OSLO has the largest share of population, at around 600,000, of the 4.7 million people in Norway.
The capital welcomes 3.5 million tourists a year – but, incredibly, only 122,000 are from the UK.
It has a surprisingly mild climate, the average temperature peaks are 20 degrees Centigrade in summer and only -4C in winter, and a highly interesting history.
There was a great fire in 1624 which destroyed most of it, so the king, Christian lV of Denmark, rebuilt it and named it Christiana, after himself. Norway gained its independence in 1905 and there was a great feeling of national pride, so the city was renamed Oslo only in 1925.
There are many direct flights, making it easy to get to, and with Norwegian efficiency the airport shuttle train takes an amazing 19 minutes (reaching 120 mph) to the city centre.
I arrived in Oslo by overnight ferry from Copenhagen. These ferries run every night, and there are also services from Kiel and Frederikshavn. This is the best way to arrive, the huge ship slowly moving through the Fjord and squeezing past many islands and gently berthing right in the middle of the city.
It is odd (to me) that around 2,500 tourists arrive by ship every morning, and the same number depart every evening. It certainly shows how popular it is, and it is great to be able to simply step off the ship and walk along to the main city centre. There are also cruise ships making this a port of call.
I have an image of Norway as being clean, tidy, well, organised – and it is. There are only two drawbacks – it is expensive for us, and it is impossible to get a good cup of tea. Yes, there is tea everywhere, but it is always fruit or flavoured tea.
As for costs, you can reckon at least double the prices here. This is the price that Norway pays for being outside the Euro (the currency is the Krona), and doing very well thank you, with one of the strongest currencies in the whole world.
I got a tip from a local lady to go to a café called The Fragrance of the Heart (www.fragrance.no ). There are two of them, one in an arcade behind the town hall (which dominates the harbour) and one in Glas Magasinet, a famous and huge department store.
Here you can eat (only vegetarian) very well from a limited range, for a very reasonable price. It is run by monks, and there are also meditation. Their coffee is excellent, but the tea ..… well. Even the international fast food chains do not serve tea in Oslo.
I read that 68% of Norway’s population speaks English – in Oslo it is 100%. The eastern European looking beggars on the street corners speak English. There is a pedestrianised area in the centre for serious shopping, lined as usual with buskers and beggars.
For me, the shopping was not an option, too expensive, but there is a way to spread the cost of being here – the excellent Oslo Pass. This costs (for an adult) 270 NOK (Norwegian Krona) for 24 hours (about £30) 395 NOK for 48 hours (£44) or 495 NOK (£56) for 72 hours. It gives you free entry to most museums, all public transport, including the boats and open top buses, and many discounts, including in some restaurants, which is very helpful.
Oslo is focused on the sea, and there are many islands within easy reach, and the Pass lets you go island hopping for free as well, which is well worth doing. Getting around is easy (unless you are in a wheelchair, many pavements have channels running across them, and other uneven bits, and some access to public transport is difficult) there is a tram system, buses, an underground / metro and water buses.
These run every 15 minutes to various places see www.boatsightseeing.com The main harbour area, overlooked by the town hall, has the squat fortress and castle to one side, where there are also museums of Resistance, Architecture, Contemporary Art, and the Armed Forces. To the other side is the Nobel Peace Prize building www.nobelsfredssenter.no I found this fascinating, and sad that the wonderful people who have been given the prize every year have so much to battle against in our ever-warring world.
One museum I particularly wanted to see was the Transport Museum. I caught the metro to the stop, got out, and couldn’t find it, or any signs, anywhere. There is an office for information on the transport system on the bridge over the tracks, so I went in there to ask. The four employees there didn’t know, and in the end simply Googled it for me, and were all surprised to find it is so close by – obviously it is not popular! I went along and was disappointed to find that it is only open three days a week, for three hours per day – and not on that day.
I went back to the harbour and caught a water bus across to the other side of the harbour to where there is a group of museums, the Kon Tiki (with the famous boat inside), the Fram Museum, with the equally famous polar exploration ship inside, the Maritime, Holocaust and Viking Ship museums. It is peaceful over this side, but soon the water bus came and I returned to the hustle and bustle. There is also an Ibsen museum and a Norwegian Football museum. Bear in mind that most are closed on Mondays.
There is a lot to do and see. The cultural side of Oslo includes the striking new Opera House, on the waterfront, the Royal Palace (which I missed unfortunately) and the National Gallery. There is also a Munch Museum (www.munch.museum.no) which explores Edvard Munch’s famous pictures. There are, naturally, concerts and events throughout the year, including the Holmenkollen Ski Festival and the Norway Cup. You would have to work hard to go to all the events that are on.
The city is compact, easily accessible, with a fresh feeling from the open spaces and the proximity of the sea. I can certainly recommend it as a civilised, cultured and very interesting place to go. Having arrived by ferry, I left by train. The main railway station is bang in the city centre, and Norwegian trains are all modern, comfortable and efficient, and an excellent way to explore the country – where I went to, I will tell you another time.