PART 5: OSLO, A CULTURAL METROPOLIS FOR MUSEUMS, ARTS, FABULOUS FOOD, THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, AND SO MUCH MORE!
In PART 4: THE TROLL’S DAUGHTER DANCES, WATERFALLS PLUNGE, AND THERE’S SALMON… LOTS AND LOTS OF SALMON! We have left behind the jutting mountains, roaring waterfalls, and orchards planted on sloping hills like grapevines for the country’s largest city.
OSLO translates to Field of the Gods. It is a city undergoing vast urban revitalization.
Where we stayed:
Thon Hotel Opera is a convenient location that will become even more advantageous when the Oslo Opera House opens half a block away in 2019. Right now, the 480-room hotel is ideal for its location to shopping, restaurants and attractions, but what is particularly ideal is its connection to the Oslo Sentralstasjon. You walk out of the hotel on a back door and are right on the platform for the train station.
What we saw:
Though there are numerous Viking Museums in Denmark and Norway, the Vikingkipshuset (Viking Ship Museum) in Oslo has in-depth displays that chronicle the Viking age from the 700s to 1050 AD. Viking means people living on the Bay (around Oslo). Many of their stories were preserved by being written onto wood. Exhibits provide insight into the daily lives of Vikings, from burial traditions to farming, weapons and their gods. The only complete Viking helmet ever found is on display and no, Viking helmets never had horns! The museum contains reconstructed full-sized ships originally used for sea voyages. They were later brought to shore to be used as burial ships. Burial ships would contain everything the dead would need to exist in the next world, much like Egyptian tombs. There would be tools for running a farm, animals, and fruits, as well as personal jewelry or ornate furniture, such as beds or carved animal head posts. There’s an interesting five-minute animated film that plays across three museum walls, inserting you into the midst of a Viking adventure.
Heroic tales in Norway often center around sea voyagers. At the Fram Museum, the journey of the polar ship Fram, which sailed closer to the North and South poles than any others, is featured in documentaries, film clips and photo galleries. We walked on all three decks of one of the two full-sized ships on display. 96% of the preserved wood on that ship was originally cut in 850 AD.
Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) crossed the Pacific Ocean on the Kon-Tiki in 1947. His exploits have been the focus of books, movies, and for the Best Documentary Oscar in 1952. Reading the book or even watching the films don’t prepare you for realizing just how amazing the small crew’s accomplishments were until you see the actual Kon-Tiki up close. The boat was constructed from balsa rafts made with logs obtained from Ecuador. The original craft, except for the rope work that was replaced for the exhibit, left Peru under an American flag. Heyerdahl’s motivation for the trip was to prove that Polynesian people could have come from South America. He proved his theory.
We couldn’t enter the Oslo Opera House as its interior is being redone. Although it opened in 2008, the1,100 room Opera House built reclaimed land on the edge of the Oslo Fjord is partly responsible for a building boom in the area. When construction is finished in 2019, there will also be a new library, the (Edvard) Munch museum, and residential apartments in the area, revitalizing a part of Oslo that had been rundown. The Opera House is a dramatic, modern design that invites guests to walk up its wide, sloping roof. Floor to ceiling windows front the white building flanked by the slanted roof lines that are as wide as an airport runway. Outside, seemingly floating in the water, is an acid-resistant steel and glass sculpture by Bonvicini called She Lies. Although the artist describes it as an accumulation of ice, it appeared to us as a sailboat bend over into the wind. The sculpture is held in place on a concrete platform and turns on its own axis by wind and tides.
Aker Brygge was once a shipyard and is now a popular attraction of shopping, waterside restaurants, and buskers providing music or living statue entertainment. The aroma of fresh-made waffle cones emanating from many ice cream kiosks countering the pungent smell of fresh fish being boated in.
around Aker Brygge and the area’s museums is facilitated by the City Hall Ferry. The ferry runs frequently, and has a 24-hour pass available. Some of the museums the ferry provides easy transportation to are the Viking Ship Museum, Norsk Folkemuseum, Kon-Tiki; Polar Ship Fram, Norwegian Maritime and the Holocaust Center. City Hall is where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each December 10.
