I am sure that it has happened to you, too, that you found yourself in a city or country although you hadn’t planned any trip. So it happened to me to come to Oslo at the beginning of January – at a time when many people travel to exotic warm destinations and not to a country where it is still dark at 9 am and it starts getting dark again at 3 pm already. However, I don’t regret it. Oslo has a lot to offer also during these short days. I prepared some tips for you which are possible to manage in three days. Of course, there is much more to undertake but I should leave something for the next visit as well, shouldn’t I?
We arrived in Oslo on New Year’s day. The city hadn’t woken up from the winter holidays yet. On the windows of the houses, there were no curtains but shining candle holders and big paper stars.
The weather forecast for the first day was favourable so we decided to go to the Opera House (1).
We waited with impatience for the bright sky they had forecast. However, very soon we understood that we should rather believe in the clear sky than feel it. The sun showed up just for half an hour and was so low on the horizon that the people in the more remote city parts didn’t have any chance to see it.
In some guidebooks, you can find a warning to put on sunglasses while walking on the roof to protect your eyes because the sun rays reflect off the white marble the same way as off a glacier surface. There was not any danger to us! Nevertheless, we had to be aware of the slippery frozen sidewalk. With just our eyes we touched the walls of the opera decorated with a relief which reminded us of Braille.
There was a long discussion about the location of the new opera. The quarter Bjørvika used to be a problem zone, a busy traffic junction and a place where drug dealers used to gather. Before starting to build this imposing building the entire surroundings had to be renovated and the traffic links relocated under the earth. Even today you think you are on a construction site. So many cranes! The new Munch Museum and National Library are growing next to the few modern skyscrapers. The whole area should be finished by 2020.
A strange installation floating on the water caught our eyes. “She Lies” is the name of the sculpture made by the Italian sculptor Monica Bonvicini. If you have visited the gallery Kunsthalle in Hamburg, this could remind you of the painting “The Sea of Ice” from David Friedrich, a German Romantic landscape painter. And so it is. The sculpture is actually a 3D interpretation of that painting.
The Opera of Norway was established in 1957 and since then has moved several times. Its first director was the opera singer Kirsten Flagstad. You can see her statue outside the building.
During our visit, we also walked through the snowy parks (2) of the city. 75 % of the area of Oslo is covered with forest and water! For us who live in big cities in Central Europe, it was a chance to enjoy the creak of fresh snow under our feet. One of those parks is the Palace Park (Slottsparken) opened for the public all year long. But be careful! It is the only park in the city where it is forbidden to sunbathe topless! 🙂 🙂 🙂
It would have been nice to sledge downhill with children but we kept walking to the Royal Palace (3). No fences, no policemen who would keep you at a certain distance from the palace. The royal family of Norway is more “normal”. Maybe, because their royal blood is not purely blue anymore. Queen Sonja comes from a very rich but not noble family and also Crown Prince Haakon Magnus married Mette-Merit in 2001, a commoner and single mother.
The Royal Palace dominates the end of the most luxurious street of Oslo: Karl Johans Gate (4)
If you had been walking here more than 150 years ago, you could have met Henrik Ibsen, one of the most played playwrights in the world, at this place. Everyday, precisely at 1 pm he stopped in front of the university and checked the time on his watch. After that, he walked to the café of the Grand Hotel nearby. It was always precisely 287 footsteps to get there…
At the time Ibsen lived here, the name of the city was Kristiania, it got back its original name Oslo in 1925 only. For more than 1000 years, it used to be the residence of foreign as well as local kings, it suffered from wars, big fires and epidemics (in the 14th century half of its inhabitants died due to plague). The writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson compared the city to a monster which bares its teeth or in a little more tender way: Tiger’s city. Bjørnson and many other Norwegian intellectuals left the city and rather spent several years abroad.
