I spent Easter weekend in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Norway is an interesting country – tiny in population terms, but very wealthy due to its oil production. It is also not a member of the European Union, though it is in the European Economic Area, meaning that it has to comply with EU legislation in order to access the single market, but has no input into the formation of that legislation through the parliament or commission.
Oslo is a delightful city, and exactly what one would expect of Scandinavia. Being Easter weekend it was fairly quiet, and also rather cold, particularly in a morning.
Anyway, here are some things I particularly liked:
1) Norwegians – Scandinavians generally are pretty grounded, rational sensible people, and that’s certainly true of Norwegians. Part of that surely has to do with the economic security provided by having the third-highest GDP per capita in the world. But it is also a northern-European trait which I think we share. The standard of English spoken by Norwegians is excellent – indeed on many occasions it I thought I was talking to an American but was actually talking to an Osloite (I would imagine that has something to do with the pervasiveness of US TV shows).
2) Frogner Park – the park is located in the suburban west of the city, and houses the Vigeland Sculpture Arrangement, a selection of works by Gustav Vigeland. He specialised in nude portraits in some rather interesting positions, and the centrepiece of his work is a tower of intertwined nude statues (see picture) which takes pride of place in the park. The Vigeland Museum, located just outside the park, is well worth a visit.
3) The museums - Oslo has a ton of museums, with everything from Viking ships to Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The city provides something called the Oslo Pass, which enables free or reduced-price entry to many of the museums, as well as free use of all the public transport (see below). Well worth it.
4) The public transport – as befits the capital of a wealthy nation, the transport infrastructure is impressive. It is also pretty cheap, which is not something that can be said of everything in Oslo – a 24hr pass for all the forms of transport (bus, tram and underground) costs 80 kroner, about £10.
5) The coffee and cakes – Norwegians, apparently, drink more coffee per person than any other nation on earth. That is probably true in volume terms (given the tendency of southern Europeans to drink short coffees – espresso, ristretto – and the northern preference towards longer drinks). Norwegians like their coffee hot, black, strong and long. They accompany it with bolle, small sweet bread cakes. My favourite (pictured) was the iced cinnamon version. No visit to Oslo is complete without at least three visits to United Bakeries, a chain found all over the city. There’s a nice one near Frogner Park (see above).
6) Frognerseteren – anyone who has spent any time in London is used to unusual sites on the tube. But you don’t often see fully clad skiers, carrying their skis, on London’s public transport. You do in Oslo, thanks to the skiing available just 30 minutes or so away in Frognerseteren. Even for non-skiiers like me the journey by T-bane is worth making. There are some stunning views down over the city (see picture) and some restorative apple cake (and more coffee) to enjoy at the Frognerseteren Restaurant. You can jump off and visit the Olympic ski-jump en route.
So, a lot to like about Oslo. When I go back I will definitely do the journey from Oslo to Bergen by train, which is supposed to be spectacular. As it was I couldn’t fit it into my schedule – it takes 7 hours each way.
There was one thing, though, that I particularly did not like about Oslo, and that was the number of people sleeping rough – Norway in winter is not a place one would want to be homeless. But one couldn’t walk down a street in central Oslo without being asked for money, usually several times. For one of the world’s richest countries, and one with a left-leaning population and a social democrat government, I found this surprising and depressing. If Norway doesn’t have the resources to solve this problem, then nowhere does.