The 80-acre (Gustav) Vigeland Sculpture Park is the largest sculpture park in the world dedicated to a single artist. Truthfully, I was not familiar with his works, but now I can say his creations depicting the cycle of life touched my soul and aroused my emotions. From the moment you enter the park, you walk among full-sized statues representing every facet of a human being’s life, from birth to death. The statues are nudes, literally baring their emotions for all to see. The front gates to the park are crafted with old Norse symbols embedded in the decorative iron work. Center down the long walkway entrance is an enormous fountain surrounded by sculptures representing love and relationships. A rose garden bears about 40,000 roses of various hues.
Oslo Sentralstasjon is attached by a walkway to Thon Hotel Opera, making it a bonus for luggage-toting tourists, but it is also a destination for diners, both casual and those who want to dine in some of Oslo’s trendiest restaurants. First floor restaurants have a mix of seating; some outside tables but most that spill out to the main terminal hall. Inviting lighting and patio-style white-linen tables create an ambiance designed to lure diners in from the intemperate weather outdoors. Upstairs, a multi-colored neon-lit art display leads to the trains.
The Nasjonalgalleriet (National Gallery of Art) contains more than 300 masterpieces of graphic drawings, paintings and sculptures. Some of the artists are Johan Christian Dahl; Christian Krohy, Picasso, Munch (The Scream), Monet, Cezanne, and Halfdon.
I don’t ski, am klutzy, and have a fear of heights, all of which will forever keep me off ski lifts or anything that has nowhere to go but down. Yet, even I was drawn to gaze at the ski jump that drew participants at Holmenkollen in the 1984 Olympics. To prepare for the World Championships of 2011, the ski jump and surrounding arena have been updated, while preserving the historic value that has continued Holmenkollen’s status as a landmark. Some of our group rode the new Ski Jump Simulator. I declined and after seeing their faces, a mix of exhilaration and ashen skin color, was glad I kept for my feet grounded.
Where we ate:
Oslo’s oldest restaurant was begun in 1860 after new owners converted the 1700’s bed-and-breakfast inn a to restaurant and bar opposite to the former Christiania Theater. Engebret-Café became an unexpected treat for Russ, me and two other couples from our tour group. The café had just reopened that day after renovations and the entire staff seemed bent on making sure we had not just great food, but attentive service that went far beyond serving our dinner. Our server offered us a personal tour of the two-story, multi-building complex, which we eagerly accepted.
The downstairs dining rooms and bar area have a retro-charm that could not be easily duplicated. Ceilings have original embellished astrological designs. Ornate moldings and all windows but one in the entire building are the originals from the 1800s. All the paintings were also original to the restaurant. Upstairs, rooms lead one into another, much like train cars, yet each can be serviced by the kitchen. Each is individually adorned. One ceiling is covered in plates that were originally created for the restaurant in the 1800s They had been packed in crates and not rediscovered until 1996 when the restaurant was undergoing a renovation. One room could fit 20 at a long table, another that overlooks the garden dining area can fit up to 30 for a reception. Overall, the upstairs dining areas could accommodate 285. Across the garden, an attached building is used for concerts and can hold up to 280 people.
On our final evening in Oslo and the end of our Norwegian Splendor with Copenhagen tour, we dined at Stock, a fairly new restaurant that could compete with any high-end restaurant at which we’ve eaten. The name refers to the fact that they make fresh stock daily, much of it sold to other restaurants. I was given a quick, private tour around their immaculate kitchen, contemporary bar and the dining rooms. The private dining room easily held our group of 24 and our guide. Our meal began with a carrot tartar with fried yeast, sour cream, pickled ramson (broad-leafed garlic) and mash salad. I thought for sure Russ would refuse to eat more than a taste, but he ate every drop. I was also afraid he might push away his Norwegian Pollock and would never have chosen the duck that i chose instead. Again, he devoured his fish that was topped with a potato puree and a turnip and beurre blanc. Lucky for me, he doesn’t like broccoli, so I ate his butter fried broccoli. My duck was exquisite. Tender, not fatty. I cleaned my plate. By the time the creamy champagne sabayonne with Norwegian berries, spruce cream and crunchy chocolate was served, I had room for only one bite!
