Oslo. A deep, thumping, primal, desire to visit thumped within me. It could be the 0.3% of Scandinavian blood in my hereditary line, or it could be my obsession with the Viking era (and mostly the characters from the show on the History Channel) which compelled me to visit.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Iceland – where the price of just about anything froze me in my tracks way more than chilling temps, but I loved it something fierce all the same. I didn’t know when I would be able to afford another full length adventure to Scandinavia – my assumption was probably never. However, my husband and I embarked on a 12 hour layover on the way home from our honeymoon to the capital city of Norway as a compromise.
I knew that the summer of 2018 would mean the end of long summers of international travels for a while, as we anticipated moving forward with doing things like increasing our savings account and starting a family. Ending our trip with such a bucket list destination, helped put me at peace with such a major shift in my life. In fact, being able to add many bucket list destinations in the form of long layovers has actually helped me feel more than comfortable with reducing the rate at which I will be traveling in a grandiose fashion for a while. I’ve been able to see a lot of place in the world that would have otherwise only been dreams filed under “someday.”
Viking Ship Museum: I’m obsessed with all things Viking. I won’t lie to you, this was largely instigated by History Channel’s show, Vikings. For sure the story line and the sex appeal of so many of the characters draws me in, but it’s not just that. It’s their true to life entire way of life, their government, their clothing, and especially their religious beliefs and culture that fascinates me. Every winter I re-read a book of Norse sagas and stories, and whenever there is a thunderstorm outside, I give a little wink to the small statue of Thor that I have in my room. (Image of me creepily winking unavailable, check back later) I’ve read books on the Vikings and seen many of the documentaries available, and I’m enamored to say the least; I’m hooked. I’d love to be able to time travel to one of their holy ceremonies, or to witness the building of one of their massive ships.
While I can’t literally time travel, the Viking Ship museum provided the second best way to take a look into the past at this civilization. From taking off in Santorini to actually arriving at the museum, I was FULL of energy and the phrase, “when the fuck are we going to get there!” definitely left my mouth more than once. Upon arriving, I pushed wide eyed children and the elderly out of my way as I RAN to the entrance. Don’t judge me, as I was showing an appreciation for the Viking culture. Do you think the Vikings were polite and would just allow slow moving people to stand in the way of their endeavors? No, and I wasn’t about to either. It’s called cultural immersion, sweetie.
The museum was everything I’d hoped it would be. My first mission was to see the famed Viking ships, one of which is the Oseberg ship. This ship is one of the most well preserved and was discovered nearly in its entirety within a burial mound. There were two female skeletons on board dressed in luxury garments indicating that at least one of the women was of high importance in society. Many commodities found on board the ship also support the theory. I cannot imagine the shock and awe of uncovering an entire and massive Viking ship during an excavation, but the thought makes me want to pee my pants, if only a little.
Upon the ships entering my line of vision, I ran away from my map getting, logic using, plan having, husband who was moving too slowly, I couldn’t have any dead weight holding me back on this mission and thought it was best to leave him behind entirely whatever the cost. There are two staircases which lead you up to a platform where you can see the actual, resurrected Viking ships in their entirety. I noticed that people who were engaged in full on chatter upon entering the museum were stunned into silence upon viewing the ships. Although I didn’t cry, I did become teary eyed. The realization that I was actually seeing something that has been on my bucket list was humbling. You might not see the big deal if it’s not on your list, but any traveler who has seen one of their “must sees” in real life knows this feeling. I’m a big believer that God makes most if not all opportunities possible for me, and the fact that He consistently thinks I’m worthy of seeing so many unimaginably remarkable experiences on my travels fills me with such gratitude, that it absolutely felt appropriate to become filled with tears at that moment. It’s incomparable. I let myself become lost in my imagination. I imagined the Vikings walking back and forth across the ship. I thought about their painted shields hanging off the sides of the boat, and I pictured their loved ones saying goodbye before an arduous journey. I envisioned the excitement they faced on their adventures and if they felt the same thumping in their heart as I did flying to Oslo to visit this very ship. I spent a good amount of time walking around the ships themselves, and I nearly had to be pried away to move onto the rest of the museum. I came back several times smiling stupidly at the ship, like I do at the cheeses in the cheese aisle when I’m on a diet. “Funny seeing you here again…”
The rest of the museum displayed various artifacts from within the ships such as grave gifts, religious pieces, and ordinary items such as cooking utensils. You can also see an immersive film about the Viking way of life three times every hour at the museum. I had waited so long to see this place, anticipating everything from my emotions at seeing the ships to which souvenirs I would buy and I’m so entirely grateful that I had the experience.