The main figure on the coat of arms is St Hallvard, the saint patron of Oslo, whose religious feast day is celebrated by citizens of the city on the 15th of May. He holds three arrows in one hand and a millstone in the other. Hallvard lived in the 11th century. One day, he was preparing a boat trip to the fjord when he saw a woman who was chased by three men accusing her of theft. Hallvard believed in her innocence. He took the woman in his boat but the men took another boat and killed them with arrows. The woman (who is also on the coat of arms) was buried on the bank while the men bound a millstone around Hallvard’s neck. However, a miracle happened. His body didn’t sink and was brought to the shore even with the stone. People buried him and started to regard him as a martyr.
The cathedral was the site of the wedding of King Harald V in 1968 after he managed to persuade both his father and the Norwegian parliament to allow him to marry his love Sonja. Haakon, the Crown Prince of Norway, also get married in this church. The Church of Norway is a Lutheran denomination of Protestant Christianity, until the 19th century the membership was obligatory for all citizens.
It is said that the fjord looks like a swan’s neck from the sky. This is the place where King Harald III established the town called Oslo and started building roads and houses. The fjord was very important not only for trade but also for the protection of the town.
It was snowing very heavy snow which prickled into our eyes so we couldn’t see that one of the towers is 3 meters higher. Every year, on December 10th, shots from this city hall appear in media all over the world. It is the day of Alfred Nobel’s death. He decided in his last will that not Sweden but Norwegians will choose laureates of his Peace Prize. As this has always caused a lot of stir, it is not clear if his decision was made because Nobel loved or didn’t like Norway. Until 1989, Oslo University hosted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, after that, it was moved to the city hall. Oslo City Hall is open for tourists as well, more information: here
The very first laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize was Henri Dunant in 1901, the founder of the Red Cross. It is interesting that Gandhi was nominated five times but never received the prize. He was assassinated in the time of his 5th nomination and because the prize can go only to a living person the committee solved the problem in a way that the prize was given to nobody in that year.
We continued on our walk along the peninsula sticking out of the fjord. This is the place where dock workers used to sweat. Now, there is a new neighbourhood Tjuvholmen with modern houses, luxurious restaurants and shopping centers.
I could hardly believe that at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, Norway was a poor, geographically isolated and politically uninteresting country. However, in 1969, a miracle happened, and what’s more – exactly on Christmas: the largest deposit of oil and natural gas in the North Sea was discovered. The word olja (oil) became one of the most used words in the Norwegian dictionary. The unimpressive country of fishermen and farmers suddenly changed into a rich, prospering country, sometimes also called Kuwait of Scandinavia. In contrast to the oil sheikhs, Norwegians don’t build the biggest or highest mindless skyscrapers. They choose their architecture very carefully. This museum is one of the examples where art, nature and urbanity are united. It was designed by the world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano. If you want to visit the museum, you can find practical information: here
Even now, in winter, the park is a nice oasis with neither any fees nor bans. Local people come here with baby carriages or dogs and tourists come here to see the sculptures. Well, Oslo is a city where you can meet a statue on almost any corner, however, this park is extraordinary – a world’s record – because the installation here is the largest sculpture collection (212 pieces) made by a single artist! His name is Gustav Vigeland (1869 – 1941). Some statues are really very odd…
Oslo people call him Sinnataggen. He is crying so strongly that you are afraid his body will shake from his anger, his face becomes distorted, both fists driven. The left fist is shiny because of how people caress it to try to quiet the boy down. Nobody knows the cause of his anger. I think that he is crying because he wants people to leave him alone at last. Just imagine, from time to time, somebody paints the boy’s head with some striking colour and on New Year’s Eve 1992, the sculpture of 40 kg was stolen! The police appealed to the kidnapper for bringing the boy back and they even promised a financial reward. A few days later, the sculpture was found in a ditch. Although the offender was never found, local people were happy that their darling is back. You can still see a scar above his left ankle where the kidnapper cut the statue off.
The church is Oslo’s oldest remaining building. Unfortunately, it was closed, we couldn’t go inside. If you want to come here, according to an announcement in a showcase, the church is open on Thursdays 16 – 18 pm only. So we took a walk along the small streets Telthusbakken and Darmstredet with typical Norwegian quaint wooden houses from the beginning of the 18th century.
