The world's biggest capital village
Oslo. Norway's capital city. Population about half a million. Compared with places like New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, it's little more than a village although it does cover an astonishing 454 square kilometres.
Smack bang in the middle of the city you’ll find the Royal Palace. For those not used to kind of freedom enjoyed by the Norwegian royals, the palace can be quite a surprise. There are no fences surrounding it and the gardens are open to the public at all times. You’ll find families picnicking there, people walking their dogs, but unfortunately, you’ll also find that it attracts hard drug users. Luckily, they tend to keep themselves to themselves and there’s rarely any trouble from them. Used needles don't appear to be too much of a problem either, maybe because the park's regularly maintained. There are guards but they generally leave you alone. As the late King Olav once said, who needs bodyguards when you have the entire population of your country protecting you?
From the Palace, Karl Johans Gate leads down towards the parliament buildings. The road is divided in two, with open-air cafes and gardens in the middle. People of all ages congregate here, but it’s especially popular with younger people enjoying a half litre of lager (pils). Karl Johan is also the main shopping street of Oslo but be warned, prices in Norway are higher than you're probably used to. Make sure you've taken enough of your hard earned cash with you.
½ Litre of lager: kr 45 (about £3.80)
Loaf of bread: kr 16 (about £1.30)
20 cigarettes: kr 70 (about £6.00)
3-course meal in a good restaurant: kr 700 (about £60)
Lunch in a nice café: kr 150 (about £12.70)
Norwegian enjoy a high standard of living even if they too complain about the prices. Lager and cigarette prices are what peeve them most.
Most people associate Norway with snow, ice and extremely cold temperatures, tending to forget that they also enjoy warm, humid summers. Although Oslo is alive and kicking all year round, it’s during summer that the average tourist who isn’t particularly interested in winter sports, can enjoy the maximum benefits of a visit to the city. In fact, the variation in temperature and the magnificence of the surrounding countryside offer Oslo the benefit of a plethora of outdoor activities that cannot be competed with by any other capital city.
Oslo is situated at the tip of the Oslo Fjord, with its harbour being one of its main features. From here, you can take numerous boat trips out to the surrounding islands, including Bygdoy with its abundance of museums. Along Aker Brygge (Aker Pier) you’ll find street musicians and other pavement performers doing their thing while visitors and the people of Oslo enjoy fresh prawns and a half litre of lager which, incidentally, is always served ice cold. In fact, being able to down that first outdoor “summer pils” is part of Norwegian culture; a symbol of spring and yet another long, cold winter behind them. A varied assortment of restaurants, trendy cafes and bars can be found along the pier, offering something for most tastes and budgets. Remember to leave a tip in cafes and restaurants. 5-10% is the norm.
The people of Oslo are generally friendly and most speak very good English.
Bygdoy is one of the more affluent areas and, as mentioned earlier, is the place to go for museums. Whether you want one that depicts rural life in Norway, Viking ships, or Kon-Tiki, the raft which Thor Heyerdahl built to sail from America to Polynesia in, you'll find it here. Elsewhere in Oslo you'll find, amongst others, The Henie Onstad centre, The Munch Museum and The Museum of Technology, the latter of which I can highly recommend.
It's also worth knowing that Bygdoy also has Oslo’s only naturist beach and that topless sunbathing is allowed, and widely practised, on all beaches in Norway.
If you like to enjoy an abundance of nightlife during your visits abroad, Oslo probably isn’t the best place to head for. Having said that, I have to add that Oslo’s nightlife has picked up remarkably over the past 10 years or so, and if clubbing’s what you want, you will find places to go. Bare in mind that it won’t be cheap. There are plenty of bars about, catering for most tastes.
Other places to visit include Frogner Park with its 212 superb sculptures and undoubtedly one of Oslo's finest pearls and Holmenkollen Ski Jump for its magnificent view across Oslo and the fjord. Raadhusplassen (the area around the Town Hall) and the area surrounding Akers Festning are the red light districts and probably best avoided at night.
To see Oslo at its very best, I’d recommend visiting during May/June. There’s a special atmosphere in the city during those late spring months that can’t be experienced at any other time. Call it the X-factor.
If you’re thinking of visiting during winter, just let me warn you that the city centre isn’t a particularly pretty sight. Don’t expect white, snow covered streets because what you’ll get is filthy exhaust polluted slush. The surrounding countryside will be prettier.
Oslo’s a busy city, and driving is a nightmare. If you should be foolish enough to rent a car, remember that any vehicle approaching from the right has right of way and they make sure they get it too. On main roads this can be pretty scary! If I had a pound for every near miss I’ve had in Oslo, I’d be a rich woman now. Then there are trams to deal with; they stop for nobody!
If you do decide to visit, take an hour out of your schedule to just sit down by the quay enjoying the sun, a cold lager and a bag of fresh prawns. That's what Oslo's all about.
Sharon grew up in East London but moved to Norway at the age of 19, returning to England in 1998. She now lives in Cheshire with her partner and two of her three children. Besides writing, she is currently studying Social Science with The Open University, runs a web site where women in the UK can meet other women for platonic friendship (www.friendsyourway.co.uk), potters in her garden, knits and reads everything she comes over.
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