring rain! I took shelter in the National Gallery, which was both impressive and free! I hadn’t seen much Scandinavian art, so I got to see the work of a lot of new-to-me painters (and some more stuff by Munch).
I wandered over to the University of Oslo, but everything seemed to be closed. I trudged through the rain to the Royal Palace to take a few photos of it and the gardens/park around it. There were at least four uniformed guards standing stiffly around the palace — I thought they looked rather silly rather than dignified or intimidating, but what do I know?
I was wet enough by that point that I was ready to call it a day. I grabbed a yogurt from a grocery store and headed back to my hostel, but unfortunately I took a different bus than I had before — cue me wandering around lost in a maze of suburban streets. As usual, though I found some friendly English speakers who helped me find my way.