Beautiful Long Days by the Sea
Let’s play a word association game. I say Norway. What do you think of?
Thor? Vikings? Beautiful people? Northern Lights?
To say this is a gross simplification would be obvious. Norway is so much more than any of those things. To be clear, this trip was limited to the capital city of Oslo (which does not represent the rest of the country) – but there is so much to do here in Oslo that you’ll find a week may not be enough.
Prior to this trip, I knew very little of Norway’s history. My classmate in grad school told me stories of her youth and growing up in Oslo. But none of it could prepare me for what I would discover. A city of remarkable energy (likely due to the long days of glorious sunshine). A welcoming attitude to immigrants. And an amazing connection to the sea.
Some important things to consider for Oslo:
- Download the Flytoget app. That will allow you to take a train from Oslo airport to downtown Oslo for NOK190.
- When you arrive in Oslo, buy the Oslo Pass. You select the duration (24-72 hours) and many museums/sights and all public transport (ferry, bus, tram, etc.) are included for that period of time.
- Norway is a land of non-cash transactions – so feel comfortable using your credit card but I would carry a little cash. There are still some purchases that are easier in currency.
This trip was busier than most of my adventures so take that with a grain of salt. My last day gave me time to chill out at a lovely coffee shop, but I intentionally made this trip a busy one. As a result, I found Oslo to be a very walkable city – so prepare yourself for a lot of steps if you follow my journey.
Ready to read on? Here we goooooo!
TL;DR (this post is definitely longer than most)
- Airbnb: “Lovely apartment with amazing view in city center!”, Enerhauggata 5, 0651 Oslo
- Jorunn (pronounced Yo-rune) is a lovely host and receives my highest recommendation an Airbnb host. She accommodated my early arrival to let me into the apartment, which has a stunning view of the city and a great deck to sit on and soak it all up.
- Airbnb: “Lovely apartment with amazing view in city center!”, Enerhauggata 5, 0651 Oslo
- Kaffebrenneriet, Grønlandsleiret 32, 0190 Oslo
- A small chain of coffee shops in four Norwegian cities with delightful pastries and coffee – the one I visited had this amazing wood high table that I want for my future home
- For those of you who don’t speak Norwegian, click HERE click for the Google translated version.
- Café Restaurante Hjemme hos Svigers, Fredriksborgveien 16, 0286 Oslo
- This charming if not overprice gem is located on the walk between the Norse Folkemuseum and the Holocaust Center on Bygdoy island. Grab a burger, sit in the sun, and chill out while the lovely hosts serve you a tasty lunch.
- Mathallen Food Hall, Vulkan 5, 0178 Oslo
- A lovely modern food hall with dim sum, coffee, italian, Norwegian seafood, and a number of other kinds of cuisine!
- Vulkanfisk, Vulkan 5, 0178 Oslo
- Located on the back side of the Mathallen food, this fancier place offered me the chance to eat whale. Did I take it? You’ll have to read below.
- Good Mood Truck, Location Varies (I found them on the pier between the Nobel Peace Museum and the Astrup Fearnley Museum)
- Grilled cheese sandwiches to die for, located in a cute food truck.
- For those of you who don’t speak Norwegian, click HERE for the Google translated version or HERE for their Facebook page.
- Dovrehallen, Storgata 22, 0184 Oslo
- Tourist trap, but well worth the visit. I ordered a Ringnes (the local beer) along with a steak of reindeer meat covered in gravy. Yum!
- For those of you who don’t speak Norwegian, click HERE for the Google translated version.
- McDonalds, Storgata 15, 0155 Oslo
- Really? You’re gonna judge ME? Well, after you get over your judgment, try the sweet potato fries with Big Mac sauce.
- Haralds Vaffel, Torggata 7, 0181 Oslo
- Good for a mid-day snack. The cheese/chili waffel is tasty but a touch spicy – it’s not chili like you get in the states.
