Country #17: Norway

Okay, it’s been about a week since I returned to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, all 108 degrees of it, and after finally clearing away piles of emails, voicemails, and memos, I thought a recap of my trip to Oslo was in order.  So, here’s four of the top things Sydney Meredith thinks you should do in Awesome Oslo:

 #1: Mini-Cruise, the Kon-Tiki Museum, Viking Museum
and Norwegian Culture Center

This first “goodie” is a 4-for-1 package so get up early!  Twill be a day of adventure, awe, and antiquities, beginning with a beautiful mini-cruise of the harbor from Pier # 3 behind City Hall and getting off at Stop #2 for Kon-Tiki Museum.  Now, I know that some people are just born with an adventurous streak, and while I'd like to think that perhaps I, too, exhibit one, there really isn't one part of me that would wake up and think, ‘You know what?  I want to prove that ancient humans actually could voyage across the ocean and to demonstrate this I will build a raft of balsa wood and rope and sail across the Pacific on a 101-day nautical odyssey.’  But, you know who did?  Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer, Thor Heyerdahl, in 1947, on a raft called Kon-Tiki.  Not only did he survive the trip (think Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”), he decided to do it again, this time on a raft named Ra II, successfully sailing from Bolivia to Morocco.   Kevin – my college bestie and traveling partner - and me got to view the preserved rafts up-close and personal, and see photos and videos from Heyerdrahl’s expeditions and all were fascinating.  We highly recommend this unique museum experience.

Keeping with the boat theme, take a short walk to the Viking Ship Museum.  This place was packed like a can of Norwegian sardines and hard to get a good view, so we just stayed a little while.  Still, it’s a must-see to get a glimpse of these ships.  While much more rudimentary than the Kon-Tiki, they were absolutely massive, and with the patina from hundreds of years of ancient Viking sweat, they are a gorgeous dark brown, with elaborate hand-carved decorations around the bow and stern.  Really, a sight to behold and part of the Norwegian experience.

To appreciate life and culture in Norway from different centuries, just walk further up the main drag to the Norwegian Cultural Museum.  If you’ve been to Williamsburg, Jamestown, or Strawbery Banke, for all you Granite staters reading back home, this is Norway’s version, complete with a working farm and restored homes, churches, and storefronts representing life over multiple centuries.  The place is amazing visually but, an audio tour component sure would have helped explain what we were looking at a lot better.  We enjoyed the experience nonetheless and the opportunity to compare our two cultures.

 #2: Nobel Peace Prize Museum and Oslo Opera House

The Nobel Peace Prize Museum is a short walk from the Oslo Central Station.  There you will learn about the history of Alfred Nobel and the story behind one of the world’s most coveted prizes.  Every year the main exhibition hall changes based on that year’s winner.  2014, for example, is dedicated to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai for their “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."  On the wall were statistics about child labor, lack of education, and the cycle of poverty that effects over 1 billion children in the world.  Seeing Malala's blood soaked school uniform, visibly cut by surgeon’s scissors, was a sight I will never forget.  It’s one thing to read about her in the news, to see the photos of her leaving the hospital, to watch her UN speech - it was something completely different to see, first-hand, an innocent girl’s blood; whose only hope was to go to school and knowing what came of that fateful day to this place a world away and in her honor.  (Goose bumpie.)

When you exit the Museum, look straight across the harbor and see the gleaming white, magnificent marble Opera House.  Built in 2008, it’s an amazing piece of architecture designed by Oslo-based, Snøhetta.  Kevin and I “oohed and awed” at the way the angled front of the building looks as though it rises from the water.  It’s no coincidence that it will remind you of an iceberg!  Great for photos as you can ascend to the top of the building and survey the city below.  Next time I’m there, I’m hoping to catch my favorite opera, Madame Butterfly.

 #3: Take a Train Ride!

Kevin and I had heard great things about picturesque, coastal city called Bergen.  We learned it was once the capital of Norway as it was a center of merchant trade.  Her harbor is lined with quaint Hanseatic buildings, now a UNESCO site.  While the city is truly beautiful, the 7- hour train ride, passing glacial lakes, farms, and snow capped hills is even more beautiful and worth the train ride itself.  There’s so much to explore in Bergen and that’s what we did with little time and no set plans.  Another words, I need to go back with a better “to do” list besides eating and drinking (and drinking).

#4: You Scream, I Scream, for Munch’s Scream!

You gotta visit the Holy Grail of Norwegian art royalty aka Munch Museum, just two stops on the metro from the city, where works by Norway’s most famous and prolific painters, the expressionist, Edvard Munch, await. You’ll see his early work, along with his most notable piece, The Scream.  As an art history minor, it was quite the baptism to stand in front of the original.  Truly, one of – if not THE MOST - iconic image in all of modern art and/or the symbol of humankind in the post-industrial era.  Did you know he drew it on a piece of cardboard?!$?    It was stolen from the Museum in 2004 and returned in 2006.  So glad I could add this legend to my portfolio.  You should too.

FYI:  all museums listed above, along with the mini-cruise and public transportation, are free with your 72 Hour Oslo Pass.  And, don’t forget to pick up a festive Norwegian sweater, though it may set you back a few hundred dollars.   

Was there something on the list I missed? I would love to hear what your favorite things are about Awesome Oslo!

Adventures in Oslo

Working in Saudi Arabia comes with several perks, one of which is celebrating – in a purely secular sense - two national Eid (read that “religious”) holidays that each last a week.  I enlisted my good friend, Kevin, from college, to join mesomewhere in the world for some much needed D & D.  That’s Dining & Drinking.  The antithesis of R & R.  Yawn.   We decided on Oslo, Norway, whose foodie scene is “trending” and, besides, neither of us had ever ventured to the land of our Viking roots.  (We pretended we had some.)  Kevin picked up Rick Steves’ tour book like nano-seconds after Oslo won our D & D destination contest and the planning began. 

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Fast forward six months, too many flight delays, taxis, and “close calls” to count and I woke up as late as I wanted at the Ullevaal Stadion Thon Hotel on a bed as soft as a cloud.   Breakfast was pure Norway:  local smoked salmon on rye crackers with a dollop of fresh yogurt and tea with honey.  That’s all we needed before setting off on the first day of our Scandinavian adventure.  We purchased an Oslo Pass, something I highly recommend, as it includes free metro transportation and entry into select museums.  

The very first stop was Domkirke Cathedral aka Church of Norway, the bucolic Lutheran church, dating back to the 1600s designed in the classic Baroque style and still serves at the pleasure of the royal family for civic functions.  Kevin and I ogled the awesome stained glass windows before hopping on a tour bus that made an hour-long loop through the city, noting places we wished to return to spend more time.

Hunger called, so we strolled down the main street of Oslo and rolled our eyes when we saw that the Norwegian TGI Fridays was absolutely PACKED.  (Close your eyes and hear the gnashing of our teeth.)  Sadly, TGI Friday in Jeddah is equally popular.  Kevin and I wondered amusingly if anyone outside the U.S. even knows what “TGI” stands for.  

Nonetheless, we found a real restaurant just a few blocks away and I gleefully checked off two things on my "Temporary Saudi Escape” checklist.  Alcohol and bacon.  We ordered the freshly caught cod topped with pesto and a fat slab of bacon.  All washed down with a cold, refreshingly tart, pear hard cider, also from my newly, albeit adopted country.  My taste buds – and my soul – were in satiated bliss.

We made our way back to “home base” to take a nap and hatch tomorrow's D &D plans.  Stay tuned...

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