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Published: June 15th 2020
Scandinavian breakfasts and I were made for each other. It fits in with my "more is more" philosophy on life and gastronomy. We must hurry with reckless gluttony and eat our full Scandinavian hotel breakfast: tomato juice, muesli, cereal, pancakes, sausages, bacon, eggs (scrambled), Danishes (better than you have ever had back home), ham, terrine of ham, herring will dill and tomato. It’s all so wonderful. And don’t forget fresh fruit, a healthy afterthought to the above and great to put in your bag to nibble on later during a bus tour. If only breakfast wasn't served as early as 7 am. If only we didn't have a bus to board at 7:30 am. You may have guessed I hate eating to the clock. Long, languorous meals are more my style. But with my Danish plumped belly, I am off to a new Scandinavian country.
Off to the Hensinor Ferry to the Swedish shores, then up the Swedish Coast to Gothenburg, Sweden, a “suburban” city with trolleys, maze-like malls and very pale people.
Onward we trek till we hit the Norwegian border, take a break at a rest stop barely over the border, (we sneak
back to the middle of the bridge that connects Sweden with Norway to photograph the massive fiord that separates the two countries. It is so beautiful (and terrifying suspended way too high high above the schism, my legs shake), I wept after taking the picture.
We finally arrive in Oslo at 5:15pm after a ten-hour journey from Denmark. Oslo is a motley mix of old and new buildings, framed by the Oslo fiord. I suspect that the fiord keeps urban sprawl from happening to Oslo, so it is a quaint, walkable city. We are staying at the Clarion Royal Christiana (Biskop Gunnerusgatan 3 at Sentral Station), a somewhat luxury hotel by tour standards, but certainly modern and in a perfect location for all that you want to do in Oslo. And of course an excellent Scandinavian breakfast awaits for conspicuous consumption in the early morning. Maybe you will discover how gossamer the ultimate croissant or breakfast pastry can be.
After our buffet dinner (again satisfying my nagging need for too much): hot and cold platters (herring, salmon, pastas, potatoes, salads and good desserts with the same excellent coffee that permeates Scandinavia), we head out
to explore the local neighborhood. Norwegians, young and comparatively young volunteer to help us. Everyone is friendly. We walk down Karl Johann Gate, get carried away by the always-entertaining main street, and wind up at The National Museum. Karl Johann Gate is a pedestrian-only street that is a melange of shopping, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and bars and proves that a life of following your senses is always distinctly distracting.
We detour to the side streets and the sidewalks get very lonely and a rough crowd appears out of nowhere. We retreat as we simply have too much cash and credit cards on us to lose in one unsavory moment. I don’t know why Oslo has some unsavory types strolling about but I didn’t notice this in other Scandinavian cities. I love the thrill of discovery, but always follow your instincts, undeterred by other distractions.
It starts to rain. We are on the wrong end of Karl Johann Gate. We make our way back to the cocoon that is our hotel, which seems even more upmarket when we return.
Oslo has 511,000 residents with a total of 4.5 million people in all of Norway.
There are 722 parks, Frogner Park, the biggest tourist attraction in Oslo attracts 10,000 visitors a day. Designed by Gustav Vigeland who believed that clothed figures would date the sculptures, decided to mold them all in the nude. Intellectually stimulating, the sculptures show the “cycle of life”, the anxiety of our lives, the joys and the inevitable weakening and death.
Oslo is the 10th
largest capital in the world but uses only one third of its space. I suspect being ringed by a fiord limits growth.
Our tour guide tells us moose and wolves were spotted roaming the streets. One moose zeroed in on the coffee aroma and entered a posh coffee bar as two women fainted. He stepped into the next room where the hostess had her back to him. She turned around and fainted, predictably. The moose, knowing his chances for getting some coffee now was nil, jumped through the window, only to be killed by police. So typical of the unpredictability of life. Nevertheless police kill about 40 to 50 moose per year and collisions between car and moose are almost always fatal to both.
