On our way to Oktoberfest, we decided to spend a few days in Oslo, Norway. This layover was prompted, in no small measure, by the very inexpensive fares Norwegian Air is offering from the US to various European cities right now. Neither my DH nor I have been to Norway before, so we think a small sample will be fun. We had a blast on our Oslo layover; here’s what we did…
Oslo Layover: Day One – Arrival!
Our flight was an overnight transit, and we arrive in Oslo just after 2:00 pm. Going through passport control is a breeze. I think we were the only non-Norwegian, non-EU passengers around, no line! Also, no customs … An extraordinary circumstance when you are in the brain fog of no sleep and time changes.
We purchased tickets on the express train to the central station in Oslo in advance. It is easy to find the train, all the signage is in English, and everyone we met spoke English. The train takes about 40 minutes from the airport to central Oslo, very efficient.
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We booked the Comfort Hotel Grand Central, which is located right in the station (Ostbanehallen). Getting from the train to the hotel is a short walk through the station. The hotel is a cozy and affordable little space, especially by Oslo standards. And we soon understood why.
The staff at the “barception” (the reception desk is also the lobby bar) are welcoming and courteous. The free in-house breakfast is in a large dining area, and there are plenty of hot and cold dishes to accommodate any preferences.
The room is comfortable with a nice bed and sitting area but somewhat lacking in in-room amenities. For example, there is no wardrobe (closet) or dresser or in-room safe, just a simple hanging rack and shelf. The bath also lacked any amenities, except for soap. The linens were clean but thin and minimal.
A Quick Walk and Dinner
All right, we’ve arrived! What to do next…!!! Our room overlooks the front of the station and directly down Karl Johans Gate, the (or a main) street in Oslo, and mostly pedestrian. We decide to go for a walk to shake off jet lag and orient ourselves to the town.
We stop about a mile up the street at … you guessed it, the Hard Rock Cafe… for a quick beer and to get our “City Pins.” We have quite a collection of Hard Rock memorabilia from our travels. Refreshed by the beer and pins in hand, we head back out to look for some dinner.
As our hotel is at the train station, and this being Europe, there are many dining choices available. Bella Bambina is located in the station just outside the door of our hotel and was the winning choice for dinner.
Excellent start for our stay in Oslo.
Oslo Layover: Day Two – City Walking Tour
Bright and early the next morning, we meet up with our guide, Lisa Tonya, in the “Barception” of the hotel. We found Lisa, who is a free-lance guide, in a search on the internet. With Lisa leading the way, we head out to see the sights!
First, we head over to the Opera House, which is quite a contemporary building, having opened in April 2008. On the plaza of the Opera House is a larger than life bronze of Kirsten Flagstad, the legendary Norwegian Soprano who many called “the voice of the century.”
I didn’t realize yet that Oslo was famous for its sculpture. As we continued our walk, I began to realize how important this art is to Oslo.
It is early morning, and obviously, there is no performance underway. But from the steps of the building, you are afforded a great view of the harbor. Art being everywhere in Oslo, out in the middle of the harbor, is a beautiful piece, “She Lies,” created by Monica Bonvicini. While many look at this artwork and see a sailing ship, it actually represents an iceberg floating in the water, moving with the wind.
On To Akershus!
From here we double back a bit to get around this small harbor, through some of the City, and over to Akershus Fortress (Castle).
As we start this part of the walk, it occurs to me to start up an app I have called “Map My Walk.” (the link here is to the app store, this app is also available in google play) This app follows you on GPS, plots it on the map and calculates your speed, distance, and calories burned! Yay!
The map you see above is from the app. But this was only about half of our walking for the day. When we finished up in Aker Brygge and caught a bus, I turned off the app.
As we walk, Lisa points out notable buildings and good restaurants. The Engebret is a charming restaurant, serving local specialties, that dates back to the mid-1800s.
And of course, sitting right outside the cafe is another bronze…
We finally arrive at Akershus Fortress, also known as Akershus Castle. The original building on this site was a medieval castle from 1299 and served as the royal residence. As time went on the castle was turned into a fortress (around 1592) and later back into a renaissance style castle in the mid-1600s.
