The Oslo Opera House was definitely a major higlight during last year’s trip for me. What would it be like, we wondered, to see a performance there? One year later we find ourselves with tickets to see a ballet based on Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, one of Norway’s most famous playrights, but more on that later.
There is never a bad time to visit the Oslo Opera House, really. The building seems to transform along with the time of day and the changing light. Each view of and from it is exciting and unique. With the traditional notion of walls, gravity and height on the mind, it is somewhat surreal to find yourself not only going in, but walking on the Opera House before you even realize it. The change of levels is so gradual, even gentle, that the view of the Oslo Fjord from the rooftop catches you by surprise.
Space and peace are the main impressions emanating from the Operahuset, as well as a sense of welcoming. It snowed in the morning. I look down at my pointed black ankle boots and my friend’s smart black pumps, and suggest we take the steps stretching out in front of us. There’s an expanse of of the building leading upwards, basically just a walkway, but that’s for another day and in other shoes.
People are walking everywhere, some are sitting down and reading or just gazing out over the city. Blues, whites, marble and glass ripple, blend together and reflect each other in the rays of the slowly setting sun. I am enchanted.
To me, Henrik Ibsen was previously known for his plays A Doll’s House and Peer Gynt. My friend had read Ghosts before the trip and summarized it for me. Subsequently, we were both asking the same question: how can this complicated material with many-layered family drama and tragedy stretching over two generations be translated to modern ballet dancing? While admiring the spacious interior of the Operahuset’s foyer, which is just as intriguing as the outside, we got a program. In the introduction director Marit Moum Aune immediately answers that taking Ibsen’s text as a basis for a dance performance is indeed a complicated feat (“terrible idea”), but as those involved were, we too are now intrigued.
We take our seats in the auditorium we viewed a year ago from above during our tour of the Operahuset and in a few minutes lights go out as the ballet begins. The set is at first glance minimalistic, but reflective of the dark shadows in the character’s pasts, both literally and metaphorically. As the mother soon to be surprised by the return or her grown-up son dances across the stage, we are pulled deeper and deeper in to this eerily calm and increasingly tense atmosphere. A screen shows a family of three slowly making their way forward, as if in a dream, the Fjord behind them and the unurried noise of waves coming in time with their steps. Is it a dream? Someone’s memory? Or indeed, ghosts? We don’t quite know, and the possibility of interpretation, the freedom of it is exhilirating. Fast-paced dance sequences involving the whole dance ensemble on stage seamlessly interchange with the slower ones, as agonies, past and present all collide, so that it becomes occasionally difficult to undersand who is who, but at the end you are left breathless, just like the rest of the audience. The immersion is so complete, it takes a while to come back to the real world.
I add the various smoked salmon to the eggs and bacon (mais oui) on my plate, and then my eyes fall on the waffle iron standing on the counter opposite. You can make your own waffles here? And put Nutella on them? Or raspberry jam? Oh, wait, you’re supposed to spray the inside of the waffle iron with this can, which as it turns out, is not whipped cream? Act casual, just act casual.
The breakfast buffet at the Scandic Grensen hotel has won me over. Or maybe that already happened when I saw the salmon. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Good food is not to be taken for granted, and neither is good breakfast! I’m feeling ridiculously happy that we will get to come here one more time before leaving, and I know without a doubt that I will stuff my face.
“There are two types of people: those who want to know when is breakfast in the hotel, and those who want to know until when is breakfast in the hotel.”
We board a tram at Oslo S and venture out a little outside of the city, but not too much, and get out to a view of the slightly hilly Ekebergparken sculpture park. The air is fresh and invigorating and I’m itching for a panoramic view of Oslo, which I get soon enough. It’s exciting to recognize familiar areas from above.
A few minutes later I get a shot of the Oslo Fjord, then I just stare for a while. It’s very peaceful up here and I like the understated beauty of bare trees waiting for spring. Nature will take its course and everything will soon wake up.
