When I think of Norway, I think of fjords or the quaint town of Bergen so I don’t know what to expect in Oslo. From my research there are a surprising number of interesting possibilities. We’re looking forward to packing in as much as possible on our last day of our Scandinavian jaunt.
Our 6:55 Norwegian flight from Copenhagen touches down in Oslo at 8:10am. At the Oslo Airport there are two choices for trains to get to the city center. There’s the NSB local train that runs every half-hour for 110 Norwegian kroner ($18). The other option is 170 NK, about $10 more for the Flytoget fast, non-stop train which runs every ten minutes. It whisks passengers to the central station in nineteen minutes, but the cost is over $100 round-trip for the two of us. Going into town we choose to save $10 each and go slow. The third fast train has already come and gone by the time ours pulls into the station. Good thing we only bought one way tickets. Standing there waiting on the platform I realized that the extra $20 would have been well spent and vow to take the fast train on the return trip. After waiting about a half-hour for the train to arrive, it takes another half-hour for us to arrive in the center of Oslo.
We book a hotel through the impressive-looking Tourist Information building just outside of the Central Station. The girl at the desk is not in the mood to be helpful. She shows us a list of what is available. She has no answers for our questions so we are left to interpret the scanty information printed on the list. Bed sizes are listed by meters. We have no idea what the sizes translate into so we guess. Fingers crossed, for at least a queen sized bed. We settle for a “budget” hotel at 1085 NK plus a nominal service charge. That bought us a small room with a bed the width of two narrow twin beds for around $175. In the U.S., I think it would be a full sized bed. In Norway it is called a large single.
Room 604 at the Thon Hotel Astoria is small, stark and basic but clean. It’s maybe 10 feet wide by 20 feet long. The tiny bed is crowded by a miniscule bathroom with one of those only-in-Europe-style showers where the bathroom floor gets covered with water.
The only thing that keeps the toilet paper from getting wet is an inadequate shower curtain. The shower water temperature vacillates from cool to scalding in seconds without adjusting the temperature. Basically, we have no control of the water or air temperature but it does have a heated floor. The location is good except for the seemingly seedy block it’s on. No problem. Since it’s our last day, we aren’t planning to spend it hanging out at a hotel.
To get the lay of the land, we want to take another City Sightseeing Hop On – Hop Off bus tour. In the City Sightseeing literature, we discover that we will save 10% just by showing our tickets from Copenhagen.
There will definitely be a bus stop near the new Oslo Opera House. It is a major attraction not far from our hotel so we hoof it over there. We join other tourists walking up and down the unique sloped roof which offers an impressive view of the harbor and the city skyline. There’s a crystal ship sculpture just offshore.
A walk around the building is rewarded with large windows that expose behind-the-scenes glimpses of various backstage departments: sewing and ironing costumes; set-building and various office spaces.
As we suspected, the City Sightseeing bus makes a stop at the Opera House. Since we are traveling off-season, only the red line is running. It seems as though the only attraction we are missing on the blue line is a stop at the Krag Støtten view-point, just behind the ski jump.
Also, being a Monday, the National Gallery and Munch Museum are closed. Both were high on our to-do list because we wanted to see the several variations of Edvard Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream”. Henrik Ibsen’s apartment was also closed on this day, striking down most of my best-laid plans. The bus meanders sadly past all of these shuttered attractions.
We eventually disembark at Aker Brygge, a rebuilt waterfront district filled with apartments, shops and restaurants that sits on Oslo’s old shipbuilding grounds. There are no hotels here yet but plans for a new Munch museum and sculpture garden are in the works. Lots of construction cranes fill the sky.
The not-so-helpful girl at the Tourist Office did manage to cough up one great suggestion (as did the not-so-helpful version of Frommer’s Scandinavia guide-book). Her suggestion for lunch made up for her lack of guidance on hotel choices. Lofoten is an upscale seafood restaurant with a bright and sunny glass enclosed sidewalk café area. It feels as though the tables are outside, yet diners are protected from the crisp fall ocean breeze. In the height of the summer, I’m sure the doors are flung open wide so Norwegians and tourists can bask in the midnight sun.
The food was top-notch. The freshest of the fresh. I had the special, a chunk of cod over mushrooms and delicate gnocchi with a surprisingly light red wine sauce. Mike had a superb fish soup with mussels, salmon, swordfish and shrimp swimming in a bowl of basil infused broth. Simply marvelous. Such delicacies come with a not so delicate price tag. The tab for lunch is $81. It’s worth every kroner.
