Oslo – The City That Never Lets You Sleep.

Like I say, Oslo...not really a city for late-night arrivals...

This weekend we decided, for a change of pace, to try and see how we got on (being such cheap-skates as myself and Anna usually are) in the supposed world’s most expensive city – Oslo, Norway. To begin with, things got off to an incredibly bad start, which can be summarised using just one company’s name; Ryanair. As part of our mercy mission to keep costs to an absolute minimum, we’d booked our flights with Ryanair to Oslo-Torp. What, however, I had failed to fully appreciate was that aside from being only allowed to check-in online for Ryanair flights, you’re also only permitted to check-in, rather ridiculously, up to 4 or so hours before the flight, even though in fact, the whole purpose of doing airport check-in as I understand it, is to cut down the amount of time you need to spend at the airport pre-flight. So, before we’d so much as come within 100 metres of a Ryanair plane, we’d already been duped into spending an additional €80 for the dubious privilege of being allowed ‘Airport check-in’. Add in the compulsory bottle of rum and bottle of vodka (€20 duty-free, one of the few perks of flying to Norway) and we were down €100 before so much as leaving Irish soil. Finally, we got off the ground and there’s no doubt, there’s a lot to be said for not flying Ryanair – there was a time when the whole cost-saving thing made a fair bit of sense but the continuous announcements for credit cards, smokeless cigarettes, being allowed use your mobile phone and so on, get more than irritating after a while and actually led me to shock that they don’t have more air rage incidents on an annual basis. Roll on two hours and we landed in the unbelievably shed-like Oslo-Torp airport, with emphasis on ‘Torp’ since that’s definitely the place you actually land at; the word ‘Oslo’ being more of an insult. Incidentally the flight to Oslo from Dublin takes just shy of two hours – and the bus from Torp airport to Oslo? Also just shy of two hours.

Hang tight, it's an attack of the urban renewal...

The first thing to say about Oslo is that it’s not, unfortunately, a city for arriving in late at night. The bus terminal and surrounding areas give the impression of a complete and utter lawless dump. The bus station seems to be bursting at the seams with druggies, homeless people and every other imaginable type you don’t want to meet late at night in a foreign city. The other pretty immediate thing about Oslo, and one that caused me some degree of humour is they’re love of a) gangster culture and b) the convenience store, 7-11. Whereas in Ireland, many youth embrace wholeheartedly the ‘scumbag’ culture of going around attired in sportswear, when in fact they intend to do no sports, and generally looking as dopey as possible, the trend in Oslo seems to be to go around looking like a bunch of rappers on some sort of late night walk-by. When the weather is -15 outside however, going around with jeans mostly falling down and hoodies almost unzipped so that everyone can see your ‘bling’ just looks stupid. Due to our continuing cost-saving measures, we appear also to have been staying in some new development in what I presume is the immigrant quarter. No matter, although it was expensive (by our standards), the room was certainly liveable, the only problem being (surprisingly) that the insulation was almost a little too good and so the room reached near-tropical temperatures late at night.

The sunset from the top of the Opera House, one of the few non-1970's concrete buildings there...

The sunset from the top of the Opera House, one of the few non-1970's concrete buildings there...

In fact, on our first night in the place, this was one of the ‘flagship’ problems that led to a sleepless night. As the night wore on, no amount of tossing the duvet around the bed seemed to be effective at dispelling the Caribbean-like heat that was wafting in off the radiators (even after I turned them down). In ice cold Norway, we eventually had to resort to actually opening the window and letting some of that arctic air roll in. The next problem was that we appeared not only to be living in the immigrant quarter, but also facing the local hospital. This meant that at least twice an hour a passing ambulance would speed by, with all sirens blaring. Then, to make matters worse, just as we were getting settled again, morning settled in and the curtains revealed themselves as being useless at keeping the sunlight at bay. Finally, it was late enough in the morning that we felt we could get up and go and see what the city had to offer. We began by walking down our street, Storgata, to where it intersected with another street right in front of the cathedral, or at least what we presumed was the cathedral since it was simply labelled as ‘domkirke’ on the map we had, and was accompanied by an oversized cartoon image of itself. We then proceeded down the main street, the Grafton Street of Oslo if you like, Carl Johans Gate. For some reason, and I don’t know why, ‘main streets’ in other capital cities never seem to be as entirely impressive as Grafton St itself is. I think it’s something to do, in my mind anyway, with the cobble-locking or something. Needless to say, Carl Johan wasn’t really as impressive as I’d hoped he would be either, the highlight of the street being that it sort of terminates outside the parliament and affords quite compelling views of the Royal Palace, at one end of the street up high on a hill. Unfortunately however, in some sort of terribly bad planning in the 1970’s, someone gave planning permission to what must be some of the ugliest collection of buildings’ anywhere in the world outside of UCD, right beside the Royal Palace. So, on the one hand, you have this huge yellow antiquated building propped up on a hill, and then just down from that, these solid grey concrete constructions, company logo’s fading off the front of them and dirty old flowery curtains marking the separation, internally, between offices and apartments.

Unfortunately, budgetary 'constraints' meant flying through the coffee shop at Oslo City Museum...

It seems meanwhile, that down closer to the sea, they’ve had some sort of docklands redevelopment that has turned the seafront close the castle from ferry terminal into modern ‘village’ of sorts. The effect however for tourists is that the whole area kind of just looks like a huge shopping centre complex like you’d see anywhere else, except that unlike anywhere else, you can’t actually afford to buy anything in there. I very quickly discovered that the main things I could afford to eat regularly over in Oslo in order to comply with our ‘budget’ was the special ‘2 pr 10kr’ deal on bananas in 7-11, and the ‘Super Big Bite’ a plastic-tasting (but generally semi-decent) hot dog also from 7-11, and a snip at the price for just 25kr. (Around €3). Moving on from the docklands area, we headed up towards the castle, where a lack of signage led to us wandering around quite aimlessly for up to an hour before finally coming across the armed forces museum. To be fair to Oslo, and give it a break, if you’re really into museums and that sort of attraction, then you’re pretty much sorted – the whole place is stocked up with free museums, the only major caveat being that you quite often need to be fluent in Norwegian to actually understand what’s going on. I was more than a little disappointed at that, because really, to have all these free museums and attractions and then not make them accessible for foreign visitors, renders the whole thing a bit of a waste of time. The armed forces museum for example, was generally quite good about translating things, but the film museum we also went to about half an hour later had not an ounce of English throughout, besides which, it also showed one of the scariest short films I’ve ever seen, even if you haven’t a word of Norwegian.

The crowds surge towards the centrepiece of the Vigesland Sculpture Park...

We climbed the opera house and looked out over the coast, which was cool, and the design of the opera house is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve seen anywhere in a while. The following morning, we were back up good and early again after yet another sleepless night brought about by the searing heat in the room, the continual sirens blaring just outside on the street, the sounds of the occasional scream of what I presumed was someone being attacked and the constant need for water stemming from my attempts to finish off my litre of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring it back onto the plane home with me. The next morning we headed out to the Vigesland Sculpture Park, a huge park littered with sculptures everywhere you look. The sculptures were nice, but our continuing dwindling funds and the freezing cold meant that we had to make haste to yet another Norwegian-only museum, before leaving and heading on towards the nearest 7-11 to pick up the next bargain of the day, a 35kr loaf of bread, still warm from the oven. From there, we headed down to the National Library, which unfortunately was closed. And, even more unfortunately, some strange man kept standing close by me, making me nervous and no longer wanting to take a picture of the building. The next evening we went out once again in search of a dinnertime bargain and found what we thought was the bargain of the century, a whole pizza and drink for 100kr (around €12.50). In fact, the pizza was disgusting and was peppered with something that looked uncannily like dry dog food – sadly our attempts to bargain-hunt a dinner, it turned out, were useless against the Norwegians and their high prices and stern ways. The next morning we just had a look around the local area once more, did a tour of Oslo by foot and indulged in another Super Big Bite or two, before returning to the bus terminal for the lengthy journey back to Torp Airport.

And this time, I held onto my pre-printed boarding card like my life depended on it…


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