Saturday, June 11, 2011

Oslo 1

Got a bit of a late start today (Mark apparently tried to wake me up at our normal time and while I said I was getting up, I apparently promptly fell back to sleep for an hour.) We're staying a bit outside of Oslo, but there is a T-bana station right outside the hotel, so we headed into the city this morning after breakfast. Convenient!

It's always a bit confusing the first time we try whatever public transport is in the city -- where to get tickets, how to handle the passes we have, that sort of thing. We've had city-cards in Stockholm, Copenhagen, and now Oslo that cover all busses, trains, trams, and metros. So we can pretty much get on and off as we need to, once we figure out the schedules. We used the metro all the time in Stockholm (it's a breeze), but we tended to walk more in Copenhagen since the stops didn't match up with what we wanted to do. Using the busses or metro in Oslo is a must -- we're pretty far out from the city center, too far to walk anywhere. I get a bit panicky about bus/train/tram travel (yes, I know, a grown woman with an irrational fear of public buses, mock me!) so knowing where things go and what the actual schedules are helps. Oslo relies much more on bus and tram connections than Stockholm did, so it's not just "get on the metro, get off when your stop comes up", it's "get on the metro, swap to this bus, get back on the metro...." so we spent
quite a lot of time deciphering the colorful systems maps. I'm still not sure about things.

We were a bit flummoxed by a tunnel closure that truncated the metro line we were on -- but we figured out the right bus to get on to make up the difference and walked around the National Theater. I'm glad we didn't try to walk from the metro station we got to -- Oslo is a big, spread-out city. While the central part of town is pretty small and easily walkable, there are outlying areas that are way out there. But -- we did get an impromptu concert on he train, with trumpets and drums.

The Historiske Museum here is great -- lots of Viking history and bits and bobs from the middle ages, including the doorways from a number of defunct stave churches. The best-preserved Viking helmet is part of the collection, along with tons of decorative pieces. I love wandering around the glass-box displays looking at pins and brooches and sword hilts; the museum attempts to connect it all together by theme: art and home and social customs. And, it's in a great old building!

We walked along the main street to the imposing (and controversial) Radhus -- a huge, twin-towered building that looks wierdly out of place in all the Neoclassical and Art nouveau buildings downtown...rather like a large soviet office block, to be honest. It was almost universally reviled by people in Oslo when it was built in 1950, but it does kind of grow on you. Inside, it's decorated with murals on almost every single wall that celebrate Norway. It looks very much like the city hall in Stockholm, we thought. Very familiar.

In the courtyard outside are wooden sculptures that illustrate some of the norse myths (also quite controversial when they were installed). We walked along the harbor behind the city hall so Mark could peer at the ships and then walked up to the Norwegian Resistance Museum, which is fabulous. It details the events that began April 1940, when Germany invaded Norway, using original letters, video, and artifacts to explain how the Norwegians resisted the occupation and how they actively sabotaged the german forces. It's fascinating (and I'm not usually one for WWII stuff) and really worth a visit. Very sobering, too, to realize how many Norwegians were sent to german camps and executed for refusing to cooperate.

We ducked into a rather authentic-styled Irish pub for lunch (yes, weird, but they seem to be pretty popular in norway, at least) for fish-n-chips and lamb stew and a pint. It's still pretty gray outside, and raining in intermittent spurts, so warm lunch and Guinness were a welcome stop. Kind of weird, though. Neither of us wanted a foofy lunch today, and while cafes and restaurants usually have great food, it tends to the foofy side -- lots of sauces and artfully arranged salads at lunch time. We've tried the popular open-faced sandwiches for lunch (they are common in all three countries) but it's been cool enough outside we want something hot, most days. Half the time we grab lunch at a stall somewhere and eat while walking or driving. Whoever thought up hot-dogs wrapped in bacon was a genius!

Mark totally humored me by going to the Architecture museum (I love the little models of buildings). It's a great space in an old bank building, and the current exhibits highlight new norwegian architecture (a lot of the viewpoints and tourist road stops have been designed in the last few years). I have to admit, I really don't get "modern scandinavian design". Perhaps it's a lot like modern art--either you get it, or you don't. I just don't see the beauty in some of these houses or office buildings; geometric boxes with random windows...nah, give me an overly Baroque apartment house in town any time, with ornate windows and curlicues everywhere, that I get. The avant garde stuff is interesting, but ultimately it's not homey to me, I guess. The exhibits did highlight the efforts to renovate and update building in the city, and we walked along Kongsgate to see some of them on our way back to the hotel.

For a Saturday afternoon, there aren't actually that many people around -- apparently it's a long weekend holiday, and the city residents all take off for the countryside, so everyone in town are tourists, like us. I have a feeling that Monday will be a bit more bustling and "normal". Of course, this is also the week of Norwegian Wood -- the huge rock concert series in Frogner Park. Eric Clapton kicked off the series this week. It attracts thousands of people, but I'm not sure where they were today - certainly not in the city center. I'm sure the park (and the campgrounds near it, etc) are crammed full of concert-goers tonight, though.

Tomorrow? Off to see the Viking ships and the Fram museum, for a start. It's supposed to actually be non-rainy tomorrow!

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