Still licking our lips, we hop on the next available bus. One comes every half hour. The next attraction on our list is the Vigelandsparken. This sculpture park does not disappoint. Mix a sunny fall day with magnificent works of art; green, green grass with colorful flowers and we are presented with a picture perfect day.
Gustav Vigeland was brought up by extremely religious parents who greatly influenced him and his work. He spent four decades creating the 227 nude figures that depict the circle or struggle of life (depending on the translation). Vigeland had a team of sculptors working under him but he designed each piece. The culmination is high atop the hill. The Vigeland Monolith has 121 figures carved into one piece of stone. The only clothed sculpture depicts the artist.
To take a slab of rock and carve it into something which exudes emotion takes talent. The park is truly a work of art and is not to be missed on any trip to Oslo.
After lingering in the gardens surrounding the sculptures, we catch one of the last buses back to Rådhuset, Oslo’s City Hall.
After we caffeinate ourselves with another outstanding cup of coffee from The Fragrance of the Heart Coffee Club, we start to walk back towards the hotel along the pedestrian clogged Karl Johans Gate shopping street. With the royal palace at our back, we meander along, looking into shop windows, checking out menus and the architecture, soaking up the flavor of the city.
I am greatly amused by the signs touting a sale on golf sweaters. My maiden name is Genser which I now know translates into sweater in Norwegian.
Since we had such great luck at Aker Brygge, we decide to try again for dinner. There is another open air café that I want to try. When we walked by at lunch I saw a stunning open-faced sandwich of rare roast beef topped with béarnaise sauce. I try not to pout when I’m told it is only served at lunch. As we continue to stroll, we debate whether we should just go back to Lofoten or try some place new. We go for new and step into Jacob Aall Brasserie and Bar. It’s a mistake. Lofoten would have been the better choice.
Too chilly to sit outside, we opt for a dreary indoor table. My dinner turns out to be over-cooked halibut with steamed veggies and small roasted potatoes. Mike orders salmon with lemon butter sauce. It comes with the same roasted potatoes and a cucumber salad. A bottle of Pinot Grigio sets us back $60. We really want a side Caesar salad but they don’t have it. We could split a main course size Caesar with chicken and bacon but at $24 a pop, we pass. Service isn’t so great either so we are disappointed with the whole experience. This less than stellar meal costs us $145.
At the hotel, we stumble into our narrow bed and sleep until 8:00 am. Mike has a cold and I am fighting one. Before we catch the train to the airport, we go in search of a decongestant at the local pharmacy. Imagine our surprise when we are told that we need a prescription for any decongestant in pill form. The only option is a nasal spray so we snap it up. I make a mental note to add that to my travel items that I routinely pack. Flying with congestion can be mighty painful and can cause real damage.
Back at the hotel we grab our backpacks and check out, skipping the free, albeit sad looking breakfast. I check our itinerary only to find that our flight is an hour earlier than I thought so we step up the pace and get to the train station pronto. This time we opt for the fast train that runs every 10 minutes. Nineteen minutes later we are ready to check in for our $89 US Airways flight to Philadelphia. (See my blog “Tweet and Fly Like a Bird” to see how we scored the cheap seats.)
It takes a while to get through immigration. There are two booths. One for passengers traveling on an E.U. passport and the other for the rest of us. At the front of our line was a Middle Eastern looking gentleman. He is under a lot of scrutiny so our line isn’t moving. After what seemed like an eternity, the E.U. line lightened up and we are ushered through that checkpoint.
On one side of our gate is a Turkish Airlines flight headed to Istanbul. On the other side, Iceland Air is jetting off to Reyjavik. For a fleeting moment I am tempted to make a break for it. Either plane will do! Instead I board the flight to Philly. Those destinations will have to wait.
I didn’t bring the ear phones that I had bought on a previous US Air flight for this trip. No worries. We saved the ear phones from the bus tours and they work on the plane. I only get one channel by sticking it into the top hole. It’s okay. I’m not really into the R rated movie that’s edited for a G audience.
We luck out again on the return trip with a row to ourselves. I stretch out and watch other planes speeding along in the distance at 35,000 feet on the aerial transoceanic highway. Where are they going? Where will we go next? Right now I’ll settle for a few hours of reflecting on our whirlwind taste of Scandinavia.