From May 10 to the 18th I was in Oslo, Norway. As I mentioned in “Transition Days”, seeing Oslo had very personal significance for me since it is a place where members of my immediate family once lived. I was looking forward to seeing much of the city and visiting some of its famous museums. I even had ambitions of taking the train to other parts of Norway and seeing some of its more wild places. Unfortunately, fate was not on my side. The day after I arrived I was struck by another head cold that completely sapped my energy; so much so that I feared at first that I might have the flu. Thankfully, my illness turned out to be manageable with some basic medications from the local pharmacy and large doses of sleep. So, to provide some context for my adventures in Norway, I spent far more time than I liked in bed, either sleeping or simply being curled up with piles of tissues feeling sorry for myself. All was not lost, however, and there were still some wonderful parts to my time in Oslo.
First of all, I was lucky enough to stay with a friend of my grandparents. She lives in a suburb of Oslo called Jar (pronounced “yar”). This was a wonderful treat since it not only meant I had delicious home cooked meals and my own room, but more importantly that I had a local guide who also knew where my family lived and could share stories of their time in Norway. She is also a meticulous record keeper who had a whole binder full of letters and pictures that my grandparents had sent over the years since they left Norway. My grandmother was an avid letter writer, and though there were fits and starts to her correspondence, this binder of memories was very precious to me. I was so happy to have that small piece of personal history. This family friend also had whole sagas worth of stories from her childhood growing up on an island outside of Stockholm, how her parents met, her work in archaeological botany. She was so sweet and dear, I felt instantly adopted as another grandchild.
Her son and his family live right next door and he was kind enough to come over for evening chats on a couple nights. His first words to me: “You look exactly like your father.” Story of my life. We of course had a good laugh and proceeded to talk about what kinds of things I might like to see, his own travels around the world, and swapping recommendations of musicians.
So, as I said before, I spent lots of time sleeping and resting, but I did manage to leave the house at least once a day to go see things around the city.
First stop was to the neighborhood where my family lived in the 1970s. The area of the city they lived in is called Østerås and is a bit like a suburb but with apartment buildings instead of rows of identical houses. I did not get to every apartment building and school on the list my Dad gave me, but I did see the area where he lived the longest. Though things have changed somewhat in the last 30+ years, it was wonderful to finally have a connection to that part of my family history.
The next day I wanted to see the castle that sits by the water in downtown Oslo. My friend and I hopped on the subway that took us to the central train station. A quick walk away, and an easy stop before the castle, was the Oslo Opera house. While we did not go inside, the building is designed in such a way that you can walk all the way up onto the roof. It is not a very tall building but does provide a decent first view of the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Opera House
To reach the interior of the castle you must pass though several gates and up a small hill. On the way you pass a stable. We peeked into the riding arena and I was very happy to get the chance to watch one of the riders for a few minutes. She was a very good horsewoman, the horse was well collected, and they looked beautiful. Up at the walls of the castle we had another good view of part of the city, especially the peninsula where several museums are located. The castle itself is not large but is well preserved and often used for private events. It is called Akershus and was very lovely to walk through. All too soon I had reached my limit for the day and we retreated back to the house in Jar.
I did not get out of bed until almost noon the next day. I was still determined to see something in the city so my host and I decided the Botanical Gardens might be a good idea. We were not there for more than two hours but we still managed to have a lovely walk and a very good lunch at the café in the middle of the garden. The salad was so good I tried to ask for their recipe but with no luck. I think I remember enough of it to attempt recreation once I get back home. The gardens are arranged very nicely with more park-like areas interspersed between more organized plots that showcase plant species based on regions or habitat types. They even have a small, hedged plot that is designed with sight-challenged people in mind. There is also a “kitchen garden” area that is full of culinary and medicinal herbs. An artist had been commissioned to install sculptures throughout the garden so there were wonderful creations made of willow branches and other vines. Some were abstract and others looked like different plant parts. They were great fun.
By the next morning my symptoms had reached their worst point. I had to blow my nose constantly and my eyes were forever watery. (You wanted all this information right? So many of you say how wonderful it is that my writing brings you right along with me on the journey. Well, this was part of the journey. I can’t give you all the good parts while leaving out the less pleasant bits of travel. That hardly seems fair to anyone.) But I rallied enough to brave an excursion to the Viking Ship museum. Two of the three ships are in very good condition and give visitors a clear idea of what Viking ships must have looked like all those centuries ago. One wing of the museum had cases full of artifacts that were discovered with the ships. Since the ships had been used as part of funerary mounds there were many offerings and tools buried with them.
