Qatar Happening, June 2014. Original article.
Oslo: A northern exposure
The capital of Norway is a breath of fresh air. Walk down Karl Johan Street and you’ll find yourself surrounded by trees and open spaces, even though you’re in the heart of a country’s capital. The Royal Palace sits at the end of Karl Johan, a modest home for a king by most standards, yet one of the grandest things you’ll see on a visit to Oslo. Like the Norwegians themselves, the capital has a practical spirit, focusing on function instead of luxury, nature instead of skyscrapers.
While cool in temperature, Norway make up its dark, long winters by delivering what seems like neverending sunshine in the summer evenings. And how many capitals can lay claim to having a forest within city limits? The Oslo Forest is great for cross-country skiiing in winter, while the summers deliver ample opportunities for hiking or cycling along marked trails, as well as canoeing or swimming in natural lakes. Largely uncultivated, the Oslo Forest will have you feeling like you’re deep in the woods, although with plenty of lodges dotted around to provide food and rest.
Norway’s most majestic fjords are located on the west coast, but visitors to the capital will find plenty of attractions also along the Oslo Fjord. Day cruises from the capital depart from Oslo Harbour. The ships pass through narrow sounds, opening up to charming bays and tiny islands, dotted with the small wooden buildings where locals make summer homes.
While Norway can be an expensive place to eat, drink and travel, the focus on nature as the star attraction means it’s possible to experience a lot on a budget. The city centre is walkable, with plenty of opportunity to relax in a park, or on a bench or cafe looking out at the Oslo Fjord. Make sure to sample a few local dishes, such as elk, reindeer or other wild game. Redcurrants make a refreshing snack, with cloudberries being more difficult to find but definitely worth a taste if you do. With a long coastline, fish is in ample supply in Norway, and you may well be able to find more exotic sea creatures, even whale, on the menu. Although the best treat to buy and take home is the brown cheese, Brunost. Try it on bread at breakfast, and marvel at how something can taste so much like cheese and caramel at the same time.
Art lovers will find plenty to like about Oslo. The National Gallery displays iconic paintings from Norway’s national-romantic period. The famous “Scream” is the pride and joy of the Munch Museum, dedicated solely to the life and works of Edvard Munch. Following on from the naturalist tradition, Munch broke with tradition when he developed his emotional painting style, seeking to express “the most subtle visions of the soul”.
Children visiting Oslo, and adults too, will be impressed by the massive Viking ships at the Viking Ship House. Having been buried in the ground around the year 800, these ships now stand as proud examples of the heyday of the Scandinavian Vikings. Another impressive sight, and a favourite among locals, is the Vigeland Sculpture Park, where Gustav Vigeland created 212 larger-than-life sculptures in granite and bronze. The centre figure is the Monolith, a 14-metre-tall column carved out of a single stone, but the best fun is probably running around taking photos with the sculptures in the park. Frogner Park provide a great spot for strolling in the summer, with 14,000 roses scattered around amongst the trees, some of which are up to 250 years old. The heated pools and waterslides at the Frogner Baths are a popular spot on hot summer days.