Europe

Oslo, Norway – Vikings, Angry Babies, and Expensive Beer

Our trip to Oslo started on a train leaving from Gothenburg, Sweden. Excited to find out that our Eurail passes are valid in 1st class, we snuggled into our padded chairs, logged onto the free wifi, charged every device we had via the ample amount of outlets built into our seats and settled back for the 3.5 hour trip. About 2 hours in, an annoucment over the speakers informed us that the last stop was coming up and we would proceed directly to Oslo via bus. Now, the ticket we booked was a direct train to Oslo, so we were a bit confused and snagged the conductor on his last round. “Oh, yes” he said, “bus straight to Oslo, no new tickets required.” Not…”there’s something wrong with the line,” just “you get on bus now.” So get on bus now we did…us and 50 pushy-shovy senior citizens who had to be the first on the bus and had to get their luggage under the bus first and had to be as annoying as possible during their last years on earth. The bus was full…and hot. So, 107 miles from Oslo, we boarded a un-airconditioned bus which would trundle merrily along for the next two hours until it dropped us off a couple of blocks from the train station. I must say, at that precise moment, as I prickled with uncomfortable sweat, I wanted nothing more than to be under the fan in our bedroom, back in Nashville.

Hi ho, we reached our Airbnb room about 45 minutes later and dropped our packs with a thud. We had been out of clean clothes for the last two days, so we were thrilled to find Martin and Gung’s apartment had a washer and a dryer. In went 95% of our clothes, including John’s running shoes. That washer never knew what hit it. With our least grungy attire on, we walked down the street for a beer. The bar was full with old Norwegians getting completely tanked. We sat at a table outside and listened to the musical entertainment. An older gentleman with a electric keyboard was crooning out Willie Nelson songs and standards such as the Tennesse Waltz, which was incredibly comforting. We think he had the phoenetic pronunctiation written on his sheet music because the words weren’t quite right, but the soul was definitely there.

The next morning, sexy and confident in our cleeean clothes, we set out to explore Oslo. The first stop along the way was the Oslo Cathedral.

20140429-203843.jpgThe Cathedral was finished in 1697 but the beautiful ceiling decorations was finished in the 1950’s by a Norwegian painter called Hugo Lous Mohr. This is a panel depicting St George.

20140429-204208.jpgEach of those wide stripes of color are filled with tiny, hand-painted stars, varying intensity of color and size, to create a spectacular mural.

20140429-204426.jpgWe left the silence of the Domkirke and headed to the Stottsparken to eat our lunch. The royal palace is in the middle of this park and we showed up about 15 minutes before the changing of the guard was scheduled to take place. Now, I have seen the guards change at Buck Palace…and we are all familiar with the famously unshakeable Palace Guards that guard QE2 in London. Let’s just say these guys were a couple of rungs down the ladder from there. First off, there were only four of them, and in the 15 minutes we observed them, one of them scratched his nose, another one checked his watch and one of them came out of his hut and posed for pictures. Disgraceful!

20140429-205115.jpgFinally the ‘show’ got started across the plaza. I had lost interest at this point, but John wandered over and took some pictures. As they marched across the square, the leader dropped his magazine on the ground during a fancy gun dance. *roll eyes* Final grade = C-. After lunch, we headed off to the art museum, which was closed…as are all museums on Monday…I am not sure how I forgot this tid-bit of information. Not to be defeated, we headed for Frognerparken, which as it turns out, is not a park full of frogs but it does contain the the world famous Vigeland installation, a permanent sculpture installation created by Gustav Vigeland between the 1920s and 1943.

20140429-205927.jpgThere are 212 bronze and granite sculptures in this area of the park, and it’s the largest installation of a single artist in the world. Gustav is a Norwegian artist who also designed the Nobel Peace Prize medal. The theme of this installation in the Human Condition and includes some amazing pieces, including lots of angry and violent babies, which sounds spot on to me.

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20140429-210418.jpgOn the highest point of the park stands “The Monolith” It’s a 14.12-meter high sculpture, carved from a single piece of rock, consisting of 121 intertwined human figures, meant to represent the human desire to reach out to the divine. It took 14 years and 4 stone carvers to finish it.

20140429-210957.jpgIn addition, 36 sculptural groups reside on the plateau around the monolith.

20140429-211046.jpg At the end of the park is the Wheel of Life, crafted in 1933-34. The wheel is more or less a wreath depicting four people and a baby floating in harmony.

