After 2 action-packed days in the freezing Swedish capital, we left Stockholm by train early Sunday morning and arrived five hours later in Oslo, Norway. We had heard good things about this city and couldn’t wait to get amongst it. We started with a quick walk around town to see the main sights but after ten days of minus degree temperatures, we needed an indoor activity which meant a visit to the National Gallery of Norway. We spent the afternoon taking in some culture and the evening catching up on some much needed sleep, in preparation for the following day.
New Years Eve
Monday arrived, (New Years Eve), and the first thing on our ‘to do’ list was to secure some drinks for the evening ahead. Being Australian, we assumed that this would be as easy as wandering down to the local bottle-o and loading up our trolley. However, as so often as it happens – when experiencing new cultures – we were wrong. It turns out that Norway has very strict rules on alcohol sales, which means that the only place to buy drinks with alcohol content higher than 5% is a shop called Vinmonopolet. Vinmonopolet translates to “the wine monopoly” and is run by the government and is restricted to people over 21 years of age. Another hurdle that we had to face was, as is typical with any government run institution, it is only open on certain days, and New Years Eve was not one of them. Therefore, our ‘Plan B’ had to be actioned: find an open supermarket that sold drinks with less than 5% alcohol. This left us with beer and cider. We also found some essence of Vodka and Gin which smelled appealing but would have no effect whatsoever. Happy enough with our drink choice, we headed to the checkout. Our shopping basket of 20 cans came to £80 ($120 AUD)…. and by the time we realised the cost, it was too late to back out. Needless to say we did our best to savour each and every drop later that night.
When midnight approached later that night, we went to a bar on the 21st floor of our hotel. It is a tradition in Oslo for locals to set of their own fireworks in the street and from the top floor, this was a spectacular sight. The city also has official fireworks down at the port and the overall effect of fireworks exploding in all directions was breathtaking. It was definitely a different experience compared to our last New Year spent in Edinburgh, Scotland and it wasn’t only the fact that they sang “Happy New Year” by ABBA instead of “Auld Lang Syne”.
New Years Day
After a big sleep in and hitting the buffet breakfast, we were ready to get out and explore this amazing city. Being a public holiday, most sights were closed so we set off on a 3km walk from the hotel to Frogland Park – and before you ask: No! It is not a park for frogs! It’s a park made famous by its Vigeland sculpture arrangement. The park covers 80 acres and contains 212 bronze and granite sculptures all designed by Gustav Vigeland. 58 of the park’s sculptures reside along a 100m bridge, the most famous one been “Angry Boy”. At the highest point in the park lies its most popular attraction: the Monolith. The Monolith is a 14.12m high totem pole carved out of a single block of stone and is composed of 121 human figures rising towards the sky. It was, for once, a gloriously sunny day so we spent a few hours wandering around admiring (and sometimes questioning), the artist’s vision.
A day of Museums
The very next day, we knew we had a lot to fit in as Norway has a great selection of historical museums and as most were closed over the New Year period, we had one day to visit our favourites. We started with the Viking Ship Museum which was 20 minutes out of downtown Oslo. Here we saw 3 Viking ships that dated from as early as 800 AD. The ships were well preserved as they had been used as burial chambers for royalty back in the Viking era.
Not much further up the road, we then visited the Frammuseet – a museum which focused on the world’s most famous ship, The Fram. The ship was used to explore both the North and South Poles and the museum housed some really interesting objects relating to life on the ship. The restored ship has had the museum built around it (as you can tell from the shape of the building), and you can explore many areas onboard including the sleeping quarters, kitchen and engine room.
The afternoon was spent at the Nobel Peace Centre – a museum dedicated to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize for 2012 had only been given a month or so prior to our visit, so there was a large exhibition dedicated to the recipient: The European Union. It was really interesting to learn about the good work the Union does and about the important role it played in world peace after the World Wars. There were also displays on previous recipients and it was interesting to learn about their achievments.
We ended our time in Oslo with some local beers and fish by the fireplace in one of Oslo trendy pubs before calling it a night.
The Flam Railway
We couldn’t visit Norway without a trip on the iconic Flam Railway. It is much better enjoyed in the warmer months but as this was going to be our only visit to the country for quite some time, we figured we had to give it ago. We travelled by train in a blizzard from Oslo for four hours to a town called Myrdal, where we changed trains. This was the beginning of the 20km railway line that descends 863metres down the mountains through 20 tunnels and over 1 bridge. It is the steepest standard-gauge railway in Europe. Thankfully, the weather cleared up just as we started our hour long decent enablling us to take in the breathtaking views.
Once we arrived at the end of the line in Flam, we had a quick look around before boarding the train and ascending back to Myrdal.
We then continued our train Journey for another 2 hours to a town called Bergen, where we caught our flight back to London from the next morning. Overall, it was a long day, but well worth doing just to see the sights from the railway.
We thoroughly enjoyed Norway (even with the high beer prices), and surely hope to visit again someday soon!