Norway

Contents :  Introduction | Arriving at Oslo International Airport Gardermoen | Aker Brygge Wharf | Bergen | Bergen in 360° | Botanisk Hage | DogA Norwegian Center for Design & Architecture | Downtown Oslo At-A-Glance | Fjord Tours and Norway in a Nutshell | Fjords | Fram Museum | Frogner Park | Holmenkollen Ski Jump & Park | Ibsen Museum | Journey from Oslo to Myrdal | Kaffistova | Munch Museum | Myrdal | Nobel Peace Center | Olivia Restaurantsjef | Onward to Bergen | Operahuset | Oslo City Hall | Oslofjorden & Video Clip | Persia Restaurant | “She Lies” | Thon Hotel Munch | Thon Hotel Orion | Travel Tips | Viator | Vigelandsparken | Viking Ship Museum & The Oseberg Ship | “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?”


Introduction.  Leve og la love, or “live and let live,” a philosophy by which Norway and her people live and more importantly, savor life.  It’s a nation so stunning, it effortlessly seduced us with her beauty, civic-mindedness and design aesthetic.  We easily made new friends, too.  The scale of the country cannot be overstated.  This page, therefore, is the most ambitious and comprehensive summary we have ever attempted with daily updates on our Instagram feed; information on hotels and restaurants in and around Bergin and Oslo; panoramic photography of Flam and the fjords on the west coast; updates on our Facebook page; and video clips from Flam and Oslofjorden.

© deviantart.com
© deviantart.com

Arriving at Oslo International Airport Gardermoen.  Traveling to downtown Oslo from the airport is so effortless it makes you wonder why other metropolitan areas around the world can’t be this efficient.  After you claim your luggage, follow the Exit signs to Airport Express.  There is no need to stop at one of the ticket kiosks prior as you can swipe your credit card directly at the turnstiles and enter―pure genius.  Proceed to their departures platform where trains leave every 10 minutes.  On time.  As of this writing, one-way fares are BP 18.00 / CAN$ 29.00 / EUR 20.00 / US$ 22.00 and discounts are offered to children, seniors and students.  The trip takes approx. 20 minutes and is one of the smoothest rides you will ever undertake.  The trains are spotless and have more than enough room for luggage, even oversized ones.  They’re also, thankfully, quiet.  Regular announcements over the intercom remind passengers to keep conversations and cell phones at minimal volume levels, creating a welcomed respite as you journey past postcard-worthy scenery.  When you arrive at the city’s Central Station, aka “Oslo S,” signage will direct you to taxi stands and bus / tram connections.  The station is well laid out; features clear signage in both English and Norwegian; cafes and shops; and there is an information office with excellent customer service staff who can assist with navigating the city’s meandering streets.  Our hotel, the excellent Thon Hotel Munch, was less than 10 minutes by cab.

© Oslo Lufthavn
© Oslo Lufthavn

“The measure of any great civilization is its cities and a measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares.” ― John Ruskin


If ever there was an argument to be made that a single building can completely and successfully redefine public spaces, then Aker Brygge Wharf is it.  The neighborhood was once the site of a shipyard, Akers Mekaniske Verksted, but the opening of Oslo’s ground-breaking, stunning Operahuset, transformed the city’s waterfront, a metamorphosis resulting in an open-air shopping district with art installations, cafes, pubs, restaurants and shopping.  It is teeming with people, non-stop activity and should not be missed :

Bergen.  Located in western Norway in the municipality of Hordaland, Bergen is the country’s second largest city.  More importantly, it has the well-earned reputation of being one of the most beautiful places in Europe and the journey there from Oslo is considered one of the most exquisite train routes on the continent (see the sections below, Fjords and Onward to Bergen.)  We decided to stay overnight and it was well worth it.  The city, surrounded by mountains and the busiest port in Norway, is beyond picturesque.  Affable people, a bustling dining and pub scene, fantastic Christmas stores and local shops with Norwegian clothing, note-worthy architecture, and walkable streets characterize the place.  The leaning Hanseatic buildings of Bryggen, facing the water, are a World Heritage Site and are a photographer’s dream come true.


Experience Bergen, Norway for yourself here in 360°. Ensure sure you enable the HD option in the lower right of the window :


Make time for Botanisk Hage, located across the street from the Munch Museet.  Charming and serene, the botanical gardens are a favorite respite for locals.


The DogA Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture, although small, is a gem of an institution.  Promoting design and innovation, the centre features conference rooms, exhibitions and public spaces.

It also features a cafe serving coffee beverages, pastries and wonderful small meals. We enjoyed lattes and blueberry crumble outside in their garden.


