My Oslo Double Love Affair
It was late May in 2012. The day before my very first trip overseas I was hardly able to sit still, let alone focus. Not only because I was going to see my very own handsome Viking again after being apart for four months, but also because I was finally going to be able to do what I’d always wanted: explore a historically rich, ridiculously beautiful European country with the man I loved. What could possibly be more romantic than that?
I’d woken up earlier than usual (being unable to sleep due to a massive amount of excitement coursing through my brain happens to me on a regular basis), triple checked that I had everything I needed before I left my then almost 4 year old daughter with my youngest sister and her family, hurridly kissed everyone goodbye, promised to send word over Facebook when I had safely arrived, then hopped in my little Subaru and began driving to O’Hare. I was running on a ’high’, but knew it wouldn’t last. I figured I could sleep on the plane if I was super tired, right?? I dunno…have I ever been able to sleep on a plane? I tried desperately to remember, then just told myself to forget it and worry about that later on the plane.
I couldn’t fall asleep on the plane.
Back in 2012, Rune—now my husband–was a Lt. Colonel in the Norwegian Army, and living in downtown Oslo. When my sleepy carcass arrived at Gardermoen Airport, he wrapped me up in a huge bear-hug at baggage claim, then smiling like the Cheshire cat, carried my bags to the work car that was waiting curbside with a few of his very American-friendly work colleagues, Kari and Cato. As I settled into the back seat of the car with Kari, Cato slips into the driver’s seat and Rune sits beside him to discuss a little business. I’m starting to feel a little more like my perky, chatty self again, thanks to the fresh air and just having been able to stretch my legs a bit. (The low fat vanilla latte from the Starbucks in the airport helped a little as well, I have to admit. I was also informed that it is the ONLY Starbucks cafe in Norway.) We all glide effortlessly into conversation as if we have been lifelong friends, and I can honestly say that I cannot remember having ever received such a genuinely warm welcome in my entire life from complete strangers!
*Small disclaimer: while I instantly felt very welcomed by my new Norwegian friends, and the conversation easily rolled off our tongues, I should clarify that Norwegians are not the overly-friendly, helpful, chatty type. Unless you have a spouse or significant other who happens to be a Norwegian who is along with you, don’t expect that you will have the same experience that I did. It’s not that Norwegians are rude, uncaring or deaf; they are a culture full of people who are warm and welcoming to those whom they trust. You will never find a (sober) Norwegian sitting next to you on a plane, talking your head off about how his great-great grandfather immigrated to Minnesota when he was only 15 or how much he just LOVES New York City and dreams of living there one day. They are a very private people.
The 20 minute drive from the airport (which lies outside of the city) to downtown Oslo was absolutely chock full of nature at her finest. The rolling, green hills seemed almost other-worldy, and were dotted with quaint, well kept farms which seemed to have recently experienced an explosion in both wildflowers and lambs. I felt as if I were in a movie, and half expected Julie Andrews to suddenly appear over the next hill, running, singing and twirling her way down it. I was in a very daydream-like state. All of this could not possibly exist. It was too wholesomely perfect.
We arrived at Rune’s office building, dropped off the car, Kari and Cato, and Rune and I walked to his small apartment located 10 minutes away. I could feel that the lack of sleep as well as the difference in time zones was beginning to catch up with me. Before I had the chance to drift off into what was a little over an hour of sweet nothingness, I asked Rune to send my sister a quick message saying that I was safe and sleeping. When the alarm went off, Rune gently woke me. (It’s a good thing he’s so cute.) I really didn’t want to get up, but my stomach definately did! It kept grumbling. Loudly. I was completely famished. What’s within walking distance, I ask, half asleep. Smiley boyfriend gives me a handful of choices, and since I’m really not feeling like dressing up too much, I decide on an American chain, TGI Friday’s, which happens to be one of the best spots for people watching by the Oslo fjord: Aker brygge.
We walk to TGI Friday’s and ask to sit outside since the weather is fantastic. With views like we had, it almost justifies the cost of the $15 beer. Almost. Rune and I sit and talk about the riveting history that is right before my eyes. Akershus fortress dates from the year 1290, and has an incredible history. It’s been used as a castle, a fortress, and a prison. It is now the final resting place of several Norwegian monarchs, including King Haakon the VII and Queen Maud, who ruled (from England) during the 1940-1945 Nazi occupation of Norway.
After dinner, we wander around the city streets hand-in-hand, him pointing out this and that to me: the Nobel Peace Center, the Opera House, and a stunning blend of both old and new in architecture. We walk by Henrik Ibsen’s house and I begin to feel lightheaded..almost giddy. I am not sure if it is from the lack of sleep, being overloaded with incredible sites around every corner, sharing all of these things with my love, or a combination of all of the above.
Before we head back to his apartment for the night, we take one last stroll down Karl Johan’s Gate, which is not only the street that leads right up to the Royal Palace, but one that is also lined with quaint cafes, coffee shops, parks and the Grand Hotel: the hotel where the Nobel Peace Prize winner(s) get to feast and stay in during the awards ceremony. We didn’t go inside, but I’m told that the photos you can find of the sumptuous interiors online (http://www.grand.no/en/) do not exaggerate. Oh, and we also made a stop outside of Stortinget (the Norwegian Parliament) and the Royal Palace, since they were ’in the neighborhood’. The palace was being prepped for the 200th anniversary of Norway’s Constitution Day (May 17 1814), and to every Norwegian, May 17th is a very BIG deal.
The next day is a bit gray and it’s spitting rain off and on. I was feeling pretty great, so Rune suggested that we catch a bus, then walk the remainder of the way to Vigelandsparken. Yes, walk. I’m walking a lot these past few days, and it feels good!
Vigelandsparken is quite the experience and an absolute MUST see for anyone who is traveling to Oslo for the first time (http://www.vigeland.museum.no/en/vigeland-park). It can be extremely busy in the late spring-early fall, with busloads of tourists arriving on a fairly regular basis throughout the day. I recommend getting there either as early as you can, or around lunchtime, when they are most likely to be back at their hotels or in one of the restaurants nearby.
The park is a collection of Gustav Vigeland’s life work in sculpture: over 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron will leave you feeling not only entertained, but also in deep thought regarding the connection we have with each other in every type of relationship. It is a truly wonderful park..it also happens to be an amazing place to bring a picnic lunch!
My almost three week trip to Norway went by way too quickly. During that time, I fell more and more in love with Rune, of course (I did marry him less than a year later). But as you can see, I fell head-over-heels for Oslo as well. With a wide variety of things to see and do, you will never become bored. Give yourself plenty of time to experience everything your heart desires, and Oslo will lovingly deliver the rest.