Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted

9th Jun 2014
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 1/10 by Jess
Haakon's Hall
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 2/10 by Jess
Hotel Oslo Central
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 3/10 by Jess
Inside the Bergen Museum
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 4/10 by Jess
Norwegian Folk Museum
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 5/10 by Jess
Oslo City Hall
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 6/10 by Jess
Oslo Opera House
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 7/10 by Jess
View from Mount Floyen
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 8/10 by Jess
Vigeland Sculpture Park
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 9/10 by Jess
Viking Ship Museum
Photo of Norway: Pulls You In and Leaves You Enchanted 10/10 by Jess
Torget Fish Market

Landing in Oslo I was overjoyed by the nature surrounding the airport runway. Tall evergreen pine trees seemed to wave in the plane for landing, and I secretly relished the fact that I was now in a country where Christmas trees live and thrive . There aren’t many major cities in the world that have a landing strip on the outskirts of  what seems like a full-blown forest. Then again, there are far fewer major capitals that are  almost entirely surrounded by nature such as Oslo. Stepping off my flight with Norwegian Air (who I hope to fly with again very soon) I was immediately thrust into an environment surrounded by a new language, sweet Norwegian. There was a time when the sound of a Germanic language wouldn’t have done much for me, but while the pronunciation was very foreign, the words in front of me were awfully similar to the Dutch language. Surprisingly so. This made getting around the city more fun as I was able to decipher and put things together which I hadn’t anticipated.

I never knew Oslo had the nickname the “City of Tigers” until I ran into that statue of a tiger (on top of this post)  in front of Oslo Central Station. After a quick Google search I found that it wasn’t entirely random, and was in fact a  nod to a long standing relationship between Norwegians and their capital city. There are several stories to explain why Oslo became the Tigerstaden (City of Tigers), but this is where it all really started.

In the late 19th Century, famed Norwegian author and poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson referred to Oslo as the ‘Tigerstaden’ in his  collection of Poems and Songs because of the city’s reputation at the time as a cold and dangerous place. It was said that boys from the country would visit Oslo and come back  scarred from whatever had went on there.

The nickname became a positive one over the years and was embraced by the city of Oslo. For it’s 1000th anniversary in 2000, Oslo put up dozens of tigers all throughout the city.

In recent years street crime in Oslo has been on the rise. Over 50% of locals fear getting mugged, so watch those bags! This trend is largely associated with the recent wave of immigrants coming in from Eastern Europe. I was very surprised by the amount of beggars in Oslo, and felt worse than usual seeing so many of them in the bitter cold and rain.

Oslo is a small and beautiful city, but it is still a city. Travellers visiting Oslo should use the same precautions they would in any other major cities, especially in busy shopping areas, outside and around tourist attractions, and in the train station.

Originally published on The Fly Away American.