Downtown Oslo At-A-Glance :


Fjord Tours.  We highly recommend relying on Norway in a Nutshell to plan tours of the fjords and west coast of this spectacular Scandinavian country.  One cannot visit Norway without setting aside time to visit the ancient glaciers, mountain sides and waterways.  There are myriad options and, quite frankly, can be overwhelming to the point of frustration.  Fortunately, Norway in a Nutshell makes planning easy.  To make the process as stress-free as possible, we decided to travel from Oslo to the west coast’s Bergen, considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and overnight there before beginning the return trip back.  Using that as a rough guide, we navigated Nutshell’s web site to build an itinerary as follows :

― Oslo to Flam, via rail
― fjord cruise via boat from Flam to Gudvangen
― bus from Gudvangen to Voss and then rail transfer to Bergen
― overnight in Bergen
― return via rail to Oslo

The web site was easy to use and allows multiple changes and re-arranging of itineraries before purchase.  It’s important to note, there is an option to mail the tickets to you before arrival.  I recommend using it for the nominal fee since picking up the tickets ad hoc at the above-referenced transfer points is more cumbersome than it’s worth.


Fjords.  The western fjords are magnificent.  Ensure you have extra storage and / or SIM cards and chargers for your digital cameras and smartphones.  Nothing can prepare you for the region’s ancient and natural beauty.


Norway’s historical polar exploration is showcased in the fascinating Fram Museum, located on the Bygdøy Peninsula, along with the Kon-Tiki Museum; Norwegian Maritime Museum; Norwegian Museum of Cultural History; and Viking Ship Museum.  Visitors can actually walk in and around The Fram, the world-famous polar exploration vessel.  In addition, there are myriad exhibitions on the ship’s perimeters dedicated to Norway’s role in the mapping of the arctic regions.


Although Frogner Park is one of the many green spaces in and around Oslo, it is arguably its most famous.  The baroque garden’s layout is exquisite and it as noteworthy for that as much as it is for sculptor Gustav Vigeland’s 200-piece installation, information on which is included further below under the heading, Vigelandsparken.


Holmenkollen Ski Jump & Park.  One of the most striking aspects of Norway is the amount of green space within very short distances of populated areas (it’s actually mandated by law.)  And Norwegians have blended the two effortlessly.  This is quite obvious when looking at Holmenkollen, a modern ski jump that rises (no pun intended) to great art, surrounded by trees and yet visible from downtown Oslo.  Make the effort to go there.  We recommend one of a number of Viator tours as the structure, nicknamed the Soup Ladle, is stunning and the view from the angled top is nothing short of dizzying.


“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller


Ibsen Museum. One of the most distinguished playwrights and poets in the world, Henrik Ibsen’s significance cannot be overstated; the special place he holds in the hearts of Norwegians, permanent and special.  Part of your trip to Oslo should include a visit to his namesake museum, located close to the Royal Palace at Henrik Ibsens Gate 26.  It was the last home Ibsen occupied and the building has been extensively restored to recreate his home as authentically as possible.


Journey from Oslo to Myrdal, A Photo Gallery :


Kaffistova is a culinary institution in Oslo and its a reputation that’s well-earned.  For more than a century, it has served not only traditional Norwegian dishes but it is still considered one of the best places in Oslo for baked goods.  Don’t limit yourself to just lunch or dinner, their breakfasts are highly regarded by locals and the staff lets you sample many items.  Once cannot stop by with enjoying two of their most famous offerings, i.e., raspeballer (potato dumplings) and reindeer meatballs, the latter of which are addictive and delicious.  The atmosphere is casual, minimalist and subdued, the perfect place in other words to dine after a long day of enjoying Norway’s spectacular capital city.


“I want to travel.  Maybe I’ll end up living in Norway…making cakes.” –  Eva Green


The Munch Museet, or Munch Museum, might not initially come to mind when thinking about the world’s greatest cultural institutions but here in Norway, it is held in the highest esteem.  When you visit, and no trip to Oslo would be complete without doing so, you will be more than impressed.  Over half of the work of its namesake, Edvard Munch, resides here and as you peruse its galleries, you will appreciate the scope and beauty of his work which is far greater than just The Scream (as incredible as the painting is.)


Myrdal.  The high-speed rail service to Myrdal will spoil you as the modern trains are efficient, spotless and feature plenty of room for seating and luggage.  When you reach Myrdal, you will transfer to an older train, begging the question, “Why?”  The onward journey features too many twists and turns for the modern trains to navigate.  And when you least expect it, the train will pass by a gorgeous waterfall and stop.  Be prepared to jump off the train quickly for picture-taking as the crowds will swarm around a platform overlooking the falls.

