A Travellerspoint blog

Day Three: Touristing Oslo

Lesson one on how to stick out like a sore thumb


View University of Tromsø, Autumn 2009 on adamvigs's travel map.

MORNING

After a satisfying sleep, I awoke in Oslo ready to take on the day. We dressed and headed down to the hotel restaurant for our complementary breakfast, one of those things my family has learned to look for whenever we travel.

Expecting the standard continental fare of muffins, fruit juice, and cold cereal, we were presently surprised to be greeted by a veritable smorgasbord. Because I’m a bit of a tech geek who’s pumped about the image and list capabilities of this blog, here’s what was on my plate:

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  • cheese: brie, blue, and Jarlsberg (Norwegian cheese, similar to Swiss)
  • paté of some poor unidentified animal
  • Wasa crispbread (great for the cheese and paté)
  • dried fruit: apples, raisins, dates
  • pork: mini sausages and bacon
  • pickled herring with whole peppercorns! (I’ve got to remember to recommend this to Uncle Jerry – it’s a simple touch, but a really neat flavour)
  • red peppers (for colour)
  • multigrain bread with most of the grains still in it – each slice could have fed about three men (if the Niles family remembers the “buns” at the Fortresse of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, they’re not too far off)

They also had ice-cold milk, juices, English tea, great strong coffee, eggs, potatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, tasty yoghurt, and a sandwich bar. Plus pickled beets that even got the Zrymiak seal of approval from Mom. And if that wasn’t enough, they had tasty homemade-style peanut butter – a very good sign for my next four months.

In other words, it was the single greatest breakfast I’ve had in recent memory. It was made especially satisfying by our struggle to find good cheap food the night before. After eating our fill and then some, we packed up our tourist bag and headed out on the town for our tour of the city!

TOURING OSLO

I’ve been naturally curious for a long time, and I tend to soak up all the information I can learn about a new city like a sponge. However, for your sake, I’ll try to be brief when writing about our adventures in Oslo – you can comment if you’d like more information or I’d be more than happy to tell you all about it when I get back to Canada!

We trotted down to the Olso City Hall to purchase our Oslo Pass – a rather clever arrangement that allows us unlimited public transport (ferry, tram, bus, subway, and train) and free admission to all of Oslo’s remarkably cool museums. Pass in hand, we boarded the ferry and scooted across the Olsofjorden. Our destination: Bygdøy.

BYGDØY


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The former island of Bygdøy (they filled in the channel on the other side) is the old upper-class neighbourhood of Oslo, featuring acres of parkland and the Kings’ Royal Stables. While the
houses were nice, we were more interested in a quartet of attractions on the island.

Our first stop was the Norsk Folkemuseum, a “splendid collection of buildings preserved from the Middle Ages onwards”.

Strangely enough, the first exhibit we stopped in had the following to display:

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Mom and Dad have had these Ikea chairs since before I was born – we didn’t realize they were cultural treasures! (this exhibit showcased the evolution of the Sami or Laplanders to modern lifestyles.)

Sveeedish fyoorniture aside, we really enjoyed trotting around the park, peeking into the preserved wooden farmhouses from the 16th and 17th century. Because they had more than enough timber to go around in Norway, their farmhouses were substantially larger than the early dwellings found in Hubbard and Eston, SK. Another neat note: they put the houses on pilings with completely flat horizontal members to eliminate almost all vermin from the house (most animals can’t climb upside-down).

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The sod roofing was also a nice touch.

The highlight was a fully-intact stave (wooden log) church dating from the 1200s – it was absolutely spectacular inside, but like most old churches, didn’t photograph well. I did get a great shot on the outside though:

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VIKINGSKIPHUSET

Next, we were off to the Vikingskiphuset, a building with only THREE exhibits. You wonder why anyone would even bother to go there?
I’ll tell you why.

Three beautifully-preserved 1,000-year-old Viking burial ships.

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In a word, they were spectacular. Buried alongside the Viking lords were various shields, regal garments, hand-carved sleighs, and ornaments.

Oh, and in case you can’t tell from the pictures, these ships are over 20 metres long – they were incredible.

Trivia time!

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In the picture above, you can see that the rudder (or “steer board”) is on the right – or in nautical terms, it’s on the starboard. Thus it was from the Vikings that we got the word starboard, and also a few days of the week (Thor’s day, anyone?).

ACROSS THE SEA FOR SCIENCE!