Ekebergparken is also a national heritage site, and scattered throughout the park are indeed sculptures, each arresting and thought-provoking in its own way. Ever so often a work of art will catch your eye and pull you out of your reverie brought on by trees, moss-covered stones and thoughts of Norwegian trolls. It’s an interesting state of perpetual contrast. Another sculpture by Sean Henry, Woman (Being Looked At), stands in the passageway of the Folketeatret, where we saw Ylvis last year. The exhibit in Ekebergparken, Walking Woman, inspires our purposeful stride. Concave Face by Hilde Maehlum captivates me with its unusual beauty.
Anatomy of an Angel by Damien Hirst leads to a monologue from me on the representation of angels in Supernatural (“Cas!”). Then I quickly forget my thread as a troop of children on ponies locked by adults in the front, middle and back passes us, with the kid in the middle astride a particularly fat pony. Its belly is almost level with its hooves and I’m delighted. A sign nearby points in the direction of a riding school on the territory, and sure enough, in a few minutes we discover it. The place is filled with happy family activity, sheep are bleating and there’s a small cabin labeled Kaniners, which attracts my attention because bunnies are Kaninchen auf Deutsch.
Art comes in all shapes and forms. After identifying that the disembodied voice half-hissing in a British accent, “Shed the body…shed the body…redemption” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets vibes, anyone?) was actually coming from the base of a lamppost, we decided it was time to head down to the Barcode district. Getting there on foot from Ekebergparken is entirely possible, just follow the tram tracks and then keep walking towards those fascinating buildings (mind the construction site on the way). We make sure not to look towards the opera house so as to keep the element of surprise alive for the evening’s activities.
I must admit, gazing out at the Oslo Fjord, with bright sunshine illuminating the fabulous waterfront views from the Aker Brygge neighborhood, is not a bad way to start a Friday morning.
It’s just gone 9 AM and we’ve been up for 6 hours. As a result, the pleasant anticipation of a full day ahead is even stronger than usual, while I nibble on my cinnamon roll from Narvesen to tide me over until our afternoon check-in at the hotel where we’ve just left our bags. They had a locker room downstairs involving some card scanning and (at first) complicated twists, plus memorizing of locker numbers. This proved to be a theme during the whole trip. Oh, the cinnamon roll was accompanied by my beverage of choice – hot chocolate, all for the sweet price of 25 NOK (roughly 3 euros). Especially during a weekend getaway, Narvesen or Seven-Eleven is an easy solution for snacks – both shop chains are to be found almost everywhere in the city and are friendly to your budget.
Just as last year, the brilliant sunshine makes for some active instagramming and we don’t want to go inside anywhere.
Walking around Oslo is easy – checking out all the previous trip’s discoveries in and around Aker Brygge with the breeze from the Oslo Fjord blowing in your face sweeps away any remaining drowsiness and we enthusiastically fan out through the streets around us. There’s the National Theater and the Royal Palace – no frost on the ground this year. Our feet seem to know where to go before we think about it. One lady asks us if it’s allowed to take a picture of the guards by the palace, and we feel like locals. We get our 24-hour Oslo Passes from the Oslo Visitor Centre at the Oslo S central station. After last year’s searching for it, everything goes quickly and the button that opens the door is still the same.
Next we find ourselves in the National Gallery, for what is a visit to Oslo without art, and what is art in Oslo without a bit of, you guessed it, Edvard Munch. Plans of the museum layout are available and each room is conveniently numbered at its beginning – I love me a system. So no FOMO and you see everything. The scope of the collection surprises me, from antique busts and heads to Russian icons, to impressionism, and of course plenty of Norwegian art. I dutifully stop in front of the version of Munch’s Scream on display here. In fact, there is a whole room filled only with Munch’s works. After a while I drift to the next artists and forget myself as I stop in front of View of Dresden by Moonlight by Johan Christian Dahl, one of Norway’s most famous landscape painters. The enchanting panorama, emanating both serenity and mystery, fills my vision. For a few minutes the memory of where I am recedes as I stare at this earlier view of a city in the country I now call home. Harald Sohlberg is another new discovery, and at the end of our visit I succesfully locate a postcard with Street in Røros and its eye-catching play of lines and colors in the museum shop. Always check out a museum shop in Oslo – you will most likely be pleasantly surprised.