- Ostbanehallen, Jernbanetorget 1, 0154 Oslo
- The food market next to Central Station has a nice variety of restaurants
- Golden Dragon, Grønlandsleiret 61B, 0190 Oslo
- My one guilty pleasure on foreign trips (besides the aforementioned McDonalds) is finding a local Chinese restaurant for some noodles. This place did not disappoint with some tasty chow mein!
- Javelin, Bøgata 10A, 0655 Oslo
- If you’re in need of a place to read, write, chill, or sleepily arise with a coffee, this is your place. Located in the charming Kampen neighborhood with traditional Norwegian style homes nearby, you should try the ciabatta with egg and shrimp and a double Americano. (gently loaded with cucumber, a light hollandaise sauce, and placed upon some of the freshest ciabatta covered in sesame and caraway seeds)
- Kaffebrenneriet, Grønlandsleiret 32, 0190 Oslo
- See (organized by geographical location and the days on which I visited them)
- Day 3: On Bygdøy Island (or on the way)
- Viking Ship Museum, Huk Aveny 35, 0287 Oslo
- With three real Viking ships on display, you can get a sense for how impressive Viking craftsmanship was. Also prepare yourself for some excellent videos that simulate the Viking experience!
- Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norse Folkemuseum), Museumsveien 10, 0287 Oslo
- The main buildings feature some boring exhibits, but the main draws for coming here are the replica buildings and in some of them the people in period-specific Norwegian attire.
- Holocaust Museum, Villa Grande, Huk Aveny 56, 0277 Oslo
- A small but compelling museum that features stories and artifacts from Norway’s role in the Holocaust
- Kon-Tiki Museum, Bygdøynesveien 36, 0286 Oslo
- If you’ve not heard of the Kon-Tiki Expedition, this museum should be on your visit. It recounts the 1947 journey of Norwegian writer Thor Heyerdahl and his crew who replicated a journey from Peru to Polynesia on only materials available in pre-Columbia times.
- Fram Museum, Bygdøynesveien 39, 0286 Oslo
- You’re sensing a theme of seafaring people. This museum allows you to explore the arctic exploration vessel Fram, which was used in expeditions by Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wisting, and Roald Amundsen.
- Norwegian Maritime Museum, Bygdøynesveien 37, 0286 Oslo
- Are you picking up just how important the sea is to Norwegian culture? This museum is incredibly thorough in showcasing the evolution of maritime history but I’m not sure how interesting it will be to most tourists
- Nobel Peace Center, Brynjulf Bulls plass 1, 0250 Oslo
- Located right near the boat to Bygdøy Island, there were three compelling exhibits on display: Generation: Wealth (a fascinating insight into “today’s all-consuming pursuit of status, beauty and wealth”), Ban The Bomb (dedicated to efforts to ban nuclear weapons), and The Peace Cloud (a display organizing the Nobel Prize award winners)
- Viking Ship Museum, Huk Aveny 35, 0287 Oslo
- Day 4: Down near the harbor
- Akershus Fortress, 0150 Oslo
- Built in the 13th century, this grand building has never been besieged by an enemy force (though it was surrendered to the Germans in World War II) and has served as a royal residence and government building. From inside its walls, you can access the Norway Resistance Museum and view sweeping views of the city and harbor.
- Norway Resistance Museum, Akershus Festning, 0015 Oslo
- Most people don’t think of the Nordics when they discuss World War II, but Norway was occupied by the Nazis and this museum presents a compelling history of how the country and its citizens played a role in the war.
- Astrup Fearnley Museum, Strandpromenaden 2, 0252 Oslo
- A museum dedicated to contemporary art that stuns from the outside with its modern design and location next to the water. This museum made me realize I am not a fan of contemporary art – visit at your discretion.
- Oslo City Hall, Rådhusplassen 1, 0037 Oslo
- Building looks boring and dull from the outside, yet stunning murals line the interior. Not worth more than 10 minutes but still worth a look.
- National Gallery (Nasjonalmuseet), Universitetsgata 13, 0164 Oslo
- If you’re an art fan, you need to come here. Edvard Munch’s famed “The Scream” highlights an impressive collection but don’t miss Harald Sohlberg’s Winter Night in the Mountains – he’s one of the best known landscape painters in Norwegian history.