After this exhilarating exposure to giant thousand-year-old ships, we boarded a bus and headed for a different part of Bygdøy. We had two more ship museums to visit.

Our next stop only had TWO exhibits. A Norwegian by the name of Thor Heyerdahl wanted to prove that South Americans could have populated Polynesia. So naturally, he built a balsa-wood raft and set sail from Peru. After 101 days, he crash-landed on a small atoll in the Pacific, proving his first theory correct at great risk to his own life.

The ship was dubbed the Kon-Tiki, and looking at it, it’s absolutely remarkable how anyone would submit to the mercy of the open water in something little more seaworthy than the floating docks at Clear Lake.

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And if this wasn’t enough, in 1970 Heyerdahl decided he to prove that Moroccans could have beat Columbus to the New World. This time, he built his boat out of that great shipbuilding material: papyrus.

That’s right, it was reeds bounded together by leather and more reeds.

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Don’t forget, this guy is a Norwegian HERO. So no making fun. Okay? Good.

THE LAST BOAT – THOUGH IT’S THE COOL-EST, I PROMISE

Finally, we headed across the street to the Frammuseet. Believe it or not, the entire building only held ONE SHIP.

But as it was the Fram, the ship which carried Roald Amundsen to the South Pole (he was the first to set foot there), we forgave the museum-constructors for this shocking lack of presentation material.

Unfortunately, the ship was just as large as the room it was in, thus rendering a good picture impossible. However, here’s one of me taking the helm:

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We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the whole ship – it was built extremely strong to withstand the crushing nature of pack ice, and could be up to five years at sea without heading back to port.

BACK TO OSLO – VIGELANDSPARKEN

After our lengthy tour of the great ships of Bygdøy, we bid farewell to the former island and caught a bus to the Vigelandsparken statue park. This park is a beautiful inner-city park with a creek / pond, gardens, treed lanes, and some 212 statues by one Gustav Vigeland.

Unfortunately, Vigeland didn’t feel the need to clothe the subjects of his art. And I’m not talking artfully concealed nudity. I realize that I’m simply an uncultured colonial, but all I saw was men and women of ALL AGES an almost every position imaginable. Thus, I’m going to spare you the majority of the pictures we took – if you’re curious, you can Google the park for yourself. Luckily, there was a rather tasteful fountain in the middle of the park that featured giants hoisting a bowl of cascading water – made for a nice backdrop for Mom and Dad:

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TO THE PALACE!

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Thanks in a large part to some spectacular logistics by the junior Vigneron, our next mode of public transit was a TRAM! (bus meets train, only way cooler). After driving up and down some spectacular streets (see above for a poor example), we arrived at our stop near the palace. We popped into the Canadian Embassy to say hello, eh. Oddly enough, there was more security at the Embassy then at Norwegian customs (two security doors and a receptionist behind bullet-proof glass).

We then crossed the street and headed for the Slottet, the Royal Norwegian Palace:
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We’d earlier booked our spots on the two o’clock tour, and had carefully planned our day around this appointment. We were first treated to a changing of the guard ceremony. After this, one of the guards allowed Mom to take his picture:

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Don’t let the feather fool you – these guys are active-duty Norwegian Army, that is a very-real assault rifle he’s carrying, and if you look closely, you can even see an earpiece in his right ear.

As there was no flash photography allowed inside the Castle, we didn’t get many pictures. Suffice it to say that the palace was extremely palatial, the ballroom was magnificent, and the gazebo-within-the-walls was stunning. Feel free to ask me about any of these anytime you want.

AKERSHUS SLOTT – A REAL LIVE CASTLE

Our final destination of the day was the Akershus fortress / castle, the 700-year-old first line of defense for the Oslo harbour. As I’ve had the privilege to visit a few maritime fortresses before (the Halifax Citadel, the Fortresse of Louisbourg, the Citadelle of Quebec), I wasn’t expecting anything earth-shattering. Added to this was the fact that I was starting to tire of touristing – we had been going non-stop the entire day, and I felt a short rest was in order.

I was extremely pleased to learn that Akershus was so much more than a fortified cannon platform. In fact, it was the royal castle of Norway for the early half of its history – the inner courtyard was the starting point for the thoroughly enjoyable audio tour:

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Akershus holds both military and royal significance: the former can be seen in the three METRE brick walls surrounding the prison:

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while the latter is evidenced by the fact that Akershus is also the site of the royal crypt. It was a little eerie to be in the presence of the two previous kings of the current Royal House of Norway, but it was a very unique experience nonetheless.

