16.11.2014 - 20.11.2014 0 °C
Oslo surprised me in three ways. It was daylight for a lot longer than I had expected, with twilight starting at about 2:30 in the afternoon. It was warmer than I'd expected - while the temperature was stuck at around zero for the few days I was there, it was not unpleasant - I even spent a few minutes outside in jandals and t-shirt one evening. It was also a lot smaller than I expected - it has a big harbour, with the old castle at its head: the CBD occupies just a few blocks behind it. Of course, the city itself sprawls on, but whichever direction I walked in, it didn't take long before the buildings were predominantly residential, although most had small shops, cafes or bars at street level. The buildings have a formal, semi-classical beauty to them.
One thing that didn't surprise me was the cost: I knew it would be horrendous - $8 coffees (and not that great), $11 standard beers, meals too scary to even think about. My first night in town, the prices at the pubs I saw had me scuttling in to the local equivalent of McDonalds for a happy meal. Wasn't bad, actually. My one posh dinner was my last night - I'd been so frugal that I was left with a pocketful of krones I had to spend, so I went into an Eataly for pasta and beer - hardly haute cuisine. Luckily my hostel provided a great breakfast as part of the deal, so I'd start out with a pile of toast, cheese and various meats in open sandwiches, oranges, watermelon and it would see me through to dinner. One consequence is that I never experienced an authentic Norwegian dinner. The hostel was pretty good, large and semi-deserted: I had the dorm to myself for a couple of the nights I was there. Even so, one evening I managed to get stuck in a corner with a weird and really boring Australian who I just could not shake off for about half an hour, no matter how pointedly I might address myself to my laptop.
My hostel was about 100 metres or less from the Akershus Castle, which has been there since 1299, when a local nobleman started attacking Oslo, although it was more commonly attacked by the Swedes. The only time the Norwegians have lost possession was during World War II, when the Norwegians evacuated Oslo. Unlike most castles, the grounds are open to the public to go in and wander around without fee - when I did so, it seemed to make the various castles I was reading about in the second Game of Thrones book more real.
As I exercised my right as a member of the public to wander around Akershus Castle, I was quite surprised at how spacious and pleasant the grounds were, but then I suppose the entire populace might find itself cooped up in here in a time of siege. Although not much happens there now - some state visits and the like, a guard is maintained.
The Norwegian Parliament (the Stortinget) is right in the middle of the city - you go up Karl Johans Gate past some shops, hotels, the National Theatre (which had a very formal looking cafe next door) and find yourself at the Royal Palace.
On the way is some of the campus of the University of Oslo - humanities and law are here, and a seperate building for the law library. I went in and did some work there, but it had an odd feature - they paid no attention to my going in, I could connect to the internet and pluck books from the shelves at will but when it came time to use the toilet, then I needed a security card. Nature being what it is, my time in the building was somewhat limited. I was far happier in the State library of Norway - the outside of the building was a bit grim and not much to look at, and the inside didn't have a lot going on either, but it was a good space to work in, the toilets were not behind a security door and there were a couple of decent cafes just up the street (one refused to accept cash for my coffee! card only).
On the way up, I enjoyed walking past the City Hall, which had a line of sculptures outside of men (I don.t recall any women) pursuing a variety of trades and vocations, then I'd come across Alfred Nobel and the Norwegian branch of his institute. There were a couple of signs which struck my eye - kiwi is not a Norwegian word, yet it is the brand name for a chain of convenience stores - and then there is the delightful sign I saw for a fitness place.
Next post - a couple of art institutions I enjoyed in Oslo - one is sort of R18, although it is very public.