Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Scandinavia Travels 2015: One Full Day in Oslo
For the next leg of our journey, we traveled from Bergen to Oslo by train which took about seven hours. Seven hours sounds like a long time but the train was comfortable and time flew by quickly. For the first few hours you'll be on the same track as when you go from Bergen to Myrdal and throughout the ride you'll see amazing views of mountains, valleys, lakes and lots of sheep and cows.
Right off the bat, I'll just say Oslo didn't impress me. Granted I only had one and a half days in the city but it's not nearly on the top of my favorite cities list. Maybe if I had a few more days to wander around and familiarize myself with the city, I would have liked it more.
The Oslo Opera House is a must-visit landmark in the city. It's definitely one of the more unique public spaces I've been to. How many buildings let you stomp all over it? The chalk white marble and granite juxtaposed with the reflective glass is an aesthetically powerful combination. I actually liked the view from the bottom of the building looking up at the glass tower rather than looking down from the upper deck.
Visitors are welcome to stroll into the lobby of the Opera House to take a gander at the circular wooden stairs. I imagine this building looks rather magnificent during the night time as well although in the summer months you don't get much of a chance to see that.
For dinner, I dragged my parents north to the neighborhood of Grünerløkka, essentially the up-and-coming hipster area of Oslo (or so the Internet tells me). I believe it's near a university so there were a a noticeable number of young people although the area was generally quite deserted. I combed through restaurant reviews and eventually settled on Kolonihagen, a rustic farm-to-table type of eatery with Scandinavian influences and quality food.
If you have a spectacularly large appetite, Kolonihagen isn't for you. If you indulge in presentation, delicate flavors and the idea of eating in an room with exposed brick walls excite you, you'll like Kolonihagen. The menu is entirely in Norwegian but our friendly waitress patiently walked us through the offerings in English. My dad opted for the four course pre-fixe menu of which the first course was a smoked salmon dish. The salmon was very mild and not fishy at all but the dish wasn't particularly memorable to me.
I wasn't very hungry that evening so I shared an appetizer and entree with my mom. The pasta appetizer was my favorite dish of the evening. The pasta is made in-house and had a great chewy texture. To be honest I forgot what the cubes of meat were and Google translate is unable to tell me what "oksekjake" is from the menu. If anyone knows Norwegian, please let me know what I ate.
My mom chose the pulled pork wrap which was a huge portion but I didn't like the taste of it much. There wasn't anything wrong with it but I wasn't particularly hungry and it wasn't a very dinner-y dish. The presentation and size of the dish didn't quite match the rest of the items on the menu or the feel of the restaurant itself.
I did sample a few of the other dishes that we ordered including the cauliflower soup and a cheesecake dessert. Only the pasta wow-ed me but I had an enjoyable dining experience nonetheless and would highly recommend grabbing a bite here. If you're a fan of craft beer, you'd also be pleased to know they brew their own beer in house.
For our full day in Oslo we had nothing much planned so I decided that we should get Oslo passes to explore the city's museums and attractions. Many cities in Europe have day passes that grant you free or discounted entry into museums and other areas of interest with unlimited access to public transportation. The 24 hour Oslo pass is 320 NOK which is about $40. It's quite pricey but consider that most museums are $10 to enter and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of figuring out how much we would need for several bus and tram transfers.
We took a bus out to Frogner Sculpture Park which is one of the most popular attractions outside the main city area of Oslo. There are over 200 nude statues depicting men, women and children in various poses. Many of the statues are very dynamic and have an almost violent or troubled disposition but I'm no art critic so take my views with a grain of salt.
There were lots of tourists gathered around the statues but I was pleased to see many Norwegian school children on trips as well. Apparently they were tasked with an assignment to practice their English so lots of elementary to middle school aged students were approaching strangers and interviewing them in English. Nobody approached me but I overheard some conversations and was impressed by the level of comprehension from the children.
The park itself is gorgeous and a lot larger than I had expected. You can't tell from the photo above but the park spreads out on either end into what seems like endless green fields where you can picnic and lounge. There was also a nearby public pool which seemed quite popular given the extremely sunny weather. I totally regretted not bringing sunglasses with me on this day in particular.
For the rest of the day we hopped on city buses to take us to a few other museums including the Viking Ship Museum, Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the Fram Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Resistance Museum. I was museumed-out by the end of the day and semi regret jumping around to so many. The Viking Ship Museum was pretty cool because of how well preserved the ships are and it's insane to imagine how these huge pieces of wood were bonded together and made to float hundreds of years ago. I have a fascination with WWII and that whole period of time so I tend to find resistance museums worth a visit. The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History is an open air museum similar to what Williamsburg in Virginia is to Americans. The Fram Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum were a bit random as the first is about Arctic exploration and the latter about a Norwegian explorer and his travels via reed rafts.
All of the museums we visited besides the Resistance Museum are located in the same area and if you visit them with the Oslo pass, be sure to catch the ferry for free (with your pass) to get back to City Hall. You get to enjoy a short boat ride which will take you back to the city area much faster than the bus will.
I have some memories to take away from Oslo that I didn't capture in photos including our encounter with an elderly Chinese grandmother who owns an Asian grocery store. She was very sweet and was so excited to see Chinese visitors because she rarely sees Chinese people in Oslo. My parents tend to like to eat Asian food no matter where we go so we ate Vietnamese food at Saigon Lille Cafe. The waitress there was a student from China who is studying in Oslo and we had a nice conversation with her about living in Norway. One of the cool things about traveling with my parents is that we are more likely to end up conversing with Asian people and getting know random strangers as individuals with unique stories.
If I could do Oslo again, I'd probably bring a blanket and picnic lunch to Frogner park and spend at least two hours relaxing in the sun. I'd probably still get the Oslo pass but opt for the Munch Museum instead of the Fram and Kon-Tiki ones. While Oslo isn't a place I'd recommend to others in a heartbeat, it's not a bad place to be by any means. Next up, the third part and final summation of my Scandinavian trip will take you to Stockholm!