- Akershus Fortress, 0150 Oslo
- Day 5: Everything Else
- You can walk along the Akerselva River from any point but my recommendation is to start just north of the Mathallen marketplace and start walking south.
- Munch Museum, Tøyengata 53, 0578 Oslo
- Did you not get enough Munch at the National Gallery? Then this is your answer.
- Vestre Gravlund (Western Cemetery), Sørkedalsveien 66, 0369 Oslo
- Fun fact: Notable American radio personality Casey Kasem is buried here (I only found this out after a wikipedia search). You’ll actually walk through here if you take the subway from.
- Frogner Park, Kirkeveien, 0268 Oslo, Norway
- Think Central Park meets lovely Nordic city. The Vigeland Park and Museum of Oslo are both located inside Frogner Park. Great place to sunbathe, go for a stroll, have an ice cream, or do nothing at all.
- Vigeland Sculpture Park / Vigeland Museum, Nobels gate 32, 0268 Oslo
- A large park dedicated to the works of sculptor Gustav Vigeland – if you find his pieces compelling, head to the museum for a calm respite and stroll through a wonderful gallery.
- Museum of Oslo, Frognerveien 67, 0266 Oslo
- This was a pleasant surprise. As I walked through Frogner Park, this building popped up and shares a lovely story about the history of Oslo’s development and how the modern culture evolved from many historical events.
- Museum of Cultural History, Frederiks gate 2, 0164 Oslo
- This was an unpleasant surprise. Think of the museums you went to as a kid – boring, dark, and utterly uncompelling. There’s nothing you can’t find it many other museums around the world.
- Ekebergparken, Kongsveien 23, 0193 Oslo
- Half public park, half art display, Ekebergparken is unlike any other park I’ve ever been to. Great for a hike or picnic and you’re almost guaranteed to lose yourself in nature or be stunned by a sweeping view. Highly recommended.
- Day 3: On Bygdøy Island (or on the way)
- Things I Didn’t Get to See/Do/Eat
- The Mini Bottle Gallery, Kirkegata 10, 0153 Oslo
- Who doesn’t love mini bottles of booze?
- A great place to go hiking
- Oslo Opera House, Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, 0150 Oslo, Norway
- Stunning to see from the outside, and I’ve heard it’s breathtaking to tour.
- Stortorvets Gjestgiveri, Grensen 1, 0159 Oslo
- One of the oldest restaurants in Oslo
- Asylet, Grønland 28, 0188 Oslo, Norway
- Traditional Norwegian fare with a charming terrace
- The Mini Bottle Gallery, Kirkegata 10, 0153 Oslo
This article is a continuation of my article on Helsinki, Finland. Please read that one to get some much needed context!
Day 2 (May 17, 2018): Landing in Oslo’s on Norwegian Constitution Day (aka The Biggest Party of the Year)
Imagine if you decided to visit New York City on the fourth of July. Or Calgary on Canada Day. Or France on Bastille Day.
Well, that’s the kind of atmosphere I discovered with my arrival in Oslo on their National Day. I landed at the Oslo Airport at Gardermoen and it was the easiest arrival I’ve had in Europe. I didn’t have to proceed through customs, which baffled me at first, and as soon as I entered the main terminal, signage led me to the train into the city center.
Upon emerging from the train station, the sight of Oslo locals all adorned in bunads (traditional outfits) caught my attention. Beautiful traditional dresses and prim and proper suits – on a warm day, no less. But what amazed me was the variety of ethnic backgrounds of the people wearing traditional Norwegian clothing. There was an immense bond with and pride in honoring their culture and it really impressed me.
I walked for about 20 minutes to get to my airbnb, which promised a “Lovely apartment with amazing view in city center!” – and did not disappoint. My host, a lovely Norwegian woman named Jorunn (pronounced Yo-rune), welcomed me into her flat which has an idyllic view from the guest bedroom. I took an hour to unpack, change, and then decided to head out into the mass of people.
