Saturday, July 2, 2011

Oslo, Norway

It's currently about 3:30 PM, Norwegian time. I'm on an Iceland Express airplane bound for Reykjavík, Iceland. Like with my Stockholm post, I'm writing this on a text file and will post online later.

Real quick: I need to vent so it doesn't eat away at me. I'm sitting in the aisle seat, but I was supposed to be sitting by the window. However, when I boarded, a couple were in the window and middle seats. They asked if I would sit in the aisle seat because the woman has an infant in her lap. They just had to play the baby card. I let them sit there because if I had insisted on the assigned seating, they probably would've given me attitude when I had to get up and use the toilette, which for me is invariably. That's right, I'm the bad guy for wanting to sit there. Yeah, I know I sound like a cock, but I feel a little better having written it down. Like that old Howard Jones song title says, "Things Can Only Get Better".

OK, with that needless negativity out of the way, let's go back in time to Tuesday afternoon. The train rolled in around 2:15 or so. I then had to hop on a bus for the Oslo train station.

A worker in the Oslo train station informed me that my hotel was about a 15 -minute walk, so I hoofed it. The first part of my journey consisted of a shopping strip called Karl Johans gate. Wider than the place in Stockholm, it stretched almost a kilometer, was cobblestoned, and was jam-packed with people! Oh, and about the first 60% was pedestrians only, and the last 40% allowed cars.

Along the way I noticed these human-sized statues, one gold-painted, another silver-painted. They each stood on a platform that had jutting out the front what looked like an oil funnel; on it was penned, "THANK YOU!" I learned later that they're street performers from Romania. They move every once in awhile. On Wednesday, I saw a little girl touch the gold-coloured one's knee. I don't know how the street performer did it, but he squeaked a kid's toy, like a rubber ducky. Cute.

After Karl Johan's gate dead-ended into a park, I tried to find my hotel with the aid of my travel book's map, but it just wasn't happening. Plus, I started sneezing, an allergic reaction to Oslo's trees.

With the assistance of a passing pedestrian, I found my hotel and checked in. Pretty nice. Obviously, bigger than the Stockholm ship.

By now it was late afternoon. I headed back down the Karl Johans gate and bought postcards that had caught my eye on the trip to the hotel. The postcard was simple: Norway's flag.

Next up, with a tip from the cashier at the souvenir shop, I went to a shopping skyscraper, Oslo City, a few blocks away, not on Karl Johans gate. There was a store there called Football Shop. I was only going to window-shop for a Norway football jersey, but I bought it. I also got a Finland jersey. I don't regret the former but the latter I shouldn't have picked up because it's more of an advertisement for Adidas than Finland' team. Oh, well.

Confession time: the two jerseys cost me over $200 US. Not a good price. What was I thinking? Sadly, the currency exchange wasn't as nice as it was in Sweden.

I headed back to the hotel, hung out a bit, and decided to hit a restaurant called Mecca, a suggestion in my travel book.

I never found Mecca. Oslo is an easy city to get lost in. The roads twist and turn, there are circles everywhere, and it's not uncommon for streets to change names after only a block or two. For the last reason, my two maps (the one in my travel book and the one I picked up at the hotel) proved only half-useful. Neither of them could list all of the street names, especially since some of them have long names.

I wandered around for at least an hour. I kept my guard up because I was in a ghetto. Not as bad as Philly, but bad enough: graffiti on buildings, residents with angry eyes, and few taxi cabs. Luckily, I eventually spotted a taxi and flagged him down. I had him drop me off down on Karl Johans gate because I had noticed a bunch of restaurants down there.

I was really in the mood for an elk burger, something I saw in Stockholm but hadn't gotten my last night there because I had eaten enough red meat (last thing I want to get is gout). I snubbed the TGIF and Hard Rock, but my hunger for a burger eventually won out. I ate at some place called O'Leary's, fashioned after a Boston pub/restaurant. I got a BBQ bacon burger, fries and garlic bread. And it looks like I was wrong about Scandinavians not requiring tips. When charging credit cards, unlike in Finland and Sweden, Norwegians have me type in the final amount then press OK.

Afterwards, I was feeling bad about eating American food. I'm on vacation for Christ sake! So I stopped in a convenience store across the street from my hotel and got pistachio ice cream, which I don't eat at home. Good stuff.

Romanian street performer. (Oslo, Norway; June 28, 2011)

On Wednesday, I had breakfast in the hotel, which was free, like the Internet access.

About three blocks from the hotel was the Nasjonalgalleriet , where a bunch of Edvard Munch's work is displayed, including The Scream. Part of the reason I went was because my travel book said it was free, but when I got there, a security guard stopped my from ascending the steps. Apparently, they started charging admission in May.

I didn't take any pictures. A lot of museums forbid flash photography, and my camera works best with the flash -- I get sick of asking all the time.

It was a real kick to see The Scream! In front of it is a pane of glass, which I assumed was alarmed. Guess the museum doesn't want it getting stolen again. That would explain the 50-plus security guards roaming the corridors and showrooms.

