Live from Oslo!

I have a couple of hours until my night bus to Stockholm, so I thought I’d give y’all a live update on how my Great Northern Tour is going so far (Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, and Krakow are on the agenda.). I flew into Oslo so late on Friday night that no trains were running, so I stayed near the airport. But I was up and ready on Saturday morning, for my two days in Norway’s capital.

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The weather has been gorgeous, by the way, in the high 60s and clear. I wanted to start with outdoor spaces, in case the weather didn’t hold, so I went directly from the train station to the opera house. Yes, the opera house is more or less an outdoor space, as the main attraction is the sloping white roof, accessible from the sidewalk. It looks like an iceberg parked on Oslo’s harbor. (If icebergs were crawling with people.)

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Then I headed over to Akershus, the massive fortress/castle complex that overlooks the harbor. It was so well preserved (restored) that I’m pretty sure it could withstand a siege today. It is currently home to the Norwegian Defense University…although I don’t think they use the cannons anymore.

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I got a panini from 7-11 (they are on every corner here), and headed over to Vigeland Sculpture Park. The sandwich was good, but the park was amazing. Gustav Vigeland was a Norwegian sculptor, who took the human body as his subject. The park is filled with over 200 sculptures of nude bodies–old, young, man, woman, child, all shapes and sizes. It was a glorious celebration. Some of the sculptures were funny (the screaming toddler is everyone’s favorite), some were sad or bittersweet, some were erotic, and some were frightening. The whole range of humanity was depicted. It was overwhelming and perfect. My favorite thing in Oslo.

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(I could include a million pictures of this park…but I’m showing self-restraint.)

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city, checking out the Royal Palace, Parliament building, City Hall (where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented every year) and just taking it all in.

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I stayed at Anker Apartments, a super bare-bones, but functional, hostel. Think 15 sets of metal bunk beds all in one room, and a bring-your-own-sheets policy. I slept really well though, and started today with museum plans.

I had to visit the Viking Ship Museum. It’s astounding to me that these three wooden ships have survived over 1200 years, and are still jaw-droppingly impressive pieces of living history. I kept thinking about the Vikings setting off across the Atlantic in long boats just like this. Of course these specific boats survived because they were buried as a funeral ritual. One had the remains of a male skeleton, the other, the remains of two women (the bones were also on display…). The third is in much worse condition, and no remains were found with it. I was fascinated the the story of these ships being excavated around 1900, and the museum being purpose built to house them. It was so cool.

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My admission included entrance to the Museum of Cultural History, which I also enjoyed–especially the exhibit about how the Nazis appropriated the Viking and other Nordic history and symbolism in their occupation of Norway. There were also interesting exhibits about Norway’s gay rights movement and Norway’s Hell’s Angels, alongside the expected artifacts from Vikings and the Stone Age.

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I had one more museum in me, as the National Gallery has free entry on Sundays. I couldn’t miss my chance to see Munch’s The Scream. I was very entertained by watching person after person take pictures with the painting, making the appropriate face.

Then I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city, especially the harbor area. I am so obsessed with these ships–they have masts! And rigging! It’s like a movie! Overall, Oslo reminded me a lot of Belfast (where I studied abroad for a year). It’s in the north, focused towards a major harbor, a little gritty, has tons of innovative public art/cool cultural offerings, but isn’t really sure of itself as a tourist destination. Mostly Oslo seemed to be marketing itself as a gateway to the natural beauty of western and northern Norway (Belfast does the same with the Antrim coast). But I think Oslo should own its cool identity. I had a blast.

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Next stop, Stockholm!

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