The neighborhood I stayed in was an enclave of immigrant warmth. Restaurants serving up curries and shops catering to immigrants from Africa were just a few of the reminders that Norway welcomes people from all walks of life.
I decided to walk down Karl Johans Gate, one of the main roads that leads to the palace, and I will never forget the image of two girls staggering out of the bushes carrying an empty bottle of vodka. Good to see that youthful desires to rebel are similar in many countries. Listen to the song playing in the background – notice anything? Living in…America? 🙂
As I continued walking amidst the drunken celebratory carnage (note that I am exaggerating – everyone was remarkably controlled and I did not see any of the antics that American-style boozing usually entails), I wandered towards the Oslo Opera House. This is a really stunning place from which to observe the harbor area, as the Barcode Project represents much of the change that has taken over Oslo.
At this point, it was about 5:30 PM and the jet lag was hitting me hard. I walked back to my neighborhood, stopping only to pick up some butter chicken for dinner. I literally passed out on the couch after finishing my curry around 8:30 PM, and awoke just before midnight to the surreal scene of twilight.
Day 3 (May 18, 2018): Museum Madness on Bygdøy
What a way to wake up, right? The small deck off my Airbnb’s living room provided a wonderful window to the world down the hill – and I quickly realized I needed a coffee and a plan of attack.
One thing that I tend to do in every city is find a café so I can fuel up for a day out on the town and get my bearings. A quick google search revealed an outpost of the coffee chain Kaffebrenneriet a few blocks’ walk from my airbnb so I headed there first. Although it’s a chain, it doesn’t feel like a Starbucks or Peet’s and the interior might make you feel like it’s a local café.
My next step was to purchase an Oslo Pass. If you’re planning on seeing any of the sights I mentioned in the TL;DR part of this post, you NEED to buy this. You simply select the duration (24-72 hours) and nearly all of the museums and sights and all public transport (ferry, bus, tram, etc.) are included for that period of time. They’re sold in many locations – I picked mine up at the Radisson Blue Plaza hotel concierge desk.
There’s a big cluster of museums on the peninsula of Bygdøy and the easiest way to get there is a quick boat ride, which is free with your Oslo Pass. Finding the line to board was a bit tricky, but asking a local quickly led me to a line of eager tourists like me. To avoid this in future, enter “radhusbrygge 3” into Google and you’ll find the ferry on one of the piers ready to take you! The journey is a quick and smooth 10 minute journey with stunning homes to admire on the island.
We disembarked and started walking toward our preferred museums. Knowing I didn’t want to crisscross the island too many times, I started with the Viking Ship Museum where historians and scholars have preserved three Viking ships in all of their seafaring glory. I quickly discovered how important the sea is to Norway and as you join me in wandering these museums, you’ll hear that theme repeated! The boats are impressive to say the least, but if you’re a visual learner, the immersive video will put you back in time to experience some of the Viking life.
Next up was the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norse Folkemuseum), which revealed an intimate look at Norwegian life. There is the main building, a small replica of a Norwegian town, and then the gem of the museum – a series of old buildings that re-enacts life in olden times. My advice is to minimize time in the main building and instead prioritize the structures outside and experience the traditional village.
By this time, my croissant from the morning was wearing off. I spotted on Yelp/TripAdvisor/Google that I was near the Café Restaurante Hjemme hos Svigers, a small and charming café known for its homey service and unfortunately overpriced menu. It was definitely expensive (NOK 220 / ~ USD$27) for my burger and fries but the relaxed atmosphere and quality of the food made me okay with the price paid.
