Traveling to Oslo is supposed to be easy. But not when you’ve spent the night on a creaky Scandinavian ship, holed up with one normal-sized human being and two vivacious boys in the cheapest cabin that’s no bigger than a broom closet.
Well, at least the buffet-style dinner was better. They had all-you-can-eat caviar, crayfish and even a children’s section with all sorts of junk that children love. Did I mention they have all-you-can-eat caviar?
As soon as the ship arrived at 8am, we were ejected into the cold blustery morning and left to GoogleMap our way to our hotel in this urban wilderness that is Norway’s largest city. We stopped by the magnificent Oslo Opera House, which presided over the Oslofjord like a gigantic iceberg.
The kids had a grand time skipping up and down its dramatic sloping roof while the adults had to ensure no one lost a limb in the process. One wrong move and those young ‘uns are bound to come a-tumbling down like Jack and Jill, with nary a safety barrier to prevent their quick descent into the fjord’s icy depths.
Our little sanctuary, Hotel Thon Terminus, was a short jaunt away and we were welcomed with some freshly baked muffins, a bottle of red wine from Italy and some seriously bright colors that burned a hole through our retinas.
After freshening up, we headed straight for Vigeland Park, a sprawling garden featuring more than 200 works of Gustave Vigeland, Norway’s best known sculptor.
Wrought from bronze and granite, Vigeland’s human forms were strange enough to behold on ordinary days and even more surreal when you’re running on less than 3 hours of sleep. Some of these gigantic statues made us snigger (like the famous Sinataggen, the pissed-off bubba), while others were quite terrifying (a naked man fighting off babies?).
Anyhow, we decided to have a bit of fun. I blame it on the hypersomnia.
Further along, we saw giants holding a fountain – symbolic for the burden of life – and the park’s piece de resistance, a monolith of 121 bodies writhing and scrambling over each other to reach for the sky. It took three stone carvers 14 years to make this giant erection, and Vigeland lived barely long enough to see it. He died a short while later, in 1943, after fulfilling his promise to spend his creative life beautifying Oslo in return for a studio and state support.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the city by foot and tram. I loved how everyone looked like they are on vacation, even on a weekday, but didn’t quite fancy the fact that prices – from local boutiques to Chinese takeaway joints – were extortionate.
Fortunately, our alfresco lunch in Den Glade Gris, a casual Nordic pub specializing in pork dishes, was worth every nok.
The last thing we wanted to do after an overnight cruise was get on another godforsaken boat, so we traveled to Oslo’s Bygdøy Peninsula and its cluster of highly-rated museums the very next day via bus. Ironically however, our first stop was the Viking Ship Museum to see……more ships.
Granted, these 9th- and 10th-century ships were used in burial and better preserved than their Danish counterparts. There are also Viking bones and artifacts for you to gawk at, and a shop selling all manner of Viking paraphernalia including Viking water and Viking salt if that floats your boat. Judging from the price, I hope it turns you into an instant badass upon consumption. #milkingit
Another supposed highlight of the Bydgoy Peninsula was the Norwegian Folk Museum, one of the world’s oldest and largest open-air museums showcasing over 150 heritage buildings shipped in from different parts of Norway.
“Another museum,” groaned my husband, who has obviously reached his threshold for looking at old, inanimate objects.
“But it’s supposed to be very interesting!” I protested.
After walking past the 80th log cabin however, I learned to bite my tongue.
Granted, it was September and most of the buildings were shuttered for the season. The website also boasted of costumed actors but we only spotted two: one was hiding in the gloom of a mansion like a ghost, barely looking up from her weaving, while the other looked like she was ready to jump out a window from boredom.
Thankfully, the Aker Brygge wharf was as lively as the museum was dead. Oslo’s pedestrianized harbourfront is filled with Oslo’s costliest real estate and trendy alfresco restaurants and bars filled with blond Kim Kardashian types sipping on overpriced wine or lattes.
There is also a small playground for their Armani-clad mini mes and a mall selling beautiful – but very expensive – clothes by Nordic designers.