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© David-Kevin Bryant
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Heed the siren’s call.  © David-Kevin Bryant

While the Nobels are awarded in Stockholm, the highly coveted and prestigious Peace prize is awarded in Oslo.  The Nobel Peace Center, dedicated to open debate about conflict, diplomacy, and resolution, is where the prize is awarded and the laureates celebrated for their vision and work.


If perfection can be defined as the convergence of delicious food, excellent service, exceptional coffee, flawless weather and unparalleled views, then Olivia Restaurantsjef is the center at which all of these meet.  We stopped by on a whim and sat at a table near the waterways that characterize Aker Brygge.  Our intention was to simply order coffee and warm up–until we saw the menu.  Hot chocolate on a chilly day is, frankly, naked and afraid unless accompanied by something sweet.  That day, the restaurant featured a molten chocolate cake with berry coulis.  Sold.  It was one of the finest desserts I have ever enjoyed, so much so that my face must have been glowing.  The table next to us asked what were having as they, in their words, witnessed me experiencing nirvana.  I can’t imagine a greater compliment.


Onward to Bergen.  The boat tours of the fjords end in Gudvangen.  From there, you will board buses to Voss and then transfer to trains to Bergen, one of the most beautiful land picturesque cities in Europe.


Norway’s Oslo Opera House, or Operahuset, home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and The National Opera Theatre, is beyond dazzling.  Located in the Bjørvika neighborhood at the head of Oslofjord, the building appears to float on the water.  It’s angled structure echoes the ice of the north pole; it’s undulating ramps invite visitors to stroll undeterred around the building.  Dining al fresco is encouraged as the view of the waterways and the surrounding city is unparalleled.  You are encouraged to walk into its magnificent entrance and you should seize the opportunity as the rising ceiling of its hall is as awe-inspiring as the exterior of the building itself.


Oslo, for many years, has been characterized as a charming city but lacking a distinguishable skyline.  It’s most prominent feature was its City Hall, a building with fewer characteristics of Scandinavian sleek design and instead resembling the institutional buildings of Eastern Europe from decades past.  That of course changed when the groundbreaking and dazzling Opera House opened, immediately setting into motion the redevelopment of the waterfront into Aker Brygge and making the city a contender for urban development with careful consideration given to environmental concerns.


Viator’s cruise of Oslofjord is a must.  Not only will you experience the exquisite coastlines of the land, but the photo-capturing of Akershus Fortress, Bygdøy Peninsula and the Opera House will you opportunities not possible from land angles.


“We are like islands in the sea…separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”― William James


Ensure sure you enable the HD option in the lower right of the windows to experience a glimpse of Oslofjorden :

   


Located across from Thon Hotel Munch at Keysers gate 7B, Persia Restaurant is a hidden gem of dining in Oslo.  Featuring both indoor and outdoor sitting areas, the restaurant serves bountiful, inexpensive Persian and Mediterranean food that is delicious.  On the day we arrived in the Norwegian capital, we sat outside and enjoyed a huge platter of flatbread and humus, a Greek salad and vegetarian pizza.  The service was friendly; the meal, excellent.  The weather was perfect… dining al fresco made what was already a great experience even greater.


Caspar David Friedrich’s “Sea of Ice” was Monica Bonvicini’s inspiration for the stainless steel and glass panels defining the permanent sculpture, She Lies, which floats outside Oslo’s Opera House.  Friedrich, a German painter of landscapes (5 September 1774 – 7 May 1840,) could not have known at the time that his painting would help define public art in the modern era.  Not only is his impact immediate but Bonvicini’s work, resembling rare diamonds as much it does ice, has helped completely redefine Oslo’s waterfront.


Thon Hotel Munch.  We discovered this Norway-based chain months before we arrived, having read more-than-positive reviews about their numerous properties in Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.  They offer three different types of hotels throughout the cities they serve, i.e., Budget, City and Conference, specifically designed for different traveler needs, budgets and desired locations.  We opted for the City concept of the Munch property, which functioned more like a bed-and-breakfast, since it was centrally located, i.e., less than 10 minutes by cab from the Central Station, and offered an excellent price-point via their website with a discount for length of stay.  Our room featured the expected minimalist Scandinavian design; comfortable beds with excellent linens and comforters; coffee and tea service; and very good bathroom amenities and thick towels.  Like many hotels in Norway, Thon offered breakfast as part of their reservations.  The service, offered daily, specialized in American, British and Scandinavian breakfasts and was prepared in an open-concept dining room.  The food was exceptional, fresh and bountiful.  What appealed most to us, however, was the excellent customer service we received.  It was no fluke either.  We stayed at one of their properties in Bergen and the staff there, too, was equally excellent.