For lunch I hailed a cab and had him take me to that Mecca restaurant. He didn't know where it was when I got in the cab, but he eventually found the street it was supposed to be on. I say supposed because it wasn't there. Bummer. On the plus side, he was quite chatty. He complained about taxes and how immigrants don't like to work. I don't about them not wanting to work, but there are a lot of immigrants in Oslo. I was reading that Norway eased up on its immigration laws because native Norwegians aren't procreating enough. On the downside, Oslo has a huge police presence, and at almost every other block in the city centre you'll see beggars -- mostly women who I assumed were Muslim because they had those scarves (burkas?) over their ears and hair. They weren't aggressive, just sat on the sidewalk with a paper cup in front of them.

Anyway, I had the taxi driver drop me off on Johan's Gate.
My plan was to hit a French restaurant I saw before, but they didn't open till 4:30 PM, so I went to a place called Egron restaurant. Huge place. Lots of space with two floors and a basement for restrooms.

Even though I eat a lot of seafood at home, I ordered something I don't think I've ever eaten: bass. It also came with little potatoes that were heavily salted (salt in clumps), and mixed vegetables. It was awesome! And the view was great. I was on the second floor, overlooking Karl Johans Gate and the park across the street.

Next up I took a cab to Vikingshipshuset, about a half-hour drive to a nearby peninsula. That was the last cab I took in Oslo because I wanted to pay by credit card but he says he couldn't take it 'cause his machine only read the ones with chips. So I had to pay cash, which nearly wiped me out of my Krones, which I wanted to hold onto.

The Viking Ship Museum was awesome! They had two full-sized Viking ships and a partial one. The full-size ones were so huge, I couldn't get one in a single camera shot.

After that, I discovered the bus outside the museum went near my hotel, so I hopped on that. Pretty crazy: the bus ran every 10 minutes, was three cabooses (probably wrong word) long with that accordion rubber for turns, and it was standing room only.

I chill-axed at the hotel for a bit, then went to a Pakistani restaurant that I had picked up in the hotel lobby the day before. The restaurant, Mehfel, was fairly easy to find because I had that talkative taxi driver in the afternoon take me there, but they didn't open till 4 PM.

I went all out at this place. I got a starter, which I usually don't do: king prawns with sesame seeds. For the main course, I ordered a bunch of meat. Some of it was cubed. I remember there being a few little chicken wings, and there was one other type of of meat. I ate it all over rice. For a beverage, I drank hot Pakistani tea. And since I had room left over, I ordered dessert called Desi Halwa, which the menu described as: "Traditional Pakistani dessert with semolina, coconut, almonds and pistachio." I didn't know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It came in a huge soup bowl and looked like apple sauce, but it was hot. Could definitely taste the almond. Afterwards, the waitress brought over a bowl of what looked like seeds and miniature M&Ms. She said it was supposed to help with digestion. I only took one spoonful (had to be at least 30 spoonfuls in there). It tasted a bit licoricey.

Did I mention I was the only one in the restaurant? That was freaky. Good service, though. On the walk back to the hotel, I think I figured out why I was the lone patron. First, they're not in the best neighborhood: office and government buildings, and not a lot of retail stores, just a few boutiques (ya can't the lunch crowd when you're closed then). And my bill came out to $100 US. I was a bit shocked by that. Whatever, I'm on vacay and the food was good.

One of ships at the Viking Ship Museum. This picture doesn't touch on its immense size. (Oslo, Norway; June 29, 2011)

On Thursday, I walked to the Nobel Peace Centre. Took over an hour to find it thanks to the maze of Oslo's streets. It was down by the harbour. Pretty cool. And after all these years I still can't help but cackle when seeing Obama winning the Peace Prize. Oh-ho-ho, that's rich with irony!

For lunch I picked up a sandwich at the convenience store across the street from my hotel. Then it was off on the bus to the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is next to the Viking Ship Museum. I didn't go to the Norsk Folkemuseum the day prior because it's an open-air museum; I was sneezing a little and I didn't want to be ah-chooing well into the evening.

The Norsk Folkemuseum was fascinating. They have all these buildings from centuries past. The highlight is a stave church from circa 1200. I was on the grounds for over two hours. And the best part is I hardly sneezed -- guess my body was sick of producing histamines.

For dinner, I walked to a restaurant suggested by my travel book, Shroder, a Norwegian restaurant. Had to have some authentic Nordic food my last night in Oslo.

Lonely Planet described Shroder as "haunted by locals, not tourists", which was true. Not a lot of patrons, though the rain may have had something to do with that. I got ox (tasted like regular steak), which had fried onions piled on top, crinkle-cut French fries, and mixed vegetables, which consisted of three heads each of broccoli and cauliflower. I washed everything down with some Nordic bottled beer, a lager; tasted like Fosters. For dessert, I had warm apple cake with whip cream and chocolate and strawberry ice cream.

Afterwards, I packed up at the hotel for the flight on Friday to Iceland. On Friday morning, I checked out and thank God the girl at the desk suggested I take the bus to the airport. It took over and hour but only cost $25 US; a cab would've been at least four times that.

Before I go, I need to say something about Oslo women. Good goddamn! I think that immigrant injection does some good. Gives them some colour. For the first time during my trip, I almost got whiplash from doing so many double-takes. Luckily I sleep on soft pillows, so there's no neck damage. . . .

Stave church at the Nordic Museum. (Oslo, Norway; June 30, 2011)

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