Looking at all these things I couldn’t afford only made me hungry (it’s called filling the void with food), so we had pizzas and risotto in this Italian restaurant called Olivia and it was surprisingly decent, because clearly the main draw of this place isn’t the food, but the very fit, very rich, crowd that came here to mingle.
It was hard not to feel self-conscious when you’re sitting across from a blond Dionysus and stuffing your face with an extra-large slice of pizza while the children rub pizza sauce all over themselves.
We ate quickly and strolled up the Akershus Fortress Complex, which is still being used as a military base, for a bird’s eye view of the harbour.
And then on our way back to the hotel, we found ourselves right in the middle of the Mastreif Food Festival, an annual fair showcasing local delicacies and produce. Nothing excites me more than oohing and aahing over strange and novel tastes with a bunch of other food nerds and some of these foods were unfamiliar, alright.
Apart from regular burgers and sausages, there was kransekake (a traditional almond cake tower)…
…and, since we’re in the land of reindeers, reindeer everything, including steak, sausage and jerky (eaten by the Samis of the far north).
For the adventurous, food samples abound: I had my first taste of the popular brunos – a cheese-fudge hybrid that definitely needs some getting used to. The locals were highly impressed when our 4-year-old tried some gamalost and begged for more.
“Even I can’t eat that!” snorted the seller, chuckling as she watched him wolf down a second piece.
Gamalost isn’t very popular even in Norway for a good reason – it’s made from soured milk and looks AND tastes nasty.
It was all fun and games until we passed by a stall with a massive logo that looked a lot like Free Willy. I Googled hval, and yep, just as I thought, it meant whale.
Ah, a shop selling whale cuisine.
There’s smoked whale and a platter labeled ‘sashimi’ filled with the rawest, most bloodiest chunks of meat I’ve seen.
No guesses which one I tried.
As much as my conscience screamed no, I had to. I mean, whale meat has been consumed here for thousands of years, and the minke whale – a common species found worldwide – thrives off the Norwegian coast. And I’m sure they had a better quality of life than most factory-farmed animals.
But then, as my family looked on in horror, I took a bite and it felt like I was gnawing on a truck tyre. It’s definitely an acquired taste, this salty mixture of fat and rubber. I didn’t want to seem rude as the shopkeeper was grinning at me, so I thought of white folks and the durian and hurriedly gulped down the rest.
And you know what? I’d love to return to Oslo but I think I’ll leave the whales alone.
Hotel Thon Terminus Comfortable rooms, impeccable service and a central location makes this hotel a top choice for couples and families alike. And best of all, you won’t go hungry in overpriced Oslo: the hotel provides a beautiful breakfast (think honeycomb, smoked salmon, etc), free snacks at the reception and a generous, although repetitive, dinner. $$$
- There are plenty of flights to Oslo but you can also do it the longer, more relaxing way: on a ship. There are a few companies that ply the waters from Denmark to Norway regularly so do your research and don’t get the cheapest room, unless you’re not traveling with kids and are willing to rough it out for a night. Breakfast and dinner cost extra.
- The costs add up very quickly in Oslo so if you’re spending more than two nights in Oslo you might want to get a hotel under the Thon or Clarion Collection chain that offers half board (breakfast and dinner).
- Oslo city is compact enough to get around on foot but certain attractions such as the Viking ship Museum and Vigeland Park lie in its suburbs, which is quite a distance away from the centre. The network of buses, trams, ferries (except for the Bygdoy ferry) and metro make it east to get around and the Oslo Pass entitles you to free transportation as well as free entry to most major museums. Children below 6 travel for free, while children from the age of 6 to 17 may travel with a discounted child’s ticket.
- Vigeland Park is located within Frogner Park, a public park with Norway’s largest collection of roses as well as a big playground for children. You can easily spend half a day there with kids.
- The Norwegian Folk Museum is impressive during the summer (June to August), but go there any other time and you’re in for a disappointment. Check the website for the schedule of events.