It’s Friday night and we’re going out with the rest of them – DDR is performing in the Oslo Spectrum arena and it’s huge. I can’t stop looking behind me at the rows and rows ascending. They fill quickly, as does the standing area. We make our way right to the barrier in front of the stage and security hands out earplugs. DDR is a Norwegian comedy band performing local songs in exaggerrated German, as well as some actual German hits. I laugh myself hoarse to Nena’s 99 Luftballons and am taken back to an 80s dance night during a dedicated rendition of Falco’s Amadeus.
The blend of German in our Oslo trip is working out very well, but it hits its peak as what we’ve been waiting for all evening finally happens. We loose our minds and I my limb coordination as no other than Ylvis takes the stage. “Alles gut?!” Bård Ylvisåker bellows. Alles is more than gut as Ylvis, both dressed in military attire, launch in to a highly energetic, brand new performance of a German version of The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).
Post ear-plug cheering is still ringing in my ears as I hit the hay.
I have stretched this last post quite a bit, or rather posting it, and therefore extended the Oslo experience… Oh, Oslo. You have won my heart.
With these feelings tugging on the sensitive strings of my soul, we got up to fill up our last full day in Oslo. The perks of having an evening flight is still having enough time to do things after checking out in the hotel. We left our bags and off we went. The Oslo City Hall had been popping up in front of us the previous days as we returned by different routes from our various escapades. I had read that it was free and it seemed fitting to visit this building (completed in 1950) which was important to Oslo before leaving the Norwegian capital.
A short ride in the tram and we hopped out at the familiar dock from where we had made the beautiful ferry trip on the Oslofjord. It was another gloriously sunny day and I couldn’t remember when I had last taken so many unfiltered Instagram photos. We confidently proceeded to the front part (as I thought) of the City Hall facing the water, to discover a polite note on the door that said the main entrance was at the opposite end. We could have actually walked straight there from the National Theater, but maybe the subsequent discovery would not have left such a strong impression otherwise.
The part of the City Hall which one usually sees when out and about is noticeable, but not necessarily immediately arresting. It deserves a closer look, a longer stop to see that this facade already includes some reserved, but artistic details among its marked rectangularness and red brick. But the main entrance took me completely by surprise.
I had read about it, or maybe I had not read enough. A beautiful clock adorned one side of the facade in front of us, while numerous carvings, engravings and sculptures stood out from the stone parts of the display. Everything you see is responding to events in Norway’s history and also depicting scenes from Norwegian mythology, like the colourful murals lining both walls stretching towards the entrance. My favourite? The three valkyries. And once inside, the quite dignity of the spacious, light-flooded main hall and its beautiful upper floors make for a joyful and respectful observation of wall-high murals depicting life and work in Norway, especially after World War II.
In short, don’t miss this, the City Hall is an absolute must among (free!) places to see in Oslo.
After that we dashed to the Popsenteret for some afternoon fun, Oslo’s museum about the history of Norwegian pop music. Slightly hidden in a courtyard situated parallel to the street listed online, the Popsenteret is an interactive museum. Inevitably and quickly we walk past an exhibit about the band A-ha and I start singing along. “Taaalking away/ I don’t know what I’m to saaay/ I’ll say it anyway/ Today’s another day to find you/ Shyyying away/ I’ll be coming for your love, OK?/ Taaake ooon me (take on me)/ Taaake me ooon (take on me)/ I’ll be gooone/ In a day or twooo…” Ach, the memories! Such nostalgia. There’s also a booth for recording yourself and a drum set with some headphones where we let loose. The results did not sound bad at all!
A very special city, indeed. A kaleidoscope of impressions, experiences and memories. Oslo!
We made it back to town with time enough to run by the nearest 7-Eleven and grab a snack, which felt routine by now. Then we caught the last ferry from the B1 dock right opposite the City Hall. My friend had recommended doing this, as the ferry is included in the Oslo Pass transportation and it goes around several islands in the Oslofjord, providing stunning views everywhere you look. We sat outside, of course, with the fresh fjord winds blowing in our faces.