After a few ancient tapestries, the magnificent hall of King Olav V (once again, the photographs don’t do it justice), and a final glance at the heavy guns of the King’s Own Cannon, we headed back to our hotel room for some much deserved rest and relaxation.

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…wait, how did that picture get in there!

All kidding aside, we really enjoyed trying the various kinds of Norwegian beer and liquor. The centre bottle contained Akkavit, Norway’s answer to Beckerovka. A type of stomach bitters, Akkavit comes from aqua vitae – for those of you who haven’t taken a first-year latin class, that translates back as “water of life”. This particular brand is called Linie, because every single cask is loaded onto a ship and taken south of the Equator – the brewers claim that the rocking motion of the boat extracts flavours from the casks in an unimitable way.

Makes our Canadian brewing processes seem simple in comparison, eh.

SUPPERTIME

For supper, we decided to head out to Tullins Café, a small restaurant tucked away from the tourists near the Canadian Embassy (we received a hot tip from the receptionist).

However, we weren’t alone – those of you who attended Notre Dame from 2005-2008 may recognize the two fellows below:

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For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting these Hounds, they are Robert Udnesseter of Oslo and David Culham of Medicine Hat. Culham was over visiting Rob in his home in Norway before the school year starts (Oslo for Rob, Lethbridge for Culham). I played with Rob and Dad coached both of them, so it was a great reunion all around.

And just for posterity’s sake, here’s a shot of all five Hounds in the Tullins Café, Oslo, Norway:

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(photo conveniently taken by the sixth in our party cousin of Rob’s who was born in Norway but grew up in Seattle – otherwise we would have had to ask our extremely shy Swedish server).
After a nasty transit mix-up on the way to the restaurant, the five men put their heads together to figure out the best way home while Mom silently chucked to herself and captured our brainstorm session:

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A LONG-AWAITED REST

This time we got lucky, and managed to catch a pair of trams to a location directly outside of our hotel. After a very quick email check, we settled into bed. I once again proved that jet lag is not a factor – slept like a brick from 11 pm to 7 am. Mom and Dad haven’t been so lucky, but I’m sure they’ll be perfectly adjusted by the time they head home on Saturday.

Oh, and one last shout out to the great guide book that Mom bought – it proved indispensable on our journeys around Oslo, and is already a great souvenir of our trip. Seriously, without this thing, we couldn’t have done half the things we did today.

Well, that was a marathon post – hope you enjoyed it. We had a nearly-perfect day, and I wanted to write as much as I could for my memory as well as your enjoyment. See you tomorrow!

Posted by adamvigs 11:50 Archived in Norway Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Day Two: Europe!

The adventure begins


View University of Tromsø, Autumn 2009 on adamvigs's travel map.


HEATHROW

You might wonder why I’ve titled this section Heathrow instead of London. Well, I don’t really feel as if I’ve visited England – looking back at our two-hour stopover, I’ve decided that the fact that I never actually stepped outside of the terminal building precludes the UK as a checkmark on my list of countries to visit.

Not to say that I didn’t have fun.

After waking up from a short two-hour sleep, we had a quick breakfast (only about six hours after we were served supper) and prepared for landing. I silently lamented the fact that I hadn’t been able to watch more of the free movies and TV shows. That’s right, I was wishing my 9-hour flight was LONGER. I’m special like that.

We landed at Heathrow at a sunny 11:00 AM. After getting through exceptionally strict customs (I had to shotgun my carefully stowed Clamato – my last for 4 months), we wandered into the shopping mall that is Heathrow Terminal 3. After taking a short trip into the Harrods outlet with Mom (trip being the optimal word - I felt decidedly like a bull in an extremely expensive china shop), the three of us wandered over to the duty-free shop.

And what a shop it was.

Approximately the size of a Safeway, the duty-free at Heathrow features a variety of fine watches, perfumes, and alcohol. And oh, the alcohol. Not only did they have an absolutely astounding selection of Scotch, Gin, Bailey’s and other British spirits, everything was up for sampling! In fifteen minutes, I had:

  • 15 year-old Glenfiddich,
  • the best mojito I’ve ever had (real crushed mint!),
  • sugar cane liqueur from Brazil,
  • Pimms No.1 (thanks to Ben Rakochy, I’m already well-acquainted with it – though the Brits were a little confused by my mention of a saskatoon berry-based cocktail),
  • and lastly, a fine Grey Goose on ice.

