Sylwia has already wrote about her Oslo Impressions. I wanted to add mine as Oslo, unlike her, had a special meaning for me since a long time. When we were thinking where to go, we had more than one possible choices for equivalent flight fares but I immediately chose Oslo over the others.
To me Oslo, and more in general Norway, is the perfectly Scandinavian location: vikings, fjords, the arctic circle, a fierce population that refused to join the European Union and home to some of my most beloved music artists. It was all I could want. I was quite excited the day we left for Oslo.
Let me get this out right now: Norway is expensive. I realized it as soon as I landed, as the train from Torp airport to Oslo center costed a whopping 40€. Thanks to the oil in North Sea and a good Nordic welfare, norwegians can afford a pretty wealthy life, and prices are accordingly high. A glass of local beer is easily 10€, a pizza 15€, museums range around these prices, even a bottle of water in supermarkets can be charged for 4€. It is a bloodbath for the wallet, I assure you.
Even if I loved the city, I wouldn’t dare to try to live here with less than 2500-3000€ net per month. Anything lower and you would be renouncing way too many things to make your life here enjoyable.
So, do come but prepare to splurge. It’s worth it, I promise.
Oh by the way, this is whale meat. You’re welcome animalists.
Oslo, the city
I find it hard to define Oslo. It’s very ordered, as you’d expect it to be. It has a feeling of huge, modern, village, despite the above 1million inhabitants in the whole metropolitan area. Perhaps it has to do with the huge amount of green areas inside the city and the scarce presence of cars, making the city pretty quiet. No wonder that Oslo will soon be the European Green Capital. Deservedly so.
A village, yes. Yet very modern. Not much architecture of the centuries past remains preserved in Oslo. The town hall is pretty recent, dating back to 1950:
The looks of it is indicative of the rest of the city: squared, brown or grey, buildings. Nowadays a big area near the train station and the port is being rebuilt with skyscrapers and very eco-friendly condominiums (I saw whole gardens on terraces!). Right in front of this there’s the Oslo Opera House, an alien-looking masterpiece of contemporary architecture, in italian marble and glass, while the interiors are made of norwegian wood. It can be freely climbed and it gives you a marvellous view on the city’s centre. Honestly if somebody had told me the Opera House was instead a set of a future sequel of the Alien movies, I would have completely believed it.
By the time I was back from the Oslo Opera House, I was in love with the city. The modernity of it, the “greeness“, the civility that permeated every corner of it made me feel like I wanted to stay there for the rest of my life. Unfortunately I had only 2 days in Oslo and I had to proceed with the tour.
Or, for those not speaking norwegian, The National Gallery. Right in the centre of Oslo, between the unimpressive cathedral and the royal palace, the National Gallery hosts the most important collection of paintings in Norway. The highlight are of course the Munch’s pieces. The Scream, The Dance of Life, Ashes and Madonna are all here, all in the very same room. If you love Munch, you’ll risk an orgasm entering it. Other of his paintings are instead kept in the Munch Museum, further east, but the core is here. I heard they’re planning to merge the National Gallery with the Munch Museum in a new building, close to the sea, but the works are still in advanced state so that’ll probably happen in 2-3 more years.
But there’s not just Munch. Works from Cezanne, Picasso and Modigliani can be found at the Gallery, making for a comprehensive experience of many periods of art. The visit is well organized, with clear signs of where to go next, something that seems to be impossible to achieve for many museums. Don’t miss either the internal shop as it has paraphernalia from scandinavian designers that is hardly found elsewhere. While I was there I stumbled upon a handful of young girls who were headed for some sort of ceremony dressed in ancient, typical norwegian costumes. They looked so out of place, but the blame is not on them but on what was around, that I regret not photographing one.
Yeah, you guessed it right. It’s about vikings. The Viking Ship Museum. On a peninsula on the south-west of Oslo’s center (take a boat from the harbour to go there, the trip is lovely and lasts less than 30 minutes), the museum hosts 3 viking ships, very well preserved. If you are imagining those ships with bearded men aboard headed to raid the christian coasts of medieval europe, I’m afraid you’re wrong. These 3 ships were used to bury important persons and didn’t see any real combat. Shame.
Yet the ships are impressive, you can watch them also from above by climbing a few steps and admire the geometrical perfection of them, kept even after they were buried, discovered and brought here. It’s easy to take a picture of one of the ships even without paying the ticket, and I was tempted to not to, but go ahead and pay, at a close inspection they’re really worth spending the time and money to appreciate the particulars of their construction and their shape.
