Before last month, I knew exactly three things about Norway.
- It was cold.
- It was expensive as hell.
As it turns out, in my brief time there, I only encountered two of these things. However, by the time I’d touched back down in Glasgow, I’d added much more to that list.
Last year, I felt as though I lost some power in my life. 2015 was taken over with finishing my Masters’ degree, saving up to move, working ’til all hours of the night in a bar job. Not the most exciting and not the best for the ol’ mental health. When the opportunity presented itself for a bargain holiday to Oslo, I jumped at it. It was time to start making spur of the moment decisions and redressing the ratio of that elusive work/life balance. That the bargain part didn’t really work out so well didn’t even put a dampener on it.
Where Ye Stayin’?
We got return flights to Oslo for £20 through Ryanair, which is actually less than I’ve paid for a Megabus to Aberdeen. The two cities share similarities- namely being cold and northern- but I visited Berlin last year after seven years without an out of country holiday and realised how much lost time I’ve got to make up for. If you can stomach a flight which feels like you’re being hurtled through the air via catapult, you’ll be fine. Yes, the garish yellow and blue is a bit of an assault and there’s probably more room on an abattoir truck, but that’s what wine and a good book is for.
We booked our accommodation using Air BnB, which I’d never done before. My boyfriend and I made a rookie error in Berlin and didn’t research the areas, resulting in being flung to the poshest, west endest end of West Berlin. The great thing about Air BnB is that you’re staying in someone’s flat, so you’re actually getting an authentic experience. It’s also great if you do go to Oslo, because alcohol is so expensive in bars that a bottle of vino, blankets and pyjamas is your best bet to spend a girly evening. We stayed in Hagegata in the central district of Toyen. It’s an odd mix of a place, with an intriguing mix of trendy bars, curious shops, traditional buildings, street art and council flats. If you’re looking for a starting point that’s slap bang between the bus station and the action though, you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else.
A word of warning though- make sure you know what’s happening with your keys. An oversight left us locked out with no WiFi, near-dead phones and a whiff of the trip being over before it began. Hats off to Air BnB customer service for trying to sort our problems quickly though, and it all worked out in the end when we discovered Oslo’s best pizza. But more of that to come…
Trigger warning to any vegetarians or fans of non-pickled meat: googling “Norwegian cuisine” will flag up several pictures of cured cow heads. I was prepared to go hungry and live off snack foods but my worries turned out to be unfounded. After getting locked out of our accommodation, we discovered that Yelp’s top rated bar/restaurant was a two minute stroll away so we relocated for pizza and liberal helpings of free WiFi. Postkontoret was absolutely brimming on a Tuesday night, and it’s easy to see why (as long as you don’t look at the bar prices). For the more adventurous they have a reindeer and blueberry combo, or even moose if Rudolph doesn’t take your fancy. Obviously these ain’t my bag but my veggie pizza was a pretty delicious alternative. I’d never have thought of avocado as a pizza topping but what d’ya know, it worked.
We discovered Mathallen, a giant indoor food court, on our first full day. Banish all thoughts of a plastic shopping mall headache though. Mathallen is a huge, industrial-style space that encapsulates everything I imagine modern Scandinavian style to be. We dove on Hello Goodpie, mostly because I love a good pun and let’s face it, our teenage pop-punk roots never really left us. Also, pie. Vanilla and caramel? Chocolate and peanut butter? You got it.
As someone who works in hospitality, TripAdvisor is the bane of my existence. However, it does have its uses when you don’t know an area and don’t take it too literally. It led me to discover Freddy Fuego, an independent, luchador-themed Mexican restaurant which makes all of its own salsa fresh on the day. We opted for the burrito boxes instead of wraps which was amazing, and the Freddy’s Revenge sauce banished any residual winter chill.
Since alcohol laws are ridiculously strict (hence the price tag), and on account of the cold, we drank A LOT of coffee. After wandering about forever trying to find Hello Goodpie, we stopped in at Henrix Ibsen for what is possibly one of the best caffeine fixes I’ve ever had. Plus, again, their attitude to naming their business based on a pun. Not just any pun either, but one which combines music and nerdy literature references. They also sell vinyl, which I’m gutted I didn’t spend more time and money on, but their selection was pretty decent.
Speaking of coffee, Supreme Roastworks was another excellent shout. Super friendly staff, a bright (if minimalist) space and the cutest little regular customer ever in the form of Ludo the Parsons Terrier. Apparently he’s famous in Oslo for working on TV commercials, which puts Oslo higher than London in the Places Where I’ve Met Celebrities list.
Also: brown cheese. It’s a local delicacy and an absolute must.
What To Do, What To Do
There’s plenty to be done in Oslo and sadly we barely even scratched the surface. I had dreams of the Munch Museum and a stave church but time was against us. However, we weren’t short of things to do. In any city I advocate walking as the best way of seeing the real ins and outs of the place. We found some amazing street art as we ventured to the east side of the city, as well as colourful buildings and vintage shops.
For a cultural fix in a masterpiece of modern design, take a tour of the Opera Huset. We learned the history of the Norwegian opera, how the auditorium was designed to maximise the acoustics (I studied sound for my undergraduate degree, but it’s still pretty interesting) and saw behind the scenes in “the factory”. Basically a dream for anyone interested in costume and set design, or the inner workings of a national theatre. For optimum photo opportunities, you can even walk on the roof.
When the sun starts to go down take a trip to the Akerhus Festning. It’s a castle overlooking the harbour that was built to protect the city from invasion by sea, and you can still see the canons along the top of the fortress. There’s a visitors’ centre which we missed due to turning up after closing time, but the view from the top more than made up for it. Apparently it’s the most haunted structure in Norway, although we did wonder how much of that was people seeing pasty Scottish tourists wandering around after dark.
TL;DR Pro Tips
There are THREE AIRPORTS in Oslo. THREE. Ryanair principally flies in and out of Rygge, a fact that we overlooked on our return journey. Remember when I said it was less of a bargain than we thought? Yeah. We got the bus to (what the driver confirmed as) “the airport”. It looked bigger than when we arrived but we didn’t think anything of it. It had been dark and we only saw the back end of it, after all. It was only after trying to scan our boarding passes that we were told that we wanted to be at Rygge, a two hour journey away. Our check in was in half an hour. Cue frantic running around trying to book another flight, an overnight stay in the airport Radisson, a stopover in Copenhagen and arriving back in Edinburgh seventeen hours later than expected. So, yeah, watch out for that.
Alcohol sales stop at 6pm so if you’re wanting one to take up the road, get in there sharpish.
It was a distinctly average four degrees when we visited, but when we booked it was -10 so wrap up warm. If you think you’ve got enough clothes, take some more, just to be safe.
I can’t comment on public transport because we didn’t use it (other than to the airport and back and that didn’t end well), but Oslo is compact enough that you can cover a lot of ground just by stomping about.
IT REALLY IS EXPENSIVE AS HELL. I spent almost as much during two and a half days here as I did during five days in Berlin so be prepared. You might have got the flights for cheap but that’s about as far as it goes.
Smash!. That’s all.