Life in Oslo is fantastic!
We had a great day today wandering around Oslo. It’s a pretty cool city; it doesn’t have quite the same charm as Stockholm, but it’s certainly worth exploring for at least a day or two. The city itself only has a population of 600,00 people, but the greater Oslo metropolitan area includes 1.4 million people (that’s a significant proportion of Norway’s population of 5 million). This city has been the economic and governmental heart of Norway since the 14th century, and is today a busy town that counts amongst its many claims to fame the fact that it hosts the annual Nobel Prize Awards, has been repeatedly voted Europe’s most liveable city, and is the world’s most expensive place to buy a Big Mac. Obviously you cannot get to know a city in just a couple of days, but from we have seen, Oslo seems quite cosmopolitan and sitting as it does at the top of the Oslofjord, its also a very beautiful spot. Of course our opinion of Oslo’s natural beauty is probably skewed by the fact that we had another spectacular day, with blue skies as far as our eyes could see…
We started this morning with an exploration of Akershus Fortress (something old). This medieval fort, built in 1299, was ancient Oslo’s first line of defence against ocean-faring foes. The fortress was modernised and modified by King Kristian IV in the 18th century but continued to function as Oslo’s main military base, even once Norway gained its independence from Denmark*. Akershus Fortress is still a functional military base today, though they open parts of it to the public. It was a little odd, strolling through the fortress grounds with military personnel going about their business, all dressed up in their uniforms and us in our Birkenstocks and jeans. It was an interesting historical site to visit, and learn a little about the history of Norway.
*If you anthromorphosise the countries involved, the history of Norway reads a little like a Mills & Boon novella of broken promises and relationships. First, Norway entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Sweden in 1397 (the initial polygamous relationship). Then Sweden left the union in 1523 and Norway became the junior partner in the state of Denmark-Norway. Norway was essentially ruled by Denmark for almost 300 years until 1814, when Norway quit that relationship and got together with Sweden, leaving Denmark out in the cold to fend for itself. Finally, after so many divorces and heart breaks, Norway had had enough and went out on its own in 1905. And she’s never looked back folks! Norway has flourished as an independent state, what with its thriving petroleum industry, fishing exports, scientific achievements and contributions to global arts.
After something old, comes something new right? So we went to explore the brand new Oslo Opera House. Completed in 2007 this ultra-modern structure is apparently designed to look like a glacier sliding into the ocean. The structure contains 1,100 rooms, and its main auditorium seats 1,364 guests. The angled exterior surfaces of the building are covered with white Italian marble and white granite, making the whole thing very bright and shiny. Not really my thing, but impressive enough for what it is. The best part of our visit to the Oslo Opera House is that you can walk all over it – made for some nice views across the water.
After our walking tour along the waterfront, past the Opera House and Akershus Fortress we continued on past a few more of Oslo’s iconic sites, including Oslo City Hall (by far the ugliest building we’ve seen anywhere in the world), Norway’s Parliament House (currently under renovation, no impressive photos available), the National Theatre of Norway (much prettier than the City Hall building), Oslo’s Domkirke cathedral (a bit austere but very churchy), and the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace of Norway was originally built in the 18th century as the Oslo home for Sweden’s kings and queens (who back then also ruled Norway). When Norway gained independence in 1905, their own King (Haakon) took up residence there. The current Norwegian royals (i.e. King Harald and his family) live there, but allow tourists like us to enjoy their royal gardens and take guided tours through parts of the palace. There were 3 cruise ships in port today so the palace tours were all booked out, so we didn’t get to sneak a peak into any of the royal dressers drawers or anything. We did get to enjoy the beautiful gardens though, along with half of Oslo – there were heaps of people sun-baking all through the Royal Gardens which I think is so cool. I mean, how many monarchs would be happy to let their subjects lie semi-clothed all over their lawns?!
By this time it was most certainly lunch time so we continued our stroll through the old centre of Oslo, enjoying the cityscape and soaking up the rays. We stopped for an eye-wateringly expensive lunch in a great spot, taking the opportunity to people watch (the city was packed today!). Not sure if you could say we really “borrowed” anything from Oslo, but we certainly partook in its sunshine and joyous summer vibe!
Some thing old, something new, something “borrowed”, and, well, there was only something blue left to go! So we spent our afternoon cruising down the Oslofjord. And man was it BLUE! The Oslofjord is about 100km long, with Oslo sitting right at the Northern apex of the inlet, in the most sheltered part. As a consequence of this the waters we sailed through today were incredibly flat. The Oslofjord is quite different to the steep-sided, dramatic fjords we sailed through on the Hurtigruten ferry along the Western coast of Norway, or around Bergen – the Oslofjord seems so tame by comparison! The mountains along the side are more like hills, and rather than plunging steeply into the water, these hills slope gently towards the water. There are even beaches! This southern part of Norway is far less rugged and harsh than the rest of what we’ve seen, but is still beautiful in its own way.
We sailed sailed out of the harbour and passed the 4 main holiday islands off Oslo’s shores (Hovedoya, Lindoya, Gressholmen and Langoyene). As in Sweden, these islands contain holiday homes that Oslo-ites flock to in summer. Most of these holiday homes have belonged to the same family for decades, passed down from one generation to the next. We also sailed passed the peninsula of Nesodden, where many of Oslo’s wealthiest residents traditionally retired to. Many of the houses in Nesodden were built high up on the hill, far from the water; all the houses on the island however have a bathing cabin down on the water that they have access to. During the 1700s and 1800s, when being seen in a bathing suit in public was completely unacceptable, these cabins used to have internal stairs leading down into a bathing room, in the water. This way people could go down to bathe in the ocean without offending their neighbours. Today many of the bathing cabins have been extended and added to so that they are more like small gazebos, complete with BBQs, tables and chairs, for entertaining by the water. Apparently these bathing cabins were also used as storehouses for the smuggling of illegal liquor in the 1920s when Norway was under a prohibition ban – being right down by the water, in a respectable neighbourhood and not visible from Oslo city, they were the perfect site for smugglers!
It was, overall, another superb day in Scandinavia. Life really is fantastic at the moment – this travelling thing is AWESOME! And look Oslo agrees: