Oslo Wrap Up

I adore Oslo. It’s one of my favorite European cities and one that I’ve never gotten tired of.

  1. DO NOT TAKE A TAXI. Taxis in Oslo charge a minimum 200 NOK (24.80 USD) fare. You should absolutely take advantage of the public transportation system, especially since it works pretty well. The apps to use are RuterBillett (to buy tickets) and RuterReise/Google Maps (to plan out a trip and navigate the system). Note: you don’t actually have to validate your transportation tickets (and you can freely walk through the barriers in the subway system), but they do randomly check to make sure that you have tickets. The fines are very steep if you’re caught without a ticket (~150 USD) so just keep that in mind if you decide not to buy one.
  2. In order to get to the city from the airport you’ll either take the flytoget (airport train) or the flybussen (airport bus). The train is much faster, but depending on where you’re staying the bus might drop you off closer to your accommodations.
  3. The city’s main street is Karl Johans Gate and quite a few major sites are near it as is a ton of shopping.
  4. The Oslo Opera House is quite possibly my favorite site in Oslo. It’s a stunning piece of architecture and you’re free to walk in it, on it, and around it. The view from the roof also isn’t half bad. I would highly recommend either doing a tour of the opera house or going to see a performance there. The opera is required to sell 100 tickets at 100 NOK (~16 USD) for every performance so it’s pretty easy to get affordable tickets and good seats.
  5. Absolutely go to Vigeland Park (which is in Frogner Park). The park is a ways away from the city center so I would recommend taking the tram or subway, but the sculptures are great and it’s nice to just walk around.
  6. Definitely pay a stop to Bygdøy peninsula. Depending on the time of year, you can reach it by either bus or by ferry. If the ferry is running I would recommend taking it, even if it’s just to get a view of the city from the water. Here’s what you can see there:
    • Viking Ship Museum – It has three different viking ship relics + a few other Viking things. It’s kinda cool to go and see but there isn’t actually much to do at the museum
    • Folkemusem – Great if you want an overview of Norwegian history and culture. It also has 24 acres of land with 160 different kinds of historic buildings. If you’re dying to see a stave church and won’t make it out of the city then definitely stop by.
    • Fram Museum – Unfortunately I haven’t spent enough time here. What I did see what great, especially if you’re interested in Arctic exploration and/or ships (plus all of the other major ship museums are literally next door).
  7. The Nobel Peace Center – Does a pretty good job of talking about the Nobel Peace Prize and the latest winners. I would recommend going if you want to learn more about the prize.
  8. Nasjonalmuseet (The National Museum) – A pretty good museum and the location of Munch’s famous The Scream. It’s small though so it’s pretty manageable to do in about an hour or two.
  9. City Hall – If you can manage to go to the room where they give out the Nobel Peace Prize you should since it’s stunning. I’m pretty sure that they organize tours.
  10. Ekeberg Park – Go if you want a good view of the city (but if it’s a cloudy or foggy day maybe give it a pass). It’s an interesting place since it also has a ton of famous artwork scattered throughout the park (Rodin, Salvador Dali, etc.). Walking down from the park to the city will also give you the same backdrop that is painted in The Scream.
  11. Holmenkollen – Go if you want to see the famous ski jump, walk around the forest, and get a good view of the city. I’ve heard that the museum is also pretty good and has a ski jump simulator.
  12. Vigeland Museum/Mausoleum – There are actually two Vigeland sculptors, and this is a “museum” done by the less famous brother. It’s a bit outside of the city center, but if you have the time to check it out it’s pretty neat.
  13. If you want to see some nice graffiti/street art go check out the area around Mathallen (food hall).
  14. If you are there in winter, you absolutely have to check out Korktrekkeren, a large sledding area that will take you about 15 minutes to go down. It’s fantastic. For the best sledding go early on a weekday.

One Last Trip to Oslo

Now that the sun has (sorta) returned to Norway, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few visitors! Thanks to great discounts on Norwegian Air, one of my friends from university, Alyssa, and her friend Kani decided to make a spontaneous weekend trip to Oslo. Because I’ve already blogged about some of these Oslo sights, I thought I’d keep this trip a bit on the simpler side and opted for a list format with this post.

Oslo Opera House

I absolutely adore the Oslo Opera House. It’s definitely one of my favorite places in Norway, and a part of that has to do with how affordable it is (even by non-Norwegian standards). Alyssa and I were lucky enough to get last minute tickets to the opening night of La traviata, one of Verdi’s operas. La traviata is based on a novel and play by Alexandre Dumas, La Dame aux camélias, which is based on Dumas’s life and affair with Marie Duplessis, a famous Parisian courtesan. Sadly for the two lovers, Marie dies from consumption at the young age of 23. If this story sounds familiar that’s unsurprising. The story has been retold in countless art pieces and movies, one famous example is the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge!. Unfortunately, we actually turned up a few minutes late due to a slow restaurant, but, lucky for us, we were still allowed to enter the opera once there was an opportune break in the singing.

Although the set was surprisingly bare, overall the opera and the singing was great. I especially enjoyed the singing done by the lead, the soprano Aurelia Florian.

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Mathallen Area

Following one Susan’s suggestions, I took a stroll by Oslos’ Mathallen, or literally translated, food hall. I only popped my head into the hall for a minute, but it had quite a nice selection of produce, fish, and the like. My main reason for walking around this area was to check out the local graffiti. To my delight, most of it was actually quite good, and there were a number of nice looking bars next to the nearby river, something that I wouldn’t mind checking out in the future.

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The Fram Museum

Because I didn’t really have a chance to walk around the Fram Museum when I visited in winter, I was determined to give it another shot on this trip. Alyssa, Kani, and I still didn’t have time to get through everything before the museum closed, but I learned a bit more than I did last time.

The Fram Museum is notable for housing the Polarship Fram, a boat was used by Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen on their North Pole expedition and Amundsen’s South Pole expedition (it is the boat that helped Amundsen be the first person to reach the South Pole). One of the big reasons why the Fram was revolutionary was that the ship was deliberately allowed to freeze in the Arctic Ocean. No ship had ever survived the ice pressure before, so Nansen’s desire to knowingly subject the ship to the ice was considered nothing short of insane. Lucky for Nansen and his crew, the ship’s special design allowed it to withstand the ice pressure. There were several design choices that allowed this to happen, but the one that is talked about most often is the rounded hull and smooth sides, which were built to mimic a round nut. The idea was for the ice to push the ship up onto the ice (similar to squeezing a nut between your fingers and having it slide along your fingers instead of being crushed) which would prevent the ice from crushing the ship.

Nansen also happened to be a very careful planner and prepared to spend 3-5 years on board the ship. Because of this, not only did the ship have plenty of food, it also had plenty to keep the crew occupied. There was a library of 600 books, paintings, card games, and even an organ on board. Overall the crew did quite well, remaining both healthy and well entertained.

The crew and its ship was only gone for three years, and upon its return Nansen was greeted as a national hero. Afterwards, Nansen was primarily known for his political career, becoming an ambassador to Great Britain in 1906 and later working in the League of Nations.

Sadly we weren’t able to finish exploring the entire museum, but again it’s something that I would pay another visit to. It was a really well laid out museum, and at times hilariously blunt and/or politically correct (our favorite translated sentence was “The friendliness and generosity of the Inuit was repaid by the white men’s goodwill and respect.”).

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Vigeland Park

Another one of my Oslo favorites is Vigeland Park. No visit would be complete without it, so I was happy to take Alyssa and Kani there. We were blessed with a gorgeously sunny day, so sunny in fact that we actually ran into a zumba dance class that was going on in the park.

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Vigeland Mausoleum

The three of us also went to the Vigeland Mausoleum thanks to a recommendation from Susan. While Gustav Vigeland is the mastermind behind Vigeland Park, Vigeland Mausoleum is actually done by his brother, Emanuel Vigeland. The mausoleum requires taking the subway to Slemdal, but it’s well worth the trip. The mausoleum is tucked away in a nice residential area, which also happens to have a nice view of Oslo.

The Vigeland Mausoleum is also known as the Vigeland Museum, and it was originally supposed to house Vigeland’s future sculptures and paintings. Vigeland later ended up changing his mind, and now the mausoleum is a huge dark room covered in frescoes. Many of the frescoes have a religious undertone, and more information on them can be found on the museum’s website. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the mausoleum, but Google Images can still give you a good idea of what the interior looks like.

The museum itself resembles a church, not only in its construction, but also in its silence. We were strictly told not to talk before entering, and we soon found out why. One visitor accidentally knocked into one of the museum’s chairs and echo was unbelievable. It’s definitely not your classic museum, especially considering that Vigeland’s cremated remains are stationed above the door, but I would definitely recommend a visit if you have the time.

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Winter in Oslo

It seems as though the theme of February is Norwegian travel. The day after I got back from Røros I was yet again off on another trip. For those of you who are wondering, I do in fact really enjoy Trondheim and my travels do not reflect a desire to escape from it. This time my trip was somewhat mandatory. I was off to Oslo for the winter Fulbright seminar and ski retreat.

The seminar itself was on Thursday, but I was able to fly in on Wednesday. Because I arrived in the afternoon, I had some time to walk around the city. Having really loved my visit to Vigeland Park in August, I thought I’d pay it another visit to see if I could catch some snow on the park’s statues.

Unfortunately it was too warm for snow, but not too warm for ice. The park’s paths were incredibly icy, and to make matters worse the ice was melting. Because ice has more or less disappeared in Trondheim, I have stopped wearing ice grips on my shoes and didn’t bring them with me to Oslo. So when I initially saw the icy roads going through Vigeland Park my face fell. Lucky for me, I have managed to develop enough skill when it comes to walking on ice that I managed to avoid falling.

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From there, I went back to the hotel to meet two other Fulbrighters, Alyssa and Meghan. The three of us set off on the 1 subway line for Frognerseteren. Our goal: sledding. Not just any sledding though, we were going out to Oslo’s most popular run, Korktrekkeren, or the Corkscrew. The run is 2000 meters (1.24 miles) long with an elevation drop of 255 meters (836 feet). The course starts at Frognerseteren and ends at Midtstuen, seven subway stops away (approximately a 13-20 min ride). The course itself is free, but the sleds are not. There are two kinds of sleds, wooden and metal, and Alyssa told us that we should rent the metal ones. Apparently when she and her friends had tried renting the wooden ones many of them were broken or falling apart.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures. Because we went late in the evening, my iPhone wasn’t able to do justice to either the course or the magnificent view of the Oslo skyline. Overall, the sledding was incredibly fun and the run took us about 15 minutes from top to bottom, not factoring in the subway ride. A few things to note are:

  1. The course is groomed every evening so it’s best to do the run in the morning. By the time we went, there were a number of snowy mounds that had formed, which depending on the size of the mound meant that you either caught some air on your sled or simply slammed into the mound.
  2. I wouldn’t recommend going on a weekend since I’ve been told that it’s absolutely packed.
  3. Lastly, there is only one restaurant at the subway stop, so if you intend on eating be prepared to either eat at the restaurant or to bring your own food.

Keeping It Classy: The Best of Oslo

Today was technically the last day of orientation and we spent most of the morning at the US Embassy. To be frank, the exterior of the US Embassy looks a bit like a prison. Because the security at the embassy was getting antsy at the 19 random Fulbrighters dawdling on their doorstep, I didn’t get a chance to snap a picture so the below is borrowed from Google.

A bit ugly, right? We spent most of our time there going over practical tips for living in Norway and reviewing the rest of the red tape that we still have to wade through. On the bright side, I was the only Fulbrighter to have gotten their residence card so I felt a bit ahead of the game!

Because the orientation ended after lunch, most of the Fulbrighters still had a lot of time to explore the city. We decided to walk to Vigeland Park, which is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist. It took Vigeland 20 years to make and there are 212 sculptures in the park depicting the “Human Condition.” The park provided a stunning view of the city and some of the sculptures were simply incredible while others were more disturbing. It was by far one of my favorite sights in Oslo and well worth the visit.

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After our wander through the park many of the Fulbrighters had to run to catch their flights. Lucky for me, all of the teachers (the ETAs and Roving Scholars) got an extra day of orientation so that we could get a thorough overview of the Norwegian education system. Since I had an extra night in Oslo I as well as Bergen ETA, Abby, decided to get tickets to the Oslo Opera House. Now I know that I mentioned that I have never been a particularly big fan of opera, however opera is something that I have always felt I could give a second, third, and even forth chance. Abby and her family are actually huge opera buffs so she was able to walk me through some of the finer points of opera before we went. What ended up being her most important tip was reading the plot of the opera beforehand. We had tickets to watch Madame Butterfly and she was able to give me a dramatic reading from the Met Opera’s plot synopsis earlier in the day. I decided not to write my own synopsis because this post is already fairly lengthy, but I recommend the link to the Met Opera’s synopsis and as a warning there are *spoilers* ahead as well as a few of my own thoughts on the opera.

Now I admit I was skeptical of how much I was going to like the opera, especially after hearing the plot. Boy was I wrong. I can’t wait to go back. First of all the set was incredible. The set designers really did a great job of utilizing the space on stage and even helped to nuance the plot with it. My favorite part was in the second act where the floorboards of the house are torn up revealing the supporting stones underneath. This gave the set the appearance of either being surrounded by a graveyard or a bombed city (appropriate considering that the opera ends in a suicide and is set in Nagasaki).

I was also surprised at how the Oslo Opera complicated the plot. The Met’s plot synopsis as well as Abby’s previous experiences with Madame Butterfly all cast Pinkerton as a pig and Madame Butterfly as a naive girl. The actual libretto reveals that Madame Butterfly is not as guileless as you would think. She tells Pinkerton of her initial disgust towards him because he is a “savage” and she still expresses some resistance to him on her wedding day. On her wedding night she reproaches Pinkerton by saying that she has heard how in America butterflies are killed and pinned to boards as prizes, yet Pinkerton insists that butterflies are not pinned out of cruelty, but to cherish them and keep them close. Obviously Butterfly’s interpretation is more accurate and despair raises its ugly head in the second act.

Pinkerton also appears much more remorseful in this interpretation of Madame Butterfly. According to Abby, the most noticeable change to the plot came with Madame Butterfly’s suicide. During the entire second act there was a seemingly random character on stage. Abby and I initially thought that it was supposed to represent perhaps a wiser version of Pinkerton or a personification of his guilt. This was true, but with a twist. The man who had been following the entire second act was the adult son of Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly, something that Butterfly reveals before her death. Her son is the witness to Pinkerton’s guilt, his abandonment of Butterfly, and his contribution to her suicide. He embodies the guilt that Pinkerton feels towards Butterfly because he stands as both an accuser and witness to his father’s crimes.

The theme of destruction on the part of the Americans also runs wild throughout the opera and in my opinion was done quite well. American consumerism can be seen in the way that people dress, but also in how Pinkerton objectifies Butterfly. He says that he is marrying her because she is beautiful and happens to come cheap (she costs him 100 yen) while also admitting that he plans to upgrade to an American wife once he finds a suitable one. Some other striking scenes include when Butterfly’s family disowns her and throws an American flag on her wedding bed, highlighting how she is quite literally sleeping with the enemy, and when Butterfly’s son is blindfolded and draped in an American flag. When her son then begins to play with a toy plane the kamikaze imagery becomes quite stark.

Then there was the singing. In all of the other occasions that I have gone to the opera I have never really appreciated the singing, mostly because I can’t understand what people are singing (yes, even when they are singing in English). The singing was absolutely superb and I could have cared less that the opera was in Italian. I got goosebumps galore and I admit that I was teary eyed by the time Madame Butterfly committed suicide. He Hui, the singer who played Butterfly got a standing ovation, and I found out afterwards that she is well known worldwide for her interpretation of Butterfly.

To make the night even better, Abby and I bumped into another Fulbrighter who we had encouraged to join us at the Opera. We all ended the night going out for cakes and hot chocolate and vowing to return to the Oslo Opera during our year here. Overall, it was a really fabulous day.

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