Upon finishing my lunch, I decided to walk to the Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust is not the first thing that comes to mind when I imagine Norway, but the country’s relationship with World War II is actually quite interesting given the Nazis occupied Norway for five years. The neighborhood leading up to the museum is quite lovely, with modern homes and even a clay tennis court. It actually reminded me of my trip to London in 2012 and the neighborhood around Wimbledon. The museum itself reminded me of a Swiss or German villa and in a delightfully ironic twist, I learned that the museum was the former residence of Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian politician who attempted a coup d’etat after the Nazis landed. Quisling, whose coup d’etat failed when the Germans refused to back his government, went on to serve as the Prime Minister of the pro-Nazi puppet government and after the war was found guilty of high treason and executed. Schaudenfreude would seem to be the right word here.
There’s not a ton of material here (considering the size of the building) and some of the items on display do not have an English description, but the room downstairs with the names and birth/death dates of Norwegian Jews should be as powerful a reminder of the past as Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam or the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.
Continuing with the walking theme, I took a 20 minute walk back toward the east side of the peninsula and to the cluster of museums that includes the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Fram Museum and the Norwegian Maritime Museum. Now by this point, I’ve already done three museums and it’s early afternoon. I tend to be a speed browser unless I get super deep into a place (see the World War I museum in Kansas City or the World War II museum in New Orleans), and these three were no exception.
The Kon-Tiki Museum shares the story and adventure of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who built the Kon-Tiki raft in 1947 to travel from Peru to Polynesia to demonstrate that people from South America could have settled Polynesia. His six-man, 101-day journey was the foundation for a documentary and several books and the original boat is on display here.
The Fram Museum brings us back in time even further – to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century expeditions aboard the wooden vessel Fram, which carried Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, and Roald Amundsen on their respective journeys to the Arctic, the Canadian Arctic Islands, and the South Pole. Seeing the ship itself is daunting, but what is incredible is walking to the top level and entering the ship itself. This is where you get a sense of what intense conditions might have been like for the crew. Don’t let the romantic nature of their epic journeys fool you – life on these ships had to be hard and sometimes brutal considering their destinations.
If you can’t tell by now, Norway has an exceptionally close tie to the sea. And if you need to see the entirety of this love for the water, head on over to the Norwegian Maritime Museum. Combining replicas, galleries with progressions of Norway’s sea dominance over the centuries, and interactive displays, this museum is pretty damned comprehensive but the least interesting of them all. The building itself is clearly dated (see the brick interior when you step inside) and some of the exhibits are consistent with this – but the interactive media about Norway’s modern role in seafaring and shipping is quite intriguing.
I took the ferry back to where I started (Aker Brygge) and when I stepped off, I was conveniently near the Nobel Peace Center. A museum, conversation starting arena, and dedication to the ideals of the Nobel Peace prize, this place delivers a compelling experience. On the ground level was “Generation Wealth,” a temporary photoexhibit entitled by Lauren Greenfield which focuses on the global trend of pursuing wealth, beauty, and status. Upstairs was a gallery of all of the Nobel Peace Prize winners and “Ban the Bomb,” which showcases the threat of nuclear weapons (this exhibit runs through November 25, 2018).
It was a beautiful spring afternoon so I decided to walk southwest down the Stranden (the beachside promenade that takes people toward the Astrup Fearnley Museum). This whole area is a stunning example of the re-development of Oslo, with residential and commercial units mixed in an architecturally impressive, cohesive neighborhood. Although the presence of TGI Friday’s was a momentary contrast to the vibrant area, the canals, boats, and exterior decks on the apartments convinced me that if I were young and living in Oslo, this would be an awesome place to live and work.
One amusing discovery was this statue, “Moonrise, East, November” by Swiss-American artist Ugo Rondinone – and it’s funny only because there are apparently 12 of these Moonrise masks across the world, and three of them sit next to my old office building at 555 Mission Street in San Francisco.
At the end of the promenade is a set of steps where one can sit, read, sunbathe, or otherwise just relax in the spring/summer sunshine, which is exactly what I did. I would walk a total of 28,887 steps that day and an excuse to sit and read for a half hour was just what I wanted. Across from the steps is a small beach, so if you feel so inclined, put on your swimsuit, find a patch of the sandy beach, and enjoy yourself!
