ONCE I stepped off the shuttle bus on to the remarkably dark and crisp, cold-smelling platform of Torp train station, I realised that, like so many pilots wanting to take a winter holiday, Michael O’Leary had screwed me. Don’t make the same mistake and blindly assume that Ryanair’s cheap flight offers to Oslo will deliver you direct into the Norwegian capital’s relatively compact city centre. Although the trip from the Torp train station was relatively stress-free, it was an added hour and a half of travel, essentially doubling the time we had already spent in the air. Luckily, the Norwegian transport system lived up to its reputation as clean and on-time.
Emerging from the Nationaltheatret station we were greeted with a view of (no surprises here) the National Theatre, one of Oslo’s most beautiful pieces of architecture and one bookend of the city’s pleasant promenade sandwiched between the streets of Karl Johans Gate and Stortingsgata. The other end is the Stortingsbygningen, also known as the Parliament of Norway, another imposing and eye-pleasing building built in the 1860s. We stayed at the Thon Hotel Cecil, just a five-minute stroll from the Stortingsbygningen. Modern, clean and comfortable, it was everything you needed for a weekend break.
After dropping off our bags we stepped back out into the chilly night and quickly found an appealing looking brew pub, Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri, offering food and, most importantly, beer. Norway hasn’t been immune to the explosion of craft brewing, with this spot offering a number of ales born on-site.
There’s one important thing to state before I go any further – Oslo is expensive. And not no-change-for-a-tenner-for-two-pints kind of expensive. Think very little change for one. Beers were around £9 for 50cl, with a main meal averaging in at around £20 in a nice but not too fancy restaurant. Staying any longer than two nights, those sorts of costs become prohibitively expensive. Not drinking would save you significantly, but then what kind of holiday would that be?That’s all I’ll say about the jaw-dropping amount of money we sunk on beer because it’s boring, but don’t be as surprised as I was and maybe save up before you go. But the food at Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri was delicious – warming and filling. And then Saturday. Considering this was our only full-day in Oslo we got up early and made the most of the daylight. Thankfully, the hotel provides a breakfast which we took full advantage of. This included the traditional Norwegian elements of pickled herring (those floating pieces of fish never look like an appetising breakfast food) and its unusually brown goats’ cheese (oddly sweet).
First stop was a walk towards the fjord which was virtually invisible thanks to a dense mist. Rising above this grey cloud, we climbed the cobbles of the old Akershus Fortress, a medieval fortress which has seen the city through some of its most dramatic moments. Norway has a chequered past, having been occupied at various points by both Danes and Swedes, achieving its independence only in 1905 and again in 1945 after Nazi occupation. Akershus has seen it all.
Next stop on our whistle-stop tour was the City Hall, an unusually ugly slab of a building which only reveals its beauty once you’re standing on its front steps and you notice the intricately detailed clock and statues. Inside this cavern of a building where Nobel Peace prize winners collect their accolades, the walls have been painted with colourful and occasionally gaudy murals, celebrating Norway’s past. The City Hall was constructed only in the 1930s, and the art deco influence is clear. It’s an impressive sight and worth a look.
We then ventured north of the city centre to the Vigeland Sculpture Park (pictured). By this time the mist had lifted, showing Oslo off in its most flattering light. The park is pure joy. Vigeland was a prolific sculptor in Oslo during the first half of the 20th century, until his death in 1943. I got the impression he made so many pieces, mainly nude figures, that they gave him his own park to clear some space in the city centre. The figures show relationships and emotion – a particular favourite was a frustrated looking father with various babies hanging off his arms and legs.
But the real pièce de résistance is the monolith. Perched on a hill, it depicts 121 writhing figures carved into granite. If I was trying to be less cultured I’d compare it to the Game of Thrones’ Battle of the Bastards scene and the clamour and suffocation when the armies get crushed in the mud. There isn’t any explanatory signage in the park, so I turned to Wikipedia later in the day to find out more about this genius sculptor. I shouldn’t have bothered. I discovered Gustav Vigeland welcomed the Nazis into Germany with open arms which added a slight taint to his work. But whether you can appreciate the art in spite of the artist and their morals is a different debate for another time – especially in this day and age.
The final stop, via a quick bus ride, was the Fram museum which houses both the Fram, the ship that was captained by Roald Amundsen and sailed to both the North and South poles and the Gjøa, another Amundsen vessel. It was a solid museum – interesting and full of brilliant old photographs of the European explorers making friends with the Inuit people.
After clocking up around 28,000 steps and covering 19km on foot we were, for want of a better word, pooped. We found the messiest burger we could at Illegal Burger – a spot popular with the young and flush of Oslo for a much-needed pint (well, 50cl) and cheese beef sandwich. Another beer at the nearby Crowbar & Bryggeri rounded off a productive and jam-packed Saturday.
Sunday, we awoke to rain. The train doesn’t run as regularly on a Sunday (I take back my praises for their transport system), so we got a coach from the centre. A straight-forward journey to the airport was punctuated by a man shouting at the bus driver in a variety of languages, then pointing to his bladder and screaming ‘kaput’. Thankfully the bus driver stopped and the 30-odd of us on the bus averted our eyes from the urinating man on the hard shoulder.
Despite its cost, and temperature, I found Oslo a great spot for a (brief) break. Some tips – go prepared for the cost of food and booze. Plan before you go if you only have a few days. Oh, and don’t fly Ryanair.