Polar Fram Museum: I’m a trip-tator, I admit it. I do not “roll with the punches.” I have little to no interest in hearing about how my travel buddies would do things if they conflict with how I would do things on our trip, but I’m working on it. My husband said, “How about this place” and I instantaneously felt myself panic as it wasn’t chiseled into my tediously planned agenda for the day. This was one of those museums that I really had zero interest in visiting, but left the experience thinking, “Thank GOD I didn’t miss that one.” I’m a fan of immersive museums, and I can’t think of a better experience in that than this place! You could spend at least half, if not an entire day at the Polar Fram Museum. Hell, I could live in the Polar Fram Museum – it’s that cool. (No pun intended.) The museum tells the story of Norwegian polar exploration and it’s impossible not to find it fascinating. The interior of the Fram is entirely intact and you can explore the whole thing – and it is HUGE. You start by climbing on the deck of the ship and you’re free to check out every single nook and cranny within – from the bedrooms to the kitchen to the engine room and beyond. We spent so much time on board and the ship and museum is decorated in such a painstakingly detailed manner than I actually felt as though we were transported to the arctic. There are SO many artifacts scattered about that it’s honestly dizzying, and you wind up spending so much time within that boat that you get a complete feel and understanding for how the explorers lived for months on end. Outside the polar ship, you can explore what the polar region is like by venturing inside a model igloo and coming face to face with taxidermy wildlife. Around every corner of the museum there is something to climb, jump over, pull, push, and marvel at. This museum is way more than I expected and I cannot recommend it enough! A MUST experience if there ever was one!
City Walk (free): If you’ve been keeping up with this blog (SO much more fun and disturbing than keeping up with the Kardouchians) than you know some of the dynamic between my husband and I. He LOVES walking tours, and I believe has taken some form of one in every place he’s ever visited and is proud of this. I like food tours and just eating food in general. I’m proud to say I’ve eaten a lot of food in every place I’ve ever visited. Well, there was no food on this tour, not even a snack, so it’s already not a ten star experience as you might imagine. I’ll keep it brief since there’s no, I want to reiterate, no food involved. The tour was free of cost and the guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. We definitely got a better feel for the layout of the city and a lot of information on the culture and history of Oslo.
There were a lot of highlights such as walking down by the water to check out the boats and seeing the Oslo Opera House which rises out of the water like an iceberg. I walked away from the lecture momentarily to throw my arms around the Henrik Ibsen statue and take selfies, much to the embarrassment of my husband and dismay of our guide. (English nerd, me, not him) I really liked visiting city hall because there is an amazing mural depicting scenes from the Norse sagas outside, it was fun to read the descriptions and give kudos to the artistry. We also passed the Nobel Peace Center and it was interesting to hear much of the history about it. Obviously not interesting enough to remember any of it, as I haven’t written anything that I learned, but I remember in the moment, being very interested and I don’t actually mean that sarcastically. Does this happen to anyone else on walking tours? As you’re hearing the guide you’re like THIS IS ALL AMAZING, YESSSS! As soon as you return home, you can’t remember a single thing he or she has taught you?
Let’s pause here to note that it was excruciatingly hot on this particular day, and we decided that walking to all places was a good idea, and even better, we had not slept in over 24 hours. On our arduous journey back to the center where we began, we passed a supermarket and hung out in the walk-in fridge for 20 minutes pretending that we were looking at prices of meat. It’s one of my favorite memories…ever. I NEVER miss an opportunity to be corny and laugh with my hubs!
Folk Museum: By the time we’d gotten to this museum, it had been OVER 24 hours since we last slept. My love of history and culture was getting me through just fine, my husband, however, was coming down with a vicious case of the “sleepies.” Be prepared that if you are to visit this museum, you can spend an entire day here, probably two days, there is a massive amount to see. The Folk Museum is a HUGE open air-museum which was perfect for summer and enjoying the great weather. Visiting in the summer offers the opportunity to see many of the animals, like horses and pigs. There are over 100 historical buildings and houses that you can visit and tour the inside of, and there are some costumed actors that walk around. With costumed actors, it’s sometimes fun to play “ghost, or real person?”
