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Norway: Oslo, Tromso
Oslo, Norway: Capital expenditure
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Ranked amongst the most expensive countries in the world, Norway’s Capital City Oslo, calls for quite a tidy sum to explore. But that shouldn’t deter travel enthusiasts keen in soaking in beautiful architecture and museums of the city and lovely landscapes the countryside has to offer.
One gets to experience the great outdoors during summer time… when the day never seems to end. On the contrary, during winters the night never ends. I was in Oslo in December… freezing temperature and dark days were the highlights. But because I was interested in chasing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), dark and cloudless nights is what I was looking for. For many Norwegians it is cheaper to spend their winters in their villas in Spain than remain back home!
6 other ‘Northern Light Chasers’ were with me. Thus making a group of 7 - an ideal size to make the trip private, yet cost-effective… relatively speaking. Since each one of us had opted for different airlines to reach Oslo, and the landing times were almost similar, we decided to wait for each other at the Oslo international airport. At 5 PM on a Friday evening we assembled as planned.
Oslo airport is 50 kms. away from the city. A fast train journey costs NOK 170. At the time of writing 1 Euro fetched 7.60 Norwegian Kroner. Just so you know, buying a ticket at the window will cost NOK 200. Use the ticket vending machine to save NOK 30! Since we were in a group we opted for a maxi-cab that seats 8. The fare was fixed at NOK 1400 for the 60-minute ride to downtown. I got chatting with the driver. For my return journey I negotiated for NOK 1200. Deal was made. Shuttle buses are also available that drop passengers at city hotels. I am sorry I forgot to check the cost.
We were to stay in Oslo for 2 nights. We had booked at Park Inn Hotel. The hotel was very much in the city centre with walking distance to central station, city attractions and the shopping neighbourhood. Greater Oslo has a population of around 600,000 that’s nearly 10% of Norway’s population. In size, Norway is as big as England… reason why there are fewer people per square kilometer. Oil is a major source of income for the country. The country’s surplus trade balance ensured it was least affected during the European crisis. In fact, Norway’s growth has kept me in awe. Whilst other countries (including the Scandinavian ones) hover in single digits, Norway records multiples of that!
By the time we checked in and settled it was 7:30PM. Tired as we were with our long journeys, each one of us decided to grab a quick bite (we had food with us) and call it a day. We had planned for a city tour tomorrow. For individual or travelers in pairs, The Oslo Pass can be a good idea. For NOK 230 the pass gives free access to all public transport as well as free & subsidized entry to many museums. You can bet Oslo has a museum appealing to diverse likes.
Since we were in a group and time was limited, I had booked a van and an English speaking guide to show us around town for about 3 hours. I used the services of Oslo Guide Bureau. The package for our group would add up to NOK 4200. After a hearty breakfast we were ready to leave.
As scheduled, the guide and the van arrived at 10AM. Our guide was Ariene Lindbichler… gracious lady with fluency in English, German, Italian and Spanish. We would visit the Opera House, Vigeland Sculpture Park, Holmenkollen Ski Jump and finally drive past some famous landmarks of the city. We would be dropped at our hotel at 1PM. Thereafter we were to be on our own to explore the city on foot.
As luck would have it, it was real windy and raining when we began our guided tour. Now this was indeed a dampener. With umbrellas unable to withstand the wind and cameras dangling around our necks walking around was a challenge.
The Oslo Opera House is the home of The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. The building is situated in the Bjorvika neighborhood of central Oslo, at the head of the Oslofjord. The structure contains 1,100 rooms in a total area of 38,500 square meters. The main auditorium seats 1,364 seats and two other performance spaces that can seat 200 and 400. The main stage is 16 m wide and 40 m deep. The angled exterior surfaces of the building are covered with Italian marble and white granite and make it appear to rise from the water. Probably, the Opera House is only of its kind structure were visitors can freely walk on the roof. In fact, in summer time, walking on the roof of the Opera House is a great local past time. A mural made of steel floats in the fjord that reminds visitors of floating icebergs.
Frogner Park is a public park located in the borough of Frogner in Oslo. The park contains the world famous Vigeland Sculpture Park designed by Gustav Vigeland. Situated in sprawling 32-hectre area the park exhibits 212 sculptures created by Vigeland in granite and bronze. The entire theme revolves around the concept of life and death. All figures are nude; the idea was to isolate the figures from any particular period as clothing styles decide the era. Gustav wanted his art to be timeless. This park is one must-visit sites of Oslo. We spent nearly 45-minutes in the park despite the hostile weather. In good times, hours can easily pass by.
