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Royalty and The Red Light District

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26.05.2002

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As some of you already know, I spent a huge chunk of my life in Norway. During the 18 years I spent there, I grew to love the country and its people, both of which will always have a very special place in my heart. I miss it terribly, and had it not been for the fact that I’ve found a very special person here in the UK, I might very well be tempted to turn around and go back.

Most of my time in Norway was spent in a town called Drammen, which is about 40 kilometres northwest of Oslo. As such, I visited Oslo on numerous occasions, in much the same way as somebody living in Basildon would visit London. I had a love/hate relationship to it really. There are reasons why I would never like to live in Oslo, but it’s certainly a beautiful city with plenty to offer the tourist.

Smack bang in the middle, you’ll find the Royal Palace. This is completely different to Buckingham Palace. There are no fences surrounding it, and the gardens are open to the public at all times. You’ll find families picnicking there, people walking their dogs, but unfortunately, you’ll also find that it attracts hard drug users. Luckily, they tend to keep themselves to themselves and there’s rarely any trouble from them. Used needles etc have seldom been a problem either. Whether or not that’s due to the addicts being thoughtful or the fact that the park is regularly maintained, I really wouldn’t know. Maybe a combination of both.

The palace isn’t the main Royal residence, although heads of state and other official visitors are entertained there. A friend of mine was quite astonished because she’d walked right up to the walls and looked through a window without anybody stopping her. There are guards, but they generally leave you alone. As the late King Olav once said, who needs bodyguards when you have the entire population of your country protecting you?

From the Palace, Karl Johans Gate leads down towards the parliament buildings. The road is divided in two, with open-air cafes and gardens in the middle. People of all ages congregate here, but it’s especially popular with the students of nearby Oslo University. Karl Johan is also famous in Oslo as the main shopping street, their equivalent of Oxford Street you could say. Be warned though, prices in Norway are MUCH higher than here, so be sure you have enough of your hard earned cash with you.

Example prices:

½ Litre of lager: kr 45 (about £3.80)
Loaf of bread: kr 16 (about £1.30)
20 cigarettes: kr 68 (about £5.70)
3-course meal in a good restaurant: kr 700 (about £60)
Lunch in a nice café: kr 150 (about £12.70)

These prices seem stiff to us, but Norwegians earn far more than the average Brit and they enjoy a standard of living that’s far higher than we normally experience.

Most people associate Norway with snow, ice and extremely cold temperatures, and tend to forget that they also enjoy warm summers, sometimes hotter than ours. Although Oslo is alive and kicking all year round, it’s during summer that the average tourist, who isn’t particularly interested in winter sports, can enjoy the maximum benefits of a visit to the city. In fact, the variation in temperature and the magnificence of the surrounding countryside offer Oslo the benefit of a plethora of outdoor activities that cannot be competed with by any other capital city.

Oslo is situated at the tip of the Oslo Fjord, with its harbour being one of its main features. From here, you can take numerous boat trips out to the surrounding islands, including Bygdoy with its abundance of museums. Along Aker Brygge (Aker Pier) you’ll find street musicians and other pavement performers doing their thing while visitors and the people of Oslo enjoy fresh prawns and a half litre of lager, which, incidentally, is always served ice cold. In fact, being able to down that first outdoor “summer pils” is important to Norwegians. It’s a symbol of spring and yet another long, cold winter behind them. A varied assortment of restaurants, cafes and bars can be found along the pier, offering something for most tastes and budgets. Remember to leave a tip in cafes and restaurants. 5-10% is the norm.

Bygdoy, as mentioned earlier, is the place to go for museums. Here you’ll find:

The Norwegian Folk Museum - Depicts rural life in Norway during the 18th century. Home to one of Norway’s oldest stave churches and 150 other buildings that've been transferred from various parts of the country. The museum is party open-air, partly indoor, including a variety of exhibitions. Guides are generally found in national costume. Entrance: adults kr 50, children/students/seniors kr 30.

Viking Ship Museum – Houses the world’s best preserved viking ships and related artefacts. Entrance: Kr 40.

Kon-Tiki Museum – Houses the raft which Thor Heyerdahl built to sail from America to Polynesia in 1947 as well as “Ra”, a papyrus raft in which he sailed half way around the world in 1970.

Polar Museum – Houses “Fram”, the ship used by Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup and Roald Amundsen in three separate polar expeditions. Built in 1892, the ship is exhibited with original interior and inventory.

It’s worth mentioning that Bygdoy also has Oslo’s only naturist beach and that topless sunbathing is allowed, and widely practised, on all beaches in Norway.

There are plenty more museums in Oslo, including The Munch Museum, The National Museum of Contemporary Art, The Ibsen Museum, The Henie-Onstad Art Centre and The Museum of Technology, the latter of which I’ve visited regularly and can highly recommend.

If you like to enjoy an abundance of nightlife during your visits abroad, Oslo probably isn’t the best place to head for. Having said that, I have to add that Oslo’s nightlife has picked up remarkably over the past 10 years or so, and if clubbing’s what you want, you will find places to go. Bare in mind that it won’t be cheap though. I well remember how quickly my bank account shrank during my days of clubbing, even though that was way back when…. when? Well, back in the 80’s. I’m past all that now.

There are plenty of bars about, catering for all tastes. There are even a few English pubs along with an Irish pub of two.

One place I would definitely recommend visiting is Frogner Park. This is home of Vigeland’s sculptures, 212 of them in all. Now don’t go imagining that they’re just like any other old sculpture you’d find dotted about the cities of the world because Frogner Park is truly unique. It’s worth visiting just for The Monolith alone. What’s that? A 46 foot monumental sculpture carved from a single block of granite, depicting the moods of human nature. Nowhere in the world will you find a collection of sculptures that cover human nature as thoroughly as the work of Vigeland, and the park is without doubt one of Oslo’s finest pearls. Unfortunately, Vigeland died before the park was completed.

If you enjoy views, the Holmenkollen Ski Jump would be well worth visiting. It’s a long climb to the top, but once you’re up there, the views across Oslo and out over the fjord are sensational.

Raadhusplassen (the area around the Town Hall) and the area surrounding Akers Festning are best avoided at night. These are the red light districts. Mind you, having said that, I’m sure there are some who’d visit those areas specifically for that reason. Each to their own, but either way, it’s worth knowing about.


TRANSPORT

Getting around in Oslo is easy. The T-Bane (metro line) goes underground in the city centre, over ground in the suburbs. Buses run regularly (yes, they’re actually on time) and trams still operate throughout the city. Taxis are abundant, but expensive. I wouldn’t recommend using them on an average tourist budget.

Public transport day passes are available for 50 kroner; weekly passes are 150 kroner. These passes offer excellent value for money as they’re valid on the T-Bane, buses and trams. Tickets can be bought from bus and tram drivers.


ACCOMMODATION

Hotels are generally expensive, so the best idea, if you’re looking for comfortable accommodation, is to book a package deal.

There are four Youth Hostels in Oslo, two of which are open all year round. Prices vary from about kr 190 to kr 350 for a night, which is about what you’d pay for a private B&B in the UK.

Camping is allowed anywhere, as long as you’re 150 metres away from private houses or fenced boundaries. Unlike the UK, most privately owned land isn’t fenced in, meaning that you can pitch your tent or park your camper just about anywhere. Miles upon miles of magnificent countryside surround Oslo, so if you don’t mind roughing it a bit, I’d definitely recommend camping.


MISC AND THINGS

To see Oslo at its very best, I’d recommend visiting during May/June. There’s a special atmosphere in the city during those late spring months (remember that spring arrives later in Norway) that can’t be experienced at any other time.

If you’re thinking of visiting during winter, just let me warn you that the city centre isn’t a particularly pretty sight. Don’t expect white, snow covered streets because what you’ll get is filthy exhaust polluted slush. Mind you, the countryside surrounding the city’s pretty enough and if you’re lucky, you might catch the World Cup in Ski-Jumping that’s arranged every year in March, at Holmenkollen.

The people of Oslo are generally friendly and most speak very good English.

Oslo’s a busy city, and driving is a nightmare. If you should be foolish enough to rent a car, remember that any vehicle approaching from the right has right of way and they make sure they get it too. This applies on main roads too, so anybody coming from a right hand side-turning will just turn out in front of you. If I had a pound for every near miss I’ve had in Oslo, I’d be a rich woman now. But that isn’t the only problem; there are trams to deal with too. They stop for nobody! If you must drive, please keep your wits about you or we’ll never see you again.

If you want more information about doing Oslo on a budget, there’s an excellent website at http://www.unginfo.oslo.no/useit/index.php called “StreetWise – Your Budget Guide to Oslo”. It covers just about anything you’d want to know, and is especially useful for anybody thinking about studying or working in Oslo.

If you ever decide to go, do let me know what you thought. I’ll be envious though, because even though Oslo isn’t my favourite place, it’s part of Norway and any part of Norway is better than never seeing Norway at all.


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Comments about this review »

mmpr 22.12.2004 11:36

As you know, we went to Norway in the Summer. Wonderful place. ~ Mark

helencbradshaw 04.07.2004 23:02

I finally made it to Oslo!

herbb 12.05.2004 09:59

I did a nice trip down from Trondheim via Alesund, Geiranger, Bergen and the Fjell back to Oslo, we were very lucky with the weather in early June and vowed to go the whole length with the Hurtig ship some time...

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This review of Oslo (Norway) has been rated:

"exceptional" by (5%):

  1. helencbradshaw
  2. herbb

"very helpful" by (95%):

  1. mmpr
  2. Heathdog
  3. elkiedee

and 37 other members

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.

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