Oslo: Another whirlwind

On my first full day in Norway, after shrieking and giggling through an uneven shower, I had my first hotel breakfast. I well remember the first breakfast I ever had in Norway, at my father’s cousins’ house. They set quite a table with bread and cheese and veggies and fish and a number of other things. I also remember setting down to lunch and finding the exact same assortment of foods. Ha!

Plate with knekkebrød and assorted savories
Mmmm, fish for breakfast!

A hotel smørgåsbård has all the same kinds of foods and more—accommodations being made for travelers’ preferences. But it made me sad to see so many adult travelers eating their bowls of cereal when they could take a piece of knekkebrød and load it up with cheese, fish, and vegetables. Gods, I love savory breakfast. I also picked up a copy of VG and attempted to read a story about the 70-year-old rower’s rescue at sea. Seems he made it most of the way. The following conversation occurs about 20 times (despite my coffee cup remaining about half full):

Me: (reading a Norwegian-language newspaper)
Waitperson: Would you like more coffee?

To be fair, the few times that someone HAS spoken Norwegian to me, my first response has been a puzzled look, because listening to the language is far from effortless for me. I wish there was a way to differentiate between “I will never know what you just said to me because I speak no Norwegian” and “I’m slow, but give me a second to parse what you just said and craft a response” in my puzzled look.

Task number one on Monday was to purchase a Norwegian sweater, so I popped into the Dale of Norway store a block from the hotel and did just that. There really weren’t as many options as I’d expected. Luckily one of them was more or less what I’d had in mind.

That having taken mere minutes, I had about an hour and a half to wander before my 12:15 work meeting. The weather was almost threatening to clear up, though still cold, as I walked up toward the palace. I had been a little shocked, strangely, to find Stortinget (Norway’s parliament) right across the street from my hotel. I obviously should have known that it was there, but I hadn’t really grokked it. It is RIGHT in the middle of the city. There’s something so wonderfully open about a country that does that.

Norways parliament building
Stortinget, as seen from my hotel room in the Oslo Grand.

I walked the other way, though, toward the palace, which is also right in the middle of the city. It’s surrounded by a large park, most of which seems to be open to the public, at the other end of a long, narrow park running between Karl Johans gate and Stortingsgata. I thought after that I’d head to the harbor area, but I ran almost right into the Ibsen Museum. I was concerned that I wouldn’t have time to see it properly, but decided to risk it. After all, I had an Oslo Pass so I could always come back. I happened to be just in time to tour Ibsen’s apartment, lucky!

Statue of Ibsen outside his museum.

Ibsen seems to have been a man of contradictions, against the upper classes in theory, but happy to live an upper crust life in his later years, when he had the means to do so. Two of the rooms in the apartment are original, just at they were when he died. Which, when you think about the fact that his wife lived there several more years, is a bit strange. I wonder if she was already thinking about the place being a museum one day. Apparently in his last years Ibsen would sit in the window so people passing by could see him, already a museum exhibit.

After one work meeting and before another, I stopped in the Nobel Peace Center, where the main exhibit was about Carl von Ossietzky, the eventual 1935 peace prize winner. A journalist who published against Hitler and died in police custody in 1938 after catching tuberculosis in the concentration camp he was sent to. Between this and my literally unearned stay in the Nobel suite I feel like Oslo is trying to tell me something. About my work? About my newspaper and its (my) reluctance to engage in the really important political conversations happening in America right now? The exhibit draws parallels between Ossietzky and Snowden, but all I can think about is Trump’s Hitleresque rise to (hopefully not) power.

After that, I jumped on the T-Bane and headed up to Emanuel Vigeland’s mausoleum, where Yvonne was kind enough to meet me even though the place is usually only open on Sundays. Thank you, Visit Oslo! (The site does open on other days through special arrangement, and though they prefer to do so only for groups of six or more, I suspect there is some flexibility.)

I’m fascinated by the differences and similarities in the two famous Vigeland brothers. On Tuesday I visited the Gustav Vigeland museum and walked briefly through Vigeland park. The people at that museum were cold and unhelpful, in stark contrast to Yvonne. I am so struck by the almost lewd nature of G. Vigeland (and in public, no less!) and E. Vigeland’s dark religiosity—with also a lot of lewdness. The general culture in Norway is so much more open to sexuality and bodies than in the U.S. We’re such prudes.

I cannot recommend the E. Vigeland Mausoleum enough.

Just some of the imagery in the E. Vigeland museum. Photo copyright BONO / Emanuel Vigeland Museum, photographer: Kjartan Hauglid.

Yvonne recommended a lovely restaurant and aquavit bar, which I went to after a little nap. It was there that I finally found someone whose English was poor enough that she let me use my Norwegian to order food and drink. Honestly, I’m not sure how well it worked. She gave me the same puzzled look when I spoke that I give when I hear Norwegian, and I suspect we communicated mostly in the languageless way of restaurants. I am saying words and my plate is empty, so I either want another drink or the bill.

But anyway, the restaurant (Fyret) was as impressive as promised, with a full page, many column list of aquavits. I tried two of them, Egge Gård eple og villsomething, and… something else. They were both okay. I intend to use my two-bottle allowance through customs well, so research is required.

Inside Fyret, a restaurant where I finally got to use Norwegian.

Tuesday began with another lovely breakfast, after which I felt a little not quite right, truth be told. Could fish for breakfast be to blame? I went to the bookstore that I had both found in my research and had recommended to me by Kirsti. If I had been feeling better I’m sure I would have bought something, because they did have a great graphic novel section. It was so great I was overwhelmed and I had to poop so I just left, and because everything in Norway is open so few hours, I didn’t make it back there. This saddens me. I should have done more research to know what title I might like to buy. I doubt I will have another opportunity.

I had two work meetings that day, with the U.S. Embassy and Nordmannsforbundet.

After that I made what I thought was a final stop at the Munch museum, but it has such a small exhibit that I was still done with time to hit another museum. So, okay, I went to the National Gallery of Art. This is also a rather small national gallery, which is why I was able to cruise through the main exhibit in about an hour, but it does have quite a large Munch collection—better than the Munch museum, I think. So that’s good to know.

“Etter stormen” / After the Tempest, by Jens Ferdinand Willumsen, a Norwegian artist I discovered in the National Museum.

The theme of being a tourist in Oslo? You can see more than you think you can. Why not hit five or more museums in a day? They’re little.

After a bit of a nap, a nap that perhaps got away from me slightly, I dragged my corpse out of bed in search of food. The plan was to go to Mathallen, which I did do, but “open until 01:00” actually means that there are two bars that are open that late, but all of the food options closed gods know how much earlier. I had sort of thought that might happen, and had in fact considered sleeping through dinner. But I did find a place with a still-open kitchen, a BBQ joint, and I had decent pulled pork while sitting on a sheepskin under a very comprehensive awning with heat lamps, while it rained apocalyptically just beyond. I did have a local beer, Utpå pils. Suitable name for my late-night utepils.