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Needless to say, I was in a very good mood when I boarded the plane for Oslo.

DESTINATION: OSLO

I finally felt like I was in England as I got a quick shot of the Tower Bridge on way out of city. Hopefully I get back here at some point, if only to catch a rugby test match and a few pints in a pub.

Boarding the Boeing 737 to Oslo made me realize two things:

  • I liked the Airbus more,
  • Air Canada isn’t actually as bad as everyone says – from the meals to the service to the entertainment, I really enjoyed my flight.

After a few snapshots of the English coastline, I had a quick nap, and woke up over Norway. My first view of the country confirmed all I’d read: forest and sea, with a few small farms in between (though not surveyed on the square – rather strange to see for a Saskatchewan boy).

We landed outside Oslo, at one of the most beautiful airports I’ve been to (with a real Scandinavian flavour) and worked our way to security. After being waved through customs (remarkably relaxed), we boarded a train for Oslo city centre. In case you don’t know, I love trains – but unfortunately, this one involved a large amount of underground travel. Plus we had to stand. But I still had a blast.

OSLO - ARRIVAL

As we exited the train station, we were overwhelmed by the feeling that we were actually in a European city. However, this awe was quickly replaced with a desire to get to our hotel as soon as we could for a hot shower and a soft bed. Unfortunately, the seven-block trek to our hotel over the cobblestone seemed much further in real life than on Google Maps. The muggy weather and the puddles didn’t make it any more enjoyable.

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However, we finally made it to our hotel, and all feelings of exhaustion vanished. Mom had truly found us a steal – a classy, inexpensive hotel in the heart of Oslo. Once we rode the tiny elevator, we arrived at our small but cosy room on the 4th floor, with free internet, a double bed, and a cot for me.

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I jumped in the shower to wash off the acquired grime and sleep that had acquired over the past two days of traveling, and emerged ready to take on the world. We set out to find ice for the beer Dad bought from the duty-free at the Oslo airport… and found it at the 7-Eleven. It would seem that the European infiltration by American chains is unavoidable.

FIRST MEAL ABROAD

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After dropping off the ice, we set out to find food for the evening. After wandering the local main drag (Karl Johans Gate), we resolved to try and find a cheap place that sold Norwegian cuisine – preferably seafood. After reading a dozen menus and finding nothing cheaper than $30 CAD a plate, we chatted with a local to find out the scoop. He informed us that the only inexpensive food downtown was to be had at the “chain” restaurants. In other words, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, and Burger King.

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So we made a group decision to postpone our traditional Norwegian meal to Tromsø, and settled for BK hamburgers, a piece of 7-Eleven pizza, and a McFlurry. In our defense, we only spent 120 Norwegian kroner between the three of us – less than what it would have cost to feed one at any of the restaurants we visited.

As tourists, our evening was a total success – we walked the harbour and watched its buskers, caught sight of Parliament and the palace, tripped over the cobblestone sidewalks, and relished the fact that we were in a European capital city. However, I’ll tell you more about Oslo when I update you on our tourist adventures on Monday. But here are a few pictures to keep you on the edge of your seat:

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A WELL-DESERVED REST

We headed back to our hotel, and I logged onto the wireless network to check my email and update my journal. As the night wore on, we planned our Monday that lay ahead, the designated “tourist” day in Oslo. Finally, we tucked into our beds at 11:00 PM, even though it was only 3:00 PM in Saskatchewan – my lack of sleep the night before ensured that my jet lag was almost non-existent.

I found it easy to fall asleep, even though one of the complaints about our hotel was the noise of the trolleys outside. Truth be told, they are much quieter than the long-long-short-long trains that speed through Wilcox every night.

So there you have it - my first official day in Europe. I'm going to sign off now (we’re headed out for supper). Hope that you're enjoying my travel account so far!

Posted by adamvigs 16:37 Archived in Norway Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Day One: Trans-Atlantic Voyage

Hopefully we fare better than the Titanic


View University of Tromsø, Autumn 2009 on adamvigs's travel map.

STARDATE: 2009.219

LOCATION: Somewhere over the North Atlantic (flying from Calgary to London).