Knowing I would eventually need a meal, I took the bus to Mathallen Food Hall. Think a high end set of food carts, but done indoors in a converted factory and in a variety of cuisines. The neighborhood around Mathallen might seem quite young, and that’s due to the fact that the Grünerløkka Studenthus, a student housing development, is nearby. You might even feel like you’re on a college campus!
After passing by the cheeky art (see the bottle sculpture above) and entering the center, I skipped the Chinese baos, the bento box, and the grilled cheese (though all were tempting) and decided to try Vulkanfisk, a higher end restaurant on the backside of Mathallen.
Yes, that is whale on the menu.
And yes, I decided to order it.
Now before you crucify me for my choices, I firmly respect every culture’s decisions on what is socially acceptable, even if I may not personally agree with beings like whales or dogs being used as food. But I did want to try it to see what it was like – and to be totally honest, it was good, but nothing I would rave about. The texture of whale is much like that of a rare steak but chewier and fattier.
Oh and in case I don’t mention this enough: the Oslo public art is simply stunning.
Day 4 (May 19, 2018): Museums…Round Two!
Ahhh another day in sunny Oslo. Day 4 was also a museum day but this day began with taking the subway and then walking to the imposing Akershus Fortress, a medieval castle that was built to protect the city. Inside the fortress was my first real destination: the Norway Resistance Museum.
I’ve already mentioned my longstanding interest in World War II and seeing how this nation handled the greatest conflict of all time (I use that not to say war is great) was illuminating.
There are small dioramas of specific battles and incidents, maps, artifacts, photographs, and most impressive of all, a monitor running Windows 2000 Professional.
Seriously, guys. It’s time to upgrade.
As you exit the fortress, the green hills and the water down below really make for an idyllic walk. I descended from the fortress and headed west back to the Astrup Fearnley Museum to see if I could push my artistic comfort zone.
I’m normally not a fan of super modern art, and unfortunately this museum confirmed that notion. It’s a physically beautiful space but the artwork on display did not jive with me. Although I will say the annex across from the main museum does have some stunning pieces.
I exited the museum around 2:30 PM and felt some hunger pangs so I decided to indulge in some comfort food at Good Mood Truck. I took a few minutes to eat a gooey grilled cheese sandwich on a nearby bench before heading over to the Oslo City Hall. The main lobby is definitely worth a visit, but there’s not a ton more to see here.
Where you *should* spend your time is at the National Gallery, which houses an impressive collection of Monet, Manet, Degas, Gauguin, and Picasso. Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting, “The Scream,” also lives here. I don’t have too many words to describe this place – just look at the pics and decide for yourself. OH and make sure you follow the sign to know where to start your journey – I went the opposite direction. Oops.
With most of the day now gone, I went in search of dinner. I found myself hardly compelled by a couple cheeky cafes and a fast food joint. And then, using my Google and TripAdvisor apps, I came across Dovrehallen. You can tell there are some locals but the book says it’s a tourist trap. In spire of this, I decided to lean into my local experience and ordered the local beer (Ringnes) and a steak of reindeer meat covered in gravy. To my surprise, it was tasty – although that same guilt of eating Shamu came up with each bite of Rudolph.
I returned to the walking trail alongside the Akerselva River and it really is a lovely place to go for a run, walk, or casual date. I spent some time sitting on a bench reading by the riverside and if you’ve been running around from place to place, this is the perfect place to escape the madness while still being in the city.
I passed some more amazing public art as I walked back to my Airbnb. If you love seeing it everywhere, you will enjoy the areas around the Akerselva. It’s an odd thing when the sun sets around 9:40 PM and the sky stays light until past midnight, but I tell you – it makes an awesome place to write and have a beer in!
Day 5 (May 20, 2018): Museums…Round Three? Oh and one of the best parks in the world…)
Oh sorry, did you think I was done with the museums? Hah! Fat chance. My Oslo Pass was going to get me into everything and I intended to see it all. Stop numero uno: the Munch Museum.
No no, not that Munch. That’s John Munch, the character from Law and Order: SVU. Yes, I am talking about the famed Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch.
