Perhaps it was because it’s a Sunday or some national holiday I thought, or maybe we’re in the wrong part of town. When we walked out of the central train station onto the main pedestrian street Karl Johans Gate, I couldn’t understand why Oslo was so tranquil and quiet. After a couple of days I realized that it is always this relaxed. Despite being Norway’s largest city and its capital, I couldn’t break the illusion that we were staying in a plush off-season coastal town overlooking the Oslo Fjord, framed in a high blue sky, clean, clear and full of light.
We spent two nights in the city staying at a hostel in the Homansbyen district across the road from the Litteraturhuset, the main hangout for Norway’s cultural elite (a big shout out to them for the free wifi which stretched across the road). After checking in, we strolled through the nearby Slottparken and past the Royal Palace to the Akershus Festning, a medieval castle and fortress overlooking the city’s fjord. From here it was 10 minutes to the Oslo Opera House, a futuristic structure of glass, marble and aluminium that rises from the water like a floating origami ship. We grabbed a pizza on the way back to the hostel and then continued our recent habit of watching Scandinavian film – the brilliant Let the Right One In. I know it’s Swedish but it’s close enough, isn’t it?
A magnificent start to our second day in Oslo – we watched the Breaking Bad finale (I still cannot believe they killed Walt Jr, that was a real horror show surprise). And then like all good city breakers we started our walking tour again. The imaginatively named Vigeland Sculpture Park is the largest sculpture park in the world by a single artist, the Norwegian Gustav Vigeland. Two hundred and twelve bronze and granite sculptures almost wholly comprised of naked and moderately plump human figures representing the full spectrum of humanity’s acts, thoughts and emotions are scattered throughout the area. It centres on the Monolith, a kind of Tower of Babel of befuddled bodies and limbs clambering over each other to reach the to. Birth, love, death, pain and sadness, hopes and dreams. From the profound to the bizarre – it’s all here.
Grünerløkka is Oslo’s token hipster district, conforming to the usual story of an old working-class area now gentrified and populated with artists, wannabe artists and students. I was surprised at how quiet and sedate it was. We did visit during the day however – it probably livens up somewhat at night. There is a quant little river walk and waterfall, although I suspect the poor hipsters would be devastated if they were only known for a walking tour. We passed through the area on our way to the Munch Museum, where there is currently a comprehensive exhibition of his work from 1904 to 1944 (1882 to 1903 is exhibited at their National Gallery) marking 150 years since his birth. While it displays one of the four versions of The Scream, I think it’s a testament to the quality of the exhibition that this was not the standout piece. The Frieze of Life paintings and the night landscapes of the Oslo Fjord were my highlights. I wish that we’d had more time to catch the other exhibition.
I struggled to find fault in any aspect of the city – stylish, sophisticated, yet wholesome and unpretentious. It is almost* perfect.
* Almost. The infamous Oslo prices shadowed every purchase. It is consistently ranked the most expensive city in the world for a reason. I was determined not to convert Norwegian Krone into pounds at every transaction. I thought I had to accept their prices on their own terms, but moving a decimal point one digit to the left is just too easy. In case you’re wondering, it costs about £9 a pint. Yes, £9.