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OSLO On A Shoestring

OSLO On A Shoestring
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Even the locals complain about the cost of living in Norway, but as we discovered, it is possible to enjoy the delights of Oslo, Norway’s capital without breaking the bank. Many of its attractions are either free or inexpensive, and if you are over sixty, then by asking for an ‘honor rebatt’, (age reduction), prices often come down to a fraction of the full rate. This concession is treated seriously as the as older Norwegians are held in great respect; I was once politely told off for not asking for the age reduction when booking a rail ticket.

Even the locals complain about the cost of living in Norway, but as we discovered, it is possible to enjoy the delights of Oslo, Norway’s capital without breaking the bank. Many of its attractions are either free or inexpensive, and if you are over sixty, then by asking for an ‘honor rebatt’, (age reduction), prices often come down to a fraction of the full rate. This concession is treated seriously as the as older Norwegians are held in great respect; I was once politely told off for not asking for the age reduction when booking a rail ticket.

Public transport around Oslo may seem a tad expensive, especially if you are only planning to either make a single journey, or of short duration.  If you are planning to make multiple journeys, then the best idea is to buy a ticket covering the length of your stay.  We opted for a 48 hour ticket with which we were able travel on every form of transport from trams to the underground, with the exception of the harbour ferries, all around the city and into the surrounding forested hills of Nordmarka.

Using the magic phrase we took the express train from Oslo’s Gardemoen airport for the 45 kilometre ride into the city’s updated Central Station.  This station is adjacent to the old Ost Bannen Station (east station) which has been converted into a shopping mall, together with hotels and restaurants. The stations old and new stand beside the Jernbanetorget, (station plaza), the central hub for the city’s efficient transport network.  It also doubles as the equivalent to London’s Speaker’s Corner where politely spoken public meetings state their case beside a huge bronze tiger.

Dodging the trams we crossed over from the square to enter Karl Johan’s Gate, Oslo’s main street.  All the nationally important buildings are here from the cathedral to the royal palace.  The cathedral is where monarchs are first crowned, (all three of them, since Norway only became independent in 1905) before travelling up to Trondheim for a second coronation.  Next comes the parliament building, soon followed by the national theatre where Ibsen’s and other Norwegian playwrights’ work are performed.  Beyond the parliament the street becomes a boulevard laid out with attractive flowerbeds all the way to the palace, which in turn is set in a public park on its low hilltop. Like our Queen when she is at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, the Norwegian monarch has a royal guard, but while our Queen’s guards are professional soldiers, their Norwegian equivalent are fulfilling their national service obligations. Dressed in dark blue uniforms topped by a trilby-like hat bearing an eagle’s feather, the guards’ drill can compete favourably with their British equivalent.

Karl Johan’s Gate is a place to stroll, no more so than on each May 15th when Norway celebrates its National Constitution Day.  This when the country commemorates the first stage of the country’s independence from Sweden and Denmark in 1814, something that was not completed until 1905.  On this day, May15th, hundreds of children waving their red white and blue national flags, walk up Karl Johan’s Gate as far as the palace where the King waves to them from a balcony overlooking the entrance.

At the bottom of a side street linking Karl Johan’s Gate to the harbour, Oslo City Hall is a place not to be missed.  Built soon after the end of World War 2, the outside of the building though attractively built in its solid, Scandinavian design, has little to indicate what is inside. Murals filling the huge naturally lit walls of the main hall where the Nobel Prize giving takes place, graphically speak of Norway’s and the country’s development as a socially caring society and also commemorating the bravery of its citizens in the grim days of Nazi occupation. Climbing the marble staircase leads to displays of treasured gifts presented to the city by foreign dignitaries.  At the end of the corridor and overlooking the fjord, is ‘The ‘Scream’ artist Edvard Munch’s room where one of his more attractive paintings and blue furnishings make it a popular place for weddings.  Outside and lining the formal approach the walls are filled with large wooden plaques depicting stories of Norse mythology. Where else would one find so much art in a city hall open to all and for free?

Unlike Britain, Norway has been able to invest its income from North Sea oil and gas in what is described as a National Pension Fund.  The way some of the money is invested can be seen in the towering buildings lining the harbour side on what was once slum property.  Across the way the sloping walls of the National Opera are deliberately designed to encourage walkers.

Another ‘free’ building is Akershus Fortress.  It stands on a rocky mound guarding the old harbour and is the home of Norway’s Resistance Museum where the story is simply told of the country’s brave stand against Nazi occupation from 9th April 1940 to 8th May 1945.

Just a short ferry ride almost from the steps of City Hall, crosses the head of Oslo Fjord. Passing two famous restaurants, the Kongen and Dronningen which sit opposite each other like two anchored boats, the passenger ferry reaches Bygdøy Island. Very much the ‘in place to live’ for wealthy locals, it has five excellent user-friendly museums.  First comes the largest, the Norsk Folkmuseum, a collection of rural crafts and preserved farm buildings brought together from the surrounding countryside.  While we were there we were fortunate to catch a trio of musicians in traditional costume playing ancient fiddles from the mountains and coastal fjords.

A short walk leads to the Viking Ship Museum where preserved vessels long buried in funeral piles still show the amazing craftsmanship of their creators.  More modern, but equally famous are the Kon-Tiki and Ra Museum with the rafts made by Thor Heyerdahl proved the theory of trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic travel in ancient times. Voted Oslo’s best museum, sturdy little Fram, the ship used by Nansen in his polar expeditions, sits out its old age in a specially built home, still conveying the drama of exploring at high latitudes.

A short tram ride beyond the royal palace dropped us off at Vigeland Park.  One of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions with more than one million visitors, this unique sculpture park represents the life work of Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). More than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and forged iron represent the human form from foetus to old age. Vigeland designed the park, a totally free place to enjoy, along with its rose beds and water features.

There cannot be many places where a hilltop is served by an underground railway.  From the city centre, the line runs beneath the royal palace before climbing steeply in the open air to Frognerseteren.  One of the oldest buildings around Oslo, it is now a popular restaurant where we enjoyed a coffee before setting off on one of the tracks that lead off into the forest.  One of them which we used on our return, winds its way down to Holmenkollen ski centre where the famous ski jump doubles in summer as zip-wire ride.

This short trip made a pleasant end to our voyage into the realm of the polar bear and we came south in search of a bit of warmth.  In a couple of days we explored the friendly, scenically exciting city of Oslo and proved we could do it without spending a fortune.

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