But hold on one minute. Didn’t you already see the Scream and some of Munch’s work yesterday? Why yes I did! You are quite astute. And you’ve been reading my post carefully! I am proud of you. Anyhoo…
This museum houses more than half of Munch’s paintings and comprises what he bequeathed to the city of Oslo following his death in 1944 and what his sister Inger Munch donated following her death in 1952. While The Scream was at the National Gallery, there are so many wonderful examples of Munch’s brilliance here, from The Dance of Life to Starry Night. Take your time here!
I decided to take the metro across town to the Vigeland Sculpture Park, where I hoped to take in some of the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland’s famed works. Hopping off the subway at Borgen station, the walking path took me through Vestre Gravlund (Western Cemetery) – which was a really interesting experience. This place is kept in immaculate condition and, with its shaded walking paths and well-manicured hedges and trees, could be mistake for an Ivy-league university campus. Fun fact: Notable American radio personality Casey Kasem is buried here!
The sculpture park was under renovation when I arrived but was still accessible, which meant the throngs of tourists were all being funneled through one small set of steps. The sculptures may have drawn me here but the park is the main attraction. It was reminiscent of palatial estates like Versailles or the Biltmore, except it was packed with tourists, sunbathing locals, and Vigeland’s famous crying (I prefer pouting) baby statue.
Inside the park is the Museum of Oslo, which shares a lovely history of the city itself and how it has evolved over time. Go inside and descend the stairs to be taken back to the middle ages and eventually wind your way to modern day. Of particular interest: paintings depicting the societal role of immigrants in the fabric of Norwegian society, an exhibit on Norwegian divas (the first starlets of 1934-1945), and a glimpse into Oslo submerged in the hippy culture of the 1970’s. All great stuff.
This led to the Vigeland Museum, which houses the collection of Vigeland’s work that the artist donated to the city following his death in 1943. A lovely row of cherry blossom trees line the path walking up to the museum and while most of Vigeland’s larger pieces are in the park for all to see, there’s still an impressive variety of his pieces on display here. The quality of his work should be an inspiration to any aspiring sculptors and artists out there! (and the museum is just really well executed – good lighting, impressive collection, and easy to navigate)
My last museum of the day was the terribly disappointing Museum of Cultural History. I guess I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but the artifacts from other continents probably won’t impress most foreigners. I can imagine for Norwegians it might be a nice tour of the world but I advise you to skip this place and dedicate your time elsewhere.
My afternoon after this was a meandering path of disappointment with one bright spot: a nerdy scifi/comic book shop called Outland which caters to geeks like me. After this I attempted to go to The Mini Bottle Gallery to see the world’s largest collection of mini alcohol bottles, which led me in search of a snack – which led me to…McDonalds. Yes, I was loving it. It’s also one of my guilty pleasures to try a Mickey D’s in every country. The surprise of the day though – sweet potato fries with Big Mac sauce ftw! (that stands for “for the win,” in case you’re not up to date on the lingo).
Nearby was the snack shop Haralds Vaffel and I felt compelled to try their cheese/chili waffel. Much like the cultural history museum, I would skip this place.
As the afternoon progressed, my next stop was Ostbanehallen, a modern food market next to Central Station that has a nice variety of restaurants and is reminiscent of the De Hallen food market in Amsterdam (click here to read that article from May 2017). But Ostbanehallen was just a passing fancy – the real goal for this afternoon was Ekebergparken, one of the most lovely park/garden/art gallery combinations I have ever been to.
Imagine a lush green park, not unlike Central Park or Millennium Park in Chicago but take away the hordes of tourists, set it up high on a perch overlooking a city, and then toss in a bunch of eclectic art. That’s Ekebergparken. You can walk from Ostbanehallen (through the Barcode Project, like I did) or take the tram part of the way and then get off at the Ekebergparken stop.
Turn up the hill and start walking – the views only get better as you ascend. You’ll find dozens of sculptures, a couple of restaurants, and more than a few private places for a serene hike, romantic walk, or just a casual afternoon in the summer sunshine.
