Urban Yeti : The Outstanding (yet overpriced) City of Oslo

Old Oslo

Oslo has a reputation as an expensive, rather boring city.  Even travelers I met in Stockholm and Copenhagen (hardly cheap places themselves!) were largely avoiding the place.When I mentioned I was traveling to Norway to other travelers in Asia I would get wide eyes and sympathetic head shakes.  And it’s true that Oslo is the world’s most expensive place to live so it’s not exactly foolish to avoid.  A pint of beer starts at 11 euros (over 14 USD).  An hour train ride to the airport (which cost, for instance 2.5 USD in Portland) costs 45 USD in Norway.  Hell, even the Prime Minister thinks it’s too expensive.

Old Oslo

Thus I was very fortunate to be staying with my friend Eldar, an Azerbaijani Russian I met in Australia who has lived in Norway for half his life.  He lived very close to the city center and met me at the bus stop as I returned to civilization after visiting the Land of the Giants.  That night was the World Cup Final, and we both went to support Argentina in the outdoor Kontrasjæret.

Old Oslo

The next day was our big Oslo day.  While it doesn’t have the historic buildings of Stockholm or the charming energy of Copenhagen, Oslo has a stately grandeur.  Not to mention that fearsomely bearded Vikings once lived here in great numbers.  The city center is small and construction with oil money does mean a lot of new buildings, but it’s still Europe.  The refined buildings of yesteryear adorn the city.

The coolest part of Oslo has to be Frogner Park–the most popular tourist attraction in Norway, with between 1 and 2 million visitors a year.  It’s not everywhere you can statues of men kicking babies or women suckling goats, but the 80 acre Vigeland Sculpture park, located inside Frogner Park has 212 sculptures with just such illustrations.

The sculptures were designed by sculptor Gustav Vigeland from the 1920s until the early 1940s.   He was actually given a home in the park (now a museum) and he created the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist.  You could spend hours and hours here.  We didn’t, however, as we still had more of Oslo to see.  We did have time for this, however!

There are quite a few museums in Oslo but A) they’re expensive and B)they are closed on strange days.   We made our way out to the Kon-Tiki museum–of which I only knew the bare facts.  The story of Thor Heyerdahl is fascinating, and it’s worth watching some of their footage for those interested in exploration and amateur sociology.

We then headed to the marina and the Opera House–a semi-ugly building built on a bloated budget but in a rapidly expanding part of the city.  The so-called lego buildings are not popular with Oslonians, but I thought they looked kinda neat.

Ibsen and the National Theatre

We stopped at the greatest part of Oslo–Grønland.  As a multicultural melting pot, the area has kind of a bad reputation amongst Norwegians (crime rates are higher here) but it’s close to the T-Bane station and has some of the most affordable prices in town (beers are down to about 8 dollars a pint, for instance.) Grønland is one of the most multicultural places I’ve ever seen–more so than New York even. Citizens from all countries are united here by their love of budget blueberries, cheap celery and affordable avocados.

I left Oslo that night, sure I was coming back and eager to see more.  Because of the snafu with British Immigration, that did not work out.  But I’ll be back to see the rest of the beautiful city, sooner hopefully rather than later.  There’s more to see, including swimmable fjords and the Munch museum.  I just have to figure out how to get more money.  Now I know why those Vikings kept going to raid other countries so often!

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