My guidebook mentioned this trip, saying taking it was like a refreshing morning shower. If you are slightly sleepy from the day’s activities (which we weren’t, I mean, vikings), this is the thing to do to wake up again before proceeding to the evening. Not a trace of the morning fog was to be seen. From this:
We could not have asked for better conditions to be out on the water. Going out on a boat on a fjord is on the list of things to do when one is in Norway (so is swimming in one, just need to wait a few months). The round trip takes an hour and you find yourself completely submerged (pun!) in the stunning, raw beauty of the landscape around you. The air is so clear, you almost forget that you are travelling around a city, ducks and seagulls occasionally bob along the boat on the water, and the islands of the Oslofjord are dotted with the already mentioned colourful quintessentially Norwegian houses.
Cities built near the water certainly have an advantage, and with my love for Hamburg and its rivers already going strong, it was easy to open up my heart to Oslo too. Especially because Oslo, like Hamburg, is also a city with character and individuality. But the connection to water has always been a special thing for me. On and on we sailed, watching small waves splash upon the fjord. It was very peaceful and after the first stop there was just one other person on the top deck besides us.
By the end of the trip my fingers were stiff with cold despite gloves and I made dancing motions with my legs until we docked again by the City Hall. A very good tip for making a trip around the Oslofjord without paying additionally for a tour and with the added freedom of simply observing quietly as the ferry makes its way around the islands.
The low budget section of my guidebook listed one particularly intriguing item, which we left for the evening. A short walk brought us to the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel not far from the Central Station. As we approached it, we saw what we were looking for: a circular glass lift made its way up one side of the building, all the way to what I knew to be the 34th floor. After asking at reception where to go, we ended up using the normal lift (so ask how to find the glass one). It took us to the 33rd floor, but one short flight of stairs and a helpful sign later, et voilà, welcome to the Skybar.
We made our way across the cosy, dimly lit room, claimed some armchairs right by the enormous windows spanning the area, and just stopped to look. Because the nighttime view of Oslo from up there was indescribable. We just stared for a while, and all I could do was sigh. Besides armchairs, the windowsills are wide enough to sit on. The atmosphere was once again incredibly relaxed, as were the guests around us, and any small worries I had about dresscodes and such evaporated.
The drinks menu held some intriguing titles, and at first I went for a cocktail containing “traces of alcohol” called Smell of Flowers, which was fun to ask for, even if in the end my receipt said VIRGIN BREEZE. The drink was tasty and indeed flowery, and as I leaned back in my seat, cocktail glass in hand, drinking in (another pun) the view of Oslo and its diamond lights spread out below, I thought, wow, what an absolutely fantastic moment.
After asking at the bar, we found the glass lift, and I was glad I had a drink before going on it, because I did have to close my eyes for the first few seconds during descent. After that we went up, as we had originally intended, and then back down again, and it was indeed worth it. A fitting end to our last evening in Oslo.
This was the only foggy morning we experienced in Oslo. Two groups of children got on the same bus as we did, clearly also on their way to the museum island of Bygdøy (a friend told me how to pronounce this correctly, but unfortunately I keep switching to the German way of doing it in my head, which is funny, considering the name contains a letter the German alphabet does not have).
One group consisted of small schoolchildren from Germany, and the other of still smaller Norwegian ones in neon orange vests. The latter simply sat down on the floor of the bus and I amused myself for a while imagining reactions of fellow passengers if this happened in Deutschland. Possibly “Die Kinder dürfen nicht auf dem Boden sitzen.” One little girl boarded the bus in colourful sunglasses and didn’t take them off for most of the trip. Norwegian cool! Apparently it starts from an early age.
The bus number 30 stops in front of every attraction on Bygdøy – another very satisfying transport experience in Oslo for me. My guidebook also told me I could not get lost, as there were signs everywhere, which is true, also no one acts like they can get lost, and as we all know, the right mindset is everything.
Our first stop was the Kon-Tiki Museum, which I expected to be small and done in a quick tour. Was I ever wrong. A fascinating story opened up to me and I was wondering whether I had really missed this, or simply forgotten. The extraordinary account of Thor Heyerdahl’s trip across the Pacific Ocean on the Kon-Tiki raft in 1947 is constructed in a comprehensive exhibit built around the raft itself. Video and audio plays in the background, additionally animating the story.
