Old Neighbors and Oslo, Norway

Oslo Opera House

Throughout our first 3 months of travels a strange happenstance had dogged some of our adventures. We seemed to repeatedly land in cities while national holidays occurred. This was a double-edged sword. Surprise processions and festivals or traditions had pulled us curiously in to witness the local celebrations. Conversely, closed restaurants, stores, and attractions left us hungry and irritated trying to re-engineer our limited amount of time in each place. Day 1 and 2 in Oslo were Whitsun, a national holiday for Pentecost and the day following Pentecost.

Our first evening in Oslo provided a skewed first impression. We walked through a seedy area outside the train station on our way to our hotel. A piece of trash drifted here and there, and shady characters with shifty eyes lurked at the corners. It was an off putting start, but turned positive shortly. We shared a meal of tuna salad and adjusted to our new digs. The following day we immersed ourselves in the city.

Norwegian names with 3+ consecutive consonants splayed across street signs and buildings. Street cafes sold sandwiches for what equaled about $7 US, while a single standard meal from a Thai restaurant was $15-20. Ironically, Hannah and I spent less money throughout Scandinavia so far than we had in the Balkans. Many of our temporary homes recently boasted a kitchen amenity and we took full advantage to cook, especially since it kept food costs low.

Hannah and I walked 12 miles on our first full day in Oslo. It was worth every heel ache and hip crackle the next day. We walked to the Bygdoy Peninsula, a western outcrop of Oslo. The approach alone was worth the extensive walking. A short hike through cow laden grazing fields and quay facing forest brought us to a gravel road. The crunch of gravel echoed through the adjacent pasture as groups of families and friends made their way closer to the peninsula tip. A speck of reflective blue water and the rushing sound of waves met me as we crossed a forest glade. The faint smell of brackish sea brought a smile to my face. The view was incredible.

Huk beach was very popular on such a sunny day. Hannah and I wore pants, long sleeves, and jackets while swimsuit clad locals sunbathed in the wind and swam in the shivering Baltic. Even more courageous still, over a designated hill, the western outcrop of the beach was populated by nudists. We were happy with our pants and jackets and left those locals to their preference.

On the eastern side, white swell from the turbulent waves contrasted sharply with the sapphire blue waters. All manner of watercraft zipped by one another on their way in and out of the bay. People grilled on very small aluminum grills. A small Norwegian flag flicked in the air with the wind. With our stomachs rumbling, we started the long trek back into Oslo.

That evening, Hannah and I had dinner plans. In Houston, Hannah’s family had neighbors on their street who were originally from Norway. Several years ago, they moved back to Oslo. We met them at a restaurant called Peppes Pizza, an American-esque pizza parlor in the Aker Brygge district. I had only met Hans and Anne one other time, on a chance, in a Mexican bakery in Houston. We spent several hours visiting and having good conversations with familiar faces, something we treasure while on the road. With full stomachs and smiles from a great visit, Hannah and I began walk our home in the 10PM sunset.

One small item about Oslo that surprised me was the number of migrants that made their way that far north. Norway was not warm, even in June. Romani women still dotted the corners of various boulevards with cups for spare change and pictures of happy children. This puzzled me. Denmark, Sweden, and Norway hardly use cash. The government and commerce systems heavily encourage exclusive use of card, it is an easier way to control the flow of money and track possible crime and money laundering. This means that donations would be even harder to come by, even though the countries boast a high standard of living and income per resident. Then again, cities frequented by tourists were still good opportunities for spare change from all over the world.

Another aside: Some have been asked about our accommodations on the trip. This city had an interesting one. We were essentially in a 3 bedroom shared apartment. The kitchen, living area, and bathroom were shared while the bedrooms were all private. One “roommate” was a Finnish man working in Oslo, and the other was a German couple on holiday. We shared the table and living area, often having random conversations about travel, hockey, politics, and education. Everyone was respectful and very clean and we enjoyed having some conversation with one another and learning about other cultures.


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