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Friday, October 4, 2013

Let's Go to Oslo!

The map is skewed.  Norway had the 6th largest land area in Western Europe

Oslo's Fjord

When I mention Oslo, what grabs you?  Bright nights?  Blizzards and cross country skiing?  Something more personal?
Sweaters flit through my mind.  Honestly.  Thick wooly pullovers in geometric patterns of red and white and black.  I’d never thought about Norway until a college friend offered to let a group of us buy Norwegian sweaters at a discount.  That was back in 1965.  He had a catalogue and an overseas girlfriend.  She may have been American.  There are some 4.5 million Norwegian-Americans, mostly in the upper mid-west.  Big number considering the population of the home country is just a tad over 5 million, making it the smallest in population of the Scandinavian countries, the other two being Sweden and Denmark.

Since that long ago and far away time, Norway’s passed through the gray cells on occasion. Reindeer herds roaming the tundra.  Those perennially popular shoes, Bass Weejuns. They’re now made in El Salvador, but the name is a shortened form of ‘Norwegian.’

Midnight sun. In Svalbard, Norway, the northernmost inhabited region of Europe, there is no sunset from approximately 19 April to 23 August.  About 30% of Norway is in the Artic Circle.  What in the flames of Hades does this have to do with Oslo?

Not much, but Oslo does get cooooold.  Although it’s well below the Artic Circle, on the eastern coast, very close to Sweden.  No wonder everyone treats the whole area as Scandinavia.  Not only are the three countries close together, but Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have been so mixed and matched over the centuries, it’s amazing the puzzle ever got sorted out.  In the magic year of 1905 Norway finally became independent from Sweden.  No bloodshed involved.

One may well asked if the languages are similar.  Although, I can’t even say “Bring me a beer” or “Nice tits!” in any of the three, the locals told me that if you speak one of the Scandinavian languages, you can understand the other two.  Finnish and Icelandic are in different ball parks.

So, what’s to do in Oslo?  You mean after drinking the beer and drooling over the women, right?

First off, if you’re on a cruise, enjoy the entry through Oslo’s fjord, although geographically speaking, it not a fjord at all.  No steep mountains that race down to the water’s edge. But, it’s commonly called a fjord and the island views are still magnificent.

Frogner Park.  Contains the ‘don’t you dare miss it’ Vigeland Sculpture Arrangement.  The park is the largest in the city and the Arrangement is the largest sculpture park by a single artist.  What kinds of sculpture?  Men, women, children, captured in stone in astonishing poses.  Singles. Groups.  You start by giving the vast space a quick once over and a yawn, but soon the emotions grab you, the strains of happiness, anger, and angst.  Even when your visit is over, the statues will haunt you.

The Munch Museum.  Edvard Munch is one of the world’s best-known expressionist painters.  Think the expressionist were all French?  Started out that way.  Check out Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, and notice the similarities.  By the way, he did four versions of The Scream, three of which are in Norway.  See two examples below, one a version of the painting and the other a wood block. *

The Viking Ship Museum contains three rare examples of the ships of legend, all of them found by two, bored teenage boys who in 1879 decided to dig in a large mound near their family’s farm.

The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History let’s you step back in time and see how Norwegians lived through the centuries.  There’s a museum and also a village, complete with costumed enactors doing crafts and making old-style foods.  You take one look at those old houses, with barely a shred of insulation, fireplace heating, no running water, and you find yourself wondering how the hell did they keep from freezing!

Speaking of culture, think back to your high school English classes.  The name Henrik Ibsen bring back memories?  “Doll’s House” ring a bell?  Shakespeare and Ibsen are the world’s most performed dramatists.   Ibsen draged drama kicking and screaming into the modern world.

Norwegians did a lot of Polar exploration. The Fram Museum honors them.

Another neat thing about all the museums is that they’re only walking distance apart.

One tidbit of info:  Grab a hop-on-hop-off bus that will give you a quick tour of the entire city and cater to your yearning to jump off and take a closer look.  But, choose your bus company carefully.  We unfortunately picked a middle-eastern company that pissed me off with lengthy delay after lengthy delay.  Patronize a Norwegian bus company!  Their buses run every 15 minutes.  I know for certain..  I had plenty of time to check my watch.

Oslo is modern and expense, but it’s also built on history and thrift.  The bad thing about a cruise is that you often must rush.  Oslo is not the kind of city you can explore in a few hours.  Sure you can see the sights, but with any city worth mentioning you need to hang out in the pubs, check out the restaurants, chat with the locals.  Oslo is no exception.

Shopping, drinking, eating...all in Oslo

Oslo's Opera House

One thing I can say with certainty, the sweaters have gotten a lot more expensive!

More tidbits:

Norwegian Krone is the currency.  No Euros here!

Constitutional monarchy, with a parliamentary system and royalty is King Harald V, King of Norway, Prince of Denmark, and Prince of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.  See what I mean about Sweden, Denmark, and Norway’s histories being tangled.

* Want to know more about Edvard Munch’s life  The 1976 eponymous film, by Peter Watkins, was called by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, “a work of genius.’

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