Having heard many wonderful things about Bergen, located on Norway’s southwestern coast, we decided to sojourn there before beginning the return trip to Oslo.  It was an easy decision as Bergen, surrounded by both fjords and steep mountains, is considered one of the most beautiful and picturesque in all of Europe.  We arranged to stay at the Thon Hotel Orion (formerly Thon Hotel Bergen Brygge.)  The Norway-based chain prides itself on its cool Scandinavian design aesthetic and exemplary customer service.  Like her sister property in downtown Oslo, The Munch, the Orion succeeded on all levels.  Located on the city’s famous waterfront, the property is easily within walking distance of Bergen’s equally famous town square, Torgalmenningen, and the leaning wooden houses facing the water.  The hotel was undergoing an extensive renovation when we arrived and we ended up being the first guests to stay in a newly remodeled room, one of the best we have ever experienced.  The room was quite large, featured ample storage space and new furniture and one of the best bathrooms in our many travel experiences.  The bath and bed linens were without equal and their dining room, featuring American, Scandinavian and UK breakfast items, was large and meticulous.  We cannot wait to return.


Travel Tips :

― Ensure you have extra SIM cards for your digital camera as the photography along the western coast, along with the countryside during the journey, is jaw dropping.

― Bring battery chargers for your smart phones.

― Even if you’re traveling in the Spring and Autumn, bring a weather-proof jacket as the temperature in the fjords drops dramatically.


“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.” – Charles Dudley Warner


Viator.  Oslo, although small and easily walkable, is not–even by admission of her own citizens–a city where much thought was given to urban planning.  That is changing ever since the stunning new Opera House opened and the waterfront nearby, Aker Brygge, has undergone a dazzling transformation.  Even so, it can be overwhelming trying to capture some of its must-see sites in a manageable way.  Enter Viator, the global sightseeing and touring company.  Their page devoted to Oslo offers myriad options for bus, fjord and walking tours.  We opted for the Grand Tour (approx. US$ 75.00 / person) and it was well worth it since it covered a number of attractions on opposite sides of the city that, on our own, we probably could not have covered in a reasonable amount of time.  We started out mid morning at their pick-up location near City Hall on a more-than-comfortable bus and toured the city’s artistic, cultural and historical sites, with pertinent information provided by our excellent guide, Sandra.  From there, the itinerary included :

– Holmenkollen Ski Jump and museum, located northwest of the city;
– Frogner Park and the incredible sculptures of Gustav Vigeland;
– Fram, Kon-Tiki and Viking Ship Museums; and
– 90 minute cruise of Oslofjord at dusk, which includes enviable photo-capturing you cannot experience on land of the Akershus Fortress, Bygdøy Peninsula and the Opera House.

We recommend relying on Viator to get your sea legs when its comes to experiencing this spectacular city.  Here is a clip of what we experienced (make sure you enable the HD option in the lower right of the window) :


Vigelandsparken.  The Vigeland installation is the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist.  Sculptor Gustav Vineland’s work, composed of more than 200 pieces in bronze, granite and iron, captures the human journey of life that is both funny, surprising and when you look at the most photographed–that of the elderly women presumably alone having lost their partners–it is both heartbreaking and touching.


“It is the north wind that lashes men into Vikings. It is the soft, luscious south wind which lulls them to lotus dreams.” – Maria Louise Ramé


Located in Bygdøy, the small but intriguing Viking Ship Museum should be on your list of things to do in Oslo.  Many Viator tours, discussed above, include the museum as part of their day trip options.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

Part of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, the Viking Ship Museum’s jewel in the crown is the Oseberg ship which was excavated from a burial site and is preserved intact.


“Imagine staring into the abyss.  A snickering face stares back.  This is the effect of Oslo Nye Teater’s new interpretation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – Lillian Bikset


Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is considered one of the greatest plays ever to grace the stage.  The complete breakdown of the play’s middle age couple, Martha and George, is difficult and painful to watch but is considered a master class in acting and raw emotion.  Making its debut in the Fall, the Oslo Nye Teater, or Oslo New Theater, production was practically impossible to see as tickets for the greatly reviewed show were sold out.  Sheer luck and serendipity scored us tickets, however, when we met a member of the production the night before.  Linn Skåber’s Martha and Sven Nordin’s George were performances that were dazzling and when the play concluded, the standing ovations were deafening.

(L – R) : Linn Skåber, Sven Nordin), Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes, and Eldar Skar. © L-P Lorentz, Oslo Nye Teater