I Have really fond memories of summer 1994 when I did a summer job in Ipswich. (Yes, I’m talking about Ipswich in a blog entitled “Oslo.” Bear with me.) Now Suffolk isn’t a glamorous location necessarily but it was a good time for me and it was a great, hot summer. A few years ago I stopped back in the town on the way back from a wedding. I really wish I hadn’t. Maybe it was the grey and the rain or maybe the years had not been kind, but Ipswich just wasn’t what I remembered.
As I went back to Oslo after a decade away I hoped that the same thing wouldn’t happen. I’d spent ten months working there mainly because everyone else in the office preferred to be in exciting cities like New York and I was the only one willing to go. It was, perhaps, an inauspicious start, but I enjoyed my stay there. The combination of the facilities of a capital city and the proximity to the water and nature were appealing. Even the weather wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting.
The last time I arrived I had turned up with only a rucksack. This time I stayed only for a week but turned up with a suitcase, my wife and my seven month old son. My life has changed a lot in ten years but, it turns out, Oslo hasn’t. I mean that in a good way.
The main difference I noticed this time was not a specific sight or location but the prices. Last time it didn’t hit me. I’m not sure whether things have really become relatively more expensive or whether the expenses deal I was on skewed my perception or even whether my lifestyle at the time just cost less, but I noticed this year. I had sticker shock with almost every purchase
and you have to remember that I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world already!
After a while part of me just resigned myself to spending money like it was going out of fashion but the other part couldn’t quite get used to it.
Still, by staying in a serviced apartment rather than a hotel, eating in most nights and steering clear of alcohol most of the time I made it merely expensive rather than pushing me close to bankrupsy.
I spent most of the early week re-visiting some of my favourite sites. We walked down the main street, saw the palace (currently being renovated and seemingly wearing a hat), the Stortinget (parliament building), Akershus Festning (from a distance), Vigeland Sculpture Park and Aker Brygge (shopping complex).
Ten years ago I didn’t have Internet access at “home,” but this time I was able to find out that the National Gallery was free on Sunday’s, so we went for a quick look around. The exhibition that everyone comes for
Edvard Munch was well hidden but I didn’t let them win. I didn’t know much about him, but what I did learn in that room was that I didn’t think that The Scream was his best work.
Mid-week we decided to go to the Holmenkollen ski jump and from there, the end of the T-Bane line at Frognerseteren where there are lots of lakes and country-side walks only twenty minutes outside the city centre. It’s one of the things I loved about staying in Oslo.
But things didn’t entirely go to plan. When we got up to the ski jump, not only could you not look down the hill and see Oslo, but you could barely see the jump itself, even though it was right in front of us.
Then it started to rain.
We skipped the walk.
One new thing that I almost missed is the Opera House. I had read about a few years ago and, I think, I’d internally registered it as the new National Theatre. When we passed the “old” theatre my brain hadn’t connected the two concepts. It was only when leaving Akershus Festinig that we glanced a large, white… thing in the distance. It needed to be investigated.
It was totally worth it, even though it involved pushing the pram up almost vertical inclines. (Okay, I exaggerate. But only slightly.)
On the last full day we decided to head to Bygdøy, a peninsula just outside Oslo city centre where there are a number of museums. Previously I’d walked there but only got as far as the Folk museum. With a baby walking wasn’t really an option, so instead we took the bus and popped into both the Kon-Tiki and the Viking Ship Museum.
While I associated “Kon-Tiki” with the Pacific I knew nothing about the journeys that this museum was about. In short, the main protagonist wanted to prove that it was possible to get to some Pacific Islands from the mainland using nothing more than a raft. Even coming from zero background knowledge it was interesting.
The next stop was the Viking Ship Museum. This was much more familiar territory, but no less fascinating for it. There were three big ships and what was left of their cargoes. The panels described how the ships had been reconstructed from the fragments that had been found. I couldn’t help but think that it would be like finding a Lego set without the instructions. While they made a ship with the parts, they might just have easily made a space port, a house or a scene from the Harry Potter movies. You’ll have to trust them that they built the correct thing.
And that was about all for our trip around the Norwegian capital. But Oslo had one last reminder for me. One of the things I liked about many of Norwegians I worked with: their matter of factness (if that’s a word). On boarding the airport bus I noticed that it had a sign saying that they accepted American Express. Once I inside I proffered my card. The driver said “We don’t take Amex.” I noted the sign on the door. He said, “Yes it does say that. But we don’t. They’ve not updated the label yet.” I know it’s only a small thing but it amused me.
(There are a few more pictures on my Flickr stream if you’re interested.)