20140429-211525.jpg There was a woman hauling ass up these steps, running around the Wheel, then running down again…like, 50 times. It was as impressive as the sculpture, in my opinion.

20140429-211505.jpg The park was lovely, and I am glad we got to visit while the skies were clear and the sun was shining…proper ice cream weather (I’m talking to you, U.K.)

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20140429-224952.jpgAs we wandered the streets, I did my best to find something unique about Oslo that would set it apart from the cities we have seen over past three weeks. I am sad to say that nothing really jumped out…cities are starting to look the same now, I am looking forward to heading to the fjords in a couple of days.

There is one odd thing that Oslo offers and that is teenagers wearing blazing red overalls, covered in the Norwegian flag. They are usually worn with the straps hanging down, a la 1994. At first we thought this might be the Norwegian equivalent of the ‘ScottishOutfit’ we encountered in Edinburgh but, thanks to google, we unearthed a bizarre tradition: The Russ celebration. A Russ is a student in the Spring semester of their senior year who participates in a ceremony known as russefeiring (russ celebration). Russ are easily recognized by their snazzy overalls, which tradition dictates that they wear from the 1st to the 17th of May without interruption (except when sleeping), and without washing them. The Russ we saw must have been really excited and were getting their Russ on well prior to the official start of the celebration which apparently also involves cars, vans, or buses, which are painted the same color as their overalls, and often sport large sound systems or lighting rigs. It seems to be mainly focused on drinking copious amounts of beer and playing pranks. As has been noted before, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of native foods around, so we have been eating on the cheap and making spaghetti at ‘home.’

Day two in Oslo started off with a boat trip to Bygdoy, the fancy island with expensive summer homes…and conveniently, half of the cities museums. Good thinking, Oslo! The only museum we wanted to see was the Viking Ship Museum, which did not disappoint! It’s built like a church and contains three ships, the Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune ship. The Oseberg is completely whole and is currently being scanned in 3D.

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20140429-220104.jpgIt’s made entirely from oak and would have been manned by 30 rowers at a cracking speed of 10 knots. It is though to have been used for small coastal trips. Oseberg was discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm and contained two female skeletons, one thought to be a lady of distinction and the other, her handmaiden. There were also the skeletal remains of 14 horses, an ox and three dogs.

20140429-215558.jpg The Gokstad ship, dated around 890 AD, is also made of oak and is though to be intended for war, trade or transport across large seas.

20140429-220028.jpg It was built to carry 32 rowers and had a large, square sail that could be raised and lowered along with it’s mast. During the excavation from it’s grave mound, a man between 50-70 years was found. He did not die easily…his leg had been chopped off and had many additional hacking wounds.

Whatever grace and dignity went into displaying the ships was chucked out the window when it came to the gift shop. Anything you can slap a viking ship on, they had it…coasters, aprons, ipad cases, huge pencils and keychains. Our judgement was set aside long enough to try out the Viking helmets…John makes a much better looking Viking than I…I just ended up making a pirate face.

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20140429-220507.jpgIt was a good day for museums as the sun had gone into hiding. We shivered our way back to the mainland and visited the National Gallery. They keep a copy of this old thing, firmly placed behind a lot of glass, since the last copy got ripped off at the Munch Museum.

20140429-220744.jpg Aliens had landed while we were looking at art, but they abandoned their vehicle for too long in the wrong part of town. I took this picture just after telling John a joke which did not amuse him.

20140429-220948.jpgHe just went and bought me a diet coke (glass bottle!) so I think I am forgiven.

Tomorrow we head for the fjords! I am excited to get out of the city. I think when they all start to blend together, it’s time to re-charge, either by greenery or water. The fjords have both, so hopefully Stockholm will have more appeal after my country-mouse side has been satisfied. We both realized that we need to slow down the trip…we have been rushing around seeing tons of stuff, but it gets costly to be moving from place to place and it’s tiring. We have 5 whole days in Stockholm and after that we are going to focus on spending longer amounts of time in cheaper places. Our dinner tonight (fish and chips, burger and 6 beers cost well over $100.) Ouch!

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4 replies »

  1. John and I had a similar train ride from BWI into downtown Baltimore several years ago. Train stopped in a part of town that tourists rarely see, and a city bus took us the rest of the way. Fun times! I was glad to be with my black-belt friend that evening! We took a cab back to BWI.

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