Oslo, Norway - March 2001

A tale of taxes, snow and influenza...

Two bleary-eyed figures rose at 4am in the to catch a 07.35 flight from Heathrow Terminal 3 with BA/SAS.  Parked the car at the car park with the pink elephant, and still half asleep and grumpy, made our way to Terminal 3 like it said in the information booklet.

Hang on a minute, what you mean, we're not on the flight list? This is the 07.35; are you telling us that BA don't have a One World partnership with SAS?  But this is the 07.35 and we have it printed in the Travel information booklet!  Oh dear, the Travel company have got it wrong and we're on the 07.35 from Terminal 1 with BA?  Actually the SAS lady was very helpful and put us on our way, sending us on our way on the 20 minute hike to Terminal 1, where we were surrounded by the equivalent of the Rush Hour at the BA counter. 


Three hours later (including 1 for the time difference) we arrived at a very sunny Oslo Airport, having flown over some amazing scenery on the way.  The last section of the journey is to fly along from Kristiansand on the southern tip of the country, along the coast up to Oslofjord.  I took out my camera and started snapping at everything, getting through an entire roll of 36 before we'd even landed.  It was worth it, mind...

The photo above right was taken coming in to land at Oslo Airport, and the one to the right shows the whole of Central Oslo. The places I've highlighted on the map are all mentioned in this travelogue.

When we arrived we were greeted with a small damp mat to walk over, presumably very effective against the Foot and Mouth...  We arrived at Oslo Central Station (S for Sentrum - Central) at about midday.  We stayed at the First Bastion Hotel (as opposed to the Last Bastion hotel), which was quite charming, with a fireplace, comfy old chairs to sit on in the lounge, and old issues of Empire magazine. It did a smashing breakfast too (allowing the diner to also give themselves cholesterol poisoning with the unlimited egg and cheese combinations available) but no other meals during the day except some sandwiches, which meant eating out in the evenings (see crippling finances section below.)

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This is the Rådhaus, or "Red House" - the Oslo Town Hall.  It's right in the middle of the city, with Akerbrigge, the waterfront shopping and entertainment complex in front of it, and to the east, Akerhaus, the fort and military complex still used by the Norwegian military police, but open to the public.

Karl Johan's Gate is the Norwegian equivalent of Oxford Street, and leads up from the Central Station to the Royal palace, which sits at the top of the hill.

The first night we ate out at a very nice tapas bar just off Karl Johan's Gate.  We saw for the first time exactly what the word "pricey" really means in Oslo.  £30 (US$45) for a bottle of wine...and we are not talking 1976 Krug here, this is just a reasonable bottle of house red that would cost about £12 at a London restaurant. We stuck to beers.  In fact, I think I drank about 3 pints of Sprite as we began to discover just how dehydrated it's possible to get in that climate. My best friend of the entire trip was a small tube of Body Shop hemp lip balm.

On the right is the upper part of the Holmenkollen Ski Jump.  This is huge - the picture doesn't really do the jump justice. Just tucked behind the ski jump in the bottom right of the picture is the top of the National Radio mast.

Below is the view from the Observation Tower at the Radio mast.  This shows a scene of houses clustered on the hill side.


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The observation tower is 100m (300ft) high and gives a great 360° view of over 20,000 square km of the surrounding countryside and cityscape.  It sits on top of a hill surrounded by Ski slopes.

To get to the observation tower we took the metro all the way to the end of the line.  It was a Sunday, late morning, and we suddenly discovered ourselves amongst most of the Oslo populace with their Ski gear.  This was a bit weird as although it was pretty cold (around 0°c) most of time, Oslo itself was clear of snow, so it was the fist time since we'd flown in that we'd actually come across much of the stuff.

Apparently we'd hit the weather very lucky when we arrived.  We thought zero was cold enough until we were told that the temperature had hit -25°c at the beginning of March.  Nice... :)

The trip out to Holmenkollen was probably a bit of a mistake for me.   Up until the Sunday I'd had a pretty nasty dribbly cold, using up all known tissues/bog roll/sleeves to hand.  Just as it started to dry out a bit I caught the flu (a bug going around the office before I left) and walking about 5 miles that day and 7 the day before probably didn't help.


The walk on Saturday was from our hotel (near the station) along Akker Brigge and round the port area to the peninsular of Bøgday. Just follow the coastline in red on the picture below to see our route:

One of the places we visited on the Saturday was the Norwegian National Folk Museum on Bøgday.

This is a very interesting museum, with actual houses that have been picked up and brought over log-by-log/brick-by-brick from all over Norway for inclusion in the museum. The picture to the left shows the door of a school house, whilst the one on the right shows a traditional log cabin from a few hundred years ago.

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We also went across to the Viking Museum (shut at three, we turned up at half-past), and the Maritime and Kon-tiki museums (shut at four, we turned up at five past.)  One comment I would have about going to Oslo when we did is that may of the tourist attraction have fairly short opening hours between September and April and therefore it's probably better to plan the trip within the main tourist season.

(Actually, we'd originally wanted to go to Iceland, but Iceland was all booked up...)


On Saturday night, having done all that walking, Rory decided he could do with the biggest steak he could find, so we went down to Aker Brigge and found the "Big Horn" steak-house, a sort of slightly up-market Berni Inn.  Dinner was great, although we'd resigned ourselves to the fact that this wasn't going to be cheap.  This was the evening we discovered the Norwegians' 24% VAT (service tax) and ordered a bottle of wine!  The total for a two course upmarket Berni Inn steak meal for two with bottle of Pinot Noir and coffee? £100 (US$ 150).

We watched a fair bit of Norwegian TV.  Lots of Australian programmes subtitled (The Flying Doctors seemed popular) and we rented EdTV one night on the pay-per-view.  As we got one channel, the rest were thrown in, so curiosity overcoming us, we had a peek at the er, ehem, Adult Channels. Two interesting things to note here:

1. Norwegians don't appear to be as progressive as their Scandinavian neighbours are renowned for.  What we were watching seemed to be some sort of sexy period drama in-the-making. The so-called sex scenes tended to be mostly people fully clothed pretending to be doing rude things, only to be called away and find their clothes completely done up as they turned to camera.

2. The women seem to point their toes a lot.  We couldn't decide if this was a Norwegian thing or not.


The photo above shows part of Oslofjord.

By Sunday night I was really suffering with the 'flu, so we had to spend our last night wandering down to the Burger King and bringing it back to the Hotel where I could eat it and suffer more comfortably. Burger King, like all the other food in Norway, is not cheap.  A whopper meal costs - wait for it - £10 (US$15).

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I love the photo on the left with all the snow piled up and the cars glistening in the sunlight; but what I discovered when I got it developed, that I hadn't spotted when I took it, was the couple sitting on comfy chairs in the top right corner of the picture! I've blown it up (above).

Monday was check-out day.  Originally we were really pleased at the entire day at our disposal before returning to London in the evening.   However, the flu was getting worse, and so it didn't end up being the fun we'd intended.  We went up to Vigland Park, home to around 150 sculptures by a chap called...Vigland, and had a look at the 14m high monolith that took craftsmen 3 years to build. Then it was back to hotel to have some coffee and read more old copies of Empire magazine.  We arrived at the airport 5 hours early so I could sit and be ill quietly...

Flu aside, Oslo is actually a really interesting place to visit.  As long as you remember to pack warm clothes and take *loads* of cash/increase your credit card limit, it's well worth the trip.