Holmenkollbakken is a large ski jumping hill located at Holmenkollen in Oslo. A 20-minute drive brings you to this imposing structure of concrete and steel. From atop, the hill overlooks the city of Oslo and many miles beyond. Sadly, during my visit dense fog had engulfed the entire neigbourhood. Visibility stood at just a few feet! The facilities can seat 30,000 spectators. Holmenkollen has hosted the Holmenkollen Ski Festival since 1892, which since 1980 have been part of the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup and 1983 the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup. It has also hosted the 1952 Winter Olympics and the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in 1930, 1966, 1982 and 2011.
The hill has been rebuilt 19 times; important upgrades include a stone take-off in 1910, an in-run superstructure in 1914, and a new superstructure in 1928. During the Second World War, the venue was used as a military installation, but upgraded in the late 1940s. Further expansions were made ahead of the 1966 and 1982 World Championships, as well as in 1991. From 2008 to 2010, the entire structure was demolished and rebuilt. The official hill record was set on 5th March 2011 by Andreas Kofler at 141 meters. Apart from the jump, the hill offers over 2000 kms. of cross-country skiing treks... enough to keep a skier busy for a lifetime!
And because we were not ski-jumpers, the nearest activity for us was to try the simulator. Surely, the few minutes of downhill experience cost each one of us NOK 105, but the thrill it gave was worth it. As if we actually went downhill at over 135 km/hr, a hot chocolate was well deserved in a restaurant up there. For the ski enthusiasts a ski museum and shop would be worth a visit too.
We were back at the hotel at 1PM. The return trip gave us an opportunity to orient ourselves with various city buildings. Post lunch we would be exploring them by foot. Thankfully, the sun was out. All the more reason for us to walk around town.
After stretching our backs a little, we commenced our exploration. In less than 15 minutes we reached the Fortress & the Castle. Dating from 1299, this medieval castle and royal residence (known as Akershus Castle) developed into a fortress in 1592, after which it was rebuilt into a renaissance castle from 1637 to 1648. Akershus Castle includes several magnificent halls, the Akershus Castle church, the Royal Mausoleum, models of the castle, the government's reception rooms and banquet halls. Perched on the edge of a hill the ramparts offer great views of the pier below and the Oslofjord.
Walking along the streets of Oslo, the numerous sculptures and murals tell a lot about the creative side of Norwegians. We hardly saw a street that did not have its own work of art. A little downhill walk from the castle brought us on Radhusbrygge that houses a ferry and cruise terminal. Docked were a couple of cruise ships and a few sail boats, some of which designed to take you back in time. In summers, there are plenty of options to explore the fjords.
On the other end of Radhusbrygge is Stranden on which sits The Nobel Peace Center. The building is a showcase for the Nobel Peace Prize and the ideals it represents. The Center is also an arena where culture and politics merge to promote involvement, debate and reflection around topics such as war, peace and conflict resolution. The Center presents the Nobel Peace Prize laureates and their work, in addition to telling the story of Alfred Nobel and the other Nobel prizes. This is done using multimedia and interactive technology, exhibitions, meetings, debates, theater, concerts and conferences, as well as a broad educational program and regular guided tours.
Passing the iconic building of City Hall and The National Theatre we reached the Royal Palace. Situated on an elevation, the palace premises overlooks Oslo’s most famous street called Karl Ghana Gate. This street is home to Oslo University, Ice Skating Ring, Winter Market, upscale shopping, restaurants and bars.
The Royal Palace was built in the first half of the 19th century as the Norwegian residence of Norwegian and Swedish king Charles III (Carl Johan, Charles XIV of Sweden) and is the official residence of the present Norwegian Monarch. The palace has 173 rooms. However, the crown prince couple resides at Skaugum in Asker west of Oslo. Norway has an elected Parliament wherein the power of the people is supreme. The Monarch is a statutory head with some veto powers.
It was past 3PM and the light was fading out. We needed food to keep us going. When in Norway, you may want to visit the country’s most famous and largest pizza chain – Peppes Pizza. 2 large 18” pizzas and 2 portions of garlic bread was more than enough for our group. The meal made us poorer by NOK 700.
By the time we were out on the streets, it was dark. Christmas being round the corner, the streets and the shops were well lit and decorated. People were full to the brim – and why not? It was a weekend after all. The ice skating ring was almost full with skaters of all ages elegantly gliding past us.
For the next 2 hours we kept walking the city centre, pausing to do some window shopping and appreciate the performances of street artists – guitarists, violinists, singers and jugglers. Shopping was almost out of the question. Things back home were available at a fraction of the price tags displayed!
That evening we gathered around the fireplace in the hotel reception. Drinks were doing the rounds to warm and cheer us up. The next morning we will fly to Tromso – the gateway to explore the Northern Lights – our trip’s prime motive.
Oslo Image Gallery Photo viewer
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