On Sunday we visited the Historical Museum (since we could get in for free with our tickets from the Viking Museum) and the Folk Museum. I did not have much interest in the Historical Museum so we walked quickly through the exhibits dedicated to Viking culture before heading to the Folk Museum. I loved the Folk Museum. There are some indoor exhibits but they were in the midst of some remodeling so things were not very easy to find. We spent most of our time outside exploring the old farmsteads and saying hi to the few animals they had out this early in the season. Like the Skansen park in Stockholm, the Folk Museum seeks to preserve and showcase traditional farm lifestyles from various regions of Norway. In one of the houses we met a young woman who was spinning wool from the museum’s flock of sheep. Since spinning is something I’ve wanted to learn for a while now I happily sat down next to her to try my hand. It quickly became clear that this is a skill that requires no small amount of practice. While the theory of using a hand spindle (sometimes called a drop spindle) is fairly straightforward, getting my hands to cooperate was a different story. The museum interpreter was very patient with me and we still had a very nice time chatting and laughing when I kept breaking my thread. Further on we came to a pasture with a Fjord horse that obligingly came up to the fence to be pet. He had a short forelock like my Mom’s horse, Pride, and I so missed him in that moment. There is also one of the best-preserved stave churches in Norway at the Folk Museum. Stave churches are the old, traditional churches that are built completely out of wood. From huge support beams to shingles, intricately carved doorframes to multi-level roof lines, stave churches are truly beautiful.
A few of the old-style, sod roofed buildings.
On Monday I was finally starting to feel a bit better. Enough so that I decided I could brave a solo trip to Oslo’s famous sculpture garden. It was a very warm, sunny day and the park was packed with people who had the day off from work (I’ll explain in a minute). The park is very large and there are some sculptures scattered throughout it, but the main attractions are a series of larger pieces on top of a low hill along with a fountain at the base of the hill. I am sure that there is some historical or social significance to these sculptures, and I highly recommend you prove yourself to be an inquisitive individual and do some internet research. I, however, suffer from no such curiosity and so remain ignorant of any and all facts related to those works of art.
Bridge back to the city from the garden. It is lined with human figures. Each one is unique and they portray various human interactions or individuals.
The whole obelisk is formed from human figures. It is a little disturbing but fascinating.
Once I had tired of my the garden, I called my friend and she met me at a subway station so that we could take the train up the mountain behind Oslo and take in the view. There is a café at the last train stop and it has a lovely deck where you can sit enjoying your coffee and pastry. We were lucky enough that we had glorious sunshine and almost no wind. Looking over the Oslo fjord is quite spectacular. I would have loved to go exploring the hiking trails around the café but still did not feel well enough for that much physical activity.
The city of Oslo is tucked behind the pine trees on the left side of the picture.
Tuesday the 17th was my last full day in Oslo. It is also the Norwegian National Day, which is something like Fourth of July in the US. The day commemorates the ratification of Norway’s Constitution and separation from Denmark. So it’s a really BFD. The King comes out with his whole family and everything. Everyone puts on their traditional clothes, or, lacking those, a suit or dress, and head downtown for the big parade. At least a hundred schools and their marching bands participate in the parade. The whole event takes around four hours. The main streets are lined with flags and everyone has a grand time swapping chants and cheering on the schoolchildren. Altogether it is a decidedly classy event. Except for the high school graduates who are rolling around still drunk from the previous nights parties. I surfed through the crowds for about an hour, saw the royalty up on their balcony, and followed a couple really good school bands before heading back to the house to pack. Around four in the afternoon my host and I walked the few steps to her son’s house in order to enjoy a barbeque feast with his family and some friends. We had duck on the grill, lovely salads, and homemade cakes for dessert. Probably the classiest barbeque I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.
The palace where the royalty stood on the red balcony and waved to the multitudes.
On the 18th of May I woke up at 5:45 in the morning in order to catch a train that would carry me south to Denmark. All in all I had a wonderful week in Norway, illness notwithstanding.