Part of the Fortress contains the Hjemmefrontmuseum, which roughly translates to the Home Front Museum. This museum includes exhibitions and documents from the “Resistance” in World War II. Unfortunately, the museum was closed, so we were unable to view the exhibits.
Around the Harbor to Aker Brygge
Aker Brygge is a hugely popular neighborhood in Oslo. There are eateries all along the pier where the Oslovian’s love to enjoy great food and good friends on the warm sunny summer afternoons. Here you can catch one of the many local ferries for a day tour of the Fjord, tour the Nobel Peace Center or visit the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art.
For us, Aker Brygge was the breaking point between the morning walk and the afternoon’s visit to the Viking Ship Museum and the Fram Museum. After nearly 2 and 1/2 hours of walking, we caught a bus and headed over to the Bygdoy Peninsula. It was great to sit down for that brief half-hour.
The Bygdoy Peninsula
There are many things to do and see on the Bygdoy. You can visit the Norsk Folkenmuseum, the Holocaust Center or the Kon-Tiki Museum. You could choose to spend a day lounging at the beach or bicycling around the peninsula. There is a great bike route that takes you through the woods and out to the shore for great sea views.
On our schedule, this day was the Viking Ship and Fram Museums. Viking Ship speaks for itself, but unless you are quite the Maritime Scholar, you probably haven’t heard of the Fram.
This museum is home to some of the best-preserved ships and artifacts found in burial mounds around the region. The Oseberg ship (pictured below) was most likely buried around AD 834, but the ship is thought to be much older. Like many Viking ships, this ship is built almost entirely of Oak.
Strolling through the museum and seeing the artifacts, along with the ships, takes you back in time. I was awestruck with the beauty in the carvings and the time and effort that went into building these ships and their decorations.
While the Viking Ship Museum had been on my list, I had never heard of the Fram. The Fram is a more contemporary sailing vessel, built and first sailed around 1893. The Fram is a wooden “polar explorer” that sailed in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
This type of information is one of the reasons why you always want to choose a knowledgeable guide. I can’t begin to do the story of this vessel justice. I recommend you head over to Wikipedia and read about her construction and travels, its amazing.
The museum is fantastic, not only is the whole ship here, and you can walk on the decks, but there are many exhibits and photographs of her builders and crew.
There is a whole exhibition room set up to simulate the freezing temperatures the crew endures during the Fram’s voyages. When you are on the deck of the Fram, there are audio and visual effects to give you a feel for the harsh seas and climate.
Seeing the Viking Ship and Fram Museums were a great way to end our second day in Oslo. We’d walked for miles and were ready to head back to the hotel for some rest and dinner. After all, we had to figure out a plan for the next day and our visit to Frogner Park to see the Vigeland Installation.
Oslo Layover: Day 3 – Frogner Park
After getting some much-needed nourishment and rest, we spent some time reviewing the City maps and public transit routes for our trip to Frogner Park to see the Vigeland Installation.
Frogner Park was originally a manor house and gardens built in the 18th century by a noted military officer. Over time large parts of the estate were sold to the City for expansion. By the early 20th century, the estate is entirely bought by the City and turned into a public park.
The previous day had been chilly, but sunny. Unfortunately, the rain decided to take over. Most of our last day in Oslo is spent dodging raindrops and trying to get good photos in spite of less than optimal light.
The Vigeland Installation
Vigeland is the reason most tourists come to Frogner Park. Locals come to enjoy the acres of trees, sporting fields, the pond, and wildlife. Tourists come to see the statues.
The park contains an installation of 212 bronze and granite sculptures covering more than 80 acres, all designed by Gustav Vigeland.
All in all, we spend a good couple of hours wandering the park and enjoying the art in spite of the rain. Eventually, we want to get dry and warm. We head out to find the streetcar and make our way across town hoping to see the Natural History Museum.
We don’t yet have a good feel for the City or its public transit; and this results in overshooting the stop we should have taken to get to the museum. Once off the streetcar, we start walking, stopping about every 10 to 15 minutes for a way-finding check on the less than perfect map we brought along. We eventually find the museum, but with less than 30 minutes to go till closing, we decide to forgo the visit.
Our Oslo Layover lasts three days and is packed full of sites and information. We barely scratch the surface of this beautiful City. We will plan a return trip soon with a plan to spend more time. But for now, we are off to Munich and Oktoberfest!