PROLOGUE

I realize this is a travel journal, but part of the experience so far has been the fun (and sometimes frantic) preparations and farewells that I’ve gone through over the last week. In a nutshell:

  • squeezed in a few nights at Clear Lake MB,
  • blasted home for my last day of work Wednesday,
  • spent a great Thursday in Moose Jaw / the Cowan farm with Jessica (my girlfriend), highlighted by a trip to the Déjà Vu café with Sean Boots (conversely, not my girlfriend),
  • packed like a maniac Friday (vacuum bags are awesome – thanks Uncle John!)
  • had a great barbeque, shinny, and Kaiser with Tendler, Sean Willson, Pref, and Mandi (we also watched the Roughriders play, but they were far from great)

And finally, after somewhat less than four hours of sleep, the three of us (Mom, Dad and I) dragged our carefully-packed suitcases (along with almost 10 lbs of peanut butter) out to the car to start leg one of the trip to Tromsø!

DESTINATION: CALGARY

I was so excited for my journey that I… promptly fell asleep. When I woke up, we were already past Maple Creek and fast closing in on the Alberta border. Strategic napping: one of the great secrets of traveling.

Once in Calgary, we headed to at the Airport to precheck our luggage (one of my parents’ time-saving tricks). Our luggage dropped off, we headed to my Aunt Nettie’s house - she’s a great aunt in every sense of the word. After a couple of Coronas and a tasty meal of Guinness-marinated bratwurst courtesy of Uncle Bryon, Aunt Nettie took us back to the airport for our flight.

Calgary’s airport was fairly unremarkable – we cruised through customs and were fleetingly tempted by duty-free (one litre bottles of Famous Grouse for $23 – that’s half of SLGA’s price), but eventually settled in to wait at our gate.

DESTINATION: LONDON

I was pleased to learn that the Airbus A330 we flew on was a two-aisle aircraft (there’s a more technical term for that, but it escapes me at the moment and Wikipedia is painfully out of reach). In other words, it’s largest plane I’ve ever flown on (somewhere around 340 seats, but my estimate). It also has two of the coolest features I’ve seen on an aircraft (though this isn’t saying much – most of my flying has been on Air Canada Jazz-type jets).

First was the extremely cool first class loungers – they’re definitely a step above coach (though don’t get me wrong, my seat is surprisingly comfortable and they’ve even given us special headrests for the night flight)

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The other cool thing was the interactive touch-screen entertainment unit integrated to the seat ahead of me. This thing has movies, TV shows, XM satellite radio, a decent selection of CDs on demand, interactive maps of our flightplan, and even a few games.

In other words, it was a toy.

And I played with it.

And I broke it.

Not kidding – I had worked my way through all the show listings (Fawlty Towers or The Office anyone?) and was going through the music when I managed to Jam the software on Even Flow.

(Even Flow is sung by Pearl Jam… ahh, now you get it. I know, I’m not funny. You’ll be used to it soon enough.)

Luckily, the software eventually sorted itself out and I was able to flip on over to the highly-touted Star Trek movie - both Aunt Tara and Roman (aka Chekov) had given it their Trekkie seal of approval. It is indeed a great movie and I’ll reaffirm that no knowledge of the series is required to enjoy it. The movie did precipitate my second urge to look things up on Wikipedia – I’m starting to think I have a problem.

BEDTIME

It’s getting late and I probably should get some sleep before we land in London. Hopefully I keep updating this journal as I go! (and if not, that either means that I’m busy having a great time or that I’ve become personally acquainted with a polar bear) I’m new at this whole blogging thing, so any and all comments are appreciated!

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One more random thought before I go: Due to the fact that our flighpath follows a Great Circle of the Earth, the shortest distance from Calgary to London takes us over the Hudson Bay, Baffin Island, and Greenland. In other words, this is a bad time to be listening to The Marten Hartwell Story by Stompin’ Tom Connors (yup, he’s on Air Canada’s select CDs). Marten Hartwell was lost up in the NWT after a plane crash – what can I say, I’ve got great timing.

Signing off at 12:30 AM Saskatchewan time (that’s 7:30 AM in London, 8:30 AM in Oslo, and 4:00 AM in Newfoundland),

Adam

Posted by adamvigs 17:30 Archived in Canada Tagged air_travel Comments (1)

Opening Volley

If you're reading this, you probably scrolled too far...

It's approximately 48 hours before I have to leave, I've barely packed, and yet I'm spending my time setting up the all-important travel blog - hope you enjoy reading it as much a I'm going to enjoy writing it!

Posted by adamvigs 08:41 Archived in Canada Comments (4)

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