Bergen’s Hanseatic Musuem lies on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen Wharf. A fascinating remnant of one of the world’s oldest trading ports. Since Bryggen achieved World Heritage Site status in 1979, further precautions have been put in place to protect the Hanseatic heritage of the city and this important cultural and historical piece of Bergen’s past. The Hanseastic Musuem stands at the end of Bryggen Wharf. The museum is set in one of Bergen’s old trading houses, which was built after the fire in 1702. Hanseatic merchants would have lived in the rooms, all unmarried, and under strict rules of celibacy when in the area. They would eat in assembly halls, much like today’s cafeterias which would be heated and separate from the living quarters. The Hanseatic Museum is the only building in the area in which the interiors of this time have been preserved. The museum features several rooms which show different aspects of life during the Hanseatic period. There is an office that would have belonged to the merchant. Here, he would have received his visitors and kept his ledger. My personal favorite was the living quarters, where you can see the beds that the traders would have slept in. Two men would have shared a bed, I assume partly because of space issues but it also likely came in handy to have the body warmth in the colder winter months. Bergen’s Hanseatic Museum is one of the most fascinating cultural museums I have ever visited. The rooms feel untouched through time and connect visitors to Bergen’s fascinating past as a trading port. I would highly recommend visiting the museum before you walk along the Bryggen Wharf. Once you have connected with the history and people of Bergen’s past, the Bryggen World Heritage Site will take on new life.
Photo of Bergen Museum - De Naturhistoriske samlinger, Muséplassen, Bergen, Norway by Jess
The journey from Bergen to the top of Mt. Fløyen takes under ten minutes, but rewards you with an exciting and scenic climb to 320 m above sea level. The Fløibanen Funicular slowly goes up the track, with views across Bergen and the surrounding mountains and fjords getting more incredible the higher you climb. Once you reach the top, the panoramic view over Bergen and the surrounding landscape is nothing short of magnificent. I loved the trip on the Fløibanen Funicular so much, I did it twice. Once during a lucky sunny morning and another time as dusk came slowly over the landscape, the lights illuminating the shadowy mountains above them. The trip was by far my most favorite experience in Bergen, an adventure full of nature and scenery that is so breathtaking the word isn’t even cliché when used to describe it. There are a multitude of hiking trails, activities, playgrounds for children, and a restaurant and cafe which offer food and drinks. I enjoyed getting lost along the trails in the dense forest of Mt. Fløyen, and would recommend taking an entire day if you have it to fully enjoy the experience. The Fløibanen Funicular has put together an awesome brochure on the different walks and hikes you can take, you can check it out here.
Photo of Fløyen, Bergen, Norway by Jess
The Bergenhus Fortress looms over the entrance to Bergen’s harbor. The fortress itself dates back to the 1240s, with Haakon’s hall as it’s gem. Haakon’s Hall was the royal dining hall, a place where Kings of Norway entertained their guests up until the 19th century. Walking the room you can just imagine the parties that went on, the smells of the Norsk men, and the stories that began at it’s table.
Photo of Haakon's Hall, Bergen, Norway by Jess
Torget Fish Market is located on the opposite side of the harbor as the Bryggen Wharf. Here you can find everything from salmon to hot pink ‘Princess’ caviar, with both fresh and prepared options available. Ethics aside for a minute, if you had a chance to try whale would you? Go down to Torget Fish Market, where you can buy a chunk for a hefty sum or taste a free sample. Honestly, it tasted like beefy bacon, and I may dream about it until the day it is in my mouth again.
Photo of Torget, Bergen, Norway by Jess
ver wondered where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded? You may have known it took place in Oslo, Norway, but the actual location is at Oslo City Hall. I had the privilege to visit this famous site, and walk in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest leaders, thinkers, and game changers. Walking up to Oslo City Hall, I was overcome with disappointment. This building had won “Oslo’s Structure of the Century” and is a well-known icon around the world. I was unimpressed with the brick facade, which in all honesty reminded me of a library from the 80′s. BUT. Walking inside I was surprised to find beautiful murals and some of the most spectacular artwork I had ever seen. I was not expecting it at all, which made it even more incredible. When you visit a place like the Sistine Chapel, you work it up in your head. By the time you are actually there, in front of some of the greatest art work of all time, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Maybe this is just a Jessica thing, but I live for the unexpected surprises. Oslo City Hall has the most beautiful interior, and after the shockingly ugly welcome (take my opinion with a grain of salt, I am not an architecture expert) a total surprise it was.
Photo of Oslo City Hall, Oslo, Norway by Jess
This architectural marvel is only a short stroll from Oslo’s Central Station (Oslo S). I was amazed at the way this work of art blended in so seamlessly with the water. The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet both call this amazing building home, and many performances and shows are held here when touring Norway. The exterior is build from Italian marble and white granite which makes it sparkle in the night like a modern floating iceberg of Oslo’s fjord. The coolest part of the Oslo Opera House is that visitors can walk on the roof of the building! I highly recommend doing this at night as well for a beautiful view of the city. The Oslo Pass will get you a 20% discount on a tour of the Opera House (Adult Admission: NOK 100, £10, $17), but you can climb and walk around free of charge.
Photo of Operahuset (Oslo Opera House), Kirsten Flagstads Plass, Oslo, Norway by Jess
The Norwegian Folk Museum is the place to go if you want to get a lifetime’s worth of Norwegian history and culture in and you are short on time. I learned so much about the Norwegian people on my visit, and it was definitely a highlight of my entire trip to Norway. This is the largest open-air museum in the world, and it definitely won’t disappoint. You are free to explore the grounds on your own, so you can discover incredible buildings from Norway’s past along each path you choose. The highlight is the Stave Church from Gol, a breathtaking wooden church that dates back to 1212. You can also walk around farm houses, a typical 1950′s Norwegian town, and many other regional parts of Norway that have been recreated. The indoor exhibits are definitely worth a look and feature traditional costumes and folk art- I especially recommend the exhibit on the Sami Culture. Admission is free with the Oslo Pass, otherwise NOK 110 (£11, $18) for an adult ticket.
Photo of Norwegian Folk Museum, Museumsveien, Oslo, Norway by Jess
The Viking Ship Museum is great to combine with the Norwegian Folk Museum as it is only a five minute walk down the street. If you are into the Vikings, definitely check this place out. The main attractions are the Oseberg and Gokstad ships, both pre-dating 1000 AD. The exhibits tell you all about the life of everyday Vikings, the methods they used for ceremonial burials, and displays items such as beds and a horse cart that have been found in archaeological digs. The museum is quite small, as most of the focus is on these extraordinary ships, so it can easily be thrown in to a 24 hour itinerary. Admission is free with the Oslo Pass, otherwise an Adult entry costs NOK 60 (£6, $10).
Photo of Viking Ship Museum, Huk Aveny, Oslo, Norway by Jess
The Vigeland Sculpture Park is a little bit quirky, but a whole lot awesome. One of the world’s largest sculpture parks done by a single artist, Vigeland features over 200 sculptures along its manicured lawns from its namesake sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The Sculpture park is actually located inside the larger Frogner Park, which is also great for a stroll or picnic in the warmer months. Admission is NOK 60 (£6, $10) or free with the Oslo Pass.
Photo of Vigeland Sculpture Park, Nobels gate, Oslo, Norway by Jess
I am about to share one of Oslo’s biggest secrets, an affordable place to stay that will please the most discerning traveler. In a city that has been named one of the most expensive in the world, finding cheap accommodation is as rare as finding a pint of beer for less than ten pounds. (Fifteen bucks for you Americans.) Hostel Oslo Central, part of Hostelling International Norway, only recently opened up it’s doors. The location is incredible, a short walk from Oslo Central Station, smack in the middle of everything you’d want to see. At this point you are probably thinking, ‘But Jess, it is still a hostel. of course it is cheap.’, but the quality of accommodation, great service, and amazing breakfast are unlike any typical hostel.
Photo of Hotel Oslo Central, Oslo, Norway by Jess