There are many aspects to Norway on our tour with Odysseys Unlimited that I believe other travelers may appreciate knowing.
The Odysseys’ tours we’ve been on always have capable, knowledgeable Tour Guides from the area. The information is supplemented by local tour guides who have intimate knowledge of an area. In Oslo, our guide was the charming, witty Neil Collier. He described how Norway’s discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea in 1969 has contributed to the populace’s health, wealth and happiness. Oil and gas are Norway’s largest exports. Norway is the largest producer of hydroelectric. So many Americans came because of the discoveries that Norway had to build golf courses. Today there are more than 100.
Salmon is the next largest export, unless you count people. Neil Collier said today there are more people of Norwegian descent living in the United States than there are in Norway.
Driving in Norway unless you’re a native is hazardous to your safety and others, especially on the hairpin turns that dominate mountain areas. There were times I gripped Russ’ arm so tightly when rounding curves, especially when facing obvious non-local drivers coming around those same curves going way too fast or not hugging their side of the narrow road, that I left nail prints in his arm.
Fart is the Norwegian word for speed. Din Fart = your speed, which are signs we saw posted frequently.
English is spoken everywhere. It is pretty much the unofficial second language. I found I could understand some of the Norwegian printed language when I sounded it aloud.
Hammerfest claims to be the northernmost “town” in the world, with over 9,000 inhabitants. There are some villages farther north, but none larger than 2,000 people. Hammerfest is one of the capitals of the Sami people, also known as Lapp or Lapplanders.
1814 – Norway’s constitution was signed.
1905 – Norway gains independence from Sweden.
Spitsbergen has become a top tourist destination to see polar bears and northern lights. Expect heavy snow, glaciers and the longest hours of the midnight sun.
Norwegians aren’t wine drinkers. Wine is expensive and can only be bought in state-controlled stores in large urban areas. The stores are called Vin Monopolet. Hard liquor can’t be sold the day before Election day or on Sunday. Government stores can only be open a few hours on Sundays in “tourist season” and tourist destinations.
The longest lake in Norway is 60 miles long.
Plastic hay barrels, traditionally white around the world, get lost when blanketed by snow. As you drive across fields you can now spot light pink ones, said to honor breast cancer victims. In the last year, light blue ones began appearing that our Tour Director Karin Hansen thinks may be to honor prostate cancer victims.
We were repeatedly told tap water in Denmark and Norway is clean and safe. The taste varies a lot, so we chose to still drink bottled water when possible.
Breakfast buffets have salad items we would typically associate with a lunch or dinner buffet.
Hotel coffee is better than the watery thin brew we usually find in American hotels. Larger Norwegian hotels usually have coffee machines for complimentary espressos, lattes etc, in addition to pots of coffee you can usually take to your table.
Bowls of skin-on small boiled potatoes are served family style at meals. They appear as a free expected side, like bread.
Pink trout looks just like salmon. They both feast on shrimp to get their color.
Whale meat, reindeer and salmon are on pretty much every menu. Secondary fish options are usually halibut, mackerel or cod.
Hotels outside the United States don’t function quite the same. Washcloths in hotels are rare. Most showers have liquid wall soaps, so bring your own wash cloth or shower puff. Twin beds are pushed together, but they move apart easily (when you least expect or want them to). Few European or Scandinavian hotels have air conditioning. Consider that last when planning the time of year to visit.
Photos by Russ Wagner (except for any photos of us)
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is an active member of ILEA and MPI and is now serving on the 2016 – 2017 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine for the second consecutive year. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. email@example.com; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.