Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Norske Eventyr

Ah yes. I'm in Oslo. This will be just a short post, as I have to pack before leaving for Copenhagen in the morning (seriously, it was a very quick stop). Let's recap.

I left Stockholm early on the morning of 6th July, feeling pretty sad to do so. For the entire Swedish side of the train trip, I listened to my Triumphant ABBA Playlist (now my Sad ABBA Playlist) and stared at the Swedish scenery, hoping to remember as much as possible. We crossed over to the Norwegian side - since it's Schengen, there was no passport check, just an announcement over the speakers - and suddenly things got a hell of a lot more beautiful. Seriously. This isn't even the prettiest part of Norway, and it was already pretty awesome. I switched over to Aqua and carried on watching the trees.

Arriving in Oslo, I was initially a little disappointed. It's unusually rough-looking for a Scandinavian city, full of shady-looking people and much less of a...well, magical Nordic utopia. The buildings are grayer, the neighbourhoods are a bit dodgier, and you have to watch yourself much more. (On the other hand, I could imagine the Harry Hole books taking place here quite easily, while I must admit that Stockholm seemed a little too perfect for Lisbeth Salander to happen, which I guess is the point Larsson was trying to make. But I digress.) It's very austere and a tad offputting. I had to sort of train myself to feel safe outside, getting more and more confident roaming around each time I went out.

It sounds like a total downer now that I read it, but really, Oslo does have a lot going for it. I had a great hostel. It's clean and has a huge common room, their security is wonderful (huge lockers!), and they even have free breakfast, something which is totally unheard of in Scandinavia. This helped make Norway's insane costs much more manageable. I've even managed to stay under budget the entire time! Will wonders never cease. The weather was mixed, with rain the first day and sun the second. To be honest, I preferred the rain. There's something about mist over the ocean that's absolutely intoxicating to me. I went over to the opera house on the first day and just stared out at the harbour for ages. I'm not a warm-weather person, really - it seems my destiny is to stick with the North.

The first day, I got up and headed over on the Tunnelbana to the Munch museum. It's actually very well done. Most art museums operate on the philosophy of "stick some paintings on the wall and mention his sex life a couple of times", but this one went into serious detail about the scientific roots of his work, the way he created his materials, and even his flirtation with eugenics, which I'm actually kind of impressed they didn't leave out. The Scream is there, of course, along with dozens of his sketches and paintings and prints. I knew next to nothing about him before, and found him quite interesting. No art pictures, but here's the museum.

(I should also add here that although Norway has a reputation for being expensive, most of this has to do with food and accommodation. Attractions are generally comparable to the rest of Europe - maybe a little pricey, but not outrageous.)

After that, it was back to the city centre for a visit to the Nobel Prize Museum, Part II. Since the Peace Prize is given in Norway, and they like to trumpet that fact a bit, they've built their own museum to show it off. It's pretty much comparable to the one in Stockholm, offering nice guided tours (in fact, I'd say Oslo's was better) and a lot of interactive activities. I particularly enjoyed the opportunities they gave guests to express themselves on their Twitter and website, speaking out on anything from the Internet's role in democracy to Malala Yousafzai shout-outs. (They had a whole exhibit on Malala, actually, which I guess is their way of saying "my bad".)

There's a lot of space dedicated to winners who were persecuted for their actions, such as MLK Jr. and Elie Wiesel, and an entire room for Liu Xiaobo's empty chair. You're supposed to sit in it and tweet a picture of it with the #FreeLiu hashtag. As well, there is great emphasis placed on the most recent recipients, which is how I came to learn a lot about OPCW and chemical weapons. They also have children's exhibits and a really interesting gift shop full of books that my wallet (and bulging duffle bag) would love to be able to accommodate. It was a great companion to the Stockholm museum, but honestly left me feeling rather - well, hopeless. Yes, it's supposed to celebrate the people who worked so hard to make this world a better place, but all I could see was the terrible situations that drove them to do so, and the persecution that plagues some of them to this day. Sometimes that one good person just seems so small. I had my cynic hat on that day, I guess.

From there, it was a walk along the water to the Opera House, which is awesome in so many ways. Located along the beautiful harbour, it's basically a giant slanted ramp, which you can climb to the top for an incredible view of Oslo. It's an amazing building, though would admittedly be more fun with some floor wax and a toboggan.

(PS: Skateboarding, for some reason, is absolutely huge in Oslo. You can't turn around without seeing a skate park/almost getting run over by some errant young punk. What gives, Norwegians?)

The next day was sunny and downright hot, which made a nice change from the on-and-off weather typical of Scandinavia. I'm even getting a tan for the first time in my life. After a lazy morning, I went over to Akershus Fortress, which holds several military museums and a hell of a lot of interesting architecture. I was most interested in the Museum of the Norwegian Resistance. Through the clever use of model scenes alongside real artifacts from the era, they tell the story of the thousands of incredibly brave and creative "ordinary Norwegians" who fought against the Nazi occupation, sometimes actively seeking to destroy them, sometimes in methods most mundane, though always under an ever-present danger. As I knew next to nothing about Norway's role in the war, it was quite fascinating to learn of its perceived strategic potential to both sides (though it never wound up being a key battleground) and the sheer scale of its citizens' efforts against the Nazis. Their audacity was unbelievable! Just goes to show, never cross a Scandinavian. Winter makes you fierce. 

After this came a walk up to the National Theatre, which features lots of nice parks and squares, and a stop at the Royal Palace. Situated on beautiful grounds, and quite a nice building in its own right, it's a quite suitable location for the Norwegian king (which, by the way, is a role that has only existed since 1905). I spent most of it hanging out with this guard. Who smiles, and even talks, unlike his British counterparts.

Then I took a detour back to the Opera House and sighed over the beauty of this area.

So. Did I fall in love with Oslo? No, not quite. It's an incredibly charming city, though, and I enjoyed its sights and culture. One day, I would like to return to Norway and see more of its countryside, as I am told that this is the nation's true gem, but in the meantime, it was a fun, peaceful (if brief, if expensive) visit. After the emotional intensity of my dear Stockholm, I needed some time to cool down and just enjoy myself, and these days in Oslo fulfilled that perfectly. Tomorrow, I am off to Copenhagen - my last stop on the European continent!

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