European Bound – Velkommen til Norge!

When Julie and I started our RV’ing odyssey back in May 2017 going to Europe was not part of the plan. Rewind back to October 2017 and we get a call from my friend Matt who says he is getting married over the summer and as part of their honeymoon they wanted to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany and wanted as many friends as possible to join them. We immediately said yes and soon after booked a hotel in Munich for the festival. Fast-forward to April 2018 and we start to look for flights to Munich. To our surprise flights have now become super expensive to fly direct to Munich (or anywhere near Munich) from North America. Julie and I looked at every airline that flew to Munich or any nearby city but we came up with the same result, a pricey fare. So we then stepped back for a few hours and thought, well – if were going all the way to Europe why not see a few spots a bit further away from Munich. We found out that if we were already in Europe the flights to Munich from other European cities were normal and reasonable. As Oktoberfest is actually in September, not October we thought that northern cities would still be warm enough so we decided to go and check out Norway’s capitol city of Oslo.

So here we were sitting in New York City’s JFK International Airport Terminal 1. A few thoughts passed through our heads. A few thoughts passed through our heads such as, “I wonder what Norway will be like?” and “I’ve never heard Norwegian spoken before”. Our main thought though was about the terminal that we were sitting in. It was old, very old. If you had never been to the USA before and you arrived at JFK’s Terminal 1 you might have thought you had landed in a 3rd world country. Nonetheless as we were not staying here and we were leaving the country we were 2 happy campers. Soon enough it was time to leave on Norwegian Air Shuttle flight DY7002 direct to Oslo.

The flight went as well as it could have. The plane was a brand new Boeing Dreamliner, which neither Julie nor I had ever been on before and it was great. Before we knew it the night had passed and we were touching down just outside of Oslo. After going through passport control and collecting our bags we headed to the airport train to the city and hopped on. Our first sights of Norway were beautiful. The scenery resembled a mix of coastal Maine mixed in with the Pacific Northwest. A rocky landscape mixed in with tall pine trees. We thought it was great. To make the day even better today was Julie’s birthday! (She’s had two pretty great birthdays in a row, last year in Las Vegas, NV and this year in Oslo, Norway.) After getting into the city we walked to our hotel, checked in, showered and took a nap.

After our extremely refreshing nap it was late afternoon and we were ready to hit the town. First, a few facts on Norway. Norway is a very old country. It was founded in the year 872 and is the 67th largest country in the world. It has a population of just over 5.3 million people (just about the same amount of people as in the state of Minnesota). Norway is not on the Euro, they use their own currency, the Norwegian Krone. One of our first observations about Oslo was that it was extremely English language friendly. Almost every sign was in both Norwegian and English. This did make a little sense though as the percentage of the people in the world that speak Norwegian compared to English can’t be that high. We walked through the main shopping area of Oslo before walking around the Oslo Fjord and the main downtown fort – Akershus Fortress. After a bit more walking it was getting to be dinnertime and we stumbled upon a conveyor belt sushi place in the Oslo train station called Yo Sushi! We only planned to get some appetizers there but as we were a bit tired and the fish was very good we just ate and ate and before we knew it we had eaten a full dinner portion. We then walked back to the hotel stopping at a beer/table top shuffleboard bar called RØØR. We did end up seeing tabletop shuffleboard bars all over Oslo. Not sure why but they were popular there. It was a great 1st day and another great birthday memory for Julie.

The next day we woke up ready to go. First up we were hungry. Breakfast at our hotel (The Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz Oslo) came free. We had thought that we had seen the most amazing breakfast spread months earlier at our hotel (NH Collection in Guadalajara, Mexico) but this one in Oslo took the cake. The breakfast buffet was in the hotels restaurant, which had an open kitchen. It had everything from omelets, pancakes, cereals, breads, fruits, meats (including reindeer) and homemade chocolates. Needless to say we were impressed and left full and satisfied. We then packed a backpack for the day and we were off.

We walked from the hotel down Oslo’s main pedestrian shopping area, a street called Karl Johans Gate. We stopped in and out of a few stores including one very cool local bookstore called Norli Eldorado. After a quick lunch it was time for our bike tour. As we had done in numerous cities across the USA and Canada we had found a bike tour of Oslo through a tour company called The Viking Biking. This wasn’t a brewery bike tour as we had done in Portland, OR, Denver, CO or Victoria, BC but nonetheless this was still pretty fun. Our guide was Shafiq who had grown up all over Europe and had extensive knowledge of Oslo history. The bike tour lasted 3 hours and covered a little over 7 miles of central Oslo. We biked through the central fort that we had walked through the night before learning who built it and why it was there. We then biked to the Norwegian Royal Palace (they still have a King & Queen), then through The Vigeland Park and through one of the neighborhoods right on the water called Aker Brygge. All in all the tour was great and as we didn’t get to spend too much time in each place we decided to go back and check out each place in length the next day. After the bike tour ended we walked around the fort a bit more before heading back over to the Aker Brygge neighborhood and ate at a fish restaurant called Lofoten Restaurant. The fish was good although surprisingly it was hard to find a seafood restaurant in Oslo. We walked past Italian, English/Irish, Burger joints and every Asian style restaurant we could find. We tried to find a Norwegian salmon restaurant but no luck. Oh well. It was still great just being there.