There’s also a movie going on all the time about vikings that fails to summon a proper atmosphere of those times. I ignored it. Much more interesting were the objects found along with the ships, especially the 4 drakkar heads
If you’re not in a hurry, and I wasn’t, take a walk outside the museum, there’s a lovely area with trees and a few green pitches that, weather permitting, will allow you to relax. In some parts of it you can’t see anything human-built, despite being just a handful of kilometers away from Oslo. Such is the green Norway.
This place won’t interest many people. A detour is needed to reach it, as it is in the eastern part of the city and not close to any of the main sights. So why did I remove time from the proper attractions of Oslo to visit a music store?
Because this is the old Helvete store reborn. Precisely the one Euronymous founded and that became a meeting point for the black metal scene in Norway at his beginning. There are so many rareties here that it’d take half a day to check them all, original demos from Mayhem, gifts from Pantera and Slayer, t-shirts signed by Fenriz, original copies of newspapers and magazines of the early 90s, old musicassette with records from Darkthrone, Aura Noir, Dimmu Borgir and so much stuff that it’s impossible to check them all. The shop is completely crammed with CDs, vynils and merchandise that it’s hard to move around.
I admit, despite being a hardened metal fan since many years, that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to enter such a “evil” place. I thought of not going, or just having a peek from outside. Who knows why. Part of me perhaps didn’t want to be associated with some of the acts that were committed by people who visited the old Helvete store back at the time. Pretty stupid, visiting is not endorsing after all. Especially since ownership and name changed since those times. So I went in, and I’m extremely glad that I did. A mix of awe, curiosity and religious respect filled me throughout the half an hour I spent here. Even if nearly everything is on show here can be bought, being a store after all, I approached what I saw with the timidity of a visitor in a museum, knowing that I’m somebody that can’t replicate the operas I was witnessing. It was more a pilgrimage to an holy and revered place than a shopping visit to me.
I only wish I had had the time to check double the amount of rarities I checked. Next time I’m in Oslo, for sure.
Anyway, if none of the bands and people named before spark any memory in you, ignore this place.
Flowers and Gardens
Going from a dark topic to a much lighter one, norwegians love a well kept garden. I bet they transmitted it to the english on the other side of the North Sea with the Vikings raids and subsequent settlements. Oslo is full of green areas, as I said, but also of flower markets, of small villas with their patch of green, of fountains adorned with flowers and so on. They’ve a genuine love for things green. I’ve spent a more than privacy-sane amount of time peeking at wonderful private gardens and overall being jealous of the quality of life of a middle-class norwegian family.
Forget about the scandinavian “blonde with blue eyes” type; in Oslo a good third of the population is made of immigrants or adopted children from non-european countries. It’s absolutely common to see mixed groups of youngster, all perfectly speaking norwegian, hanging around together. I never witnessed so many families with natural and adopted children, all together. What’s more surprising is that, unlike other countries with a high concentration of minorities, here in Oslo there is less of a definite separation between the “true” norwegians and the “new” norwegians. There is no ghetto zone, just a couple of neighbourhood in the northern part of Oslo where there is a higher percentage of people from Asia and Africa. Most of the children of those immigrants don’t stay on their own, with their own group but do interact with other norwegians. Groups of ethnically-mixed teens abound and are at least as much as groups of teens that share the same ethnical origin.
I guess this is what true multiculturalism looks like. I’ve seen a similar atmosphere only in parts of Brazil, albeit not in the richest, whitest ones. It’s worth stopping a little while in a big thoroughfare and watch the apparently perfect diversity of the norwegian society. It’s refreshingly pleasurable to do so. I’m sure it’s way less perfect than it looks like as a tourist in 2 days but it’s nice to notice that things like this could be perfect.
I love Oslo
I truly do. It’s not full of arts as other european cities, it’s not a trendsetter city, it’s not the most scenic (but the fjord is beautiful), nor the one with the wildest nightlife. Nor you can enjoy great weather, usually. I was instead captivated by the huge green areas, the quietness of the urban life, the civility of its inhabitants, the sheer quality of life they live. Many houses are really beautiful, well furnished, luminous. There’s hardly an old car, or old buildings in need of restoration. Everything seems to just “work” and flow seamlessly. It made me feel like a Switzerland without the rigidity.
I do see myself living here in the future. I’d really love to. At a minimum, I’ll be back for another weekend.