I decided to take the tram back down the hill as I’d walked nearly 30,000 steps by this point. As I stepped off the train for the final three blocks to my airbnb, I discovered Golden Dragon – a Chinese restaurant that immediately screamed, “eat me.” Besides McDonalds, my other guilty pleasure involves finding the local Chinese restaurant and seeing how their noodles are. Thankfully, this place did not disappoint! I took my noodles back to the apartment and spend the rest of the evening in a noodle/beer induced slumber.
Day 6 (May 21, 2018): God I’m tired
So after three days of constant movement and exploration, I was pretty tired. I had asked Jorunn for a recommendation on a local coffee shop and she suggested I walk to Javelin, a delightful find in the charming Kampen neighborhood (a 15 minute walk from my airbnb). As you can already tell, this is a city with tons of public art – and this residential neighborhood was no exception.
Arriving outside, this is the kind of café you’d seek out in any city in the world. It’s nestled in a residential area with traditional Norwegian style homes nearby. But don’t let the casual look fool you – it’s hiding a tasty set of brunchy options. Try the ciabatta with egg and shrimp (gently loaded with cucumber, a light hollandaise sauce, and placed upon some of the freshest ciabatta covered in sesame and caraway seeds) and a double Americano.
I had planned to spend most of the day there but through a fortunate twist of fate, a classmate of mine from business school happens to live just outside Oslo. When Anette messaged me with an invitation to join her and her family for dinner, I couldn’t say no! So I grabbed my gear and headed straight for the train station, passing through the remnants of the fair booths and food stands that had been roaring for National Day when I had arrived. The journey to her house took less than an hour and reminded me of one thing:
They’re a great place to rest your weary feet, see some sights, and even get some reading and writing done. Now, I’m not commuting from Stamford, CT or Princeton, NJ to Manhattan every day. And this train was half empty. But I wish train travel were more common across the U.S. What an awesome way to get from point to point and still get stuff done.
Anette picked me up at Sonsveien station and drove me to her family’s farm, which she and her husband Morten had purchased. Their home was a revelation in modern farmhouse chic design and I feel like I need to fly the two of them to the U.S. for some interior design pointers. For the next few hours, we caught up on life (as it had been seven years since we had studied together) and we discussed life in Europe vs. life in Nashville over a delightful soup while their dog Ferdinand cuddled at my leg.
We broke bread (literally – I brought pastries) and chatted over beers until finally it was time for me to head back to Oslo. At the train station, I saw the cutest dog whom I thought was homeless until I saw him wander onto the train and follow his owner (whom I realized had him off leash).
I took the train back to Oslo and enjoyed my last evening in Norway in the tranquility of my airbnb,
Day 7 (May 22, 2018): Time to Head Home
My last morning began early. I was at the train station at 5:45 AM in advance of the 6 AM train to the Oslo airport and by 11 AM, I was in the Helsinki airport browsing the souvenirs and duty free shops. Thankfully the Finnair lounges in each airport provided a comfortable haven for a few hours while I awaited my flight back to San Francisco and a quick 12 hours later I was back in the states, with memories of a whirlwind Scandinavian adventure running circles in my mind.
Finland and Norway represent my 37th and 38th countries, respectively. If I am going to hit my goal of 100 countries by age 45, I better get a move on!
But coming back to Oslo specifically, I have a quick observation/lesson learned: May is when the sun comes out in Norway. The Norwegians have spent the winter months with about as much light as the dark side of the moon and cold temperatures to boot. As soon as that glorious sunlight splashes on the city, every patch of grass is immediately covered in sunbathing Norwegians. Literally every park I would pass by would have people bbq’ing, reading, or just stretching out to get some vitamin D.
Oslo is only a small piece of Norway and although its 600,000+ residents make up more than 10% of the country’s population, there is still much to be discovered (i.e. Bergen, Tromso, Kjeragbolten). But if you’re looking for a wonderful place to start your Norwegian education, Oslo is a marvelous city to begin your studies.
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