Walking along those streets, it popped into my mind that for all those three days, I hadn’t seen any icicles! No wonder. I remember the sun at the Oslo Opera – so low on the horizon and hidden behind a grey veil – that it is not able to thaw the snow on the roofs which could then flow down and freeze in drops. So Oslo is a city with no icicles!
We continued slowly to the nearby cemetery Vår Frelsers Gravlund (12).
The cemetery is very large. The most important graves could be found by the map at the entrance. We met so many mothers with baby carriages here even now in winter! Where one’s life ends, the new one begins…
It is said that Edvard Munch liked these surroundings, he used to walk or paint near the small houses. Who wouldn’t know his paintings? The Scream? Did you know that there are four originals of that painting? One of them is in the National Gallery, the other two in Munch’s Museum and the last one in a private collection of the American businessman Leon Black. It is said that everybody who visits Oslo should see at least one of them.
When the Albertina Museum in Vienna was reopened after a long renovation in 2003 the first exhibition was dedicated to Edvard Munch. I visited it and saw his famous The Scream as well. One year later, the painting was stolen from the museum in Oslo. Although it was rediscovered, it is not allowed anymore for the painting to leave the territory of Norway.
If you come to Oslo in winter and snowing is prognosticated, a visit of a museum is an ideal way to spend your day. However, I think it is better to leave Munch’s paintings for your next visit in summer when it is more likely that after seeing those depressive scenes you will go out into a sunny day. I had seen the paintings already, so we decided to visit some other museums.
In summer, you can get here by ferry. In winter, we used the bus (Nr 30, every 10 minutes from Oslo Central Station or City Hall). Buying tickets to both museums will get you a reduction.
Even at the time when Norway was still an uninteresting country, it has had its big men with big dreams and plans – great adventurers and explorers like Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen who set out for polar expeditions.
The vessel is 39 m long. You can come aboard and explore the ship but you should add treacherous waters and also heavy storms and freezing cold when the temperature falls below -50°C. They have also a polar simulator but it is more suitable for children. The exposition is dedicated not only to the successful expeditions but also to those ones which ended tragically but made a considerable contribution to the exploration of the polar regions.
More information about the museum: here
Also in the Kon-Tiki Museum, you can see some vessels, however, they are not suitable for polar regions. These ships are connected with one of the greatest adventurers of the 20th century – Thor Heyerdahl. As a schoolboy, he had already wanted to be an explorer, as he said because there were still so many unsolved mysteries… More information about the museum: here
The voyage of 8.000 km lasted 101 days. It is hard to believe that the expedition was undertaken by a man who suffered from severe hydrophobia, had minimal swimming skills and no experience as a sailor. Underneath the exhibited vessel, you can see all kinds of sea creatures the crew met on their voyage, including a whale shark. If you have read the book Kon-Tiki, then all the stories about this expedition will come to your mind. There is also the Oscar statuette Heyerdahl was awarded for the best documentary feature in 1951 displayed in the museum.
One of the advantages of the visit of Oslo in winter is also the fact that after all those walks in cold weather when it is snowing behind your collar, you wouldn’t like to drink a cold beer which is very expensive here. You would prefer a (markedly cheaper) hot drink (15). Oslo is called the coffee capital of Scandinavia. Norwegians drink coffee with cake for breakfast as well as after the dinner and take it also in a thermos flask to a hike.
I was very surprised that nobody had put away the terrace furniture, it remains in front of the restaurants and cafes and covered with snow, it hibernates. The same with bicycles. As if the winter should end tomorrow…
How to Get There: by plane – all the possibilities how to get from the airport to the city center: here We took a NSB train which has the best price. It took us 23 minutes to get to the center. Most of the attractions were accessible for us on foot but we also used public transport, mostly Oslo’s subway (T-BANE). I am sure that one of the first sentences you will learn in Norwegian will be: Dørene lukkes (Doors closing). 🙂 If you visit the tourist center at the Central Station, you will get a free city map with public traffic lines.
Where to Stay: We chose Saga Apartments Oslo: a perfect location in a quiet street, most of the attractions accessible on foot.
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri