Monday, November 21, 2011

A Tour of my Heritage - Oslo, Norway

Roof of the Opera
After completing 4 weeks of a clinical rotation in Stockholm, Sweden, I finally made a weekend trip to see more of Europe. I spent this past weekend in Oslo, Norway and went with a fellow medical student from Austria that I met while living in Jägargatan. I had been hoping to go to Norway as part of my time in Sweden mostly because I was interested to see the place where half of my ancestry is from. I am 50% Norwegian meaning my mom is a full-blooded Norwegian as are my uncle and grandparents. One of my great-grandparents was from the Oslo area so it was fitting that I went to visit to see the land of my ancestors. 

I traveled to Oslo by train - a little over 6 hours from Stockholm. I had never been on a train trip before and was excited to have the experience. It was definitely nice not to have to do the driving especially since it was dark the entire way there. I was able to get a lot of reading done and finished the second book of Stieg Larsson's trilogy - The Girl Who Played with Fire. Once we arrived in Oslo, we had about a 3.5 mile walk to our hostel. We could have taken the T-Bane (Oslo's metro system) but instead elected to walk and see some of the city. Like Stockholm, Oslo is well lit at night and I was happy to discover that the city was already decorated in Christmas lights - I fell in love with Oslo instantly. Maybe this is where my mom and I get our love for Christmas and start our celebrating earlier than most... There were hostels closer to the downtown area, but I was drawn to the "free breakfast buffet" and decided that staying a little farther out would be worth it if I got a good breakfast! I was a little concerned about my photo-taking abilities on this trip. My camera had an unfortunate accident last Wednesday when I was out with Almudena and Ana. I had my camera in my back pocket so that I would remember to take pictures. Unfortunately when I went to go use the bathroom, my camera fell out of my back pocket and right into the toilet. It didn't work for a couple of days but then started to work again...kind of. Some of the buttons don't work and the flash is not working very well and it makes a really sick-sounding noise whenever I take a picture. Thankfully I brought an older back-up camera with me that doesn't take quite as good of photos but between the two I should be able to make it with adequate photos until I get back home at Christmas and can buy a new camera (they are way more expensive here than they are at home so I will wait to buy a new one).

I went to bed soon after checking in and planned to get up around 7 to start the day. Since I was only going to be there for about a day and a half and the daylight hours are getting to be quite short, I wanted to make sure to maximize the time and the light. The breakfast buffet did not disappoint! It offered a full range of food options including cereal, fruit, an assortment of breads and toppings, cheeses, vegetables, fish, and other unidentifiable food items. I enjoyed a good breakfast before my traveling companion (Andrea) and I headed out. It took a little less than an hour to walk back to downtown and we started our sightseeing by finding the Opera House. The Opera is a relatively new building that overlooks Oslofjord and has a spectacular (and FREE) view from the roof. There were beautiful clouds in the sky and the sun was still low in the sky. The view was incredible and completely breathtaking. After taking pictures from every spot on the roof of the fjord and of the city, we made our way towards Oslo S. The main road (Karl Johans Gate) through Oslo extends between Oslo S and the Royal Palace and many of the touristy things to see are along this road. We started our by touring an old cathedral then made our way to the parliament building. We then strayed off the main road and headed back towards the water to see the Nobel Peace Center and City Hall. City Hall is a large beautifully decorated brick building and is the place where every year the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. The inside of the building was quite lovely. The main hall had murals on all of the walls and windows at the far end overlooking the fjord. I can't imagine a more peaceful and beautiful place to celebrate the world's leaders in promoting peace. From here  we headed back to Karl Johans Gate and walked through the old University buildings. We then went to the Nasjonalmuseet and discovered, contrary to the guidebooks, that it was only free to enter on Sundays. Although so far we had not spent any money to see the things we had seen, we decided it would be better to wait a day to see the museum and get to go for free. We left the art gallery and made our way towards the royal palace. Changing of the guards takes place at 1:30 every afternoon and we wanted to make it in time to watch this ceremony. We had some time before the changing of the guards and so walked around the lovely grounds of the palace. Even though the trees no longer had leaves, the grass was still green and walkways wound their way throughout the grounds. Since the palace is situated on the top of a hill, we also had a very nice view down Karl Johans Gate to central station and could see the fjord and City Hall in the background. 

City Hall
At 1:30 the changing of the guards took place. It was an elaborate and somewhat comical performance well worth watching when you make it to Oslo for a visit. What struck me the most was how young all of the guards looked. Most of them had acne and I imagine that if they talked, several of them would not yet have gone through a voice change. I'm not sure how these guards are chosen but the boys seemed awfully young. Good thing Norway is one of the most peaceful countries in the world and I doubt the royal palace is under much of a threat. 

I was pretty hungry after watching the ceremony, so I stopped for lunch at a bakery on our way towards Vigeland Park. At the bakery, I couldn't resist the delicious frosted dessert and ordered one with a coffee. Probably not the healthiest, but definitely the most Norwegian - like the Swedes, the Norwegians love their pastries with coffee. Again, I feel that some of my personal traits may be more inherited from my Scandinavian ancestors than I had thought. Vigeland Park is a large park and sculpture garden in the west of the city. Gustav Vigeland was a Norwegian sculptor and it is his work that is on display throughout the park. The sculptures are all of nude people and children and were quite interesting to look at how he chose to represent the human body. I imagine that several of the pieces would never be allowed to be publicly displayed in a free park for all to see in the US. 

Vigeland Park
After visiting the park, Andrea and I walked back along embassy row near the water towards the downtown harbor area. It was getting dark and the lights were on to light up the city in the diminishing light. It was a beautiful sight to see the building lights joined by the Christmas lights - no photos could do it justice. We wandered around the harbor and finally, after 9+ hours of walking, we decided to make our way back to the hostel, make some dinner, and go to bed.

Sunday I woke up at 7 again to get an early start to the day and maximize the time left. After another delicious and satisfying breakfast, Andrea and I started on a walk to Lake Sognsvann. One of my anatomy lab partners (a.k.a. body buddy) Colin spent some time in Oslo this past summer doing research and recommended a walk around the lake. Although it was cloudy and a bit foggy and the leaves were all off the trees, the lake was beautiful. The path around was nicely maintained with trees on either side and a beautiful view of the lake. It was obviously a popular walk as there were many walkers and runners on the path. I can only imagine what this looks like in the sunshine especially in the early fall, spring, or summer! 

Since the lake was further north of the city and would have been a 7-8 mile hike back to downtown, we elected to take the T-Bane back to the city center and then head to the Nasjonalmuseet. This art museum houses the largest collection of art in Norway and definitely the largest collection of Norwegian art. The most famous painting housed here is "Scream" by Edvard Munch, probably the most famous Norwegian artist. One room was dedicated to his works. There were also paintings and sculptures by various other Norwegian artists depicting much of the modern Norwegian art history. The museum had pieces by Picasso, Monet, Manet, VanGogh, and others. It was a well-done museum and even better to enjoy when admission was free! 

After the long morning walk and the museum, I was quite hungry once again and made my way to a nearby bakery. This time I had a more substantial lunch of coffee, pain au chocolat, and a yogurt parfait. We still had a few more hours before we needed to head back to the train station and decided to visit the large cemetery and visit the graves of Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen (Norwegian playwright). After touring the cemetery, we decided to walk along the Akerselva River that runs through the city. It is a lovely riverwalk with paved sidewalks on either bank. Small waterfalls are scattered along the river as well as an area with outdoor art. This is one of the things I have loved most about Oslo - you can walk anywhere and find yourself in the midst of the natural beauty of your surroundings. You also don't have to walk very far to find yourself back in the metropolitan and very cool urban areas of downtown Oslo. And with bakeries on nearly every corner...need I say more?

I slept part of the way home on the train exhausted from the previous two days of walking and seeing the highlights of Oslo. I am very glad I was able to make the trip and am very excited to share my experiences with all of you, but most especially with my Grandma Lois as I know how much she would love to visit Norway. She has always had an immense pride of her Norwegian heritage, and after visiting there, I can see why.

I have already booked my tickets for two more excursions which will round out my tour of the Scandinavian capitals and the tour of my ancestry - I will go to Copenhagen next weekend and am very excited to visit the Tivoli Gardens. Then the following weekend I'm off to Helsinki, Finland where I have ancestors from my Grandma Carol's side of the family!  So although I will be missing you all this week as Thanksgiving is not celebrated outside of the USA, I am very thankful that I have the ability to travel and see new places and even more thankful that I have such wonderful friends and family to share my experiences with :) Tack så mycket! Hej då!

Link to my photo album: (I hope it works!)


  1. I totally love this place and have to visit again this coming December for holiday season with my family.

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  2. Sounds amazing friend! Glad you're having such a great time!