Visiting Norway in the summer time is a treat, for the extra hours you get from the extended daylight. I arrived Oslo Torp airport at 10 p.m. when the day is still as bright as late afternoon. The 2 hr train ride into the city presents me a beautiful scroll of scenery with the sinking sun and the undulating landscape. From the Beatles song to the Murakami novel and then to the same name film, Norwegian Wood, all that I could think on the train ride was “Norwegian wood is indeed beautiful”.
The Nordic night is charming in an inexplicable way. First of all, the night never gets completely dark. With the refraction of the daylight, the sky always has a tint of glowing blue even it is as late as 1 am. Secondly, the hilly landscape, the scattering houses on the hill, the running river and the warm streetlights altogether add a mysterious shade to the night thats almost like an oil painting.
Met up my friend in Oslo Central, we headed to our hotel off for a good night’s sleep. Don’t forget to draw your curtain–the day only gets brighter as the night falls deeper.
The harbor area in the newly developed Tjuvholmen Island (Thief Island) has some of the best collection of contemporary architecture in the city. This area used to be an industrial waterfront, but is now turned into the most hip art/gallery/residential/restaurant area. Renzo Piano’s Astrup Fearnley Museum perfectly docks in the harbor with its soaring canopy and crisp tensile structures. The building and public space smoothly interweave, which offers a nicely-paced seaside promenade.
The new apartment buildings on the Island is just like a great library of the most hip residential building rendering, with nicely crafted public space scissor-crossing the whole neighborhood. Each building looks so bold and distinct, yet somehow all of the managed to merge coherently with the bigger picture of the area.
Ode to the Sculptor
West in the city is the famous Frogner Park, home to the famous Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Park, where one can find hundreds of sculptures of people in different poses. The tension and expressiveness in Vigeland’s human sculptures is mind-blowing. It was a perfect sunny day; flocks of Oslonians were sun bathing on the sprawling green in the park.
Hopped on the metro, we headed far north of the city to the forest Nordmarka.
The train ride itself was actually more interesting than actually being in the forest–along the way you can get a splendid panorama of the fjord and the rolling fields.
We took a picnic break on the hill top restaurant Frognersteren. The building that houses the restaurant is a charming chalet: the Viking style flying eaves, the red window frame, and the use of rustic stone and wood.
Bidding goodbye to the Norwegian Woods, we came all the way down to the Oslo Fjord. The Fjord consists a bunch of really nice islands. It would be great to take a cruise along the Fjord, but all the trips are sold out by the time we got there.
Instead, we followed the tip of NYT and went to this little off beat island Hovedoya.
Far off from the tourist-trodden paths, I found this ancient monastery ruin that can be dated back to the 1100s.
This evening serendipity is undoubtedly my favorite moment of the trip–the feeling of being amidst of an ancient ruin in the dusk was somewhat similar to my experience at the Palatine in Rome, but this one had a much more chill and low-key character that is unique to Oslo. The ruins still hint the original layout of the monastery; through the overgrown wild flowers, you can find locals having picnic in circles at each private “room”. What a peaceful evening.
Sunday morning we had an art immersion at the Edvard Munch Museum. Munch’s use of color, stroke and composition was intensely evocative. Looking at his work, sometimes, is like staring introspectively into your own mental world. Emotion, drama, and tension were amplified infinitely in his work.
One common occurance in Munch’s painting is the placement of a close-up human face in the foreground. The face, oftentimes has a strange stare that looks directly into the viewer’s eye, creates a mystical feeling to Munch’s painting.
So here we go, trying to mimic a Munch-style snapshot.
I like Munch a lot, same reason as I like Marc Chagall and Edward Hopper. All of them provoke feelings of an ulterior mental world. To me, Munch is the expressive one, Hopper is the contained one, and Chagall is the delirious one.
Trekking on the Iceberg
The Oslo Opera House by the Norwegian firm Snøhetta (one of my dream firms) is a must-see architectural feat. The detail of the building is not so great, but it still didn’t kill the greatness of the big picture.
I wonder what would the Opera House look like in winter when it is all snow-covered–beacause right now in the middle of the summer it already looks like a giant iceberg!
Luncheon in an Art Piece
The restaurant Grosch inside National Museum of Architecture serves really delicious organic eats, just like the Severre Fehn renovated building itself–simple, fresh, and pure.
I had a Grosch signature burger. The sauce and sun-dried tomatoes are simply fantastic. Fehn’s building is also very subtle and intimate. The mastery of materials–stucco, wood, and glass–creates a homey atmosphere.
There’s always something….
Even the best experience would have some unexpected interlude. This time for me being wasting money in the worst way possible in this most expensive city in the world. I checked the wrong train schedule (weekday instead of Sunday) and ended up missing all the available public transportation to my airport. A cab ride there cost 2000 krone (260 euros, which is even more than how much i spent on the whole trip). In despair I called my friend’s AirBnB host Ellen, who I had never met and would never meet if I didn’t not miss this train. Luckily Ellen was free that afternoon and she offered me a ride with half the cab price. Interestingly, Ellen used to be a cab driver in Oslo and was actually a great crisis manager in terms of this kind of catching flight situation. She said she once drove an Italian guy to the airport in only 1 hr before the flight departure time (normally it takes 1:20 hr to the airport and check in stops 40 mins before departure, so figure–). Therefore my situation this time, which is 2:30 hrs before departure, is a piece of cake to Ellen. Despite the madly expensive cost I paid for my private ride, it was nice to catch a little bit of Oslo from a local’s point of view:
– Why is Oslo so expensive? Because Norwegians have the bad habit of not looking at price when shop, no matter what social rank you are from; it’s simply a national mentality (Just like how the Dutch are all shrewd businessmen I guess 😛 ).
– Winter is unbearable here. No kidding. Ellen is saving up for moving to Aliacante in Spain soon.
– Oslo actually witness the biggest urban renewal change in the past decade. A huge urban renewal project, Fjord City, is actually underway all around the Fjord. It is projected to be finished in 10 years.
I’m totally down for the idea of paying a visit back to Oslo in 10 years.