Two days of visiting Norway’s capital city Oslo in glorious sunshine
After spending a noisy night in the midst of late-arriving refrigerated trucks that ran their generators all night, we were glad to be on our way from the aire at Andelva for the last fifty kilometre stretch into the centre of Oslo. We decided the simplest option was to check into the expensive but convenient campsite at Ekeberg and bus into the city centre from there. We checked in, finding our place at the far corner of the site away from the crowds and on the only flat grassy area we could see. The day was beautiful; still, cloudless and warm, a rarity for our time in Norway, and very welcome. We made and packed a lunch, organised some 24 hour bus/tram tickets, downloaded the requisite google maps off-line for Oslo central, and set off for the city.
We met a group of young English students at the bus-stop, who were currently in Norway to complete their Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. They hadn’t yet quite mastered the requisite skills for buying a Norwegian bus ticket yet though. The bus arrived on time and after a winding fifteen minute downhill journey later we were deposited near the central station, right by a square housing a giant bronze tiger. On the ride in we had decided to first concentrate on sights around the peripheral of the centre. After stepping off the bus we stood a moment to get our bearings, had a brief look in the tourist information centre then headed towards the dramatically sloping roof of the Opera House. We passed through the impressive foyer first, then returned to the sun and climbed up the sloped stone roof.
We watched joggers running sprints up the roof, as photographers captured action shots of posing models; it had clearly become an integral part of the city fabric, a well-used public space. From the roof vantage point we could see the enormous amount of construction underway throughout Oslo, especially the new buildings all along the aptly named ‘Barcode’ area. This was a stretch of closely positioned tall corporate buildings, each alternatively conceived in either almost entirely black or white materials. We watched tall wooden sailing ships glide past water-based sculptures with a backdrop of cruise ship and rolling hills. Below we could see most of the sites we hoped to visit next, our slow-paced walking route mapped out for us. The day was still and dry, perfect for gentle exploration.
Returning to street level, we walked the waterline, following a designated boardwalk path from the Opera house to the outskirts of the town, enjoying the pleasant, chilled atmosphere of the sunny promenade. We passed through small, pretty parks by the high fort walls of the Akershus Festning then through sculpture-filled squares near the Rådhuset, the City Hall. A new National Museum in the heart of the city was deep into its construction phase, closing off several main streets to traffic until its grand unveiling, currently planned for 2020. We continued on along the busy shore line, where lots of restaurants, bars and boutique stores lined our route, interspersed with colourful artworks injected into the city fabric.
We reached Renzo Piano’s latest building, the Astrup Fearnley Museet, a museum of Modern Art in a complex of shops and high end apartments. We crossed pretty pedestrian bridges over stretches of water resplendent with sculptures to reach the central avenue. We looked inside at the complex roof structure and the airy lightness of the public spaces, but with the beautiful weather we were being treated to we didn’t spend much time exploring inside. Instead we found and sat still at a purpose-built city beach and swim pontoon area at the end of the development, soaking up the sun and the sights. A few locals were enjoying a cooling dip, with many others simply enjoying the beautiful day, sun-bathing or picnicking on the grass or strolling by with skateboards, prams or designer shopping.
Everything in Oslo seemed neat, relaxed and unhurried. The people, places and overall ambiance shone through with a productive small town buzz, rather than a big-city coldness. Even with the widespread extent of construction projects, the disruption seemed to only affect drivers, with walkers like us continuing unaffected. We returned along the water ferry docks and back near to the Rådhuset. The direct ferry to Bygdøy was no longer included on our 24 hour travel pass, so we walked on to a nearby main road and caught a bus heading west. This took us around to the ‘island’ of Bygdøy and on to the port at Bygdøynes, where two places awaited our attention. We first looked into the Kon-Tiki museum, as I had read Thor Heyerdahl’s iconic book in my youth and long held an interest in his, unfortunately now discredited, hypotheses. But we were here mainly to feed our Polar exploration addiction, by visiting the Frammuseet, The Fram Museum.