The next day we woke up again ready to go. After another amazing breakfast at the hotel we packed a backpack and set out. It was a beautiful day and we were going to explore a few of the places that we had seen the day before on our bike tour. First up was the Royal Palace. For those of you who have been to Buckingham Palace in London you can recall the royal guards and the large fence all around the property. In Norway through Norwegian customs it is that the Royal Palace is public space and all the public can access the royal grounds (except for actually going into the palace). This means that you can literally walk up to the building. Our bike guide from the previous day had said that if your quick that you can go and knock on the front door. There are guards who might scold you but that’s about it. Julie and I walked over to the Royal Palace, which sits on a hill overlooking most of Oslo. We took video and pictures and even went and stood in a little guard shack next to the palace doors. I went first then Julie but that’s when a guard saw us and shooed us away. I guess we weren’t supposed to actually step foot into their guard post. You’re also able to take pictures with the guards here but unlike the English guards these will smile and talk to you.

After exploring the Royal grounds for a bit we made our way back to Vigeland Park. Vigeland Park is the worlds largest sculpture park made by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. The park has 200 sculptures along an 850-meter walkway that was completed between 1939 and 1949. The park in general is huge at 110 acres, which the sculptures take up about 1/3 of the area. Most of the sculptures are larger than life and almost all depict the human character as most of the sculptures were crafted from observing actual human models. It was pretty neat walking around and looking at the sculptures as you could see the actual expressions on peoples faces from when they were models 50 to 60 years ago.

From the park we walked around a few of the outer Oslo neighborhoods. We did this when we were in Mexico too. For us its pretty interesting seeing how normal people live outside of the tourist districts in these towns. From the outer neighborhoods we went back toward the center of the city checking out the Oslo Opera house and adjacent area. We then walked back through the shopping area stopping in a Helly Hanson store. For those who are not winter outdoor enthusiasts, Helly Hanson is a Norwegian winter jacket/clothing brand. Their apparel is very good and normally expensive but as Norway is an expensive country to begin with the prices here were astronomical. We browsed a bit chuckling at the prices before we left empty handed. We then went out to dinner at a small Taqueria before heading to a pub called The London Pub for a nightcap. While we were at the pub it was trivia night. Everything was in Norwegian so we had no clue what was being said but it was pretty neat to hear nonetheless.

The next day we woke up, our last in Oslo. Today was going to be neat. We were going to go to the Viking Ship Museum on the outskirts of the city. After breakfast we hailed an Uber and we were off. Side note here and we were surprised – at the time we were there September 2018 you could only get Uber Black in Olso. For those that don’t know Uber Black is the super fancy version of Uber. On the way to the museum we were picked up in a brand new Jaguar. The driver was even in a suit. It was a pretty nice way to go.

The Viking Ship Museum should be one of the stops for anyone visiting Oslo. Julie and I haven’t been to many museums on our trip but a few do stand out (The Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum outside of Birmingham, AL and the Ford Museum in Detroit, MI to name a few). The Viking Ship museum holds 3 Viking ships as well as other artifacts that were found in the ships that are all over 1000 years old. The ships were able to be preserved as a Viking ship was not only used as a normal boat but was also used as a burial chamber when an important member of Viking society died. Once the important person died they would be put on the boat with their belongings and then the entire boat would be buried. The Norwegian climate then did the rest allowing the wood to be preserved so well. It was an amazing sight to see and one that we won’t soon forget.

After catching another Uber Black (Mercedes this time which we did not want to leave) we headed back to the center of Oslo visiting the town hall again. In Norwegian society the community and the people are the biggest priority and because of this the town hall, not a church was the biggest most ornate building in the city. You wouldn’t actually know this by looking at the outside of the building as it is normal brick but the inside of the building is where it shines. The building had huge murals depicting life in 1930’s and 1940’s Norway. We explored the building for a while before heading back to the hotel to rest up for a few hours.

That night we went out for another non-traditional Norwegian dinner at Tuk Tuk Thai food. The place was packed and the dinner was delicious. We walked around the center of the city for a bit after dinner talking and enjoying our last few hours in Norway’s capital. We really enjoyed our time in Norway and decided that we must come back although next time to the west of the country in Bergen where we could really see the huge fjords. We will be back again!

Next up… Lederhosen, Dirndls and steins of beer. We fly south to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest!

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