The vast variety of sites to see ensures that you are not standing shoulder to shoulder with many other tourists and makes for a peaceful day of self exploration.The highlight, for me, was the 1200 year old stave church, as a matter of fact I literally ran uphill (which you all know I’d never do under any other circumstances – there is a Viking connection here) to get to is faster. Stave churches are not ornate and elegant, but rather, wooden and harken back to the medieval days. It is believed that Stave churches were old Viking places of worship turned into Christian churches, and some also believe that they are constructed out of pieces of Viking ships as per their winged roofs. The one we visited reminded me a lot of an episode from Vikings (SEASON ONE, EPISODE EIGHT TO BE EXACT) While there were Christian images all around, I kept imagining tall wooden statues of Odin and Thor. (Because I have an unhealthy obsession and I can’t just let things go and accept that this was a church and not a Viking pagan temple. I’m sure my Italian – Catholic mother will be thrilled to read that.) Following the Stave church, we sat and watched a performance of traditional folk song and dance. The lead performer stressed how important this type of art was to their culture and that it goes back hundreds of years. Naturally, Arthur took this seriously as he fell asleep several times and did his best impression of bobbing for apples with his eyes closed. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we were in the front row where the performers could all see this. Super. fucking. thrilled.
Egon restaurant: The restaurant so nice (and reasonably located and cheapest in price) we ate here twice. We spent both breakfast and lunch at the Egon restaurant near the main rail station. Food and drink in Oslo is expensive, it’s not a secret. The all you can eat breakfast included a HUGE variety including smoothies. There was a mix of both traditional Norwegian and common breakfast foods and eating so much definitely kept me full throughout the day. I don’t usually give out “tips” but I’d say in coming here for breakfast – you get your bang for your buck. Egon offers both indoor and outdoor seating and during both meals the wait was not long at all. To me, smoked salmon is the quintessential Norwegian food. I wanted to like it so bad, I put it on my plate, onto my fork, onto my tongue and EVERYTHING…I just couldn’t enjoy it. I like fish…I like sushi…I like smokey flavors…why not smoked salmon? I guess I’ll never know. Anyone have an opinion on smoked salmon? Also, where do we stand on lox?
What I Learned:
I was extremely sad to see our honeymoon ending, but knowing that we were off to see another country – even just on a layover before stopping home provided a way to “ease into” ending our once in a lifetime adventure. I highly suggest adding shorter layovers to your journey as a way to get the most out of your trip by seeing more of the world! Tired as I may have been, I learned that adding a small layover is a cost effective way of seeing more of what the world has to offer.
Oslo holds tight to its history, while being one of the most forward thinking and progressive cities I’ve ever visited. It’s clean, efficient, and friendly. It feels safe and there is no shortage of things to learn and see. While incredibly expensive, it’s a city that I felt definitely lives up to its “hype” and to all of my expectations. Oslo is a city where even I felt confident navigating (and I’m THE WORST at navigating) and to boot I felt more than safe, it’s not a terrible large city and nature is easily accessible. One of my favorite moments was strolling by the seemingly endless fjord very early in the morning.
Looking back, I feel bad that I made such a big deal about the importance of sticking to my plan when my husband suggested the walking tour and visiting the Polar Fram museum, because at least one of them wound up being an opportunity I’m incredibly grateful to have had. I panic about following my schedule because the likelihood of me ever returning to a place like Oslo is very slim, and I want to make sure I do it right in the little time I have, and see everything I want to see. In order to make that happen, I still think it’s important to be well organized, planned, and scheduled. However, I’m learning that it’s important to allow other people to have a voice on trips and to be open to new ideas, the ideas of others which you never would have considered. Traveling as a couple or group means it is everyone’s experience, it is everyone’s one shot at checking items off a bucket list, it is everyone’s chance to make memories that are meaningful. Sometimes the old adage is right, at the end of our comfort zone lies our greatest opportunity for growth, or in my case new opportunities I would have never had.