The museum also shows artefacts from other daredevil expeditions that Heyerdahl undertook, as well as models of his other (!) rafts. What struck me especially is how much writing he did, not just for scientific purposes, both on his expeditions and between them. After seeing the suggestively realistic underwater exhibit cleverly connected to the raft above, and walking half-bent through a reconstruction of a cave (warning, yes, it is on the narrower side), I immediately bought the book about the Kon-Tiki expedition in the museum shop (generally good stops in the Oslo shopping plan. Psychedelic colouring pencils in the Munch Museum, anyone?).
I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that several men had actually slept, worked and sailed on this thing in the middle of the PACIFIC OCEAN. On a RAFT. As well as that so many people told Heyerdahl he would never, ever be able to do it…and he did.
Inspired and curious after this first fascinating tale, we proceeded to the next museum bearing evidence to more mind-blowingly daring things done by Norwegian explorers – the Fram. By the roof you can tell the building houses a ship. Inside we end up walking downstairs first and watching a bit of the running documentary about the polar expedition made by Roald Amundsen (memories of geography lessons in school start to stir) between 1903 and 1906, aboard the Gjøa. This vessel was the first to sail along the Northwest Passage.
After a few minutes of the film and walking around, observing the numerous instruments, kits, journals, pictures, bottles and clothing, it sinks in just how daunting, not to mention risky, such an undertaking was in those times, when neither science nor technology was as advanced as it is today. These polar expeditions were unimaginably rough, and one can understand the bottles of aquavit displayed around the ship. You would drink too if it happened to you, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo.
Fueled by horrified fascination and admiration, we proceeded back to the Fram. First Fritjof Nansen and his crew sailed to the North Pole from 1893 to 1896, achieving fame in Norway and beyond as a result, both for themselves and the Fram. In 1912 Roald Amundsen once again surfaced in connection with a polar expedition, sailing to the Antarctic, to subsequently be the first to reach the South Pole on dog sleds.
The Fram is very big and very impressive, and it’s also possible to go aboard. Signs with “Please don’t climb on the rigging” are tacked on in several strategic spots. I look down from above. Really? I mean, seriously? Who would even come up with the idea?
Walking on deck I try to imagine the unknown vastness of the North Pole opening up ahead of me, with nothing but ice ahead, and maybe nature making some noise. Inside narrow sets of steps repeat themselves every now and then, as we go from room to room, all of which are quite cosy, though the ceilings are low and I think having only these places to go to for months on end must have been exhausting, though the explorers knew what they might be up against, as best as they could.
To complete the polar experience, make sure you pop in to this here Arctic simulator. I walked past this door three times before I realized that was the entrance. No more excuses now! And not because of the sub-zero temperatures, been there, done that, hair flip.
Next stop – the Viking Ship Museum! For what would a visit to Norway be without connecting with its viking history? The Vikingskiphuset houses artefacts and actual ships found in graves around the Oslofjord. The ships were used by vikings for sea voyages first, and then eventually hauled ashore to become burial vessels. Considering the amount of things (and animals) buried with the dead, one understands the use of the ships, and also with the significance attached to them in the viking way of life, there is something poignant about them being further connected to death and the afterlife, something, perhaps, about viewing sailing as eternal, both literally and spiritually. But these are my own musings only.
The first ship you see, with beautiful carvings on the front, was found at Oseberg, and it was a grave for two powerful women, one of whom had lived past the age of 80 (impressive for times when lifespans were famously short). The other ships and artefacts come from Gokstad, Tune and Borre. All had been ransacked and robbed before being discovered, unfortunately, but they are still currently the best preserved viking ships in the world. Somewhat skeletal, but eerily beautiful, it feels like images of the ships’ former glory are just out of reach. With my imagination buzzing, I made a stop at the museum shop here as well and got a book on viking times. I might have also browsed a little longer by the stall with the viking jewelry replicas. The costume jewelry ones, not the real silver, more expensive ones.
From ships and sailing we proceeded to our last stop – the Norwegian Folk Museum. Upon entering we receive a map with a useful “do not miss” section, which we duly peruse. The Norsk Folkemuseum exhibition is located completely outdoors (with free WiFi available) and it is very easy to feel as if you have indeed gone back in time, alternating between periods. Showing life in Norway from as far back as 1500, the museum does this through 160 historic buildings relocated from various sites. We barely saw anyone while there, which contributed to the pleasantly tingly ghosttown feeling (but since by this point it was sunny again, my imagination quieted somewhat after the viking ships).