The museum was packed to bursting with information and artefacts on polar travel and heroic expeditions. We first watched an introductory movie about the history of polar exploration, setting the scene for the displays to come. We walked through all rooms and galleries, but it would take many days to read every board or examine all of the displayed objects. We saw the Gjøa, a polar ship whose model we had admired in the Polar Museum in Tromsø. The highlight of the visit was definitely getting to explore the depths of the Fram, a ship originally commissioned by Nansen for his polar expeditions and later bought and utilised by Amundsen on his. We stood on deck, surprised a little by how small it seemed for such long expeditions. The cabins were tiny, each bed offered to crew members no longer than 1.5m and the width of a standard bench – we had no idea how they would have managed to grab a restful night’s sleep on them in perfect stillness and silence, never mind on a high sea or when stuck fast in ever-cracking pressure ice, as the ship was specifically designed to do.
Mindful of the rare sun outside, we reluctantly returned to the brightness, passed by the South Pole monument, before catching a bus back, not towards the centre of the city but slightly north, to visit Vigelandsparken, an open air statue park filled with the life’s work of Gustav Vigeland. It houses over 200 sculptures, all of the human form in various guises, created in bronze, granite or iron. We wandered the leafy gardens admiring the open space and often strange poses of the myriad statues, to reach the tall obelisk centrepiece, itself a mass of writhing, interlocked bodies. Many visitors took photos of their friends in poses mimicking the statues grotesque or overtly sexual poses, whilst we watched on with amusement and a welcome ice cream.
We looped around the expanse of gardens before returning back over the central bridge to catch a tram back to the city centre, alighting at Det Kongelige Slott, the Royal Palace. We slowly walked back along the bustling Karl Johan’s Gate, passing the Nasjonalgalleriet and Stortinget, mindful of our plan to leave this area for closer inspection on our second visit. The tree-lined streets were busy with locals and tourists, skateboarders and businessmen, artists and shoppers, all sharing the same flower-lightened spaces. We watched and absorbed as we slowly reached Central Station, before returning on the easy bus to Ekeberg camping to relax, rest and plan our activities for tomorrow.
The following morning we repeated our bus journey into the centre, using the same still-valid ticket as the previous day to get us there. The day was not quite so sunny, but dry and still bright, and we were glad to have left the majority of internal visits until now. We arrived at the Norsk Arkitekturmuseum to find it didn’t open until 10am, so instead wandered around the fort Akershus Festning until opening time. The fort public area was huge and the high walls afforded great views all around the city, with stationary guards on watch duty throughout. We returned to first visit the Samtidskunst, the Contemporary Art museum, where we were left distinctly unimpressed by both the quality of the photographs on display and the basic, almost school-level rationale for their initial creation.
So we crossed the road to instead spend our time in the Norsk Arkitekturmuseum, the museum of Architecture. Here we wandered the exhibitions and explored the display models of many varied projects, examining the preliminary sketches and presentation drawings created for each. The displays were informative, innovative and thought-provoking, in vast contrast to the works in the Samtidskunst. They sharply reminded me of my deep love for the design process of creating architecture and how much I miss specific aspects of that previous life; it’s the flawed nature of construction that drove me away, but the creative, problem-solving aspects will always be my muse.
We moved on to visit the Dronningparken surrounding the Royal Palace, meandering through the gardens, before returning to the front to visit the statue of Queen Maud. We walked again along Karl Johan’s Gate, before turning off to visit the Nasjonalgalleriet. This was our third free museum or gallery of the day, we found Thursdays were a great day for visiting Oslo. We explored the usual linear history of painting, from the religious motifs of gilded antiquity, to stodgy baroque through wild Romanticism and into free impressionism and surrealism. We saw Munch’s Scream and Madonna, the latter being mostly ignored as queues formed for pictures with the former. We joined a ten minute sketch class drawing a mother and child statue and now I proudly have a drawing hanging on the wall in the National Gallery. (bottom central of the photo for mine, if you’re interested ).
We ate lunch on a bench in a tidy square behind the Stortinget as we sat people-watching. After, we doodled around the local side streets, with no goal in mind. The weather turned a little and, clouding over, the rain beginning to spit gently. We visited Oslo Cathedral for a short look at the almost austere interior, before calling our wandering of the capital, and of Norway in general, to an end. We slipped onto another bus out of the centre and back to Ekeberg, to spend our last night in Norway in the company of noisy nesting birds and a very nice bottle of red. Sweden awaits.