As I write, I’m in the ferry’s cafe watching Oslo’s shore slowly become smaller and more distant. I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy as I leave this beautiful place, but I’m sure this won’t be the last time I visit. The slight sadness experienced at the end of a trip is only proof that it was a successful adventure.
Out of everything that I saw and experienced this weekend, I can hardly say what I enjoyed the most. However, this trip probably wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of my hosts, Tanya and Per. Tanya, a native Californian found herself in Norway for a job, where she met Per. Per is actually Danish and grew up, coincidentally, 20 miles outside of Aalborg. They now have 3 children: Isabel, Andreas and Matilda. They’re an incredibly kind family and welcomed me into their home. My entire stay, I was well fed and comfortable. After the first night, full of food and conversation, I almost felt I had known them for years.
Tanya’s mother was close school friends with my own grandmother. They stayed close throughout the years and even after Tanya’s mother passed, Tanya and my grandmother kept in contact. So, when I decided to study abroad in Scandinavia, Tanya was one of the first who reached out to me and invited me to stay at her home in Oslo. Lucky me — their house is situated on the gorgeous, forested island Ulvøya, or “Wolf Island” in English, one of the several islands that dot the Oslo Fjord.
Tanya and Per generously lent me one of their bikes to explore the city and I gratefully accepted. I’ve found that there’s nothing more intimidating than figuring out a unfamiliar city’s public transportation. Even when it’s simple, as I’m sure Oslo’s is, I’m always happy to use a bike instead. I quickly learned that Oslo not as bike-friendly as Denmark. Denmark nearly begs to be biked (it’s completely flat, with huge bike lanes), while Oslo is a little more resistant. There isn’t as much bike infrastructure and I really pushed myself to get up a couple steep hills. Other than that, though, it was a pleasant experience. I was able to see nearly all the city, thanks to the easiness and speed of bicycling.
I had done some research beforehand and decided that buying the Oslo Pass was a smart idea. With a student discount of 20%, it is about 370 Norwegian Kroner (about $50.00). With it, I was able to get into 6 museums and a round-trip ferry ride for free. It also pays for all public transportation within the city and there are numerous discounts on food. I don’t want this post to sound too much like a commercial, but it truly was a good investment. If you’re a cheapskate but really like museums, like me, it’s a great option.
As I only had a weekend here, I wanted to fit in as much as possible. I got up early Saturday morning, enjoyed Swedish pancakes with my host family (with special Norwegian brown cheese — a new favorite) and biked into town.
My first stop of the day was the Nobel Peace Prize Museum. I didn’t know this prior to coming to Oslo, but the annual award ceremony (for Peace) is held in Oslo. So, naturally, they have an informative, interactive and enjoyable museum. There was a special exhibit on show for 2014’s winners, Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai. It was a powerful exhibition. I had known about Malala’s work in Pakistan and her fight to allow girls to attend school. I was especially moved by her statement to President Obama, on display at the museum: “Instead of sending guns, send books. The best way to fight terrorism is to invest in education.” I knew less about Satyarthi, but was equally impressed. His work against child labor in India deserves the recognition it has received and more.
After that, I hiked up to the Akershus Castle (built by Danish King Christian IV, when Norway was still Danish territory) and had a lovely picnic on the castle’s grounds. The sun was shining for a short while and I took full advantage. I then hopped on a ferry to the Bygdøy peninsula. Bygdøy is reminded me a lot of Coronado Island, California, where my family spent many summer vacations. The peninsula is home to two museums that I knew I had to catch: The Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Folk Museum.
The Viking Ship Museum houses three Viking ships (two of which have been amazingly preserved, the third having seen rougher waters) and an abundance of Viking paraphernalia, including jewelry, textiles, tools and bones. Apparently the boats were used in traditional Viking ceremonies for a couple wealthy women, so alongside the women’s bodies there were also sacrificed horses, cows, and dogs. I learned that Viking warriors who died in combat went to Valhalla (Viking heaven) in the afterlife, but those who died of illness journeyed to the Underworld. If the deceased was wealthy enough, they would be furnished with tools and sacrificial animals to aid them.
The Norwegian Folk Museum also exceeded my expectations. On the grounds of the museum, several aspects of Norway’s history is explored. I read about and was able to see traditional fair isle sweaters, Folk art and furniture. My favorite part, however, was exploring the turf houses on display, set up like traditional farms or homes. I felt transported to rural Norway, circa 1930. Another must-see at the museum is an impressive Stave Church, medieval wooden churches. This one, called Gol, has been preserved since the 1200s and actually transported in its entirety to its current location in the 1800s. It’s one of the only of its kind remaining in the world — there are only 28 left.
I was pretty exhausted after so much sightseeing and biking (up hills, nonetheless) and so I headed home. It was pretty perfect because it soon began to rain. There’s nothing like having a night in during a rainstorm.
This morning was a bit more leisurely. I took a slower route through the city and I didn’t feel as much pressure to see, see, see. Sometimes it’s nice to just take a step back and forget an itinerary. It definitely helped that the rain held off today and left me with endless blue sky.
I first biked to Frognerparken, a large open space on the West side of town. It also features the Vigeland sculpture park and museum on the grounds. I found Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures to be at the same time humorous and terrifying. He must have been an interesting person to have a conversation with because, from his art I assume that he worked from a rather depressing place. However, there is something to be said for those who can still find humor in dark places, as he did. Even though many of his sculptures featured motifs like death, the Apocolypse and illness, it also features human interactions in strangely comical situations. His Monolith is stunning, a large cylindrical tower, formed out of several twisted and turning bodies.
After getting lost a few times (which isn’t always a bad thing) I arrived at the Edvard Munch Museum. I met up with Tanya, Per and Andreas, who also wanted to see a special exhibit at the museum that juxtaposed Munch with Van Gogh’s work. Of course, this wasn’t something that I was going to leave without seeing. Van Gogh has been one of my long time favorites and it was pretty awesome to see him alongside another great artist that is actually, as I learned, pretty similar in both life and work. Apparently, there is another show coming up that shows Munch and Vigeland together — Norway’s best, side by side.
Now I find myself on the way back to Denmark. I have to say: boats aren’t my first choice when it comes to travel. I get a little seasick. I don’t think I would enjoy a cruise. Maybe it’s because of my land-locked upbringing in Arizona. I’m so glad I toughed it out, though, the travel is worth it with such a great destination.
I’ll find myself on a boat again next weekend, but more on that later.