A particularly interesting stop is the Wessels Gate 15 apartment building, which you can enter and see 8 apartments with interiors from the past 130 years. This was very cool, especially since it looked like the owners would pop back in any minute. The sun was still shining and a Beatles song was playing in the 60s section. One kitchen we could go in, but I couldn’t open any cupboards or drawers (probably nailed shut precisely because of visitors like me). The rest was observed from behind glass walls.
So much history in one day, and absolutely worth the time. I can’t even begin to decide which attraction I enjoyed most – they were all part of an incredibly exciting discovery of Oslo’s museum landscape. All of the above are included in the Oslo Pass.
We caught the bus and settled back to digest the day’s impressions during the next 20 minutes until getting out in town. Then we realized we still had time for another planned activity…
No, day 3 is still not over! “And I just can’t get enough/ And I just can’t get enough.”
We took the tram (Oslo is the only city in Norway with trams, or trikken, by the way, and I think the last time I rode one was in Prague) to Aker Brygge, one of the most convenient points to get out at if you want to explore the square around the City Hall, as well as walk along the harbour by the Oslofjord. We walked along the right-hand side, if you face the fjord, with the still cloudless deep blue sky reflected in the water and the afternoon sun contributing to the impression that everyone around us was also on vacation, despite the fact that it was Wednesday. Fancier-looking restaurants filled with guests lined the promenade, along with ice-cream kiosks, and more attention-grabbing modern Oslo architecture popped up, in brick, glass and steel. We fantasized about what it must be like to live in an apartment with such a view and were enchanted with the observation point at the end of the walk, opening up to yet another breath-taking vista of the Oslofjord. Why is everything so beautiful?!
To the left of the observation point (which turns out to be right by the Astrup Fearnley Museum of modern art, the cool building with the slanting roof) is a bathing area. Some are sitting on the sand, relaxing in the sun, but one guy in bright blue swimming shorts (yes, I have an eye for details) catches my attention. He’s quite tanned for this time of year and he’s the only one on the higher bit of wall clad so modestly. No one seems to mind or really notice, though. And like it’s the most natural thing in the world, he leaps in to the water, while his dog tensely watches. Just a refreshing dive. I pull my hat down more snugly over my ears and wonder about coming over here again in the summer.
After that we were ready for the next item on our Oslo list – Vigelandsparken. On to the tram again and past some very pretty houses. The park consists of five parts, all together combining 212 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Materials include bronze, granite and wrought iron. That intoxicating feeling of space and calm enveloped us once again as we entered through the main gate, also a work of art on its own, and proceeded along the bridge stretching ahead of us. The bridge was lined on both sides by numerous sculptures, and after viewing quite a few more than expressive works concentrating on the nude human body in the Munchmuseet earlier, I was unusually conscious of the fact that all these figures were also naked. The figures depicted men, women and children caught in active movement, interacting with each other, and we quickly discovered the best game in the place – imitate the poses and take pictures. Keep a lookout for the Angry Baby (how most of the visitors refer to it) on the left, or auf Deutsch The Angry Little Boy. Due to excessive instagramming on the go, my phone also decided to chill when we got to the park, but my friend very kindly lent me her’s after seeing me fidget. Vigeland’s sculptures are a source of endless thoughtful discussions. “What did he mean by this one? This is quite interesting… Wait, is he throwing the baby?”
A large fountain with more fascinating sculptures follows the bridge, and even if it’s obviously not turned on yet, it’s fun to walk on the edges and scrutinize the more mythical depictions in front of us. I’m enjoying the people theme, it makes me think and feel very absorbent of Oslo’s local flair.
Some steps need to be mounted after the fountain, and we find ourselves on one of the most famous parts of Vigelandsparken, the monolith. 121 figures carved from stone silently tower above the park. They took 14 years to finish. Visitors sit on the steps surrounding the monolith, and once again some of the sculptures provoke a reaction best described as “Um…” Bottom line, though: the whole structure is mesmerizing.
All this monolithic viewing required a meal of respectable proportions as well, so we settled down in Kaffistova to some traditional Norwegian food and a discount with the Oslo Pass. What a day.