Oslo was founded
in 1850, but the Town Hall people believe it is 1000AD. The city has burned down 14 to 17 times. The shortest day is only 6 hours long, with 9 am to 3 pm to be your only chance of seeing daylight (not sunlight) in the winter.
Morning sightseeing included motor coaching along the colorful side streets, a visit to Radhusset (City Hall) National Museum. City Hall interiors are quite beautiful, with murals filling the walls and ceilings. Natives call it a living mausoleum, a reference to the 250 civil servants asleep in the two towers. The final stop was the Resistance Museum, a somber memorial to the subversive activities the Norwegians had to resort to foil Hitler. Norway was invaded in 1940 and occupied for five years until 1945.
No rest for the weary. In the afternoon we paraded down Karl Johann Gate the entire length to the King’s Palace. We buy tickets to the 2-hour fiord cruise. It’s a beautiful sunny day, 70 degrees F. The tour guide is a perfect Barbie doll who speaks in four languages and knows a thing or two about boats. The boat goes deep into the
Oslo fiord, circling islands and peninsulas. I’m snapping pictures of the dramatic landscape when my light meter suddenly plummets. I spy Blond Barbie on the roof of the boat pulling a tarp over us. The skies darken and open up as torrential rain and wind splatter our faces. I fear for my expensive 35mm camera. I should be fearful of the boat going down. The rest of the cruise was foiled by the monsoon, actually a squall, proof that the weather in Scandinavia can change by the minute, even in the Summer. Too bad, It was amusing to see Norwegian locals enjoying their cabanas on the fiord. The Norwegians who all seem to have vacation homes on the water are nude on their decks. From our vantage point on the harbor looking back towards the city, Oslo looks like Oz.
When the boat docks, we scramble under umbrellas to reach our 8 pm reservation at Maud’s, a Norwegian specialty restaurant. The weather has cleared now that we are seated in our cozy nook. I start with a potato salad, new red potatoes feathered with dill and tarragon in an oil dressing. There is no debate about which
main course to order-reindeer served with artichoke root, carrots and other root vegetables in a deep, dark heady demi-glace sauce. The restaurant itself looks like a Norwegian country inn, but it was in the center of town, next to the Aker Brygge, a 19th
century warehouse converted to stores and restaurants, all very modern in design. There is plenty here to court the jaded palate with rare sensual delights.
I resented that I didn't have a lot of time in Oslo, plopped on the northern shore of the Oslofiord. I could kick myself for not getting to the Edvard Munch Museum, but it wasn't my fault given the time constraints. But I did catch a blockbuster Munch exhibit later at the Met Breuer in New York in 2018, Between the Clock & the Bed, with 43 stunning Edvard Munch paintings. I could have spent more time exploring the Bygdoy Peninsula on the West side of Oslo and its five national museums including The Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the beautiful Norwegian Folk Museum, an open air attraction with 155 historical buildings! Yes I did Frogner Park but what about the Vigeland Museum in its Neoclassical
building? The Fram Museum that pays tribute to polar explorers seems worth the detour. For art lovers there is the Norwegian National Gallery where visitors will see Renaissance and Baroque art in addition to Edvard Munch's The Scream. The Aker Brygge, that wonderful waterside development for shopping and dining, received a revitalization until 2014 adding dynamic public spaces, restaurants, shops and maybe 2,500 al fresco seats in the Summer at the waterfront restaurants. You may also want to explore the Royal Palace( in the Royal Palace Park) which is rumored to have guided tours in the summertime. On a savory note, Mathallen Food Hall with 30 restaurants, bars, and specialty food shops inside a brick industrial building looks like Essex Market in downtown New York City to me. But then again, I am always comparing the world to New York City. That is why you read my articles. In any event, it is obvious to me I must return to Oslo. The city's famed tables beckon and there is the matter of my unchecked gluttony. Deprivation and penance are never as rewarding as a lavish lunch. Clarion Royal Christiana Hotel, Gunnerurgatan 3 @ Sentral Station. Maud’s Norwegian Cuisine, at the Oslo Harbor – Aker Brygge
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